Back in the 1970s, stuntmen were all over the place. In fact, if you’re looking to get a movie made, chances are, there will be at least one stunt person there.
Now, the only types of movies that involve absolutely no stunts are probably dramatic movies that involve mostly personal confrontation. But other than that, even for comedies involving any kind of physical slapstick or funny physical action, you can bet there will be a need for stuntmen.
Interestingly enough, as the years wore on, there are less and less stuntmen in movies. What’s going on?
Well, a lot of this has to do with legality. As lawyers got the hang of the legal questions of stunt work, many movie companies started paying bigger and bigger settlements.
As you can well imagine, when word comes out that a film studio has been forced to pay out millions in a judgment or in a settlement, people are going to get their acts together very quickly. In other words, people would tend to be more cautious than warranted.
This has been the typical effect of lawsuits in American society. You would think that when lawyers launch a suit that it would have the effect of basically getting people to get their act together and essentially provide a safer working environment. Well, it turns out that there are unintended consequences, and one of these is an overall reduction in stuntmen and stunt work.
Another unforeseen consequence of this is the emphasis on computer generated images or CGI.
Let’s get one thing clear, a lot of the Marvel movies coming out recently would not have been possible without CGI.
Even if you had an army of stuntmen willing, ready and eager to do the necessary stunts for the latest Marvel comics movie, it’s much cheaper to just animate these actors.
Also, please understand that a lot of action movies, which historically have required most of the services of stuntmen, are switching over to CGI because they feature large panoramic scenes of tons of people engaging in all sorts of action. And the best way to do that, of course, both logistically and financially, is through computer-generated images.
Based on these two factors, it is not surprising to find out that there are less and less stuntmen in the United States.
In fact, it would be surprising, given the current legal climate and the over regulation of many industries across the board, if the film industry used stuntmen at the same volume as the 1970s.
Say whatever you want about the 1970s, but one thing is undeniable. It is definitely part of the golden age of American cinema.
Not only are the stunts real, not only do you see real people engage in real action scenes, but the 1970s also pushed the limit as far as creative tension and creative imagination went. It seemed to have no limits. That’s why we continue to be blessed by the cinematic lessons of the 1970s.
As far as stuntmen, however, it appears that this is going to be a relic of the past. How come? Well, the issue now is not whether computer animation has displaced stuntmen or not. That’s pretty much a done deal. The big issue is whether animation is actually going to replace actors.
If you need proof of this, just look at the Deepfake adult content currently making it through the internet. If people are able to do that with standard animation software and image manipulation tools, what do you think they can do to actual legitimate actors? It’s only a matter of time.
This is why the march of technology and automation is both exhilarating, mind blowing, and very scary at the same time. If you’re an actor or actress, you might not have a job tomorrow. That’s where things are heading.
Another key reason why stuntmen are fast disappearing involves lawyers, lawsuits, and state laws. For the longest time, it was quite hard to get fat judgments against big companies when it comes to personal injury. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying juries weren’t handing out big 7 or even 8 figure judgments.
Instead, the issue involved really egregious or almost exceptional injuries. For example, if someone gets sued for wrongful death, the death involves must be so shocking that the jury won’t have a problem issuing a fat 8 figure judgment. In other words, there must something out of the ordinary with the case.
Well, stuntmen are fast disappearing because most production companies are becoming lawsuit-shy. How come? Well, the law has changed. Now, it seems juries are more likely to hand out fat judgments for injury situations that aren’t as harsh or shocking. We’ve gone from a very high bar of shock and injury to decreasing bars.
In fact, in some jurisdictions as long as the defendant is a big company with ‘deep pockets,’ jurors won’t be shy to give the company what ‘it got coming to it.’ No wonder so many big companies are being considered whipping boys by juries out to ‘right what’s wrong.’ Besides the inherent unfairness behind this trend, this readiness and willingness of many juries to award big judgments has resulted in production companies holding back.
Most of these companies don’t want to screw around with a potentially crippling lawsuit if any of the stuntmen on their payroll suffer what would otherwise be a normal setback. Keep in mind that stunts are inherently dangerous. Seriously.
This should be obvious. Let’s put it this way, when you jump from one train to another while both trains are speeding at 120 miles per hour in opposite directions, you are really putting your life in your own hands. You can quickly lose your life if you make one false move.
Given what could possibly go wrong as action movies switches from one risky action scene to another, more directors are going for CGI effects. After all, when was the last time you heard of an animated ‘actor’ sue the production company of the film they appeared in?