March 2, 2016 · 0 Comments
By Mark Pavilons
Helping to shape an industry and an era in Canada’s entertainment industry was groundbreaking work.
Those pioneers established a foundation that would set the stage for Canada becoming “Hollywood North.” Every new idea and innovation came from these men and women, who continue to impress movie-goers to this day.
The efforts of Canada’s stunt men were officially recognized recently at the 14th annual ACTRA Awards, held at The Carlu recently. Nobleton’s John “Frenchie” Berger took his rightful place on stage, next to some colleagues at the event.
His lifetime achievement award was actually awarded back in 2009, but a combined effort led to the presentation of the famed statuettes to ACTRA Toronto’s stunt pioneers: John “Frenchie” Berger, Matt Birman, Shane Cardwell, Shelley Cook, Bobby Hannah, Chris Lamon, Dwayne McLean, Brent Meyer, Branko Racki, Alison Reid, Morris Maurizio Santia, John Stoneham Sr., Anton Tyukodi and Billy E. Williams.
“In a tough business, it’s always exciting to see professional performers receive the recognition that they so richly deserve,” said David Sparrow, president of ACTRA Toronto.
Berger said he’s very proud of his fellow stunt people and the hard work they do.
“I’m very proud to see what we’ve done here in Canada,” he said.
The best part of the recent awards was the gathering afterwards, where many current professionals thanked him for his training and leadership in the industry. Berger has been a mentor to many in the field.
And at 83, he has many fond memories. In fact, he loved every moment of every production.
“It’s a business you love,” he said.
He pointed out he worked with and trained many of the crew who worked on The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, who earned the Best Actor Oscar for his role. The movie also won for Best Director and Cinematographer. Parts of the movie were filmed in Alberta and British Columbia and Berger is very familiar with the intricate, behind-the-scenes work of set designers, prop folks and groundspeople.
Berger is one of Canada’s founding stunt men, who started in the 1950s. The veteran Hollywood horseman, stunt man and weapons master has worked with the best and taught the most infamous of big screen characters.
His love of horses as a youngster led him to the Circle M Ranch in Kleinburg where he landed work and showed off his equestrian skills. Letting people know he was from France earned him the lifelong nickname “Frenchie.”
He soon landed jobs as a horse wrangler, extra and stunt man in early westerns. He also helped launch an organization for stunt workers recognized by ACTRA.
As his skill and reputation grew, “Frenchie” Berger was working in film and TV productions all over the world.
Berger learned from the very best – famed stunt man Yakima Canutt, who worked closely with the legendary John Wayne. Canutt helped Wayne with his trademark swagger. He also taught Wayne to fall off a horse and the duo were known for creating realistic on-screen fighting techniques, some of which are still used today.
Canutt also trained Charlton Heston for Ben-Hur’s chariot races.
Berger’s expertise in weapons led him to another Hollywood career as a weapons master in countless films. He launched Shooting with the Stars prop company and he became a sought-after commodity.
Some of his credits include Police Academy, Ghostbusters, Robocop TV series, The Blues Brothers and more recently X-Men (2000), American Psycho (2000) and A History of Violence (2005).
ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) is the union of more than 22,000 professional performers working in English-language recorded media in Canada including TV, film, radio and digital media.