Thursday, August 24, 2017

No helmet? No experience? No problem. Until...

“I hate it when that happens…”

Not long ago, I read a cryptic press release saying that a stunt performer had been killed while performing a motorcycle stunt on the set of the ‘Deadpool’ sequel.

Yes, she looks like a badass in this photo, but Joi Harris was neither a professional motorcycle racer nor an experienced stunt professional when she agreed to perform a stunt without wearing a crash helmet on the Deadpool set in Vancouver. Now people working on that film say, We told you so...

First thought: I hope it’s not any of the several stunt performers I’ve interviewed over the years.

Then as a details emerged over the next day or so, it was a she; she hadn’t been wearing a helmet. The explanation was, the stuntwoman was doubling for a star that wasn’t wearing one in the scene leading up to the stunt.

Of course not.

I’ve specifically asked stunt professionals about doing dangerous stunts without gear. One guy told me about doing a tricky jump with no helmet on, and then having them digitally “face replace” his face with the star’s face in post. I wondered, why not just do a whole head replacement in the CGI suite?

But the reality is, stunt professionals take all kinds of risks that aren’t essential to a movie’s plot or even an individual scene – they take extra risks just to make the final shot take less time in post, or cost less money. I suppose at some level every stunt performer realizes that if they make too many demands, their whole industry can be replaced by CGI.

I was already thinking, “Really? No helmet?” when a name was attached to the stuntwoman, who had already been identified as “a professional motorcycle racer”.

To be clear: Joi Harris was a CCS Novice in 2015 – two years ago. She wasn’t a ‘professional’ racer. Now, a lot of excellent stunt performers aren’t big-shot racers (although, many are ex-racers.) Being a racer isn’t a prerequisite.

The thing is, she wasn’t an experienced stunt performer, either. ‘Deadpool’ was her first gig, and now people on the film crew say, We saw this coming; She crashed several times over the previous few days. 

The explanation for hiring a noob: She was the only African-American female we could find to double for Zazie Beets. Someone – a producer, a stunt coordinator – needs to take a big portion of the blame for this death.

I’m pretty sure that Joi Harris was in no way coerced into taking that job. She probably jumped at it. And if her Facebook posts are any indication, she was well-endowed – probably overendowed – with self-confidence. So what can other motorcyclists learn from Joi Harris’ experience (or lack thereof)?

This: They say that what you don’t know won’t hurt you. But when it comes to motorcycles, what you don’t know that you don’t know will kill you.

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