Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

A Hanging Tree Accident On Sinister Taught Director Scott Derrickson A Huge Lesson About Stunts

Danger is always in the cards when stunts are performed on a movie set, but actors, directors, and coordinators do everything they can to minimize the danger inherent in the work. People have been putting themselves in danger since Buster Keaton dangled from ledges back in the 1920s, but in the 2020s digital effects and post-production compositing go a long way toward ensuring people stay safe. We're decades from the era of Keaton collapsing real bridges underneath a real steam train into a real river to effect a stunt for "The General" (per Ripley's Believe it or Not). 

But that doesn't stop accidents of all sorts from occurring on film sets, sometimes with tragic consequences (via CNN), and other times resulting in injuries much more minor. On the set of "Sinister," surreal horror met practical planning, a surprising hidden villain, and adroit stunt coordination. Not every eventuality can be planned for — though some risks can be mitigated. Here's what director Scott Derrickson learned about stunt work thanks to a close call that happened on the film's set.

Per Slashfilm's exclusive oral history of the filming of "Sinister," a stunt involving a performer harnessed to a guide wire (which was attached to a tree) meant to effect a hanging went awry. This caused Scott Derrickson to take on a brand-new on-set maxim: "Since then I have always made sure that I see with my own eyes that every possible precaution has been taken before filming any potentially dangerous stunt."

Derrickson learned to check over things himself on-set

According to John El Manahi, the film's art director, there had been conflicts about the stunt from the beginning. The actor in question had to be double-yoked to a weight-bearing cable and the rope used to effect the hanging illusion. El Manahi expressed concern that the cable might be visible on camera, and the methods decided upon by the stunt coordinator — involving a quick-release trigger — caused further worries. These were justified when they attempted to film the stunt. "These guys are in these stirrups and they're being hoisted from the back, like it's around their back. The guy came out of his stirrups, so his harness went up around his neck," he said.

Disaster was thankfully averted, and the actor made it out of the harness without injury — though they were understandably frightened. Derrickson, who also blamed himself for the incident as the stunt hadn't been tested beforehand, was horrified about the near miss. "I was furious because the attempted stunt was clearly not safe and had not been properly tested. I've only fired two crew members in my career, and in this instance, I fired the stunt coordinator on the spot, in front of the rest of the crew." The production was then shuttered for three days, during which a new coordinator was hired.