Director April Wright Talks Stuntwomen in Hollywood, and Car Chases
April Wright’s new documentary, Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story, In one scene where women crash into cars, jump high windows, horses fall off trains, jump under trains, and most of all stay with me, have a casual conversation while dragging. Jesse Graff (twice as good as Gal Gadot) didn’t even sweat. She can do it all day and then break through a glass wall and be chased by a convertible plane. Hell, she probably did.
Your idea of the best cinematic effects depends on your taste in cinema. We can all clear up the list of crashes and jumps that began with the rise of the popularity of car chase movies in the 1960s. Need to turn the hubcap-by-hubcap description Bullet Chasing cars? No problem. We can tell you exactly how Hal Neidam inspired the action in modern films like The Flying Pontiacs Ford V. Ferrari. While Western fans can joke that horses were being smashed and fleeing through crumbling banners in the 1930s, hard-core moviegoers will turn to silent silent movies with their falling building facade and running train. Whatever you think of as the golden age of stuntmen, we all agree that they have been there since the beginning of film production. That’s what Wright and the women in her film want you to know: it’s not just stubborn people. Stunt Women have been there too, and like Ginger Rogers, they did everything the boys did – on fire and on the heels. On September 22, we talked to Wright about why she directed the documentary, The Prime Minister, and why everyone wanted to shoot to make a burning barrel roll.
Cars and Drivers: The Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story Based on A book of the same name by Molly Gregory About the History of Female Actors in Hollywood. Were you familiar with the book before you started documentary filming? Was that what motivated you to make the film?
April Wright: It was a coincidence that I met Amy Johnston two or three weeks before producer Marion Rosenberg came to me with the book. [one of the hosts] In the movie. I was working with her boyfriend and he said “You should meet my girlfriend. She is a talented woman and she is really interested in working with other female filmmakers.” Mommy and I met up and cut it out and said, “We definitely need to do something together.” During that time I had lunch with Svetlana Quetko [cinematographer], Like she and I, “We need to do something together.” So, when Marion talked to me about the book, I already had a team.
Gregory’s book focuses on early history, and your film covers some of them in archive clips, but today there is more interaction with women working in effects. What made you move in that direction?
AW: Molly has done amazing research and it was a good start. But we did not want it to be just a history lesson. It stopped the book type around 2007 about the movies it covered, and a lot has happened, especially with women-centric activities not only on feature but also on television, and I wanted to make sure we covered really big everything today, both pioneers as well as pioneers Is. I did not want it to be a major documentary film. I said, “I don’t want to interview people about what happened in the past. I just want to shoot.” So, that’s what we did. We shot for drift-car racing and stunt driving training. We shot the top waterfall and changed it as much as we could to make it an action documentary.
There is this high level training sequence where the stuntwoman does the training after a while, you can see her kind thinking about her life choices, and then she goes for it. No kidding, it gave me a stomach ache.
Our DP had to climb that tower and be there with her shot.
One of the things you cover in the documentary is the rise and fall (no pun intended) and the resurgence of stunt women. In the early days of filmmaking, there was not so much focus on action movies, and it was better for women to do it because no one was making money from it. But then came the big studios, and all of a sudden if there was an action sequence for a female character, it was most likely done by a man in a wig, and everyone forgot that women have ever been there.
I think this is the general evolution of the film business reflected in this story. We look at Stunt Woman, but that’s the big picture, too. In the early days of cinema, there was a lot going on in those silent films, such as women writing, directing, producing and doing all the effects. We had some amazing scenes of women riding motorcycles on trains and bridges and riding horses. So, they were doing it. And then even today you hear, “Oh, we need to put on a boyfriend, because a woman can’t do that job.” They did the same thing 100 years ago. When the studio came and started making money, many women were thrown out. There were very few stunt women who worked in the 1930s, 40s, 50s. There was a feminist movement when you were in your 60s and especially in the 70s and you had a TV series The Wonder Woman and Bionic woman, All of this started to happen, giving women more work to do. Let’s talk about some of the blacklisted movies starring Jedi David and Pam Grier, who doubled over for her. It started to get more opportunities, but it was still a battle to get good results, to get good representation.
