Journeyman director and former stuntman David R. Ellis 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 is unknown, said his agent, David Boxerbaum. Ellis was 60.
Ellis most recently served as the second unit director on several upcoming high-profile films including the Keanu Reeves-starrer "47 Ronin"; "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.
Born in Malibu and a top-ranked junior pro surfer, Ellis 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 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, back in 2006.
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."
He directed "Shark Night 3D" last year.
"So sad to hear of David R Ellis passing!" Jackson wrote on Twitter on Monday afternoon. "So talented, so kind, such a Good Friend. He'll be missed. Gone too soon!"