Stunt supervisor: Fairy behind the scenes
This week our new blog is dedicated to the dangerous but highly entertaining and necessary craft of stunt supervisor.
Hello, Filmustage is on the phone. Filmmaking is a global industry that is not based on the names of directors alone. We've always been interested in exploring the hidden parts of our favorite industry because it's the only way to discern the individual personalities of the people responsible for a cool movie. This week we're dedicating our blog to the hidden figures of the filmmaking industry - the stuntmen. We are going to disclose the status of the stunt coordinator, as well as tell you about, as we consider, the most common techniques.
What is a Stunt Coordinator?
Stunt Coordinator is a key position not so much for the visual effects department, but for the industry as a whole. The responsibilities of these people include a wide range of competencies. To begin with, Stunt Coordinators are people who have a wealth of experience and are literally bruised. If you are applying for the role, you should have experience in performing various stunts, because only a person who knows the danger of free-fall or fire can take all measures to protect colleagues.
Accordingly, the tasks of a Stunt Coordinator include:
Coordination of stunts and choreography - the Stunt Coordinator must act as a kind of director of mise-en-scenes requiring stunts. This person knows every move and detail, so the coordinator guides the stuntmen or actors (if they perform the stunts personally). At the same time, the Stunt Coordinator is responsible for making the original result look as realistic as possible;
Cast - selection of stuntmen to match the actors in terms of appearance and physical attributes;
Collaboration - the Stunt Coordinator works with the director to polish the stunts and match them to the concept and vision of the film;
Pre-production is the key.
Stunt coordinator Katie Rowe (link to the IMDb profile) shared with us how crucial the pre-production stage is and script breakdown in particular (you may also be interested in reading Top 7 Best film production management software 2022). We're thrilled that our artificial intelligence solution can make the job easier for the people who take the biggest risks.
The usual procedure is for the Stunt coordinator to get a ready script breakdown, read it, and scrutinize it for scenes where stunt performance is needed. Usually, this process is still done manually, but Filmustage is not only an online platform but also a service that provides automated script analysis and breakdown. The devil is in the details and we are able to highlight those details. Stunt coordinators will benefit from using Filmustage for a couple of reasons: one, it's a fast and accurate breakdown of the script; and two, Filmmakers are free to customize the results by removing or adding custom tags with individual descriptions. So, for example, the Stunt coordinator will be able to create unique categories such as Action, Running, Chase, and many others with no restrictions.
As we know the script breakdown process is tightly connected to movie scheduling and budgeting. These steps are also something to consider for the Stunt coordinator, because this is the person who makes notes about the special equipment and even the location of the shooting if, for example, the scene involves a body of water. Our platform goes out of its way to become a universal solution for all filmmakers, so our service includes an integrated scheduling feature that is also fully customizable based on anticipated shooting.
Some stunt tricks in filmmaking.
The Texas Switch.
We'll start with the most innocuous move that doesn't put stuntmen in danger but requires skill and manual dexterity. “Baby Driver” (2017) is a modern reimagining of the musical genre in which dancing and songs are replaced by dynamic car chases to music. It is clear that director Edgar Wright enlisted the help of a stunt coordinator and cast members to create his film. Nevertheless, the film is filled with long shots with seemingly no stuntmen. However, this only confirms the rule: these people must go unnoticed. So how does a filmmaker manage to change from actor to stuntman within a single scene?
If you look closely at the shot above, you will notice that the driver's area is covered by a pillar, which hides the lead actor Ansel Elgort. The Texas Switch technique is straightforward to pull off, but it makes the picture feel seamless and makes you believe that the main character is capable of the cool twists and turns performed in the film.
Edgar Wright is certainly not the only one who uses this technique, which is common in his films. For example, in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010), Michael Cera walks out the door and the stuntman jumps out the window.
Turning Fork & Wires.
We've all wondered exactly how filmmakers manage to realistically create flying characters. These days, it's hard to shake the idea that all the magic is just VFX & CGI achievements, but still, there's a lot more to it than you might think.
Stunt coordinators use a design called the Turning Fork. This device assumes no visible involvement of the stuntmen in the frame. The mechanism is a metal rod, on one side of which the actor is attached, and the stuntman himself is dressed in a green or blue suit and controls the ring at the other end. All movements, vibrations, etc. are rehearsed in advance and performed by stuntmen.
Turning Fork allows organizing a comfortable space for actors to perform even in the most unusual conditions. So, for example, the audience could enjoy the dialogues in the air in “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” (2019).
Anyway, Turning Fork is not the only option for filmmakers. Many professional stuntmen, like Monique Canderton (link to the IMDb profile), argue that it is impossible to replace the Wires mechanisms. The fact is that wires are the least fixing and clamping of the actor/stuntman's body, which gives the movements more vibrancy and naturalism. Many superhero blockbusters use a combination of these two techniques to achieve the perfect balance between naturalness (as much as it is possible in movies about superhumans) and fantasy.