Why does it matter to you in a car, in a place where you can’t see them, that someone is stabbing you?
The more men have the opportunity to do more difficult driving tricks, the more they get something to start with. When the time comes for more difficult driving, they turn to more experienced people. The more difficult the work you do, the more money you will get. So, what has traditionally happened is the big effects of getting a big bump, they give it to a boy. It reflects the industry as a whole. If you look back, even with this equality movement dating back to the 1970s, the percentage of women directing top films, big studio films, remained around 4 percent. For 40 or 50 years it has been stuck at about 4 percent. Percentage of female stunt coordinators, I have no actual data, but I am sure it is 1 percent or 2 percent. That’s a beautiful thing. Men are brought into the circle and trained and get those jobs, women don’t. People are trying to change that now, and I believe we will see better statistics in the coming years. If there are more female stunt coordinators, they control the money and who they hire.
You interview many stunt women and stuntmen in the document. One thing that stands out is how much fun everyone has. You never hear someone say, “Oh, I should have made a barrel roll” or “They made me jump on a motorcycle.” It was always like, “Oh, I had to do a barrel roll” and “They let me ride a motorcycle.” Are they all crazy?
I think Jenny Epper [Lynda Carter’s stunt double for Wonder Woman] In the movie this can be said, or it could be a retelling, but Jenny said that someone asked them if they were brave or going crazy. Are they at risk? They are risk takers but they are counted as risk takers. They are athletic athletes. They are professionals. They are incredibly talented. What happens through their brains is like every situation, the worst case scenario: if this happens, you do this, if this happens, you do this. You need to have a sense of your body and an awareness of where you are.
Their attitude is super positive and it is fun for them. One of the drivers, Jen Caputo, said she wanted to use tricks that pushed her limits a little further. They want to create something new that people have never seen before. If they have to hit a car, [they say,] “I’ll have a car crash.” They are worried about it. “I have to do a fight scene.” I think Julie Johnson [stunt coordinator for the original Charlie’s Angels TV show] The film says, “When you finish it, when you nail it and the staff applauds, you know you did it. You understood it correctly.”
Were there any challenges in making the film?
Well, most of the time the actors work with the actors to train her as much as she feels comfortable. Then, whatever the actor can’t or isn’t comfortable with, then Stuntwoman takes over. They have the art of knowing how to turn their face so that it is not visible on camera. It was funny how they talked to me, because they used to be so distracted. They are used to hiding their faces, not facing the camera, so for many of them it was weird.
This scene ends, where Jenny Epper talks about aging and many cryptocurrencies and bad documentation to talk about inequality and safety issues. She’s starting to cry, interviewer, I think Amy Johnston, a much younger actress, she’s like, “Oh no, wonderful woman, don’t cry. You can still fall down the stairs. You can do it right now.” Or I will. ”It was a very intense and intimate and kind of summary and people who care about this and need a fair shake.
That’s right. We talked about Julie Johnson being blackmailed, but I don’t think Jenny talked about it before, and then she goes, “Oh, I’ve been blacklisted.” “Okay, if anyone likes, if Jenny Epper can get a bad document, anyone can. What about the others?” I really loved her because she talked about it because she was the best, and everyone knew she was the best, including the boys. So, getting it from her, you say, “Oh, maybe we should pay attention.”
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STUNTWOMEN: UNTOLD HOLLYWOOD STORY
A film by April Wright
Described by Michelle Rodriguez
Coming to AppleTV, Amazon, Vudu, GooglePlay, Hoopla, Fandango Now, Comcast Xfinity, Spectrum, Cox and Charter on September 22, 2020.
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