While Eli Cross and others ride in a boom Crane Basket and Eli Cross talks about movie illusion, they entered the basket at the beach in La Jolla CA, and exit the basket 15 miles away at the Hotel del Coronado.
The film was a dream project for director Richard Rush. The film has frequently being publicized as taking nine years to get to the screen. However, Rush has said on the website for The Sinister Saga of Making 'The Stunt Man' (2000), that the picture took ten years to make from inception to release, seven years to finance it and then three years to release it. The script was first written in 1970 when the rights were first sold. The film was shot in 1978 with post-production conducted in 1979. The picture had trouble getting distributed until 20th Century Fox picked it up and released it in 1980.
The hiding out on a film set story element in this movie's story-line has a true real life parallel. A large number of members of the French Resistance worked on the film crew and/or as extras in crowd scenes on 'Marcel Carne''s Children of Paradise (1945) when Nazi power was at its peak in its occupation of France and these fighters needed concealing their identities from the Gestapo.
Director Richard Rush has said of this movie in a 2001 interview with Paul Hupfield: "I was lecturing at a university film school to a bunch of potential film students and asked them if any of them had seen my films. I started with Color of Night (1994), and I'd say about 80 hands went up out of a room of about 200 kids. Then I asked if anyone had seen The Stunt Man (1980), the film I actually wanted to talk to them about, and only two hands went up. Two hands in a room of 200! I thought, 'Oh boy, my film is totally lost on this generation...'."
The scene where the old car crashes off the bridge ("The Old Fair Oaks Bridge) into the river was filmed on the American River in Rancho Cordova and Fair Oaks, Sacramento County, California. When they first tried this the car actually jumped the track to lead it off the bridge and it continued down the bridge. The driver-less car was on a pulley system with a rail on the bridge road to guide it. The driver-less car chased down a few cameramen and crew and took out a camera before it came to rest.
Stunt coordinator Charles Bail, who is frequently known as Chuck Bail, worked as an actor in the film playing a character, Chuck, also a stunt coordinator, who had the same first name as his own. Bail also worked uncredited on stunts for the picture.
The film was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actor in a Leading Role - Peter O'Toole; Best Director - Richard Rush and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium, but the film failed to win an Oscar in any of these categories.
The picture was actor Peter O'Toole's previous cinema film made before My Favorite Year (1982). As such, it was back-to-back consecutive pictures about show-business for O'Toole as The Stunt Man (1980) was about movie-making whereas My Favorite Year (1982) was about 1950s live television. Moreover, O'Toole was Best Actor Oscar nominated for both films, but did not win the award for either.
The American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) declined approval to allow director Richard Rush's production filming of an early 20th century bi-plane near the Hotel del Coronado shooting location. According to Paul Tatara at the TCMDb, "Eventually, Rush secured the right to land the plane at a nearby Naval base, then Bail, who volunteered to fly the antique aircraft, 'developed radio trouble' and lost contact with the closest control tower, at which point the plane mysteriously began to 'stall' directly over the hotel. Bail then performed a handful of diving runs and machine gun passes while Rush filmed him with five strategically located cameras".
The make and model of the vintage car is referred to in the film as being a Duesenberg. However, according to the IMCDb, the vehicle was a made for movie car, it resembling a 1932 Mercedes Benz 770, and appearing to be made of various manufacturer styles including the above as well as Rolls Royce.
The movie's main "Stunt Man" character (played by Steve Railsback) is described by his director character Eli Cross (Peter O'Toole) in the film as being "A stuntman. Who is an actor. Who is a character in a movie. Who is an enemy soldier". Similarly, on the Australian home video sleeve notes, the persona's many layers is further detailed by stating that 'The Stunt Man' character is a "fugitive [who] becomes a stunt man who doubles for an actor . . . who plays an American flyer posing as a German soldier . . . who is a fugitive".
Publicity for this picture declared that the movie "defies categorization". The production notes stated that "while other films can be conveniently classified as comedies, westerns, thrillers or musicals" this film though is "a multi-layered experience". In the time since this picture debuted, the "multi-genre" Hollywood movie has become more commonplace.
According to 'Movies on TV and Videocassette', "Director-producer 'Richard Rush' worked on the project for nine years and [then] had to wait two years after the film was completed in 1978 to get it released".
Co-screenwriter Richard Rush has said of the rejection of his first draft script by Columbia Pictures studio executives: "They couldn't figure out if it was a comedy, a drama, if it was a social satire, if it was an action adventure...and, of course, the answer was, 'Yes, it's all those things'. But that isn't a satisfactory answer to a studio executive".
Lead actor Peter O'Toole reportedly struggled to find a suitable outfit for his role as obsessive director Eli Cross. After several days trying to find a suitable wardrobe, director Richard Rush got him to wear clothes which were replicas of his own, complete with matching viewfinder. It's been said that Rush's personality influenced O'Toole's portrayal of a fictional movie director.
