Interview with Stunt Coordinator Jennifer Badger (Pitch Perfect 3, Greenleaf Season 2)

jenniferbadger.jpgWhat a great honor it was to interview the amazingly talented Stunt Performer Jennifer Badger. She has worked on over 170 productions in the last 20 years as a Stunt Double (for Angelina Jolie, Courteney Cox, Kelly Greyson), Stunt Driver (Captain America: Winter Soldier, Talladega Nights), Stunt Performer (The Walking Dead, Ant-Man, Fast & Furious 7), and now Stunt Coordinator (The Originals, Complications). Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: How did you get into the stunt game? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?

I was 13 years old and doing acting for Nickelodeon in Florida when learned about stunt work, took a weekend workshop, and started becoming interested in this more physical form of acting. I was a tom boy and had competed in gymnastics, swimming, and diving and the stunt industry really appealed to me. I auditioned for the Batman Stunt Show in Atlanta in 1993 when I was 16 years old and was hired on the spot. I nearly lost the job when they learned my age but my mother assured them that I had a work permit and that she and my father would support this endeavor. I thank God for my wonderful parents because this became the start of the career that I love. After training and working with the stunt performers in Atlanta, I was called for my first film when I was 17 years old as a show in New York needed a girl my size who could ride motorcycles and rollerblade well. The show was Hackers and the first actress I ever doubled was Angelina Jolie.

MT: You’ve worked on a ton of successful films (Captain American, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, Ant-Man, to name a few). Do you generally work with the same crew? How do you usually get hired?

While there are several stunt teams that I am grateful to be a part of, I work with many different groups. When you first begin in the industry you have to really hustle and market constantly to keep your name and face in people’s minds. As you grow and develop in the market, people begin to know your work and word of mouth tends to generate a lot more work. For that reason too, I believe it is important to never get complacent and to have the mind set that you have to prove yourself each and every time you walk on a set. Having one bad day could potentially create negative associations so hard work and integrity have to be a constant.

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MT: What job has been your most valuable experience so far?

That is an interesting question to answer because it truly shows what one values. I have had projects that brought forth great financial value but while I am appreciative, that isn’t the highest of my priorities. I’ve had shows where I was treated as a great asset and value to the production- treated like a star- and while that was nice, it isn’t necessary. I put the most value on the people that I work with and how they treat those around them. For that reason, I value most any project I work on for coordinator John Copeman, who treats everyone as equals, man or woman, and truly puts incredible care into each person’s safety. I also was so grateful to the core team members of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, because I had never before that worked a run of a film with a more thoughtful group of gentlemen who showed me respect both as a professional and a person. As I’ve grown in this business over the last 25 years and seen the harsh sides of it that tear people down, I’ve come to recognize and value the kindness and grace that I see in more and more of the other coordinators I work with and that is what I find means the most to me and what causes me to want to work with some teams over and over again.

MT: You have also done some stunt driving too. How does one train for that?

With a teachable spirit! Some people like to jump in and claim to be a stunt driver with very little on set driving experience. I was thrown into some hot spots when I barely had my actual driver’s license for more than a year or two (because I started so young) and so I always took driving very seriously. This is one of the few stunts that if something goes wrong, you could hurt a lot of others who did not sign up for the danger so I always approach it with that in mind and with a lot of though to prepping the car and knowing my ‘outs’. Having said that, there are a few driving schools that have a lot of wonderful training to offer and I encourage all stunt people to attend them. While I learned a lot in that way, I also had the opportunity to ride in with several of our top tier stunt drivers in the industry and I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut, learning as much as possible while in the car with them.

MT: Is there a type of stunt that you haven’t performed yet that you would love to do?

I’ve been up to roll cars (both by pipe ramp and cannon) on several shows but for budgetary reasons these are often the first stunts to get cut. While I’ve crashed cars many, many times, flipping one is definitely on the career bucket list. As I write this, I am scheduled to do so in about two weeks so fingers crossed that nothing changes.

MT: What makes a great stunt performer? What skills does he/she need?

Humility. The minute you think you know everything and stop learning from others, your growth stops and you have less to offer. The minute you think you are the best and quit training, you’ll be replaced by someone better. The moment you think that you are in control and nothing can happen to you, you’ll overlook a potential danger and get injured. We have such amazingly talented people in our industry and I’ve known from my first day that I am not, nor will I ever be, the best out there. Knowing and accepting that has caused me to work harder, train longer, and be very aware of my limitations which has always led me to be very honest with those hiring me about what I can and can’t do. Those traits have served me well over a very long and happy career. Being cocky leads to being complacent and that bodes ill for both business and safety.

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MT: From your experience being in charge as the Stunt Coordinator, was has been the biggest thing you have learned to be very good in that leadership position?

That at the end of the day, I need to trust my own instinct about everything from how I want to cut previs to what safety procedures I want to put into place. I’ve had disagreements with others that I highly respect and value about how I want something done but my gut has never failed me. Over the decades I have always had a feeling when something was ‘off’ and the times I was injured it was because I failed to act on my instinct, trusting instead to what my elders told me was right. In hindsight, I see where I shouldn’t have acquiesced and now that I coordinate, I will always listen to the opinion of those that I trust however I will act on my intuition every time. Usually this has led to me being teased for being a ‘mother hen’ due to layering extra safety into a stunt however if everyone is going home healthy each night, I am happy to put up with the teasing.

MT: Is the stunt game still a boys club?

It unquestionably still exists… especially on the coordinating end. I have a small folder of letters threatening my personal safety. I was hazed by a group of stuntmen in LA when I was 18 years old and I have been assaulted twice- once left me with a broken bone- so as to ‘teach me a lesson about staying in my place.’ These things do nothing but serve to make me more stubborn to break barriers and thank God that my husband and son stand with me. Sadly, my son was witness to one of the assaults when he was 10 and, if nothing else, it gave him an awareness of the challenges women sometimes face.

And those situations are happening less- we have more and more female coordinators in the US and our Canadian peers are just rocking it! Having said that, the vast majority of our male counterparts are supportive and encouraging. It does make me appreciate more and more the women who went before us such as Julie Ann Johnson (see the book, The Stuntwoman) and others like her who must have faced so many more physical and verbal attacks.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?

