HOLLYWOOD (CBSLA) — They are some of the most thrilling moments in movies. The over-the-top stunts that make and sell blockbuster films.
As KCAL9/CBS2’s Suzanne Marques reports, there is an effort to make movie stunts safer following the tragic death of a stuntwoman who died on the set of her first film.
“She lived it, she breathed it. Everything out of her mouth was motorcycles. Made her extremely happy,” said best friend Sandi Carti.
Motorcycle racer SJ Harris loved to stand out and she wanted to be the best.
“She said, you know what, I’m going to be a star,” said Carti.
“She said she was going to make a difference because all of her life, whatever adventure she took upon, she made a difference,” said boyfriend Darrell Bryant.
Not only did she make a difference. She made history.
“In 2013, she was the first licensed female African-American road racer in the United States,” said Bryant.
Harris and Bryant met 12 years ago and he was the one who taught her how to ride.
“I’ve been riding a long time and I believe she loved it more than I did,” said Bryant.
Hollywood came calling this summer, when she was asked to appear in the film “Deadpool 2” as a stunt double for Zazie Beetz.
“She said, ‘we made it.’ Those were her exact words. ‘We made it,’ ” said Bryant.
It was Harris’ first time on a film set. Bryant says he wasn’t allowed to be on set with her.
She rehearsed and performed the stunt successfully, but on the first take, something went terribly wrong.
Harris hit a curb, was thrown off the bike, and went through a plate glass window, according to eyewitnesses and an official report after the crash. Harris didn’t survive.
“There’s a lot of unanswered questions,” said Carti.
Her death is one of two other high-profile stunt set accidents over the past few months.
Also in August, Tom Cruise broke his ankle on the set of “Mission: Impossible 6.”
In July, stuntman John Bernecker died after a 22-foot fall from a balcony on “The Walking Dead” set.
Conrad Palmisano has been a stuntman for nearly fifty years, with credits in over 300 major films and TV shows.
He’s four-time president of the Stuntmen’s Association and works as a stunt coordinator on sets.
He says in the United States, despite the danger stunt people face, there are no certifications required to work as a stuntperson.
“Stunt performers are part of the Screen Actors Guild. We tried in the past to come up with qualification programs,” said Palmisano. “In all the times that I’ve worked as a stuntman and as a stunt coordinator, nobody’s ever so much as asked me for a driver’s license.”
Stunt coordinators are the ones who plan and coordinate stunts.
There are no certifications required for that job either.
“We know that it needs to be done and it should be done. Just like you can’t fly an airplane without a license. In the business you have to have an explosive powder man’s license to set the bomb off because these things take a certain amount of training and expertise to do that,” said Palmisano.
Harris’ friends are still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that their friend is gone.
They’re keeping her memory alive with memorial rides.
Harris was honored posthumously at the Action Icon Stuntwomen’s Awards with the Diamond In The Raw award, for being the first African-American female road racer.
Bryant says they’re setting up a scholarship fund in her name, to find the next history maker.
“We’re not going to let her legacy disappear,” said Bryant. “We’re going to do everything to keep it alive because that’s what she wanted.”
Palmisano says a good stunt coordinator wouldn’t let stunt people get pushed too hard to perform the full stunt on the first take. He has them warm up for stunts even as they roll cameras, building up to the big event.
He says stunt people feel the pressure to perform sometimes and without certifications for stunt people and their coordinators there is no way to ensure that stunts will be done professionally and safely.