Film critic Roger Ebert has said of this film's development and distribution: "Richard Rush . . . began preparing this film in 1971, and finally shot it in 1978. It was financed by Melvin Simon Productions, which couldn't find a distributor for it. It sat on the shelf for a year, finally got favorable attention at the USA (Dallas) and Montreal film festivals and was picked up by Twentieth Century-Fox . . . Its opening in New York was hailed by many critics, most notably the New Yorker's Pauline Kael, whose advice is that 'The Stunt Man' is one of the year's best films".
The Columbia Pictures studio in 1970 paid around US $300,000 for the film right's to Paul Brodeur's "The Stunt Man" novel whilst it was still in galley form. Later, the studio rejected the screenplay and put the picture into turnaround due to financial difficulties coupled with the perception that the picture would not be profitable. The studio then sold the rights to the movie to the film's writer-producer-director Richard Rush.
In an interview with 'American Film' magazine in 1981, director Richard Rush said the film "...had in it an irresistible metaphor for me. The idea of a fugitive hiding his identity by posing as a stuntman and falling under the dominance of a director seemed like a marvelous way to examine our universal panic and paranoia over controlling our own destinies. And it offered a chance to do it inside the structure of a big screen big action picture, which would be entertaining at the same time".
The Warner Brothers studio wanted to use "The Stuntman" title for the Burt Reynolds action-comedy movie Hooper (1978) which was about Hollywood stunt-work in movie-making. Director Richard Rush declined, the matter went to arbitration, and Rush won, as the title of the film had been sourced from Paul Brodeur's source novel which had the same title of "The Stunt Man". So Warners had to call the film something else which ended up being Hooper (1978). Previously, Warner Bros. had offered, prior to this film's financing and production, to allow Rush to make The Stunt Man (1980) if it was as a straight action movie and without all the artistic layering and illusions. Rush also turned down this offer.
The name of Peter O'Toole's Eli Cross director character in the film's source novel by Paul Brodeur was Gottschalk which is meant to mean "God's Servant". The movie's character of the film director was an amalgam of two characters from the novel, the director and the cinematographer (representing evil) Bruno de Fe.
All the major American film distributors rejected to distribute this picture. The producers then sneak previewed the picture itself in Seattle, Washington; Phoenix, Arizona and Columbus, Ohio. It then played at the Dallas Film Festival, and had test runs in Seattle and a theater near the UCLA campus in Westwood. It then opened in ten Los Angeles theaters in California. After it won the big prize at the Montreal Film Festival, 20th Century Fox picked up the picture for distribution in the USA.
The opening scene with the dog licking its genitals was shot multiple time and after a while the dog in question refused to repeatedly lick its genitals so the trainer had to apply peanut butter to the dog's testicles and sheath by rubbing it on. This encouraged the dog to lick it off and allowed the scene to be shot multiple times.
Reportedly, when actor Peter O'Toole first read the movie's script a few years prior to the film getting made, O'Toole said to director Richard Rush "I am an articulate, intelligent man. I read the screenplay and if you don't give me the part I will kill you". A similar "I will kill you" line of dialogue is said by O'Toole's director character in the movie.
Columbia offered the film to Richard Rush on the strength of the success of his previous film, Getting Straight (1970). Columbia executives then rejected the script, saying it was difficult to find a genre to place it in. Said Rush: "They couldn't figure out if it was a comedy, a drama, if it was a social satire, if it was an action adventure...and, of course, the answer was, 'Yes, it's all those things.' But that isn't a satisfactory answer to a studio executive." Rush then bough the film rights to Columbia and shopped the film to other studios, to no avail.
According to a DVD review by Almar Haflidason of the BBC, "...this movie had problems getting screened [for Oscars consideration] to members of the [American] Film Academy [of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences] because the one theatre showing it kept getting shut down due to strange technicalities...".
Though nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for this movie, director Richard Rush's next film would not be until 1994's Color of Night (1994) around fourteen years later. Moreover, amazingly, that film has been Rush's only directorial outing of a cinema feature film since The Stunt Man (1980).
Two of the names of the characters had double meanings. Steve Railsback)'s stuntman character Cameron was a play on words for "camera on" whilst Peter O'Toole's director character Eli Cross had a last name that was reference to being a God or Christ-like figure, something which O'Toole had previously examined in The Ruling Class (1972).
Also, "Eli" in Hebrew means "God", as in "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" - "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46), which were some of Christ's words on the cross.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
In the scene Eli and his crew are about to film the scene when the Dusenberg goes off the bridge. Cameron is nervous because he's driving the last Dusenberg and they must get the scene right on this one take. Just before the scene is shot, a local police detective, Jake, is questioning Eli if he knows anything about an escaped convict. Cameron hears the discussion between Jake and Eli and is now really upset because he knows the police are looking for him and are there right now. So now the crew is ready to shoot the scene, and before starting the other cameras he wants to check that the camera inside the car is working so he shouts "Camera on". The detective is standing beside the Dusenberg and sees that Cameron has not heard Eli's command. So Jake taps on the window of the car and shouts "Camera on?" ("Camera on" sounds like "Cameron"). Cameron, thinking that the detective knows his real name and knows he is the escaped convict, throws the Dusenberg into gear and speeds off, before Eli shouts "Action".