The Princess Bride. No question. I had a huge crush on Cary Elwes. But as I learned more about sword work over the years that movie was somewhat ruined for me. Wesley and Inigo are always meeting in the middle with no real intent to actually harm one another. On a fun note, I have now worked with Cary Elwes on two films. The last time he and his wife were about to have their first child and I spent a ton of time bragging on my amazing husband and advising Cary on how to earn a lifetime of brownie points by supporting his wife in the first few months. It is funny how life can work like that.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

Riding passenger on a motorcycle doing very high speed, very close proximity gags with a ton of vehicles. Of course I was in a little shirt, short shorts, and sandals for the sequence so I had no protection if we crashed. I also did a transfer from the motorcycle to a car carrier at speed and then climbed to the top, loaded passenger in one of the cars, and we drove off of the top and down onto the road, spun out, and took off. I was surrounded by some of the best drivers that our business has to offer and at one point I was told, “you know if anything went wrong there I wouldn’t have been able to do anything to avoid running you over”. I agreed that the gentleman was correct and was grateful that I had such an amazing motorcycle driver. I’ve found that for me, the hardest gags are the ones where I have little to no control. I’ve been thrown into highfalls off of bridges and buildings which can be difficult if the person throwing you doesn’t send you off well. I’ve been burnt on a full body fire burn because my stage one safety person froze up when I went down and someone from much further away had to come in and put me out. And I’ve been passenger on a motorcycle for a head on crash when my driver was jacked up and completely out of control (I got injured on that one) so I’ve found that I’m appreciative when I can have some say in who is controlling my safety. Trust is huge in this business!

MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

Obviously it has its place and that will continue growing. I have to say though that I’m still a sucker for practical stunts on practical locations that are either free from CGI or barely enhanced. A good example is the current Assassins Creed movie. The stunt double trained and worked up to this huge practical highfall which was fantastic. The final edit looks like a cartoon due to so much computer enhancement. I’m glad that they did indeed shoot a real person doing a real gag but it was ruined by what they did in editing.

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Please visit www.JENNIFERBADGER.com for news, photos, and action reels

(Coordinating, Driving, Acting, Weapons, and Water Reels)

Four Time Nominee for the World Stunt Awards – 2001, 2003, 2007, 2012

Nominated for SAG award- 2009 “Public Enemies” & 2015 “The Walking Dead”

2012 Winner of the Action Icon Award

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in Toronto & Los Angeles at least 2 times every single month. Go to www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer Alex Armbruster (Suicide Squad, X-Men: Days of Future Paste)

Alex Armbruster-headshot.jpg Alex Armbruster is one of the most sought after stunt performers working in Canada today. When Hollywood makes an action film, Alex is generally on-set working is various stunt skills and expertise. He has worked on over 60 movies and TV shows in just the last 7 years along.

It was an honor to chat with him about his career:

Matthew Toffolo: How did you get into the stunt game? Was this something you’ve always wanted to do?

Alex Armbruster: Looking back, I suppose it all started when I was 12 years old. One day I saw a Disney movie called “Brink” about competitive aggressive inline skating, and immediately after the movie, I strapped on my skates and started jumping around outside; little did I know that this sport would become my passion that got me into the world of stunts for film and television. Fast forward a few years, I had been very competitive in the inline skating world and had been part of a live action sports group called the “Craz-E-Crew Stunt Team” that took me all over the world including Saudi Arabia, India, and all around North America. One day I happened to visit a skatepark in Brantford, Ontairo where I met these two brothers who happened to be stuntmen in the business already with their father being a stunt coordinator. We hit it off and started hanging out on a regular basis where I would see how much fun they were having and how much money they were making. I remember thinking to myself “I need to get in on this!” So eventually I convinced them to give me a shot on set; which they did. It was on an MTV show called “Skins” to basically be the buffer between the stunt and background performers to make sure they didn’t get hurt from the fight scene we were doing. From the moment I stepped on set, I was hooked. I ended up doing lots of extra and background work to meet other stunt coordinators in the business; always bringing my resume and demo reel with me. I was constantly training different skill sets, getting as good at everything as I could. Eventually, they also gave me a shot and I started to make a pretty decent reputation for myself. Six years later, here I am today!

Getting into stunts was definitely not what I always dreamed of doing when I was younger. Growing up, I always wanted to be a professional rollerblader. As time went on, the sport unfortunately started declining and learned that I couldn’t really make the living i wanted from it. I also went to school for business and thought at one point that I would open up a skateshop/skatepark instead. It was around this time (2008-2009) that I had met my stunt friends and began to see my future that satisfied me the same way that rollerblading did. Stunts became my new passion and allowed me the free time I needed to continue rollerblading to my hearts content.

PHOTO: Alex does some “fire” work on set: 

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MT: You work a lot on Toronto based sets. How is the crew experience in Hollywood North?

AA: Yes, I work mainly in Toronto and Montreal at this point. The crews are usually quite good here in the sense that everyone is very organized, kind and for the most part, efficient. I’ve only got the two locations to compare, but I imagine they would be very similar to the crews in the states as well given that we have to cater to American and other international actors’ as well.

MT: What job has been your most valuable experience so far?

AA: My most valuable stunt job has been stunt doubling for Jay Hernandez who played “El Diablo” in Suicide Squad. It was such an amazing experience working alongside actors like Will Smith and Margot Robbie and just being apart of the DC Comics world. I knew right away when I got the job that it would be a pivotal point in my career in the sense that it would probably be one of the most unique experiences that many stuntmen wouldn’t receive. Getting all dressed up in the makeup, getting the tattoos and shaving my head every morning for this role was very cool and definitely made me feel like a super hero (or villain). Although there were only a handful of stunts for this character in the film, there were a couple of really good ones including when he gets flushed out of the water tank and when Incubus kicks him backwards 60ft over a flight of stairs into a shop window and into a wall in the last train station scene. I’ve now developed a bit of a collecting habit for any Diablo-related merchandise I can find…after all, it’s probably the closest I’ll get to having an action figure of myself!

