French stunt school's 'badass' women snapped up by film industry

by Reuters
Monday, 10 May 2021 19:43 GMT

Student Birgui Tall attends a training session at France's Campus Univers Cascade (CUC), a training ground for stuntmen, in Le Cateau-Cambresis, France, May 4, 2021. Picture taken May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

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Rising numbers of women are training at Europe's stunt school as demand for female superheroes grows

LE CATEAU-CAMBRESIS, France, May 6 (Reuters) - Valeriane Michelini trained as a dancer before opting to tap into the growing demand for stuntwomen and a career of jumping out of helicopters, leaping from buildings and brawling.

Michelini is one of a growing number of women passing through the Campus Univers Cascade (CUC), which bills itself as the world's biggest stunt school, and looking to break into European cinema and Hollywood as a stunt double.

"I'm used to thriving in a graceful and feminine world," the 29-year-old said between rounds of simulated fights. "And now, I'm in quite the opposite."

Nearly a third of the school's current intake are women.

Demand for female superheroes in the film industry is growing and with the growth of online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney Plus, 24-year-old Marine Dolle believes she'll be a precious commodity on the job market.

"It's choreographed, it's calculated, it's technical," Dolle said of the challenges of safely executing dangerous stunts.

Sometimes, the school's women students don't even finish the course before they are snapped up by studios on either side of the Atlantic.

Keeping the talent in France is proving difficult, said the school's parkour trainer Malik Diouf.

"There's really a small pool of stuntwomen," Diouf said. "As soon as they have the slightest skills, they leave directly to work with the Americans, the English or the rest of the world."

It was once commonplace for studios to use stuntmen in wigs instead of female doubles, a practice known as wigging.

In 2017, American stuntwoman Deven MacNair filed a discrimination complaint against a production company and an actors' union with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after a male double performed a stunt for an actress on a set MacNair was working on.

The EEOC said it was unable to conclude there had been a violation of statutes.

Attitudes were evolving, said CUC director Lucas Dollfus.

"We don't need wigs anymore," he said. "The women are badass in any case." (Reporting by Ardee Napolitano; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Grant McCool)

CUC director Lucas Dollfus poses next to student Zoe Simonnuti during a training session at France's Campus Univers Cascade (CUC), a training ground for stuntmen, in Le Cateau-Cambresis, France, May 4, 2021. Picture taken May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Keeping the talent in France is proving difficult, said the school's parkour trainer Malik Diouf.

"There's really a small pool of stuntwomen," Diouf said. "As soon as they have the slightest skills, they leave directly to work with the Americans, the English or the rest of the world."

It was once commonplace for studios to use stuntmen in wigs instead of female doubles, a practice known as wigging.

In a landmark lawsuit in 2018, U.S. stuntwoman Deven MacNair sued a production company and Hollywood's acting union over dressing up a male double rather than hiring a woman.

Attitudes were evolving, said CUC director Lucas Dollfus.

"We don't need wigs anymore," he said. "The women are badass in any case."

(Reporting by Ardee Napolitano; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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