• 5/04/05

    Double Dare

    Film by Amanda Micheli to Premiere on “Independent Lens,” the Emmy Award-winning Series on PBS, Hosted By Susan Sarandon Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 10:00 P.M. Airs with PIKI AND POKO “Taking the Dare!” (check local listings)

    Legendary Stunt Women Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell Make Their Mark in a Rough-and-Tumble Man's World Featuring Lynda Carter, Lucy Lawless, Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino

    Contact: Cara White 843/881-1480 carapub@aol.com

     Mary Lugo      770/623-8190        lugo@negia.net
     Randall Cole       415/356-8383        randall_cole@itvs.org
     Desiree Gutierrez       415/356-8383       desiree_gutierrez@itvs.org
    

    Program companion website: www.pbs.org/doubledare

    (San Francisco) — Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell have been set on fire, thrown off buildings, dragged by wild horses and hit by cars. As Hollywood stuntwomen, they are the anonymous, blue-collar heroines of film and television, taking the hits that make actors into stars. They stand in for the rare female action-hero, the typical “damsel in distress” and everything in between.

    DOUBLE DARE explores the lives of Epper and Bell, stunt doubles for Wonder Woman and Xena: Warrior Princess, as they face the challenges of a dangerous and male-dominated profession. The real women behind these two world-famous icons are at drastically different crossroads in their lives. One, a grandmother, struggles with the aging process and Hollywood's dearth of older female roles; the other, a young woman, is brash and unaware of the feminist history that has preceded her in this notoriously macho field. When Epper becomes a mentor for Bell, these two women from opposite sides of the world and opposite ends of their careers find a way to survive in the industry together. The film follows Epper and Bell's daily struggles to stay employed, stay thin and stay sane—against the backdrops of Xena, Wonder Woman, Six Feet Under, and Quentin Tarantino's film, Kill Bill.

    The film also provides a bit on history of women and stunts. In the early days, stuntmen in wigs and dresses commonly doubled for female stars. But before they could vote, a few pioneering stuntwomen walked the wings of mid-flight airplanes and rode the plains of early Westerns. Contrary to the cliché of the damsel in distress on the railroad tracks, the heroines of early action serials were not helpless. The Perils of Pauline and The Hazards of Helen showcased female protagonists in constant action, and—while men did much of the doubling—this is how the first stuntwomen got their start. These were Jeannie Epper's mentors.

    Of all industries, Hollywood is perhaps the oldest “boy's club.” Last year, women directed only four percent of major Hollywood releases. Actresses over 30 are considered “over the hill” and must have supermodel bodies to stay competitive for roles. Within this man's world, the stunt community is by far the most macho of them all, and one of the lowest on the totem pole with the highest unemployment rate to boot. Women who work in the stunt industry must constantly prove themselves to male and female producers alike, and with a few exceptions, are rarely if ever promoted to stunt-coordinator positions. After meeting a number of stuntwomen, director Amanda Micheli was struck by the extreme challenges they face on a daily basis.

    Micheli chose to focus on Jeannie Epper and Zoë Bell because she felt they were dichotomies of young/old and past/present—between which lie the experiences of so many women defining their own identities in a culture plagued by gender stereotypes. Epper and Bell are doubles for Wonder Woman and Xena, doubles for each other, and doubles for the average woman who struggles to maintain a career and a family against the race of time.

    The companion website for DOUBLE DARE (pbs.org/doubledare) features detailed information about the film, including exclusive filmmaker Q&A interviews, filmmaker and cast bios and “Learn More” links and resources pertaining to the film's subject matter. The site will also feature video previews and a “Talkback” section for viewers to share their ideas and opinions.

    DOUBLE DARE PARTICIPANTS (in alphabetical order)

    Zoë Bell Bell, a native New Zealander, is a newcomer to Hollywood but is blazing her own trail with remarkable ease. At the age of 18, she had her first stunt job as the primary double for Xena: Warrior Princess. She has also worked on Hercules, Cleopatra 2020, and most recently, as Uma Thurman's double on Kill Bill and as Sharon Stone's double on Catwoman.

    Bell specializes in fights and harness work and has experience with air rams, high falls, fire burns, car hits and horse gags. Her background is primarily in gymnastics; at the age of two, Bell's father bought her a trampoline, and she was instantly hooked. She began competitive gymnastics at the age of eight, and later pursued Tae Kwon Do, diving, track/field and dance.

    Lynda Carter achieved worldwide fame when she was cast as Wonder Woman on the famous Warner Brothers syndicated television series. She returns to Hollywood in 2005, starring in the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard remake.

