EXCLUSIVE: El Chicano producer Joe Carnahan said that “all safety protocols were followed to the T” in the run-up to last week’s on-set accident in Calgary when a stunt car and a taco truck collided and sent another car crashing into the camera platform as the camera crew went scrambling. He said a cameraman’s claims that the shot was unsafe and poorly planned are “simply not true.”
Stuntman Greg Harris was injured in the accident. “He was there to safety our director of photography,” Carnahan told Deadline. “He did his job. Greg happened to put a fire extinguisher at the bottom of the platform. When he jumped off the platform, he rolled his right knee. He’s back at work and was moving around on crutches the next day,” the producer said.
“I’m doing all right, I’m hanging in there, day by day,” Harris said, noting that he had to have surgery to reattach the quad and patella tendons to his knee. No one else was injured, but Harris’ quick thinking may have saved the film’s DP from serious injury.
The incident being investigated by actors union ACTRA Alberta and IATSE Local 669, which represents the film’s crew.
The scene called for a stunt car to crash into a taco truck, which would then be tipped over on its side by an air cannon. But instead of flipping, the taco truck bounced back up on its wheels and careened into a catch car that had been positioned in front of the camera platform as a safety barrier. The catch car then crashed into the camera platform. It happened in seconds.
Looking through the narrow view of his camera lens, the DP couldn’t see that the stunt had gone wrong, but they’d planned for that contingency. Before the stunt, Harris told the DP that if he felt a tug on his shirt, it meant that something was wrong and should jump from the platform.
“I had my right hand gripped on his shirt, and when the van came, I pulled him off the platform and made him jump with me,” Harris said. “He was still looking through his lens. I pulled on his shirt, and as I was in the air, I grabbed him by the arm and threw him to the side. The catch car hit the table, and the table hit me.”
Stumbling to regain his balance, Harris fell to the ground, landing on his back on the fire extinguisher he’d placed to the side of the platform in case the taco truck ignited. His torn knee, he laughed, “didn’t hurt as much as my back. I put a fire extinguisher where no one would fall on it, and I fell on it. I set my own trap up.”
The director of photography, he said, appreciated his efforts. “The DP didn’t even have a scratch. I got injured, but my job was to protect him. He sent me bottles of wine, which helps with the healing process.”
Harris says he doesn’t consider himself a hero, but that’s what all heroes say.
He and Carnahan both are angry, however, at the camera operator who, in the wake of the accident, claimed on social media that the stunt was too dangerous and that he had “total reservations” about filming it but went ahead with it anyway, despite his better judgment. Posting on Facebook, the cameraman thanked a quick-thinking dolly grip for pulling him to safety and “saving my ass.”
“I have seen people die on set, and yet, in the given circumstances, I felt that I was expected to do the shot as planned and was assured by all the people above me that we were following all protocols,” the camera operator wrote. “Post-crash, I was furious with production for putting me in that position. I had to demand that they actually debrief the accident before moving on and continuing to shoot. It was completely crazy.”
Carnahan, who posted footage of the accident on Instagram – which since has been taken down – said that simply is not true. “He was not meant to shoot this scene until the truck wound up on its side. He put himself in harm’s way. The safety protocol that we had in place went off flawlessly. The stunt did not, but that happens. There’s an investigation underway.”
He said that “we were doubly, doubly vigilant” in the wake of recent on-set accidents that took the lives of stuntman John Bernecker on The Walking Dead and stuntwoman Joi “S.J.” Harris on Deadpool 2.
“If I thought we’d done anything wrong, I wouldn’t have posted it to social media,” he said of the footage showing the accident. “It was intended to show how brave and tough and undervalued stunt people are. Never did I think it was going to be unwound into this accusatory thing.”
Deadline has obtained the footage, but copyright law prohibits its publication without the permission of its owner. Callahan declined to give that permission because of the ongoing investigation.
Harris, who has 25 years of experience as a stuntman, said he was “was extremely shocked” by the cameraman’s Facebook posting.
“If he was at the same safety meeting I was at, he would have known that he was not supposed to go in until the stunt was over, after the van flipped over on its side. He was supposed to come in with his Steadicam and show the driver in the truck, but instead he came in before the cars even crashed. He didn’t cause the accident, but saying he was in danger – he shouldn’t have even been there. No one was supposed to be there. That’s the part that made me angry. It was his fault he shouldn’t have been there. But he went online saying all these negative things about everyone. I’m the one who was injured, and I’m not blaming anyone. There’s always a chance that something could go wrong. Once in a blue moon you get a freak accident, and this is one of them.”
The cameraman is no longer with the production. El Chicano is being directed by Ben Bray and stars George Lopez, Raúl Castillo, Aimee Garcia and Kate Del Castillo.