“Captain Marvel” (2019) is a very cool example of the combination of Wires & Turning Fork. At first, when Carol Danvers is just trying out her abilities, the stunt coordinators suspended the actress on wires to portray the heroine's inexperience and insecurity. And when the protagonist starts to feel confident and finally gets used to her superpower, the flights were performed with the help of Turning Fork, which allows for more stability and control.
A slightly different implementation of the work with ropes is called Ratchet Pull and requires the direct participation of stuntmen in the frame. Just look at how badly Thanos beats up Thor in “Avengers: Endgame” (2019). To create such a brutal-looking fight filmmakers attach the stuntman to a cable powered by air pressure, which allows you to sharply move the person either forward or backward.
Car Chases & Racing.
Chases are an important part of the movie, so stuntmen will always be in demand to pull off the craziest car scenes. This kind of stunt requires specially trained people, ready to crash and flip.
It's amazing how much car chases have changed over the history of cinema. Filmmakers now have the ability to shoot a scene from two perspectives: the external perspective, like cars whizzing by on the freeway or through city streets; or the internal perspective, like the emotions of the characters behind the wheel of a car. Earlier filmmakers have resorted to techniques such as rear projection. Close-ups of the actors behind the wheel would be shot on location, and then the background would simply be replaced by a separate image with a moving perspective of the road. This doesn't look convincing to us. The revolution came with the invention of the Biscuit, a separate vehicle with a platform where another car can be located. The actor can concentrate on the task of expressing the necessary emotion while the Biscuit is driven by a stuntman. This mechanism was specially designed for movies, so it has many points for fixing the camera.
Incredible angles and shots from "Ford vs Ferrari" (2019), "Drive" (2011), Fast & Furious franchise are the result of using Biscuit. But let's not forget that all the turns in these films were performed by stuntmen. Jeff Bucknum (link to the IMDb profile) was part of the stunt team in the Oscar-winning "Ford vs Ferrari", where he acted as one of the drivers. We are not talking about assisting techniques here - Bucknum drove a replica of the race car and according while most of the scenes were filmed at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Stuntmen had to act out a real race with collisions, pushing, and contact so that the film turned out to be extremely natural. Fortunately, the stunt coordinator of the film, Robert Nagle (link to the IMDb profile), had racing experience and was able to make sure the stunts were safe.
Manipulation with it is considered to be the most dangerous of all practical effects - and for good reason. Once again, the most dangerous burden has to bear the gray cardinals of the industry. Of course, CGI can come to the rescue, but the fire is still the most difficult to be seen through the visual effects, so it is often easier to set a real person on fire.
To stay safe, the stuntman wears three layers of protective underwear and then three more layers of outerwear, including a firesuit. However, all of this can be useless if you don't consider your timings. According to "Game of Thrones" stunt coordinator Rawley Irlam (link to the IMDb profile), a person shouldn't be on fire for more than 15 seconds (in most cases, the time is even less). That's a lot of responsibility, especially when you have to portray multiple people on fire in a shot. "Game of Thrones" set a record of sorts, with 73 people on set on fire at one time for a scene where a dragon attacks.
Rawley Irlam says that the practical application of fire gives a real human performance, instead of artificial fakery in the form of visual effects. But, indeed, the main goal is not to set people on fire for the sake of footage but to do it safely. Despite the precautions in the form of layers of clothing, the biggest risk for stuntmen is the poisonous fumes that people can inhale. So stuntmen will have to hold their breath while Rawley counts down aloud.
Stuntmen have given us many iconic and just plain cool scenes that cinephiles around the world are proud to remember. It could be a tense chase scene from Nicholas Winding Refn's neo-noir thriller or a dynamic fight scene from "Atomic Blonde" (2017). In the second case, by the way, the scene was proposed and designed specifically by stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave (link to the IMDb profile). No one talks about his name, but thanks to his efforts the most spectacular and memorable scene appeared in the film.
Do stuntmen fairly carry the status of hidden figures in the film industry? On the one hand, it's part of their job, but on the other, these people risk lives, break bones, and fall from heights so that we can enjoy the movie. Stuntmen deserve to have their names recognized as well, like the name of director David Leitch, who was himself a stuntman. This does not mean that every stunt coordinator should go into directing, but rather a claim to the Film Academy, where the community of professional stuntmen has long been fighting for the right to receive a separate nomination at the Academy Awards.
In turn, the role of stunt coordinator can be correlated with the role of one of the directors, as this person also carefully works with the script, proposing different variations of the performance of different scenes, as well as with the actors directly on the set. Exploring the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking, Filmustage is once again convinced that film is a collective responsibility, a significant part of which is taken on by brave, and maybe a little crazy, stuntmen. We can see you. Thank you for the magic you bring to life.