Feb 10, 2020

Stunted Growth

By Ed Goldman

I always wanted to have my own personal stuntman.

When I was eight years old, watching films and TV shows changed for me forever. My brother Stuart pointed out that I wasn’t actually watching cowboy star/personal idol Clint Walker in a fight scene, explaining to me the concept of stuntmen or “doubles,” as they‘re also called. 

After that, I couldn’t watch an actor even walk across the street in a movie without declaring, “That isn’t really him! That isn’t really him!” 

Most of the time I was wrong. 

But sometimes, I was right—especially if the shot was distant enough and being used as only a transition between scenes. The thinking must have been, “Why waste the time of a big star in such an unimportant scene?” All the director would need to do was dress up the star’s “double” in the same outfit, the double being a look-alike only if you squint and are a candidate for cataract surgery. Then the director of cinematography could slightly blur the lens with a dab of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly®, as well as make sure we never see the double’s face.

“Actors sharing a scene may never actually meet, getting placed together digitally” — WSJ

Over the years, the technology to make the double look like the person for whom he’s doubling has greatly improved, and so have the methods to make a gravitationally ludicrous stunt appear plausible.

One way has caused a decline in the employment of stunt-persons: an avatar of the actor is created in a computer and after that, you can send home not only the actors’ stunt-persons but sometimes, the actors themselves, bringing them back into a recording studio after the stunts have been shot to squeal things like, “Oh no!” or “I hate this monster! Make him stop eating members of Rotary!”

The other, also computer-driven method, involves the stunt-person doing the fight or swan-diving off the Golden Gate bridge into a family-sized jar of Ragu®, but having the actor’s face superimposed on the stunt-person’s in post-production.

Think you’d notice or care? A recent story in the Wall Street Journal revealed that stunt doubles often fill in for the actors in group scenes, mainly because when a movie is larded with top-dollar stars, they might not all be available at the same time. 

For example, according to the WSJ: “Stunt doubles who worked on the 2018 ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ which grossed over $2 billion world-wide, say they were shot with their backs to the camera, captured quickly from a distance or kept out of focus. Doubles in ‘Endgame,’ also directed by Joe and Anthony Russo with a budget widely reported to be well into nine figures, expect the same when they finally are allowed to see the new movie.”

The story further reported that the “heavy use of doubles speaks to the tech-driven business of today’s tentpole movies, where stories are stitched together in postproduction. Actors sharing a scene may never actually meet, getting placed together digitally. The chemistry audiences think they are seeing between stars has never been more engineered.”

Wow. Can you see why I’d like to have my own stuntman? Wouldn’t you?

Think of all the business meetings, dental appointments, insurance up-sell presentations, Taco Tuesdays and romantic breakups we could skip (we would never again have to say or be told, “It isn’t you. It’s me”). If anyone attending any of those events were to take selfies, we could always be inserted after the fact—perhaps even ”sharing a laugh” (my favorite bogus caption in trade association and chamber of commerce newsletters) with someone we don’t find remotely amusing. And no one would be the wiser. 

I’m calling the production team of ”The Avengers” to see if they can create an avatar of me. In fact, I’m calling them right away—or, if your prefer, on the double.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).