    Jeannie Epper After decades hitting the ground, Epper is still a working stuntwoman. Her family has been in the business for four generations, starting with her father, a premiere stunt coordinator who doubled for Ronald Reagan, Errol Flynn and Gary Cooper. Her sister, brothers, kids and grandkids are all stunt performers. Epper's dad taught her to ride horses, and she became one of the first stunt-children when Hollywood was still using midgets to double for child performers. Westerns were going out of style, but Epper was still young enough to segue into car work and fistfights, the bread and butter of cops-and-robbers shows. But her best job was undoubtedly doubling for Lynda Carter on the popular TV series, Wonder Woman.

    Epper has also doubled for Shirley MacLaine, Kathleen Turner, Linda Evans, Diane Ladd, Louise Fletcher, Cybill Shepard and Shelly Long among others. She is a regular on director Steven Spielberg's productions. While doubling Polly Holiday in Stir Crazy, Epper jumped from the skid of a helicopter onto a moving train. By 1984, recognition for her achievements was growing. At the 1985 Annual Stunt Awards, she was presented with the Most Spectacular Stunt Sequence Award for her work on Romancing The Stone. Jeannie was recognized by Women in Film at their 1994 Crystal Awards for her dedication and outstanding work in the entertainment industry. She is a past president of the Stuntwomen's Association of Motion Pictures, an honorary member of the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures, and current vice-president of the Unites Stuntwomen's Association. Some of her most recent work can be seen in the feature films, Catch Me if You Can, The Fast and the Furious 2, The Italian Job, I Heart Huckabees, Kill Bill and the upcoming War of the Worlds.

    Eurlyne Epper followed in her mother's footsteps, having doubled many of the top actresses in Hollywood. Her career was tragically cut short when she suffered a debilitating neck injury.

    Ken Howard is an actor perhaps best known for his role as a street-savvy teacher in the classic TV drama The White Shadow and his current role on Crossing Jordan. He and Jeannie Epper have a special bond because she donated him one of her kidneys. He says that since the kidney transplant, he has “a craving for tequila and has urges to jump on the back of a Harley.”

    Lucy Lawless was a young, unknown New Zealand actress when she landed the role of Xena. After six years playing the world's most powerful warrior princess, she is transitioning to feature films and television roles that don't require leather bustiers. Rumor has it that Lucy has more fansites on the internet than any other actress in the industry (even Lynda Carter).

    Terry Leonard is a legendary stuntman in Hollywood. He doubled for Harrison Ford in the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, and has become a top-notch stunt coordinator for blockbusters like Apocalypse Now, Romancing the Stone, The Fugitive, and Die Hard, to name just a few. He and Epper met when they were rookie stunt performers on a Western called Mackenna's Gold.

    Conrad Palmisano is the President of the Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures and has also served on the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild, where he was instrumental in forming the National Stunt and Safety Committee. He was among the first stunt coordinators invited into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and has become one of the most sought after stunt coordinators, with scores of top titles to his credit, including Rush Hour 2, Red Dragon, Batman Forever and ER.

    Steven Spielberg has made a lot of films, and the Epper family has worked on dozens of them. He and Jeannie Epper formed a special bond on the set of 1941, where Spielberg was awed by her reaction to a near-death experience as an army tank almost ran her over. Epper is working with him now on War of the Worlds.

    Rob Tapert was the executive producer and co-creator of Xena: Warrior Princess. He and his partner Sam Raimi founded Pacific Renaissance Pictures, which produced the cult classic Evil Dead, among others.

    Quentin Tarantino promises to hire Jeannie as a stunt coordinator on his next film.

    DOUBLE DARE Credits Director/Cinematographer Amanda Micheli Producer Karen Johnson Producer Danielle Renfrew Editor Purcell Carson Production Sound Craig Burton Composer Marco D'Ambrosio

    About the Filmmakers

    AMANDA MICHELI (Director) Micheli is an award-winning filmmaker with a solid background as both a director and a cinematographer. She shot, edited and directed Just for the Ride, a documentary about cowgirls on the women's Pro Rodeo circuit, which won an Academy Award and International Documentary Association Award in student categories and premiered on the PBS series P.O.V. in 1996. Since then she has shot a Sundance Award-winning documentary My Flesh and Blood (HBO) and an Emmy-nominated film in Cambodia, The Flute Player (PBS). Scheduled for release in 2005, she also shot a film in Ghana, Witches in Exile, which won the special jury prize at SXSW last spring.

