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FOOTHILLS MAGAZINE: Cowboys wrangle their way onto film sets

Stuntmen find their skills on the range translate quite nicely to movie-making magic.

Stunt doubles are a key part of the magic of film, maintaining the illusion of chaos, injury, intimacy and skill in place of a credited actor.  

Though frequently away from the spotlight – one could even say in another’s shadow – stunt actors are an essential piece of the movie-making puzzle.  

“Stuntmen don’t take the credit and don’t want the credit,” says famed chuckwagon driver and stuntman Jason Glass. “It’s more about just trying to help get the proper stuff on the camera, what they’re looking for to help them build what they’re wanting to put on the screen.” 

Glass, from Foothills County, grew up around film, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father who began their stunt careers in the 1970s.  

He splits his time these days between training thoroughbred horses and stunting – with around 150 credits to date.  

Currently, Glass is working as the double for Scott Eastwood in the film Wind River: The Next Chapter, alongside two other projects.  

He’s itching for the upcoming racing season, but anytime he has the chance to bring those two pursuits together, he jumps at it.  

“Westerns are obviously always one of my favourites because you get to be around horses and you get to do what kind of brought us into the industry,” he says.  

Much like his dad Tom, Glass moved into film as a side-hustle from rodeoing, starting with wrangling before moving on to doubling, stunting with horses and more.  

Tom was inducted into the Canadian Stunt Hall of Fame last fall.  

When Buffalo Bill and the Indians was filming around 1975, Tom said he got wind producers were looking for someone to drive a stagecoach. Seeing as that was his day job, he figured he’d give it a go.  

From there, he linked up with Foothills legend John Scott and was bucked into the world of movie making, beginning as a wrangler. Tom drove chuckwagons, capturing the Calgary Stampede Rangeland Derby in 1983, 1992, 1994 and 1998, and did stunts on the side for 15 years.  

“They used to bring the Americans up from Los Angeles and we’d catch the horse, saddle them and give them to the Americans, and they’d ride out and fall off and we’d go out and catch the horses,” Tom recalls.  

“We made $1,000 a day and they made $100,000, so it didn’t take us long to find out we could fall off like they did.”  

When the production of westerns slowed, Tom expanded his skills.  

He and Brent Woolsey, an actor and stuntman from Melfort, Sask., bought an old Monte Carlo and taught themselves how to skid, slide and stunt with it. Glass also figured out how to slide and skid his semi-trailer that he typically used to haul his wagon horses.  

Those unique skills made him a hot commodity.  

“For about 10 years I was the only guy in Canada that did stunts with big trucks, so I got a lot of work through that side of it,” he says.  

On one occasion, Woolsey asked him to fly to Vancouver for a particularly risky stunt – he needed Tom to drive a Greyhound bus down the side of a mountain.  

“I flew over in March and it was covered with snow, and it looked pretty hairy, but it didn’t look too bad – it was about a quarter of a mile down the side to the river bottom,” he recalls.  

When it came time to film, the scenery had changed a bit.  

“I went back, we walked up to the edge and all the snow was gone – it was pretty well straight down,” Tom says. “But they’d already spent a quarter of a million dollars on the bus. They bought the bus, put skid bars in it, a crash cage, changed the windows.  

“I was pretty well committed.”  

In the end, he did the stunt, though he says if he were asked today, he would likely decline.  

“That was probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever done in the movie business,” says the elder Glass.   

Another one of his favourite memories came on the set of the Clint Eastwood-directed Unforgiven, where he doubled Richard Harris’s English Bob. In one scene, Harris’s character gets knocked off a saloon porch and pummeled by Little Bill Daggett, played by Gene Hackman.  

“After the fight, Clint Eastwood put his hand out and helped me up,” Glass recalls. “He said, ‘Are you OK?’ and I said, ‘Oh, yeah,’ and he said, ‘Man, you’re the best actor I’ve got on the street.’  

“So that was pretty special.”  

Tom has worked on more than 280 projects over the years, including I Spy with Eddie Murphy, Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore and Maverick with Mel Gibson.  

Though he’s retired from the stunting business, he still gets cheques in the mail for his work – residuals he earned working on projects decades ago.  

Tom linked up with industry-regular Scott early in his career, working on several projects together.  

Scott was also inducted into the Canadian Stunt Hall of Fame alongside Tom.  

A third-generation rancher from Longview, Scott got his start in the business more than 50 years ago as a wrangler – caring for and training horses for stunts on set.  

Soon after that, in 1972, the rancher began to build his own outfit, developing a brood of horses trained to work exclusively in film and television.  

He also built up his collection of wagons and buggies alongside other props and set decorations, which he loans out for filming. The western town on the John Scott Ranch has been the backdrop for many productions over the years.  

And, of course, the cowboy hasn’t shied away from getting boots-deep in stunt projects of his own.  

“One was called Prime Cut, that’s where I met Gene Hackman, I started as a photo double for him and then I got moved up to a stunt double for him, went a few places with him. Great actor,” Scott recalls.  

“And then our business in Alberta got a little bit bigger and better, we did a picture with Paul Newman, called Buffalo Bill and the Indians in 1975, and then it just started to develop from there.”  

Over the last five decades, Scott has accrued a gargantuan number of credits, having worked on Academy Award-winning films such as Days of Heaven starring Richard Gere, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Legends of the Fall with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins, The Revenant with DiCaprio as well as The Lord of the Rings.  

Not to be overlooked is Foothills-filmed and fan favourite Heartland, Shanghai Noon, Van Helsing, Assassination of Jesse James and much, much more.  

Growing up, Scott says he frequently played “Cowboys and Indians” — moving into the movie business was just a different way of continuing what he loved to do: be adventurous and handle horses.  

“It takes a lot of horses to run one of these projects; you’ve got to have horses that are safe for actors, you’ve got to have horses that are identical to work for the stunt guys so they can do their running and chasing,” he says. 

“The horses are the big part of a western picture. You’ve got to have the right people, the right cowboys to work these horses, to get them ready.”  

It’s no secret Scott is the go-to cowboy, but he also dove hat-first into an advocacy role for the local filming industry.  

It started with the formation of Stunts Canada, a group designed to provide productions with high quality Canadian stunt people while nurturing new performers and ensuring the longevity of the film community, in 1974.  

He also was part of a group that lobbied consistently for the creation of a film tax credit which he says would “help the movie business pick up so we’d be on a level playing field with the other provinces.”  

Alberta’s Film and Television Tax Credit (FTTC) was created in 2020 and has been praised by industry members for its role in bringing more productions to the province.  

Scott credits MLAs Doug Schweitzer, Nate Horner and RJ Sigurdson for helping make his ask a reality after many years.  

The man of many talents shows no signs of stopping, continuing to work on multiple projects at once. If his predictions are correct, it seems local film will follow his lead.  

“The future looks very bright for Alberta right now.”  

The future is also bright for the Glass family, as Jason and sisters Corrie Glass and Kristy Suitor continue to rack up credits. Film and television have been good to the Glasses, and the patriarch says Scott has earned credit in that. 

“He got a lot of people started in the business and he’s done a lot of hard work going to L.A. and promoting Alberta and promoting the horses and the wagons and having lots of stuff that help the movie people,” says Tom.

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