How much danger can a movie producer legally put an actor in?

Wondering if OSHA applies to Hollywood - suppose a movie director tells an actor or actress, “For this scene to be really realistic, let’s actually indeed jab you with this needle hard and deep in order to make your pain sound real, or let’s actually strangle you for a minute with this rope and see you pass out, but we’ll make sure to release the rope before you actually start to suffer serious harm,” is there legal protection for an actor (technically, an “employee”) to refuse this without retaliation?
(Supposing that the actor is technically allowed to say no, but practically speaking, cannot say no - i.e., the movie is the career breakout role, or would pay millions of dollars when the actor/actress is broke at the moment, etc.)

All I have is an anecdote: Quentin Tarantino really choked Diane Kruger in Inglorious Basterds.

They really tied Tom Cruise to the outside of that airplane taking off and climbing to altitude.

I also recall a B movie where they couldn’t afford blanks and shot real bullets at the actors (close to them). It is documented but i can’t remember the name. I’ve seen it.


No one (anywhere, not just on movie sets) is allowed to knowingly put another person in actual danger. That’s more than against OSHA regs; that’s against the law. And knowingly putting another person in potential danger could run you afoul of the law as well.

As for making movies (or plays, or events) OSHA recognizes that you cannot remove all danger from every situation, but you have to make a concerted, good faith effort to do so. Tom Cruise wasn’t just hanging onto the outside of a plane, for instance. He was in a harness with redundant attachments and the stunt was rehearsed with a stuntman at gradually increasing heights to make sure everything was ok.

And, no one can be forced to do anything that they feel is unsafe; the individual is ultimate arbiter of their own safety. And they can’t be fired for refusing to do something they feel is unsafe. Unless it can be proven that they were wrong, knew they were wrong and were being unreasonable. This is true for anyone on set, not just actors.

All that being said, movie sets can be very dangerous places. Directors often ask for scenes to be “more realistic” and actors and stuntmen and techs are often as gungho as the director to “get the shot”. Accidents large and small often go unreported to osha or the insurance companies, because no one wants the shoot to get shut down.

I have never heard this anecdote, but I highly doubt it’s true. Live ammo can be used, but it can never be fired toward ANY living thing. And most companies prohibit live and blank ammo from even being on the same set, to prevent accidental swapping.

He also got Uma Thurman to do a car driving stunt she felt was unsafe, and she ended up being in a bad accident.

OSHA applies on movie sets, but there are cases of money or time restraints that lead to shady producers not following laws. I don’t know how often it happens, but considering apparently how often that directors or producers have said to actresses something along the line of “sleep with me or your career will be hurt”, I can imagine that there are also cases of “do this thing that seems dangerous or your career will be hurt”.

The unions - SAG/AFTRA - could also get involved, since they have rules for dangerous sets. here is a recent article about the reps enforcing safe working conditions in Louisiana.
That doesn’t mean that some actors won’t do stunts out of machismo, and that others might get talked into them - but in general injuring an actor in a major role is not good for your budget.
The Vic Morrow disaster made this problem a bigger deal, especially when kids were involved.

Here is a link to the SAG/AFTRA know your rights page. They have a part for extras (background actors)

It’s not anecdotal it’s established fact. I’ve seen it in several documentaries. I’m not talking about modern movies but early Hollywood gangster movies. They employed expert marksmen to shoot before someone came up with squibs.

Take a Cracked article with a grain of salt but it’s what I found it the short time I have for a search right now.

When the vile excuse for a human being Randall Miller filmed on an active train trestle even though he had been expressly denied permission to do so, resulting in a death and multiple injuries, he was cited by OSHA for serious and willful safety violations. He was later convicted of voluntary manslaughter and served a year in prison.

With CGI at the level that it is today, I don’t see why even a stunt double much less an A-list actor has to risk his or her personal safety. It makes no sense on any level.

Not life-threatening per se, but Brendan Fraser has talked about the long list of injuries he’s suffered doing stunts for the Mummy films, but blames himself mostly. Jackie Chan of course has a famously long list of on-set injuries but those are also largely due to risks he himself opted to take.

Disney is working on making robotic stuntmen.

Indeed! A few of his movies have outtakes during the credits of him banging himself up in stunts gone wrong.

Even if the person in danger freely and willingly agrees to it? Some actors are known for wanting to do their own stunts.

There’s a difference to performing a stunt under rehearsed and controlled situations with full safety staff and redundant systems versus putting someone in actual danger (filming on a live train trestle, for instance).

Robert Conrad was another actor who insisted on doing his own stunts. I don’t have time to look for it now, but there’s a clip on YouTube where he took a fall in The Wild, Wild, West while swinging from a chandelier. He landed flat on his back, fractured his skull, and was hospitalized for some time.

When you watch that clip, remember: That’s the concrete floor of a sound stage he lands on, not the wooden floor of a saloon. Ouch! :smack:

Yeah, Tarantino is the worst for this, both choking a girl for real and making Thurman do a driving stunt that injured her big-time.

I remember there was a Doctor Who with a horse scene. I recall reading that actors in England don’t ride horses. The Doctor Who Confidential episode showed a fake rig the actor used to pretend he was riding. It’s considered stunt work.

Here in the US I’m pretty sure actors do much of the riding. Think of Bonanza and Big Valley. Stunt men handle the full gallops.

I read somewhere that it now takes him at least 20 minutes to get out of bed in the morning, due to physical damage caused by stunts that went wrong. Again, ouch! :smack:

Vic Morrow and a young child actor getting decapitated by helicopter blades, and another child actor getting crushed when the copter crashes on him has to rank at the top of the list.

Vic Morrow’s last words were supposedly “I’ve got to be crazy to do this shot. I should’ve asked for a double.”

One of my favorites is from Rumble In The Bronx: the stunt seems fairly innocuous, as I recall it was jumping from a bridge onto a hovercraft (the drop isn’t all that far, at least not for a superhuman like Chan). But as he lands he slips and breaks his ankle. He gets carted away on a stretcher. The next thing they show is Jackie sliding a sock over the cast - a sock that’s been painted to look like his shoe. He’s wearing the same jeans, but now there’s a zipper on the side that allows him to wear them over the cast and put on the sock. And then he just keeps on filming the movie, cast and everything.

I once saw an interview with him where he said that the worst injury he’d ever gotten was during a scene where a helicopter buzzes right over a tree he was in as he jumps out. Apparently the helicopter was too close and the skid hit him on the head as he jumped, knocking him unconscious as he fell about 60 feet out of the tree. I think he got a metal plate in his head for that one.

Jackie Chan has said that he started doing his own stunts because, in the early days in China, you could pick up a second salary by being both the stuntman and the actor, so it was a way to just pick up extra money (and salaries were pretty small, so every extra bit counted). He kept on doing it because eventually people expected it of him.