PHOTO: With actor Jay Hernandez – Suicide Squad stunt double for Diablo Ratchet

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MT: What are the differences between working on a big budget movie (X-Men: Days of Future Paste, xXx) in comparison to working on a television series (Dark Matter, Designated Survivor?

AA: The difference between working on a big feature film and a smaller TV show basically comes down to two things: time and money. On a big feature film like Suicide Squad, they have hundreds of millions of dollars to work with while trying to create a film that’s around 2 hours long in about 4-5 months. On a TV show, they have a few million while trying to create 1 hour episodes every week or two over the course of 3-4 months as well. As a result, the big features move a lot slower on set since they’re usually only trying to get a couple scenes shot everyday. Since the budgets are so big, everything is a little more relaxed and casual since they don’t have to get everyone off the clock so soon. On a TV show, they’ve got usually around 5-6 scenes to film in one day with set shifts in there as well so they tend to move along a bit quicker and more efficiently to get that all accomplished on time.

MT: Is there a type of stunt that you haven’t performed yet that you would love to work on?

AA: One of the things I actually haven’t done yet is to do a full body burn (to be set on fire). It’s just one of those things where the opportunity doesn’t come around too often and when it does, it often goes to someone who has done it already. Even if the opportunity doesn’t come up in film this year, I’ll definitely be getting my friends to set me on fire just so I can experience it and put it on the resume.

MT: What makes a great stunt performer? What skills does he/she need?

AA: A great stunt performer should first off, have a great positive attitude. The film business can be quite tough to break into and even to make a living in and it takes a very special breed of person that is willing to persevere through all of the ups and downs. They need to be okay with not knowing when they’re going to work next, where they’re going to be working, what they’re going to be performing, etc. They need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable for extended periods of time on set; for example, wearing a prosthetic costume in extremely cold weather for over 14 hours overnight gets pretty tough mentally. Another huge asset that every great stunt performer needs to have is the ability to take and follow direction; even if the stunt performer is one of the best in the world in terms of skill, if they can’t take direction and do what the director or stunt coordinator is asking of them, then they’re essentially useless to the production. In terms of skill required, it is to the performers’ maximum benefit if they are as good at as many skills as possible. Most stunt performers break into the business by having some sort of specialty skill that they excel in, but this skill alone won’t keep you working all of the time. Most of the stunts you see in films include skills such as precision driving, high falls, fight choreography, gun work, wire work, gymnastics, parkour, horsemanship, acting, etc. A great stunt performer should be relatively well-rounded in most of these areas so that they can confidently accept any type of job opportunity that comes their way.

PHOTO: Doing wire work on the TV show Minority Report: 

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MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?

AA: Good question. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Back to the Future trilogy with Michael J. Fox. Every year I usually watch these films a few times. Everything about the trilogy is so well done that it’s just one of those classics that you never really get sick of; the story telling, the music, the characters, the stunts, the one liners… it really is a “timeless” movie… pardon the pun. A career goal would be to be apart of a film as good or even better than that… which these days is pretty hard to come by.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

AA: The biggest high-risk stunt I’ve performed to date is probably the one on Suicide Squad which i mentioned earlier where I went flying on a wire (we call it a ratchet) backwards 60ft. over a flight of stairs, through a window sill and into a wall. The reason why this one was such high-risk was because of the huge distance that I had to travel backwards and the speed that it was being done at. When the distance is that big between your take-off and your landing, there’s a lot of room for error; it’s very easy for your body position to change into one that’s not very favorable for your landing. The wardrobe I was wearing ( a tank top and jeans) also didn’t allow me to wear any pads on the upper half of my body which was a concern considering I wasn’t landing on any mats. We were planning for me to launch backwards, hit and break through the window sill and then hit the wall with my back pad, landing safe and sound. Here’s what actually happened: from the take-off, everything was going very well until I hit the window sill (which was breakaway so I could go through it easily). Once I hit the window sill, my body position changed unfavorably and my legs swung back behind me and smashed into the wall first before my back which ended up giving me a nasty spiral fracture on my left fibula (ankle). Although the rest of my un-padded body was somehow unscathed, I found myself healing for a good 6 months after that. Sometimes these things happen, and these are the types of risks we take as stunt performers but it definitely could have been a lot worse if I hit my head instead of my leg. However, I did make a full recovery and I’m 100% again.

MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

AA: With the steady increase in visual effects technology, there’s without a doubt going to me more green screen stunt performing in the future. Using green screens in the background for stunt performing typically isn’t a big deal since they usually use it to simply put a different background image in the scene which keeps all of the stunts real and authentic. Where we might get into trouble later on is increased CGI replacing stunt performers. For example, even now in some films instead of actually lighting a stunt double on fire, they’ll simply CGI the fire on the actor which eliminates the need for a stunt performer completely in that case. Luckily at this point, CGI only works for certain types of stunts and there’s still a need for real people performing real action. It’s also very costly to involve CGI and it still remains less expensive to pay a stunt performer who will make the stunt look better in the end anyways.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer Lisa Dempsey (Titanic, Sully, Minority Report)

lisadempsey_1.jpgWhat an honor to chat with one of the most regarded stunt performers in the industry today. Lisa Dempsey has worked on over 100 productions in the last 25+ years. Her answers are a wealth of knowledge for film fans and people interested in working in the Film & TV industry.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0218741

Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience so far? 

Great question. I had to think about this one for a bit. I’ve been at this now since 1989. I think my most valuable experiences have been from the people I have worked with and the advice they have given me. A few jobs come to mind that have had a huge impact. Every job with my mentor Rocky Capella is valuable to me.

I worked on a movie in San Francisco called Jade in 1995. William Friedkin (The French Connection!) was directing. I was still living in San Francisco and was a local hire. On that show, I got great career advice from some real Hollywood legends. Buddy Joe Hooker was the stunt coordinator and he brought 25 stunt people up from Los Angeles to work. I got to be a part of some pretty awesome car chases and vehicle stunts over the course of a several months. I never would have had the opportunity to meet so many of Hollywood’s heavy hitters in one setting if it had not been for that job. The people I met on that job were very instrumental in my career at that time. Veteran stuntman Tommy Huff told me I should move to Los Angeles because “that’s where the action is.”

