Brad Pitt's 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' role boosts stunt profession and Oscar push

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The “Stand Up for Stunts” video for Alamo Drafthouse highlights stunt professionals and their work. It runs ahead of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
USA TODAY

Stunt professionals have a new force highlighting their traditionally behind-the-scenes, often-overlooked work.

Enter superstar Brad Pitt as rugged stuntman Cliff Booth in “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.”

His memorable performance in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s film (in theaters now) gives an old-school, fictional look at a stuntman’s life – and boosts real-life stunt people seeking official award recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

“We’ve got Brad Pitt on the ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ poster wearing a belt buckle from our stunt association. He’s portrayed as one of our members,” says Jeff Wolfe, vice president of the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures. The group, along with the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures, has long advocated for a stunt Oscar. “The buzz around this whole discussion is really strong right now,” Wolfe says.

Review: “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’  is a fairy tale only Quentin Tarantino could tell

A high-octane “Stand Up for Stunts” video is running ahead of “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood” screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain. Taken from 2007’s “Death Proof,” the video features Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike character at the wheel and showcases stuntwoman Zoe Bell holding onto the trunk of his careening automobile. (Bell also served as stunt coordinator for “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”)

“So much about what we love about cinema is thanks to the hard-working stunt professionals who risk their lives for our entertainment,” the video’s text reads. “We think their work deserves recognition.”

The video promotes an online petition seeking Academy recognition for stunts (now at 110,500 signatures). Another video running in Alamo’s “Hollywood” pre-show features an interview with retired stuntman Gary Kent.

Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League calls the effort to push for award recognition as “championing a great idea.”

“Perhaps just a little nudge and the public appreciation of the art form coming to the fore in the wake of ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’ will be all it takes to bring it home,” he says.

The film’s release comes at a time when the dangers (despite meticulous planning) of creating these fantastical film scenes are in the news after a stuntman was seriously injured this week on the set of “Fast Furious 9.”

While the Oscars honor everything from best visual effects to best sound mixing, Wolfe says award recognition has been hampered by an outdated philosophy – that focusing on the stunt work takes away from the leading actor’s film magic. It’s a concept Tarantino touches on in “Hollywood” with Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton showing a more evolved attitude in sharing recognition with Booth, his full-time stunt double.

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Leonardo DiCaprio. Brad Pitt. Margot Robbie. How many stars can you spot in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood?”
USA TODAY

The attitude of celebrating rather than hiding the stunt work is becoming more prevalent.

TV’s Emmy Awards recognize stunt coordinators, as do the Screen Actor Guild Awards. The Taurus World Stunt Awards have focused solely on the category since 2001.

But not the Academy, which bestowed an honorary Oscar to legendary stuntman Hal Needham in 2012. While stunt associations have even frequently lobbied outside of the Academy’s Los Angeles offices, the group did not address permanent recognition at its annual meeting in April.

During the July 13 premiere of “Fast Furious Presents: Hobbs Shaw,” director David Leitch, who started his career as a stuntman (even doubling for Pitt), gave a passionate appeal for recognition from the stage before his action film started.

“What’s really frustrating in this business is that every year when the awards come up, every department gets to celebrate. But we are always left out,” Leitch says. “What about the blood and sweat of stunt crews that are the heartbeat of these action movies?

“As far as recognition of the Academy, it’s time,” he says.

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