Occupational Hazards: The Movie That Injured 70 Crew Members

When you think hazardous occupations the first ones that are likely to pop into your head are: cop, fireman and soldier. Those are completely justifiable too because these people routinely run into burning buildings, get shot at by criminals and go (relatively) willingly into politically unstable war zones. But I bet that you would never think that acting could be extremely bad for your health.

I see you protesting…I know that most movie studios give their actors the option to use a stunt double to do the dangerous stuff, but sometimes it’s not just the stunts that are hazardous. Movie sets are a chaotic, constantly moving complex organism of heavy equipment and crew members, and in the case of the movie that we are talking about, wild, untamed animals. Yes, you read that right. The 1981 movie Roar involved many, many wild untamed animals. Untamed animals which resulted in 70 crew members being injured during the 11-year filming of the movie.

Why Tippi Why?

The filming was hectic: involving long work-days and even longer workweeks, with actors only getting one afternoon off per week. Initially, Tippi said that not only was the experience immensely educational it was also wonderful. Eventually, though, the grueling schedule combined with a traumatizing experience caused the young actress to break-down (which some argue Hitchcock planned all along to help the actress convey the feeling of anxiety).

In the now famous attic attack scene, Tippi was told mechanical birds would be used. Instead, the stunt coordinators and technicians donned heavy leather gloves and threw (what I assume were really pissed off) birds at the actress. For an entire week, the actress was emotionally and physically exhausted after being assaulted by these pissed off birds.

How is that Relevant?

I’d like to thank you for your patience, and as promised here’s why Tippi Hedren’s hellish experience on The Birds is relevant. Her then husband Noel Marshall (producer of the Exorcist…man this movie was doomed before it was even thought up) decided to fund, produce and direct Roar. I like to imagine Marshall’s pitch as going like so: “Remember how unpredictable and dangerous live animals are in movies honey? Well, I kind of want to make a movie starring all our children and have lions, tigers and cheetahs chasing them” then Tippi fell to the floor in hysterics rocking back and forth whispering “just no more birds, NO MORE BIRDS” to which Marshall answered “There won’t be any birds honey. So is that a yes? I’ll take that as a yes”.

Marshall then proceeded to spend 17 million dollars, a lot of which was his own money, to fund the movie. He also used two of his children from a previous marriage (that’s one way to get out of child support payments), his then wife, Tippi, and Melanie Griffith (which is Tippi’s daughter from a previous marriage) to star in the movie. What followed next is a how-not-to guide for making a movie with animals in it. Actually, as you’ll see, it reads more like a horror novel.

150 Big Cats

I know every single cat-lovers eyes glittered with excitement upon reading the title above. Because what’s better that a small cute cat? A huge cute cat right? I’m sure that’s what Marshall and Hedren thought. If you have ever seen the average cat owners’ extremities, you will usually notice an assortment of small red dots and bloodied long red lines. Domestic cat’s nails are only a few millimeters long (a fraction of an inch), imagine what a cat with 38-millimeter long claws (or one and a half-inch claws) could do to you. You can stop guessing because I’m about to tell you. It can detach a man’s scalp for his skull.

Serious Injury Part 1

Yes, cinematographer Jan de Bont had his scalp detached from his skull, and it required 220 stitches to reattach. Although Jan De Bont became active in Hollywood later on, this was his first state side film. Most Hollywood stories start out with someone moving to the States or California working in a greasy spoon eatery for a while and getting discovered just as desperation set in. De Bont’s Hollywood story involves 220 stitches and losing most of the skin on the top of his head. However, it is infinitely more hardcore than working at the McDonald’s on Hollywood Blvd until a film exec wanted a Big Mac after getting the coke munchies.

Serious Injury Part 2

If you’re still squirming from the previous entry, I’m sorry. I mentioned in the intro that this article was about a film that injured 70 cast and crew members, you knew what you were being served. Personally the craziest aspect of this movie is the fact that many of the injuries were used in the actual film.

One scene almost cost Melanie Griffith her eye and required extensive reconstructive surgery. In another scene, Griffith’s mother Tippi was bitten on the neck by a lion, barely missing her jugular. In addition to those injuries, the director got gangrene from his numerous injuries, the assistant director had his throat bitten open and a lion even tried to take his ear off. OK, so that last list of injuries didn’t show up in the film because it happened behind the cameras. I don’t think that makes it any less terrifying though.

Have you been mauled by a lion, tiger or cheetah? That’s a bit insensitive actually. Have you seen Roar or would you like to see it? Let me know in the comment section below.