Most recently I had the job of a lifetime doubling Kathy Bates as “The Butcher” on American Horror Story Season 6: Roanok. I doubled for her once before on Mike and Molly when she was a guest star. We had to leg wrestle with Melissa McCarthy and that was hilarious. Kathy is a class act. She is warm and funny and so appreciative. She has a great laugh. I can’t say enough good things about her.

Photo: Lisa turns into a Zombie:lisa_before_and_after.jpgMT: You said that life has been very exciting for you these days. Anything you like to share? 

I’ve been engulfed in flames, chased, stabbed, and beaten up lately. I like it when I’m bruised and busy. I just booked a job for December 6th to double Kathy again on her new TV comedy series Disjointed. I did a little stunt acting as a “mutant monster” on a new Hulu show called Freakish. I had a great job a few weeks ago on a new series called Chance. Due to a non-disclosure agreement, I can’t tell you what the stunt was but there was a lot of blood! I did some driving on a regional Prius commercial and I just got a call from Rocky to be a in a prison scene next month on a feature film called Don’t Shoot, I’m the Guitar Man. My daughter has two auditions this week and I’m having a good hair day. Life is good!

MT: You worked as a stunt performer on TITANIC. What type of stunts did you do on that film? Did you ever imagine when you were working on the film that it would turn out to be one of the most successful movies of all-time? 

It’s always a phenomenal thrill to work with great people. Working on Titanic was exciting at the time. Same thing was true on Sully working with Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks. You never really know how the movie will turn out in the box office; you’re just happy and grateful for the job. So, the answer would be no, I had no idea at the time. Now I look back and think, “WOW, how lucky was I to be a part of that!?!” I love period pieces. I was one of the first-class passengers on the Titanic. When the ship was sinking and we were scrambling to safety, we had to fall from the top deck down to the bottom deck, and then run back up to the top. (Over and over and over again. Jim Cameron did A LOT of rehearsals.) All the exterior shots were filmed at night, so working nights in Mexico with half of the stunt community plus a ton of European stunt people was definitely something to remember!

MT: You’ve worked on a lot of TV series. How is this on-set experience different than when you work on your typical studio feature film? 

TV shows go at a much faster pace. The stunt coordinators who are running multiple TV shows might be working on an eight-day episode, but they are always prepping for the next one while shooting the current one. Constantly prepping and shooting at the same time feels more demanding. Feature films might have 100 shooting days plus a second unit, so the budgets are bigger, the crew is bigger and things just seem to take longer.

MT: Is there a type of stunt that you haven’t performed yet that you would love to work on?

Well, I just crossed one off my bucket list this year with a full body burn! In all my years, I’ve never done a ratchet, and I‘d like to do that someday. I would also love the opportunity to double Julia Louis Dreyfus (Veep) and Marcia Gay Harden (Code Black) in case anyone in production is reading this right now. And any job with Will Farrell would be fun.

Lisa is on FIRE performing a stunt: 

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MT: What makes a great stunt performer? What skills does he/she need?

Oh boy, another great question. For starters, athleticism, professionalism, tenacity, longevity and common sense. You have to have a “safety first” mind-set at all times. I think you need to be camera savvy these days too. It’s good to learn how to communicate with the camera man so your scenes go efficiently. You have to be prepared. Show up with the right gear. Show up on time, always. Pride yourself on being prompt. You also have to be a team player with a good moral compass and work ethic. You have to be disciplined. You have to train diligently and know your strengths and weaknesses. Never be afraid to speak up if you feel something is unsafe. I turned down a motorcycle job because I’m simply not qualified or comfortable with that. I knew SO many other talented stunt women who were better- suited and was happy to refer them. I just said “I’m not your girl” and then suggested about four experts my size who could do the job. Stunt coordinators expect and appreciate your honesty. Your reputation is everything. The last thing you want to do is take a job you can’t do and end up 1) hurt 2) embarrassing yourself, your boss, your boss’s boss (producer, director, etc.) and 3) end up wasting the production’s time and money!

Speaking of money, you also have to figure out how to budget without a steady income since stunt jobs are unpredictable. Stunt people have to have the skills necessary to manage their careers and all aspects of their marketing/networking efforts. Most important, this industry is all about collaboration. Every department plays a key role in production, the more you can do to understand what other people do and how it relates to the overall big picture can only help you. Watch and learn from the riggers. Be a good overall stunt person and not one who just specializes in one thing; be multi-talented with a mix of versatility, innovation, bravery and focus. Be able to take a punch and throw a punch and hit the ground. Have precise timing. Be “old-school” and help move pads. Be handy to have around. You have to be resourceful. You have to have excellent interpersonal skills to be able to easily relate to everyone on the set. Be punctual, show up early. If you want to transition to become a stunt coordinator or second unit director, set some short-term and long-term goals. Learn how to break down a script. Surround yourself with people you admire.

Everyone needs a mentor. As I get older, I feel it’s important to be a mentor to the new generation, and I hope they can learn from my experiences. Be willing to give advice if it’s asked for. You have to be able to take constructive criticism for any kind of professional growth. Stuntman Jon Epstein once told me “You’re gonna screw up at some point. How you handle it and what you learn from it is what is important.” My colleague Tom Ficke once asked me what I would have done differently when a stunt when awry. I had to really think and replay the entire day and take responsibility for my own safety. Keep a positive attitude when things are slow. Read trade journals. Do your homework. Learn radio etiquette. Know your craft; practice your craft. Be grateful and don’t ever complain. Be a good, kind person. Be reliable. Be dependable. Be safe.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you watched the most times in your life?

I loved A League of their Own and True Romance. When I met Suzanne Rampe and Joni Avery, stuntwomen in those movies respectively, I was in awe. Reservoir Dogs, Scarface, La Femme Nikita, My Cousin Vinny, A Fish Called Wanda, Rudy and old Buster Keaton films like The Great Train Robbery and The General are some of my other favorites. My daughter and I are big Will Farrell fans, so we’ve watched Talladega Nights, Dodge Ball, Step Brothers, Old School, and silly stuff like a million times. Shake and Bake, baby.

