The bigger they come, the harder they fall

Hollywood is obsessed with explosive – and expensive – stunts. And those who have to perform them are paying the price

Stunt performers are re-examining some of their more dangerous tricks following a spate of accidents both in Britain and in Hollywood.

Over the last five years there has been an increase in accidents and the industry is bracing itself for a court case this March that will examine the death of stuntman Conway Wickliffe who was killed on the set of The Dark Knight.

Questions have also been raised about the safety of the "jerk back", in which a performer is propelled backwards in a harness after an effect such as an explosion. Equity, the actors union, said it was awaiting guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as to whether the spectacular stunt was safe enough.

David Holmes, 25, who doubled for Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, was left paralysed from the waist down after such a stunt went horribly wrong on the set of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Leavesden studios near Watford in 2009. There was no prosecution as it was not deemed a foreseeable accident. Yesterday an HSE spokesman said: "We are working with the Joint Industry Stunt Committee to produce guidance for carrying out a jerk back stunt to reduce the risk to performers."

Martin Brown, assistant general secretary of Equity, said: "The number of insurance claims has risen in the last five years. There were three serious accidents in the last two years. Two were complicated leg breaks which probably mean the individuals won't be able to work as stunt performs again and the other involved the jerk back stunt."

Jason White, a British stuntman with 35 years' experience, called for all new directors and producers to be made to attend a seminar on safety.

Mr White now coordinates fellow technicians and advises major stars including Kim Basinger. In a career that has involved pitching through double glazing in Aliens, being punched by Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and pitching backwards off Tower Bridge, he received numerous minor injuries. But an accident in 1991 on the set of the TV series Robin Hood left him unable to work for many years.

Safety standards, said Mr White, have improved considerably and he provided a hazard assessment on every job, as all Members of Equity Stunt Register are now required to do.

However, he said financial constraints and egos often made it difficult to argue in favour of safety in front of demanding producers. He said: "There is a demand for bigger stunts. There is always an element of danger."

He said he wanted to see even greater stringency. With many stuntmen working abroad, he believes an experienced British coordinator should be on all international sets, where the same tough guidelines are not enforced locally. In Hollywood, the industry bible Variety recently questioned whether a spate of six accidents in both theatre and film late last year was "just a statistical fluke or ... whether sets these days are as safe as they could be".

Hal Needham, an Academy Award-winning technician and director, said the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration was now far stricter than in his early days.

Mr Needham, who has broken 56 bones and his back twice, said: "It is much safer today than when I was doing stunts eons ago. Stunt men today are more talented, more experienced and in better shape. The equipment they have today is much better.

"Money is always a problem but no director ever pushed me off a building. It is up to the individual to judge his own talent, safety equipment and whether he is gong to do the stunt."

The HSE, which investigates serious injuries and deaths on films sets, is prosecuting Christopher Corbould, a special effects coordinator, after stunt technician Conway Wickliffe, 41, was killed on the set of Batman: The Dark Knight. He died of head injuries after crashing into a tree during filming in September 2007.

Nevertheless, Mr Brown insisted that safety precautions among Britain's 275 stuntmen and women are stringent: "While they are operating in a highly dangerous aspect of the industry they actually have a very good safety record. They are fantastic guys, who are highly respected because they are so good at what they do."

Case Study

'I was dropped after serious accident'

*It was the kind of daredevil scene that film audiences take for granted: Robin Hood flees a castle using medieval scaffolding before leaping to safety as it collapses around him.

Jason White, a highly experienced stuntman who had just finished working with Kevin Costner on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, was re-enacting the role again as Patrick Bergin's double in the television series. Three times the special effects worked perfectly. The 60-foot, three-and-a-half tonne modern scaffolding made up to look ancient, dropped in a controlled fashion and the stuntman, attached to a wire, jumped free.

But on the fourth attempt the scaffolding collapsed, explained Mr White: "I was on a wire harness which snapped when it impacted the ground. They thought I had broken bones because I couldn't move my arm. It later emerged that the shoulder bone had gone through my muscle."

For eight years, Mr White – now working again as a successful stunt coordinator with 35 years experience on major films and television series – found himself cast out of the industry.

"As soon as they knew that I was not coming back and there was going to be a case of negligence, I was just dropped. I had very little contact with anyone except the legal side. It was a very black time in my life," he continued. Mr White, who had grown used to minor injuries, suddenly found himself unable to work.

"What back-up do you have? There was no back-up. I had a number of physical problems but there was also the trauma. When you take someone who is ultimately an athlete and used to working on adrenaline and then it is suddenly taken away, what happens to you? I became suicidal," he said.

Mr White, who now makes safety his key priority when coordinating other stuntmen, said the situation had improved since his accident 20 years ago but more still needed to be done to emphasise safety on sets.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little