I Can't Believe it's Not Fabio!

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With the popularity of extreme sports and daredevil reality shows like Survivor and Fear Factor, it's no wonder that advertisers are taking their products and campaigns to the limit, giving birth to `edgy' package goods like Right Guard Xtreme Sports deodorant and Clairol's Xtreme FX hair color. Such an amped-up world might just benefit from the services of Rich Hopkins, an extreme athlete and stuntman who has just the ammo for taking creative to the extreme.

Hopkins, 37, runs the L.A.-based Thrillseekers Unlimited, a company that strives to be all things stunt-related. Thrillseekers started out as an extreme sports touring outfit in 1992, but since then it has also developed a number of services for ad industry clients, one of which is an endorphin-pumped stock footage and photo arsenal. Replete with jaw-dropping stunts and insane sports, it makes even the bizarre games from Cliff Freeman's Fox Sports campaign look like table tennis. "We've got everything from hovercraft, to street luge, motorized rollerbladers and surfboards with jet engines," boasts Hopkins, who, not so coincidentally, appears in a lot of the footage himself. He started out as a professional extreme athlete and even says he holds the unofficial record for the longest "on fire" bungee jump. One spine-tingling excerpt from his own reel catches him falling out of an airplane and pulverizing a split-rail fence during a shoot for a Sector Sport watch commercial. The fall cost him a broken back, just one of the 36 "breaks" he's gotten during his career. But it's all been worth it; scenes from the Thrillseekers collection have been licensed to television shows in the U.S., Japan and Australia. Hopkins also offers research services for footage or shots not found in his library.

Moreover, if the clips you need don't turn up anywhere, Hopkins will create them himself. He and his band of merry stuntpeople have developed and executed stunts for like MTV's Jackass and various ESPN programs, as well as agencies like FCB, McCann-Erickson, Ammirati Puris Lintas and BBDO. Among recent ad outings, Hopkins coordinated a car stunt on the Lycos "Win Anna's car" spot, with Anna Kournikova. In the commercial, a pair of gangly guys swerve around the tennis babe's Beemer. Background scenery flies by as if the car is moving at raceway speeds. "Even though it seemed to be going really fast in the commercial, the car wasn't even running," reveals Hopkins, who was on second unit. "We had to do some killer rigging, because they wanted a real action shot. The director was stoked!" Thrillseekers also recently executed firebreathing and gymnastics stunts on a Boca Burger spot for FCB/Chicago, and consulted on spots for Speedy Auto and Carlsberg Beer.

Hopkins' most memorable gig, however, was a 1997 shoot in a Mexican jungle for a Rupert Wainwright-helmed I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! spot. The task? To swing on a vine and stunt double for none other than Fabio. The vaunted Fabio couldn't swing on a vine himself? "They didn't want him to risk it," Hopkins shrugs. "Entertainment Tonight was there and they interviewed both of us at the same time. They asked me what the differences were between us, and I looked at Fabio and said, `I'm better looking.' "

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