MT: Do you remember your first job? What stunt did you perform? Did you imagine that you’d still be working stunts 25+ years later? 

I was a stunt student protester in a movie called Strawberry Road in May of 1990. It was a big fight. I love a good riot/choreographed screen brawl. It was a 1960’s period piece and so fun to fight with the stunt cops. In November of 1990, I was Taft Hartley’d on an NBC Movie of the Week called Long Road Home with Mark Harmon. Stunt coordinator Rocky Capella sent me to wardrobe. I was so green, I didn’t know what was happening. I was given a long dress to try on and when it zipped it right up, Rocky said “Congratulations, the job is yours.” I was the “Rodeo Queen” the next day. I was in the rumble seat of a 1930 Model A Coupe in a parade scene, wearing a crown and a smile. I had prop flowers and waved at the crowd of extras when the riot breaks out. My driver slams on the brakes and I take a header out of the car. Fun! The producer didn’t want that scene in the movie but the director insisted because it was something he experienced and witnessed as a kid. In the end, the producer won and the whole scene got cut. I learned a big lesson: don’t tell everyone in your family to watch, just in case you end up on the editing room floor! Did I imagine at that time that I would be still be doing stunts now? Not at that time. It wasn’t until a few years later when I learned that it was a business. I got my SAG card in December 1990 and I thank my mom who paid for my dues as a Christmas present. I hope to never retire. I want to be the “Go-to-Grandma” like Sandy Gimple who is still rockin’ it in her 70’s!

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

I did a stunt that required me to cartwheel off a balcony and land feet first into boxes – I ended up in the ER with a broken tibia, fibula and ankle. I had three surgeries and that derailed my career for a while. I rehabbed like a pro athlete and feel bionic now. I am reinforced, realigned and will live with my titanium tibial rod forever. That was nine years ago, today. October 7.

MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

It’s inevitable. I like green screen. I hope stunt people will never be replaced by CGI, but it does serve a purpose to enhance things and make the audience believe. I did a stunt in Jurassic World where I fell down while being chased by a flying dinosaur. Of course, there was no dinosaur; they added it in later. On Sully, the scenes in New York were filmed on the Hudson, the real deal. But in L.A., the plane was on water in the back lot of Universal Studios with a huge blue screen. Visual effects did an amazing job matching the background and making it look like a cold January day in NY when it was really an 80-degree day in L.A. The editors are amazing people too and are brilliant at movie magic. The technology is incredible.

MT: Is the film industry still a boys club?

Things have gotten consistently better since I broke into the business. I have worked with some very talented female directors lately and have had the privilege to have worked with three female stunt coordinators in a row this year! I like hanging out with the boys; I’m just used to it. I never really thought about it much until you asked.

MT: Where did you grow up? How did you get into working in the film industry?

Every stunt person has a different story on how they got started. I love that. You could poll 100 stunt people and never get the same answer. I was born and raised in Campbell, California, about an hour south of San Francisco. I was a typical outdoorsy kid playing softball, climbing trees and beating up my little sister. I loved swimming. In the early 80s, I saw a behind-the-scenes story on TV about the movie Superman III. I remember the actress being interviewed and in the background there was another woman dressed in the same clothes getting ready to do a stunt. I think it was stuntwoman Wendy Leech. She went down a waterfall and then she got new dry clothes and got to do it again! I thought, “That’s what I want to do, I could do that!” I wasn’t interested in acting or dialogue; I wanted the action. I felt a calling. But when you don’t grow up in Hollywood, you don’t know that it’s a business.

So a little background: my dad was the athletic director and football coach at my high school. I owe all my athletic ability to him. I played softball and soccer and was on the gymnastics and swim teams. I was a cheerleader. I was the smallest one on the squad which meant I got to back-flip dismount off the top of the pyramid. I went to California State University, Chico and graduated with a BA in instructional technology/information and communication studies with a minor in management. I worked at the intramural sports department as a lifeguard and aerobics instructor and I supervised the weight room. I was hired to teach aerobics to the men’s varsity basketball team for pre-season conditioning in the fall and the rugby team in the spring. I’ve always been around a bunch of guys. I’m used to the testosterone. I took a “Bio-flight” trampoline class and realized I liked flipping and flying and was comfortable being upside down. I learned body control. I liked having a job that required me to be and stay in shape. All of this was helping me into a stunt career but I didn’t know it at the time. Looking back these were all steps in a ladder.

One day I was hit by a car on my way to school. I was on my bike and saw it coming. The driver didn’t see me. I had a second to react, so I pushed off my pedals, ditched my bike, jumped and rolled off the hood of his car and onto the ground. My bike got ran over and was totaled, but surprisingly I was OK and made it to class. I knew then I had pretty good instincts and thought to myself, “I should get paid for this!”

Prior to graduation I did a summer internship at Arthur Andersen & Co in Illinois (at the time it was one of the ‘Big Eight’ accounting firms.) I worked in the tax department writing instructional manuals for their Center for Professional Education. That summer I got on the company’s softball team and ran on the track team and made a bunch of friends. I was offered a full-time position in the accounting and audit division after graduation and started right away since the softball season was about to begin and I was their starting pitcher. I was also brainwashed by my parents to get a “real job.” I lasted two years in Chicago. It was freezing. I was a California girl and getting restless with the corporate life. One day I read in the Chicago Tribune about a Mid-west stunt school. I cut out the newspaper article and started a file. Someday, I thought. I didn’t have time to pursue it with my 8-5 job, but it was always in the back of my mind.

