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This Hollywood Tragedy Changed Everything For Child Actors

OCTOBER 17, 2015  —  By Tim Unkenholz  
Tim Unkenholz

Tim Unkenholz

Writer and stand up comedian in NY. Check out my monthly comedy show Roomie Raiders at the Creek and The Cave! @timunken

With CGI animation growing more and more prominent in film, it's hard to appreciate what actually goes into creating these stunts and special effects. When these methods started being used in the '80s, things got off to a rocky start. Because special effects technology still relied heavily upon real-life imagery back then, filming almost felt like a war between true-to-life footage and computerized effects.

Speaking of war, one major sequence in 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie was supposed to be a war scene. But when a helicopter stunt went wrong during filming, the lead actor and two young actors lost their lives. Because of this tragic event, the sequence was scrapped from the movie, and the film industry overhauled its child labor and safety standards.

Twilight Zone: The Movie was supposed to feature three segments.

One segment, directed by John Landis, was based on a Twilight Zone episode about a racist guy who is transported to Vietnam during the war, where he saves two Vietnamese children.

Vic Morrow played the lead, and two local children -- 7-year-old Myca Dinh Le and 6-year-old Renee Shin-Yi Chen -- played the Vietnamese kids.

These children were paid under the table. Landis did this so that he could circumvent child labor laws that barred children from filming at night.

A helicopter was set to be flown above the three actors while explosions occurred all around.

Landis was warned that the explosions might be too much for the aircraft, but he shrugged it off. "We may lose the helicopter," he said jokingly.

When they started filming the scene, the helicopter flew too close to the explosion zone. The tail of the helicopter got blown off, causing the craft to come down into the water, decapitating Morrow and Le, and crushing Chen.

As a result of the tragedy, the Directors Guild of America disciplined members for violating child labor laws, which they hadn't done before.

Between 1982 and 1986, accidents on set fell by 69.6 percent.

Landis went on to direct more films, and although he wasn't legally affected by the crash, he believes that it did hurt his career. Steven Spielberg, who co-produced the movie with Landis, broke off his friendship with Landis after the accident. But if you ask me, Landis should have been more upset about decapitating children than he was about screwing up his career.

Luckily for us, we can now rely on totally safe computer animation to achieve these effects. We can only hope that nothing like this ever happens again.