David R. Ellis, 60, a journeyman director and former stuntman whose credits include the 2006 thriller "Snakes on a Plane," died Monday morning in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was in pre-production on the upcoming film "Kite" with Samuel L. Jackson. The cause of death was unknown, said his agent, David Boxerbaum.
Ellis most recently served as the second unit director on several upcoming high-profile films including "47 Ronin," starring Keanu Reeves; "R.I.P.D." with Ryan Reynolds; and the adaptation of Mark Helprin's novel "Winter's Tale." It was not immediately clear whether Ellis' death might affect those productions.
Ellis grew up in Santa Monica and Malibu, where he was a top-ranked junior pro surfer. He began his career in Hollywood with a brief acting stint but was introduced to stunt work at age 19. His first credit was for Bob Crane's "Superdad." His IMDb.com page boasts 75 stunt credits for films as varied as "Scarface," "Patriot Games" and "Fatal Attraction."
He graduated to directing in 1996 with the Disney film "Homeward Bound II: Lost in San Francisco" and did second-unit directing work for 20 years, on movies including "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Waterworld."
He received more attention for his work on two "Final Destination" films and the much-hyped Internet sensation "Snakes on a Plane," starring Jackson.
New Line chief Toby Emmerich praised Ellis for his action work on "Final Destination 2," calling his opening car crash sequence "the best action footage" since 1971's "The French Connection."
Ellis directed 2011's "Shark Night 3D" .
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