So I put the cart before the horse, quit my job and left my steady income and moved back to San Francisco without having another job lined up. As I was soul searching and trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, “professional stuntwoman” was on the list. I researched the Screen Actors Guild and called the Film Commission office. A friend of a friend of a friend knew somebody so I called her. I spoke with stunt woman Diane Peterson who told me to call Rocky Capella. Everyone I spoke with kept pointing me in the direction of Rocky and the Bay Area Stunt Association. So I called him. I told him I was an athlete, that I didn’t have any experience with weapons or acting, but wanted to explore this idea. We talked for 45 minutes. I immediately liked him. He invited me to train with him and other members from the Bay Area stunt group. I am forever grateful to Rocky, Mike, Kevin, Johnny, Tim, Robin, Paul and Dan for decades of friendship. We’ve all grown up together. They are my stunt family. On a side note, I have a special shout out to my favorite Uncle Bill who supported my decision to pursue a new career and promised not to tell my mom. I kept this career move a secret for a while because I was giving up a decent salary at a worldwide accounting firm to try something completely new and totally different!

Meanwhile, I had to eat and support myself so I worked as an independent contractor for Chevron USA in their corporate health and fitness department. I was still doing instructional design and training, but this time I enjoyed the health and fitness subject matter better than tax and accounting. After that, I got a job as a program director at the American Heart Association, then was promoted to be the associate director of cardiovascular education and community programs, all the while training three days a week, practicing my fights, falls and vehicle work with the stunt guys. I’ve worked with a wide range of people from various cultures, ages and personalities my whole life. I think that helps with any job.

The day came when Rocky called and asked if I was available. I said, “For what?” and he replied, “For work.” Duh. And so it began. I worked a day of background stunts on Strawberry Road and got paid! Then with a job on Long Road Home, it just kept getting better and better and more exciting. I doubled two actresses on the soap opera Santa Barbara and joined AFTRA in 1991.

I worked when the phone rang (or beeper went off back then) when shows came to town and I kept my day job. I negotiated time off and took my vacation days when I got a call to work on a movie. I was just lucky to be at the right place at the right time. In 1992 I met David, Annie and Papa Ellis, RA Rondell and more fabulous stunt people from LA on Made in America. While chatting with this nice man at craft service, I mentioned my weekend plans of a sprint triathlon and he replied, “You swim?” I told him I grew up a competitive swimmer and I was a lifeguard in college and recently was Scuba certified etc, etc. not knowing this nice man was Greg Barnett and he ran a little show called Baywatch!

So, as fate would have it, I got laid off from my day job at the American Heart Association. The entire program department was let go. It was a sign! Most people were devastated but I knew it was an opportunity to make a move. So I did. I packed up and moved to L.A. in May of 1995 with my resume. By this time I had almost six years of experience and felt ready. I called every person who said, “Be sure to call” and it worked. I was at Joni’s stunt service one day joining when Joel Kramer phoned in. I asked if I could say hello and re-introduced myself since it had been years since we worked together on The Rock in SF. He asked for my social security number (which I thought was very odd) and if I was available to work on a movie he was doing called Heat. I will never forget May 15, 1995 in downtown LA seeing Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer! On that job, I met two amazing stunt women who I call friends, Jeanne Epper and Eliza Coleman. My decision to move had never been more validated.

Another great stunt coordinator, Jeff Dashnaw, whom I also met on Jade told me to “hustle” Greg Barnett, that nice guy I met on Made in America back in 1992! I could not believe that I was supposed to show up unannounced, without an appointment, to visit someone at work, but quickly learned that was the hustling was the norm when you are just starting out (but after 9/11, it was much harder to sashay on to the set, especially at the studios). Greg remembered me and had me I double a guest star on his show. I had to run, trip and fall off the dock and into the water. I had to play unconscious while he rescued me. So fun! It was one take and I was done by 8 a.m.! Then Greg called me back to double a series regular, Yasmine Bleeth! I really didn’t get it till much later that the show was so popular. I worked a few seasons doubling Yasmine, and then again on a movie of the week called The Lake as her stunt double/evil twin and then on another series Nash Bridges, in my home-town of San Francisco. I was able to buy my first house in Santa Monica and realized L.A. would be my home.

So it kind of snowballed. Training with Rocky in the Bay Area, meeting amazing people in the L.A. stunt community, being at the right place at the right time – it’s all landed me here today. I’ve had the same commercial agent since 1998. I like to act if there’s some comedy or action involved. I can deliver a few lines when needed. Today I’m a busy mom with my SAG eligible daughter who enjoys acting and thinks I’m cool (sometimes). Things have evolved. I’m not doubling teens anymore and have moved on to the Baby Boomers and I love it! It was a great day when I could check the “over 40” box at auditions. My agent commended me for my attitude and said I had just eliminated half of the competition. I am no longer a size 2, been there, done that! For awhile I thought if I went up a size or two it would be considered a felony, but I’ve embraced it at my age and at this stage. I am healthy and happy, especially when the phone rings.

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In conclusion, I am most grateful to everyone who has helped me along the way!

Thank you for the opportunity to share this, it’s been fun!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer Hannah D. Scott

hannah_d_scott.jpgI really enjoyed chatting with Stunt Performer/Actor Hannah D. Scott about her profession. She was very open about everything and you can feel her passion for the industry and what she does in her answers. Enjoy!

Matthew Toffolo: What job has been your most valuable experience?

Hannah D. Scott: I think that part of the answer lies in not actually working, but watching people work. The set is such a massive machine and being able to take a step back to listen and learn is priceless. I was once asked, a long time ago, to step in as kind of intern of sorts. Understanding the camera, understanding how the director communicates with actors in order to get the right result, what cues to give to help them understand and so on was incredibly valuable. I could see how different lenses worked, how framing could make or break a shot, how timing is essential as are reactions. I watched how gags were set up and every detail that goes in to even the simplest of stunts. Even for a small trip to the ground, the area has to be checked for hazards like glass for example, but someone outside of stunts might not think of those things because they never have to be the ones hitting ground.

Perhaps the most valuable experience was making a mistake on a job an realizing that that sort of stunt is not something I want to do, and being honest with myself about it. Why try and do something and risk not only yourself but others. We all have things we thrive at and fail at.

PHOTOS of Hannah fighting. Swords & Training: 

MT: Have you suffered a lot of injuries doing stunts? If so, what has been your worst injury?

