You worked on so many movies from the '80s and '90s like They Live, Lethal Weapon 2, and Total Recall. Looking back, that era feels like the peak of a certain type of action movie. What was that period of your life like?
Waugh: It was very fortunate. I've had a couple mentors in my life that I worked with who became great personal friends. One was Jerry Bruckheimer, who I met on Beverly Hills Cop II and then I worked on Days of Thunder with him and other movies of his. The other one was the late Tony Scott. They were the people who never cared if I asked a lot of questions and allowed me to see how they played in the sandbox, and find my part of the sandbox, my style of filmmaking.
When I shadowed Tony and other great filmmakers, I knew that my place was never going to be in front of the camera. I never really enjoyed it as a stunt performer. I preferred to be behind the camera. To have people like that in your life at a place where you're actually banking as a stunt performer -- I was doubling Mel Gibson and working in a lot of different areas and on different types of movies. It was the right transition for me to say, "I'm not married yet, I don't have kids yet, I'm going to go for it. I'm going to go for my dream and try to be a director." I started working commercials. The thing that really happened in my trajectory that was a blessing was being naive and gullible enough to think I'd write a script and we'd just go make it. I had been offered a couple different scripts to direct and thought they were horrible. And they were probably horrible at the time because I was on the bottom rung and not getting the top stuff.
There were two writers that I had met who had won Academy Awards for writing and I asked them to read the material I was writing, and if it was shit, tell me why it's shit. And they did that for me. There was a period in my life where I write a script called Hammer Down and it sold to DreamWorks and it was Michel De Luca's first buy. This lightning rod went off where I didn't direct anything for about seven or eight years. Not a commercial. Nothing. I just wrote and went into the studio system of writing scripts around town. It was one of the best experiences of my life because I had this war chest of knowledge to be a filmmaker but I didn't have any experiences in the development game. Also, I just got a much stronger sense of my storytelling abilities as far as character arcs and story structure and tone goes. That period of my life was super vital to who I am as a filmmaker now. I feel like I got both sides of the equation covered. It was an interesting way to come about getting here and definitely not the natural course of things.
What did you learn in that period of developing scripts that didn't get made?
Waugh: Yeah, none of them got made. The funny thing is I wrote 17 scripts and none of them got made. That part of the studio system is disheartening. But I was very fortunate to have phenomenal producers I was working with. I wrote for Bruckheimer, Mark Gordon, Neal Moritz, and Lorenzo Lorenzo di Bonaventura. I had amazing executives. Even if the movie wasn't getting made, I did everything possible to learn from those situations, and it really helped me figure out how to make scripts be viable and shootable.
I know what they're looking for -- I know what the one-sheet is and how the script reflects that. There's a reason they call it a business, and it's because movies have to be a commodity. It's about making something that's creatively viable that we want and also is economically viable. I get that now because I've been through that process. But the other thing I have is when I'm writing action, I know how to shoot it. I'm not giving you something that can't be a blueprint or wouldn't be feasible. It's in my head.
Recently, there's been more discussion of possibly adding an award for stunt work to the Oscars. Is that something you think might happen?
Waugh: Will it happen? I don't know. I think the Academy is in peril a little bit right now and they're in a state of evolution where they have to decide what they want to be. Will they streamline further or embrace categories that should have always been there like stunt coordinators? I don't know about stunt performers, but for stunt coordinators, if you have special effects, visual effects, hair and make-up, costumes -- if you have all these technicians who bring their wares to the table to get movies made, how are stunt coordinators not part of that? It's beyond me.
They're such a vital part of it. My thing is if you're going to have these other departments in the categories, then put stunt coordinators in. If you're going to strip it down to just being above-the-line people -- the actors, writers, producers, directors, and Best Picture -- then so be it. But if you're going to be inclusive of other departments, you should include everyone.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.