Movie sets can be dangerous places and not just for the stunt guys and girls. There are fight scenes, and things exploding, battles on the tops of trains, airplanes, animals…Throughout Hollywood history, there have been accidents on set that have marked that movie forever. Some mishaps have resulted in cunning script re-writes; others have ended in tragic deaths. That final movie we all enjoy watching? Well, we never know what may have happened behind the scenes. Stunt-work carries the highest risk. It is responsible for over half of all the injuries that occur during film making. For every 200 movie-set injuries, there is an average of five deaths. Helicopters are the biggest cause of death. One of the most well-known movie set disasters occurred in 1982 during the filming of ‘The Twilight Zone’. A low-flying helicopter, caught in the pyrotechnics, horrifically decapitated and killed Vic Morrow and two, young child actors.
Other Set Related Deaths
Many of those that have lost their lives whilst filming are well known to us. Brandon Lee, for example, was shot whilst filming ‘The Crow’, in 1994. There were supposed to be blanks in the gun. The bullet which tragically culled him had been lodged, unbeknownst to anyone, in the gun's barrel. Other famous deaths include the 46 members of cast and crew that filmed ‘The Conqueror’ in 1956. These 46, among them John Wayne, subsequently died of cancer. The film set had been located in an area where there was high nuclear activity, close to a site for atom bomb testing.
There is a plethora of lesser known, but equally gruesome, deaths in movie-making history. In 1941, whilst filming ‘They Died with Their Boots On’, extra Jack Budlong, tossed his sword when he realized he was going to be thrown from his horse. When he fell, he was impaled on the very sword that he’d thrown; the sword having landed sharp-side up. In 1969, during the filming of ‘Shark’, a stuntman was mauled to death on camera by a shark. The shark was supposed to be sedated. In 1972, a sound technician, James Chapman, was savaged by a lion whilst on location in South Africa.
The Accidentally Prone
If there was an award for the most number of injuries, Jackie Chan would win (literally) hands down. On various sets, he’s sustained so many injuries they are difficult to recount. He has cracked his skull and now has a permanent plug. He has dislocated his sternum and shoulder. He’s suffered crushed legs between two cars, a slashed arm by a sword that was supposed to be blunt, an injured chin, (which made speaking his lines difficult), an injured neck (during the famous, clock tower, fall scene) and he nearly suffocated when he injured his throat in ‘The Young Master’.
On movie sets elsewhere, other spectacular accidents have happened. Whilst filming ‘Seven’, Brad Pitt fell through a windscreen, requiring surgery on his hand and a rewrite of the script to explain why ‘Detective David Mills’ was suddenly wearing a cast. Nicole Kidman also wore a cast in ‘Moulin Rouge’ after injuring her knee. Many of her scenes were adjusted so that she could be seated. When filming ‘Die Hard’, Bruce Willis lost two thirds of his hearing after firing a gun, with extra loud blanks, under a table. Somewhat spoiling the atmosphere of a love-making scene, Halle Berry nearly choked to death due to having a fig in her mouth. During filming for ‘Cover Up’ in 1985, Jon Erik Hexum was declared brain dead after firing a gun, which he believed to hold blanks, into his own skull. He had been playing Russian Roulette during a break in filming.
Make Sure you’ve got it Covered
Working on a set, making a film, or even just staging an event, can have risks. If you’re thinking of staging any of your own ‘don’t try this at home’ Jackass style stunts make sure you have the right insurance. If there’s any chance anyone could be injured due to your actions, or because you’re responsible for an event, it's vital you cover yourself. Whilst filming, Cyborg, in 1989, Jean Claude van Damme, ended up accidentally stabbing Jackson ‘Rock’ Pickney in the eye, leading to him suffering permanent loss of vision. Pickney sued Van Damme for a whopping $487,500. You never know what might happen. Van Diesel’s stunt double’s final moments are captured in the film XXX for all to see. Harry L. O’Connor struck a bridge at high speed whilst parasailing. Harry had attempted the move for a second time believing he could achieve a better shot. The stunt was kept in the film, as a mark of respect, edited just before he hits the bridge.
You don’t have to be flying in a helicopter or jumping through exploding buildings to sustain an injury on set. Buddy Ebsen, the original Tinman, in the Wizard of Oz, was so allergic to the make-up used, his lung collapsed and he suffered life-long breathing problems. It is fascinating to know what is really going on behind the glossy movie scenes. It's often more gruesome than it seems.