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'Deadpool 2' accident a rarity in industry that takes precautions: stunt pros

Last Updated Aug 15, 2017 at 1:47 pm PDT

A police officer examines a motorcycle after a female stunt driver working on the movie "Deadpool 2" died after a crash on set, in Vancouver, B.C., on Monday August 14, 2017. Monday's deadly crash on the set of "Deadpool 2" is a rarity in an industry that takes extreme precautions to ensure safety but acknowledges there is always an element of risk involved, say stunt professionals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

TORONTO, ON. (NEWS 1130) – Monday’s deadly crash on the set of “Deadpool 2” in Vancouver was a rarity in an industry that takes extreme precautions to ensure safety, say stunt professionals, who nevertheless accept there is always an element of risk involved.

“Most of us know each other and everybody was shocked, because this stuff just doesn’t really happen, in Canada, anyway,” says Neven Pajkic, a 39-year-old Toronto-based stunt performer whose credits include Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming film “The Shape of Water” and the TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

“It just doesn’t happen and it’s heartbreaking.”

Joi (SJ) Harris, a 40-year-old female stunt driver from New York, died after her motorcycle crashed into a window of a building during production. Details have not emerged as to exactly what happened but some witnesses said she appeared to lose control of the vehicle.

The incident came about a month after the death of a stuntman on the set of “The Walking Dead.”

“It is a rarity but the possibility exists that it can happen,” says Rick Forsayeth, a Toronto-based stunt co-ordinator, noting in his 35 years in the industry — working on films including “X-Men,” “Resident Evil: Extinction” and “AVP: Alien vs. Predator” — there’s never been a fatality on set.

Adam Winlove-Smith, a 34-year-old stunt performer from Toronto whose credits include the upcoming “Code 8” film starring Stephen Amell and Robbie Amell, agrees that catastrophic accidents “are super rare” but professionals accept there are risks.

“It is risky but everybody knows that going into the industry, so you have to have that personality to deal with that risk that may occur.”

Stunt performers hail from various backgrounds, including martial arts, boxing, motorsports, mountain climbing, gymnastics, circus arts and swordfighting.

Pajkic got into the industry after being a professional boxer and has since taken various industry certification courses, including one for rappelling.

Meanwhile, Winlove-Smith says he was trained in extreme sports growing up, including freestyle skiing, martial arts, knife fighting and acrobatics.

Both are members are Canada’s performers’ union and say stunt co-ordinators research the background of all talent in order to ensure they have the proper skills.

“Nobody’s going to pick you to do a stunt if you don’t have sufficient training,” says Pajkic.

“You can’t just go out there and pretend you’re a stunt guy. That doesn’t happen, ever.”

Pajkic can’t speak for the industry in British Columbia but says in Ontario and Quebec, where he’s worked, “it’s an utmost controlled and safety-oriented place.”

“I had more bumps and bruises in my boxing career,” he says. “You’ve got to understand, there are people who’ve done stunts for 40 years in this city. You don’t do something for 40 years if it’s that dangerous.”

Both he and Winlove-Smith say they’ve never been seriously injured on set, or felt unsafe.

“Most of my friends who are stunt performers tend to get injured when they’re doing their own training,” says Winlove-Smith

“There’s only a few people I’ve known that have actually gotten hurt on set but it hasn’t been to the extent of career-ending. You get bumps and bruises, but that comes with the territory.”

Pajkic says the one time he felt uncomfortable with a stunt he was asked to do, the stunt co-ordinator understood and found someone more specialized to do it. Pajkic was still paid for that day’s work.

“They’re never willing to take risks with lives,” he says. “When there’s a high-speed chase, there’s always a risk. When there’s a stair fall, there’s always a risk.

“We take precautions…. This is very extensive training to get into the industry. But you get killed walking a doggie nowadays, a car runs you over…. You can only control so much. There is obviously an X-factor with our industry that’s a little bit higher.”

Safety precautions vary according to the stunt being performed. When a scene involves rappelling, the cables and wires used to rehearse are switched out with new ones for the day of shooting, says Forsayeth.

If a scene involves a car crash or car chase, they may use fuel cells, which bypass the gas tank and contain just enough fuel for the scene in order to avoid explosions. Such a scene may also involve roll cages and safety bars.

Stunt scenes are often extensively rehearsed at a different site and then again once more on the site of production before cameras start rolling.

“Any co-ordinator will do his max (to prepare) … then it’s out of your hands as those cameras roll and somebody calls ‘action,'” says Forsayeth.

He expects Monday’s crash will prompt the industry to “certainly have a close look at it and see whether it was preventable.”

“These situations sometimes open eyes and get more people involved.”