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Stunt driving is a part of the ad industry that remains plagued by sexism. 

The stereotype that women are worse drivers than men has persisted to this day, despite having no bearing in reality. A reported piece in Deadline talks about how when a stunt calls for a person of a ‘nondescript’ gender (meaning the stunt driver won’t be seen on film,) the drivers hired are overwhelmingly white and male. What does this mean for female stunt drivers, who not only exist in the industry, but also excel in the craft? 

Drivers, Angela Meryl, Olivia Summers, and Dee Bryant decided to do something about it. Earlier this year, they began the Association of Women Drivers (AWD), and decided that if they wanted to stop unfair hiring practices, they were going to have to work together. The three women have been working in the industry for years. Combined, they’ve done over 500 commercials and 300 feature films. These women aren’t just professionals; they’re elite drivers. 

The founding members of AWD were gracious enough to answer some of my questions and help expose some common shortcuts that companies sometimes take when hiring drivers.

What's your typical day on a commercial set? 

Angela Meryl: I usually get there a few minutes early, check in with an Assistant Director or PA, and then grab breakfast. Look for the Coordinator (if there is one), but sometimes it’s just you and the production team. We talk over the shots for the day or review a storyboard. Then go over to car prep and get notes on the car. After that, it’s hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Then, finally, I head to set!

Olivia Summers: When I get into work I always check in with production to let them know I’m on set and have a quick chat with the director. Next, I grab a coffee and go talk with car prep to get familiar with the vehicle I am driving. Now that I am coordinating car commercials as well as driving in them, I get together with the other drivers and talk about the day we’re about to shoot. 

I’ve seen well-known male drivers figure out who is being considered for a commercial job then go to the producer or agency and sabotage the job for that driver so he can put “his girl” on callsheet. -Summers

Dee Bryant: I always carry a tire pressure gauge, so the first thing that I do when I get to set is to ask the car prep guys to air up or lower the pressure in my tires, depending on what my stunt calls for. I always try to test drive the vehicle somewhere off-set before I get prepped for the shoot.

Above: Angela Meryl's driving reel

What are some of the jobs you’re asked to do, besides driving the newest sports car through the desert?

AM: One of my early Ford commercials was in downtown NY under the highway. I had to drive on the sidewalk, in between pillars, with smoke everywhere. The smoke was so thick I could barely see the extras on the sidewalk!

OS: A good portion of the work I do is ‘car-to-car’ work, which means that I typically drive with a camera car and hit marks. I love the commercials where you get to really drive the car--sliding the car, doing reverse 180’s, all those wild stunts. I did an Adidas spot doubling as Kylie Jenner where I had to do 360’s in the desert, on dirt, and in the dark. I couldn’t see 2 feet in front of me. The spot turned out amazing! 

DB: I’m often hired to drive off-road vehicles as well as ATV's. I recently worked on spots for both Honda and Polaris on their action sports products.

Driving, in particular, still feels like it’s a boys club—what are some moments where you truly felt that culture on set?

AM: It sometimes feels like you have to be 100 times better than anyone else. You’re always trying to prove to yourself that you’re capable of doing the job. 

OS: It’s a boys club from the beginning of the process. If a producer doesn’t know about AWD, they'll ask their male drivers if they can recommend a female driver. Sometimes, the male driver will  put forward his wife, girlfriend, or even his mistress for the job! I’ve seen well-known male drivers figure out who is being considered for a commercial job then go to the producer or agency and sabotage the job for that driver so he can put “his girl” on callsheet. Or that driver skips the recommendation and just put a wig on, posing as a woman, even though it’s against SAG rules. 

 It’s unbelievable that it’s 2020 and we still have to deal with what amounts to professional Blackface. -Meryl

One time, an agency producer had called me up for a job, and on the day of the shoot the producer asked the stunt coordinator where I was. The stunt coordinator told the producer that I had taken another job, so he had to replace me with another girl. That coordinator flat out lied! Fortunately, I found out, and was able to contact the agency producer and was able to set the record straight. I have been fortunate to work for good men on the film and television side, but I find the “Boys Club” far more ruthless in the commercial world. 

