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With his new “Stuntman” documentary, director Kurt Mattila hopes to shine a spotlight on Hollywood’s unsung heroes.
The film follows longtime movie-and-TV stunt performer Eddie Braun as he attempts to complete a jump across a 1,700-foot canyon that his childhood hero, Evel Knievel, was unable to finish.
But “Stuntman,” out Friday on Disney+, also offers a rare glimpse into the daredevil work of the men and women who risk their bodies on Hollywood sets.
“I just wanted people to see that these guys really put themselves out there to protect the cast and double for actors, and really put themselves through the ropes for us to be entertained,” Mattila told the Daily News. “A lot of these stunts that we see are still being performed by people who get hurt so we can enjoy these sequences.”
Braun, who operated the General Lee on “Dukes of Hazzard” and worked as a double for stars such as Charlie Sheen, was looking toward retirement when he decided to replicate Knievel’s 1974 attempt to clear Idaho’s Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket.
Knievel survived after crashing into the canyon due to a parachute malfunction. Decades later, Braun made it his mission to pay tribute to Knievel by attempting the jump in a similarly designed rocket.
“He thought, well, is there a way to honor this 30 years of experience that he’s had, honor the 30 years of the stunt community’s work and the movies he’s done, the TV shows?” Mattila said. “He thought about how he even got into this business in the first place, and that was when he met his childhood hero, Evel Knievel, as a kid. That’s the guy that inspired him to become a stuntman.”
Mattila met Braun while working together on a car commercial campaign, and asked the stuntman in 2013 if he could chronicle his Snake River Canyon jump attempt on camera.
The documentary follows the work that went into arranging the 2016 jump — and the challenges Braun faced along the way.
“What I learned about Eddie is that when he says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it,” Mattila said. “He kept echoing, ‘Let your yeses be yeses and your nos be nos.’ Even these darkest, lowest moments that we experienced over the course of seven years of making this film, I knew he gave me (his) word that we would one day launch this rocket.”
“Stuntman,” which was executive produced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, won the audience award at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2018.
Mattila remembers being surprised to learn stunt performers sometimes get hurt during their set work, and says the goal is to avoid serious injury.
The director hopes “Stuntman” shows fans of action and comic book movies the contributions that Braun and his fellow stunt performers make.
“He’s got four kids. He’s a father,” Mattila said of Braun. “That was the other aspect of the story. I always thought about what happens if Superman has a family and goes to work, and he puts himself in danger to protect other people, and then comes home to his wife and kids. I got to see that a little bit in this film.”