The makers of Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga have been fined £800,000 for breaching health and safety legislation after a stuntman suffered brain damage and a broken skull during a staged fight scene in 2019. The incident has sparked calls for increased safety measures and changes in stunt coordination practices in the film industry.
Background on Stuntman’s Injury
Joe Watts, a professional stunt performer who had worked on several high-profile productions such as Game Of Thrones, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, was injured on July 22, 2019, while filming a scene for the ninth installment of the popular action franchise at Warner Brothers’ studios in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. He was supposed to be thrown over the shoulder of another performer on a balcony, but his safety line detached and he fell 25 feet head-first on to the concrete ground, missing the crash mats. He was rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull and severe brain damage, and spent several weeks in a coma. He has since undergone multiple surgeries and rehabilitation, but his injuries have left him with permanent impairments.
Legal Consequences for Fast & Furious Filmmakers
FF9 Pictures, a multimillion-pound subsidiary of Universal Pictures, was charged by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) for failing to ensure the health and safety of its employees and contractors. The company pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined £800,000 at Luton Magistrates’ Court on November 26, 2023. The company was also ordered to pay £25,000 in prosecution costs and a £170 victim surcharge.
District Judge Talwinder Buttar, who presided over the case, said that Mr Watts was “fortunate to be alive” and that the incident was “astonishing” and “avoidable”. She criticised the decision to alter the stunt “at the last minute” without checking the safety line or adjusting the crash matting. She said that the company had “no system for double checking that the link had been properly engaged and tightened” and that it “did not extend the crash matting needed to mitigate the consequences of an unintended fall following changes to the set and the sequence of the stunt”.
Impact on Film Industry
The case has highlighted the risks and challenges involved in stunt work, especially in high-budget and high-octane productions such as the Fast & Furious franchise. The incident has also raised questions about the adequacy and enforcement of health and safety regulations and standards in the film industry, both in the UK and internationally.
The case has prompted calls for increased safety measures and changes in stunt coordination practices to prevent similar accidents from happening in the future. Some of the suggestions include:
- Having a dedicated safety supervisor on set who can oversee and approve all stunts and ensure compliance with health and safety rules.
- Conducting thorough risk assessments and contingency plans for every stunt and location, and communicating them clearly to all crew members and performers.
- Providing adequate training and equipment for stunt performers and ensuring they are qualified and experienced for the tasks they are assigned.
- Reviewing and updating the health and safety policies and procedures of production companies and studios, and ensuring they are aligned with the best practices and guidelines of the industry.
The fine imposed on the makers of Fast & Furious 9: The Fast Saga is a reminder of the importance and responsibility of health and safety in film production. The stuntman’s fall was a tragic and preventable accident that could have been avoided with proper planning, preparation and supervision. The incident has also exposed the need for more awareness and action on the part of the film industry to ensure the safety and well-being of its workers and contractors. No movie is worth dying for, as Steven Spielberg once said.