HDS: Funnily enough everything has been outside of work. My Mirror fell off of my windowsill and went through my foot when I was at home…doing nothing. I always expect to get a little bruised even though I have pads for safety, but it comes with the territory. There have been some terrible accidents, perhaps some were avoidable and some were just simply tragic accidents, but we are all aware in going to work that we stand the chance of being hurt and maybe seriously. Everything in our power and the power of those working with us is done to keep things safe. I don’t think the general public realize how much danger there is involved and how much of the physical stuff we actually do without it being CGI or some such thing.

MT: Has there been a stunt that you love to perform that you haven’t performed yet?

HDS: I haven’t done burns yet, being set on fire. There are full and partial burns, each with their own skill set and risks. For some reason that’s high on my list of things I’d like to learn and have the opportunity to do.

MT: How did you get into the stunt performer game? Was there extensive training involved?

HDS: This is always a hard one to answer as there in no one ‘way’ in. Personally I was picked to work on a film as I had a background in martial arts, gymnastics and fighting. I very much had to learn as I went that day because the most I had was stage combat for a base in understanding reactions and so on, but it’s a whole different world with a camera, pretty much polar opposite. I was lucky enough to be hired, do a good job and keep connections in order to find out how to progress once I’d made a choice to commit to stunts.

There is no ‘training’ for stunts in a way, you can’t go to a school and then come out with a range of skills and find recruiters. There are workshops available and they’re certainly more frequent in NY now. It has been very hard in the past to attend workshops without already being ‘in’ the working community and without a resume. Most were private invites and with good reason. Things are becoming more open to those starting out now and giving people a chance to learn. It’s a catch 22. How do you get into stunts without training but how do you get training and invited without already being in stunts? Who should even be teaching it is another story and sometimes cause for friction, but at the end of the day it’s about keeping each other safe and using the best skills we have individually, working together to make the best picture possible.

We all train regularly at various sports complexes and in teams. You have to keep the muscles moving, work reactions and timing and watch yourself back all the time on video to make sure you’re not catching yourself for example, putting a hand down being shot in the head where in life you’d just collapse…if that makes sense. Conditioning is always important so you’re fit enough to do multiple takes and have the ability to take the impact, are prepared for it.

MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

HDS: I’m not sure I”m experienced enough to answer that, but I think that technology will obviously continue to grow in ways we can’t even imagine yet. Look at animation, it’s mind-blowing. But, I do think there will always be a need for physical bodies and work, so hopefully non of the advances will take jobs away.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

HDS: I’ve done a dog stunt, which could easily go wrong should the animal decide he wants to do what he wants, but I’d say high-fall holds some of the highest risk. Falling off buildings, cliffs, over balconies and so on into boxes, airbags or porta-pits. There are so many factors that could go wrong either from the miscalculation of the person jumping or the people on the ground spotting or prepping the air-bag, it’s a very risky stunt and a speciality. It’s certainly not for everyone.

MT: Do you have a stunt performer mentor?

HDS: Yes, I am very lucky and honored by the people I’ve been surrounded and guided by. I think it’s somewhat essential in this part of the entertainment industry as it can be so hard to navigate. I was incredibly lucky on the first major job I did having the chance to work with some of the longest working members of stunt community, their generosity astounds me.

Whenever I’m confused about anything from a contract to what I might need to work on or where I can find who and what I need, they are all there. It’s never too much to check in and there’s never a question that’s too silly to ask. I feel like they all remember what it’s like to have had that first day and remember where they started. I would love to name them, should I name them? Manny Ayala, Elliot Santiago, Chazz Menendez and Joanne Lamstein are all those I consider it an absolute honor that I have them in my life.

MT: What movie, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

HDS: Oh boy…honestly? Probably ‘Pete’s Dragon’, no kidding. I know every part of that script and gutted they have made a new one. I’ve never wanted dragons to be so real in my life!

Her Website: http://www.hannahdstunts.com/

PHOTOS: More Hannah fight photos:

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stuntwoman Luci Romberg (Ghostbusters, Divergent, Spy)

What fun it was to sit down with stunt performer Luci Romberg, who has recently been working as Melissa McCarthy’s stunt double (Ghostbusters, The Boss, Spy, Identity Thief).  She has also performed stunts on over 60 films in the last 10+ years, including Transformers, The Conjuring, Divergent, Zombieland, and Earth to Echo.

luciromberg_and_mccarthy_2.jpgInterview with Luci Romberg:

Matthew Toffolo: You have been Melissa McCarthy’s stunt double on more than a few films, including the upcoming “Ghostbusters” film. What does that job entail? Does she appreciate you taking the “bumps” on her films?

Luci Romberg: Melissa is a dream come true!! She is kind, thoughtful, caring, hilarious and so supportive! I love her!! She is an amazing athlete and does a ton of her own stunts! The only ones she doesn’t do are the ones the studio won’t let her. I am truly fortunate to be her double. Aside from loving her as a person, because of her, I have had the opportunity to do some of the coolest stunts of my career and I am forever grateful! From getting hit by a car, to falling down stairs, to hanging from a helicopter, to being thrown against a wall by a bed, etc. I feel like someone needs to pinch me so I know that this is really real 🙂

Watch Video of Melissa McCarthy and director Ben Falcone talking stunts.

PHOTO: Luci “hangs” in the air as Melissa McCarthy looks above: 

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MT: You have been a stunt performer on over 60 productions in the last 12+ years. Do you have a favorite experience?

LR: What film/TV show are you most proud of? Hmmmm that’s a good question. Each project is different and unique! I would have to say Ghostbusters is definitely up there. To be a part of such an iconic film is truly special and I am so grateful to have been a part of it!! I wish I could tell you more about it because it was truly the experience of a lifetime!!

MT: Have you suffered a lot of injuries doing stunts? If so, what has been your worst injury?

LR: I have been so fortunate in my career so far (knock on wood). The only real injury was from the second car hit I did on Identity Thief. After the first one I felt pretty darn good but I had to do it again and I unfortunately hit my forehead on the pavement on my way down. I had to get some stitches in my forehead so I feel lucky that’s all I suffered.