DB: There have only been two times where I worked with a cast of all-female drivers. On most shoots, I'm the only woman driving with a bunch of men, who are all literally 'manning' the other vehicles.

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You mentioned wigs, do you mind explaining some common practices used to avoid hiring diverse drivers?

OS:  “Wigging” is when a male driver will put on a wig to double the female actress. Every stunt performer and stunt coordinator knows these practices are against the SAG rules, and most producers are also in the know. Luckily we are seeing less of this now that SAG is keeping an eye out for it and crews on set are reporting when they see something wigging happen.

DB: Similarly to wigging-where a man replaces a woman on set-a “paint down” is when a stunt coordinator allows a white stunt person to double as a person of color. Both of these practices lead to favoritism and perpetuates unfair hiring practices in our industry.

 I love the commercials where you get to really drive the car--sliding the car, doing reverse 180’s, all those wild stunts. -Summers

AM: The paint down problem has been going on forever. I remember reading about Bill Cosby, in the 60s, had to specifically request an African-American stunt double on I Spy after he was previously doubled by a white stuntman. It’s unbelievable that it’s 2020 and we still have to deal with what amounts to professional Blackface. Everyone knows it’s wrong but they choose to use the same excuses. We need to train, train, and train so there is no excuse or reason to look elsewhere when a Person Of Color needs to be doubled. 

Have SAG/AFTRA regulations stopped these practice?

OS: SAG-AFTRA wasn’t enforcing wigging regulations in the past. I now have a great relationship with the women that are in charge of commercials in the Union, and they’re currently taking this very seriously.  

DB: SAG/AFTRA has been useless in stopping both wigging and paint downs. There are actually members on the board of SAG who are guilty of paint downs. It's shameful!

Above: Dee Bryant's driving reel

What is (or was) your favorite car to drive?

AM: Just recently I got to drive the AID truck (a larger-than-normal ambulance) for Station 19.  I had a blast! The turning ability of this truck, the stopping power, and the ability to get up to speed were all awesome to drive! 

OS: I love SUVs, but I wouldn’t turn down BMW if they were looking for a spokesperson! I am the only female stunt driver (that I’m aware of) who has a commercial driver’s license. I love driving buses, and any vehicle that puts me high up so I can just plow through roads, canyons, or even other cars. 

On most shoots, I'm the only woman driving with a bunch of men, who are all literally 'manning' the other vehicles. -Bryant

DB: I had the pleasure of being hired to perform a chase sequence while driving a military style MRAP for the Fear of the Walking Dead.

What's been your favorite moment behind the wheel?

AM:  One of my VW commercials was a fun moment.

OS: I’ve said it a hundred times, but Bridesmaids! I love Paul Feig the director, he is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet and he is fun! He let me drive funny and you don’t get that often.

We’re currently working on mentoring up-and-coming drivers. In order for this movement to be sustainable we have to make it an ongoing program. -Summers

DB: My favorite stunt was doubling as Angela Bassett on the show 9-1-1. We always get to do high-speed chases and other exciting police maneuvers on that series. Once, I had to perform a reverse-180 into traffic, on a highway, at night. 

My all-time favorite job was on the show titled Berlin Station, where I spent 3 weeks in Germany filming a high speed chase through the streets of Berlin.

Above: Olivia Summers' driving reel

What’s the way forward for female stunt drivers? 

AM: AWD was formed to let companies know that there are women drivers out there that can do the job. We’re hoping to lead the way for equality for women drivers! 

OS: The way forward is to have more female drivers on set. We have the same skill set as the guys do, we’re just a bit younger, have a full head of hair, and I think we’re more fun! We will be expanding the AWD team to an East Coast division soon. The work is still just starting to ramp up after the summer, so we’re still taking our time inviting people into the association. The drivers who make the cut will have the same skill set, resume, and set etiquette as the rest of us.

We’re currently working on mentoring up-and-coming drivers. In order for this movement to be sustainable we have to make it an ongoing program. 

DB: Productions will always need female stunt drivers as long as writers continue to write us in behind the wheel. I believe that AWD will be very important for future members to continue to carry the torch for us in helping to create more visibility for female stunt drivers.

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