    Micheli's second film as a director, DOUBLE DARE, premiered at Toronto and won the audience award for Best Documentary at both the AFI FEST in Los Angeles and the San Francisco International Film Festival. She is currently shooting and producing an HBO documentary directed by photographer Lauren Greenfield and an episode for Morgan Spurlock's new series, 30 Days. Other production credits include: You're Gonna Miss Me (in post), Same River Twice (Sundance 2003), and the ITVS series, American Girls. Amanda is a graduate of Harvard University and has been a member of the top U.S. women's rugby team for over a decade.

    KAREN JOHNSON (Producer) Johnson is an independent producer of documentary and fiction features. She is particularly drawn to subjects about women and women's history. In addition to producing DOUBLE DARE, her other credits include the dramatic feature Prospect, adapted from the play and directed by acclaimed playwright Octavio Solis; the romantic comedy Twice Upon A Yesterday starring Penelope Cruz; and the Hollywood satire Hip! Edgy! Quirky! starring Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller. She is currently working on two feature films: The Polka Dot Princess, a documentary about the avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama, and Life? or Theatre?, the dramatic true story of the young German Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon, being directed by Paul Morrison, the writer/director of the Oscar nominated film Salomon and Gaenor. She is also developing the reality series Nerd Girls about a team of female engineering students from major Boston-area universities who spend their summer break building a solar car. Johnson is an attorney and a graduate of USC's Peter Stark Producing Program.

    DANIELLE RENFREW (Producer) Renfrew is an accomplished independent producer with credits ranging from grassroots documentaries to major motion pictures. She produced the independent feature film Groove, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2000 and was distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Soon after, she formed Map Point Pictures with Groove director Greg Harrison. Through Map Point, she produced November, a thriller starring Courteney Cox and James Le Gros for IFC and InDigEnt, and DOUBLE DARE. November premiered in competition at Sundance 2004 where it won the award for best cinematography. Sony Classics will release November in fall 2005.

    Renfrew is currently in post-production on Katrina Holden Bronson's feature directorial debut Daltry Calhoun for Quentin Tarantino's L. Driver Productions and Miramax. The film stars Johnny Knoxville, Juliette Lewis and Elizabeth Banks and is set for release this fall. She is a finalist for the Independent Spirit Awards's Bravo/American Express Producers Award.

    ABOUT INDEPENDENT LENS Independent Lens is an Emmy Award-winning weekly series airing Tuesday nights at 10 P.M. on PBS. Hosted by Susan Sarandon, the acclaimed anthology series features documentaries and a limited number of fiction films united by the creative freedom, artistic achievement and unflinching visions of their independent producers. Independent Lens features unforgettable stories about a unique individual, community or moment in history, which prompted Nancy Franklin to write in The New Yorker: “Watching Independent Lens... is like going into an independent bookstore — you don't always find what you were looking for but you often find something you didn't even know you wanted.” Presented by ITVS, the series is supported by interactive companion websites, and national publicity and community outreach campaigns. Further information about the series is available at pbs.org/independentlens.

    Independent Lens is jointly curated by ITVS and PBS, and is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private corporation funded by the American people, with additional funding provided by PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts.

    ABOUT ITVS Independent Television Service (ITVS) funds and presents award-winning documentaries and dramas on public television, innovative new media projects on the Web and the Emmy Award-winning weekly series Independent Lens on Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on PBS. ITVS is a miracle of public policy created by media activists, citizens and politicians seeking to foster plurality and diversity in public television. ITVS was established by a historic mandate of Congress to champion independently produced programs that take creative risks, spark public dialogue and serve underserved audiences. Since its inception in 1991, ITVS programs have revitalized the relationship between the public and public television, bringing TV audiences face-to-face with the lives and concerns of their fellow Americans. More information about ITVS can be obtained by visiting itvs.org. ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American People.

    ABOUT PBS PBS is a private, nonprofit media enterprise that serves the nation's 349 public noncommercial television stations, reaching nearly 90 million people each week. Bringing diverse viewpoints to television and the Internet, PBS provides high-quality documentary and dramatic entertainment, and consistently dominates the most prestigious award competitions. PBS is the leading provider of educational materials for K-12 teachers, and offers a broad array of educational services for adult learners. PBS' premier kids' TV programming and Web site, PBS KIDS Online (pbskids.org), continue to be parents' and teachers' most trusted learning environments for children. More information about PBS is available at pbs.org, the leading dot-org Web site on the Internet. PBS is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia.

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