Ellis died in Johannesburg, South Africa yesterday, where he was in pre-production on Kite, which would star Samuel L. Jackson. The cause of death is, at this point, unknown. Jackson took to Twitter to express his admiration of the director with whom he was working on the live-action remake of a 1988 anime film, saying of Ellis, "So talented, so kind, such a Good Friend."
As a director, Ellis most recently helmed Shark Night 3D, and it's a testament to his playful sense of humor and self awareness that he lobbied to title the thriller Untitled 3D Shark Thriller.
A Southern California native, Ellis was born in 1952 and made his feature film debut as an actor in the Disney Kurt Russell vehicle The Strongest Man in the World. Though he made small appearances in films throughout the years, the professional surfer found himself drawn to stunt performing, and he did dangerous work in classics such as Smokey and the Bandit, Lethal Weapon, Scarface, and To Live and Die in L.A. As a stunt coordinator, he orchestrated mayhem in the likes of Fatal Attraction and Patriot Games.
He made his directorial debut in 1996 with Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco. His sophomore feature as director, Final Destination 2, showed off his technical skill one of the most inventive and outrageous sequences of automotive destruction ever committed to film. He returned to that franchise with 2009's The Final Destination. As a director, he is also known for the underappreciated Cellular and Snakes on a Plane, which starred Jackson.
On the off-chance that none of Ellis' credits as a director or stuntman immediately jump out at you, rest assured that he most definitely made an impression with his prolific work as a second-unit director, a job that audiences don't necessarily always acknowledge to the extent that it deserves. His acumen with car chases was on display on The Matrix Reloaded's freeway sequence, and he helped establish the biggest franchise of all time on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Among his many credits as second-unit director, you'll also find Clear and Present Danger, Patriot Games, Deep Blue Sea, and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He also contributed to the upcoming event movies R.I.P.D. and 47 Ronin, both of which are scheduled for release this year.
Basically, Ellis was a pro and will be missed by many a moviegoer.
At Comic-Con in 2011, IAR's Jami Philbrick talked to Ellis along with the cast of Shark Night 3D. The video below shows that not only was Ellis a total professional, but a genuine and enthusiastic presence as well.