MT: Is being a Stunt Coordinator something you aspire to do someday? Are there any female Stunt Coordinators currently in the industry today?

LR: Only recently have I been even considering stunt coordinating. I don’t feel ready yet but it has been on my mind. I’m a member of the Stunt Women’s Association and we have several amazing female coordinators in our group! It’s so cool to be surrounded by a group of women who are getting out there, changing the game, and proving we can coordinate too! They really inspire me!!

MT: Has there been a stunt that you love to perform that you haven’t performed yet?

LR: To be lame and honest, not really. I got to do quite a bit of fighting on Spy. I love fights and hope I get to do more!! As a smaller woman it’s tough to get fight jobs but the few I’ve had the opportunity to do, I have really enjoyed!

MT: How did you get into the stunt performer game? Was there extensive training involved?

LR: I was a national champion gymnast and all-league soccer player in college. I grew up playing every sport I could get my hands on. As a stunt performer it is important to be a well rounded/good athlete! My collegiate gymnastics teammate, Natascha Hopkins, who is a couple years older than me was doing stunts and acting in LA. She came back to visit the gymnastics team my senior year and she basically convinced me to move to LA to pursue stunts. I took her advice and I’m so glad I did! Meeting Tempest Freerunning was a huge milestone as well! Freerunning has helped me in so many aspects of stunts. I love stunts but freerunning is my true passion!!

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MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

LR: I think it will continue to grow as it has. CGI is being used more and more. I see a need for it but I really hope we don’t continue to use it so much that there is a big disconnect. For me personally, it takes me out of the film when there is too much CGI.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

LR: Probably the car hit I did on Identity Thief. I literally stood there as a car drove at me at 20 mph. Car hits are very risky and unpredictable. There are so many variables to deal with. I called my family before that stunt and told them I love them just in case anything happened.

MT: Do you have a stunt performer mentor?

LR: I have been very fortunate and have had several amazing mentors. My mentors have changed over the years. What is so great about the stunt community is the willingness of people to help teach, guide, train you, etc. It is a very hard business to break into but I love the fact that most stunt people genuinely want to help the new people learn the tricks of the trade so they can be successful and make their dreams come true.

MT: What movie, besides the ones you worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

LR: I would have to say either the Sound of Music, Nadia, Tommy Boy, or Princess Bride. I like that question a lot 🙂

PHOTO: Luci flies in the air over wrestler/actor Dave Batista:

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Luci Romberg- Stuntwoman
http://www.tempestfreerunning.com/
http://www.luciromberg.com/
http://www.stuntwomen.com/home.htm
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer Adam Kirley (Batman Begins, Casino Royale, Grimsby)

Adam Kirley is one of the best stunt performers in the world today. He has performed in over 60 films in the last 16 years, including: Iron Man 3, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,  X-Men: First Class, Terminator Salvation, and Munich. He was Daniel Craig’s stunt double in the landmark James Bond movie “Casino Royale”. He is also a Screen Actors Guild and World Stunt Award winner.

Interview with Adam Kirley:

Matthew Toffolo: The action/comedy “Grimsby” is currently playing at a a theater near you. What can we expect to see? How was your working experience doing stunts on that film?

Adam Kirley: Grimsby is a mix of a Bond/Bourne action mixed in a Sacha Baron Cohen comedy film. It was a challenge to do believable gritty action without loosing the SBC comedy elements.

MT: Have you suffered a lot of injuries doing stunts? If so, what has been your worst injury?

AK: Unfortunately its the nature of our game. You can reduce the risk as much as possible but there will always be an element of risk that remains. I have had the usual cuts and bruises that most performers receive on a daily basis. My more serious injuries include: 6 knee surgeries, 1 shoulder reconstruction, and a broken back. These actually weren’t caused by a big accident just years of wear and tear.

MT: You’ve done stunts on over 60 films in the last 16 years alone. Do you have a favorite experience? What film are you most proud of?

AK: I think my proudest moment as a stunt performer would have to be working on Casino royale stunt doubling for James Bond. The Bond movies are such iconic action films with so much history its quite an honour to be a part of.

PHOTO: Adam jumps from crane to crane in the opening scene in Casino Royale:

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MT: What does a Stunt Coordinator do on set?

AK: On Set the stunt coordinator basically choreographs the stunt team to perform the scene. The job of the stunt coordinator starts well before the shoot day, we have to look at the script, and with the director design the action required. Then we assemble a team that is best suited to perform the action.

MT: Has there been a stunt that you love to perform that you haven’t performed yet?

AK: I have been very fortunate over my career to perform a wide range of stunts so really don’t have an outstanding stunt I wish I could do.

MT: How did you get into the stunt performer game? Was there extensive training involved?

AK: My beginnings were on a traveling stunt show. I performed the human torch & human cannon for 2 years then I did my training to join the British Stunt register which consisted in getting to a high level (Instructor) in 6 different disciplines. I did Swimming, Scuba diving, Judo, Fencing, Trampolining and Gymnastics and had to get my Actors Equity card also. This training is just to get you to a level of fitness and show you have the aptitude to learn new skills. The real training begins when you start working on set with the more experienced stunt performers and coordinators.

PHOTO: Adam jumps off a cliff with another performer and a car:

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MT: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures?

AK: Green-screen sets seem to be increasing on every production I work on. I think its mainly used to reduce costs on set builds and give the director the creative freedom to change things in post Production. It doesn’t really change our job a great deal it just makes it a little boring staring at green walls all day.

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

AK: I think the most dangerous stunts I have ever performed would have to be the ones on Casino Royale. I was one of the doubles for Bond so was kept very busy. I was one of the guys that jump from crane to crane for the opening sequence and I also got to drive the Aston Martin DBS that climaxed with a crash at 85mph that ended up being a world record. (see slide show of this stunt below)

MT: Have you done a lot of stunt driving? What type of training does one have to do to become a stunt driver?

AK: When I was about 8 years old I wanted to be a racing driver and after doing a few years of karting, it became very expensive so unfortunately it wasn’t an option. Then when I was 17 I started out in stunts doing traveling shows for 2 years. It was an auto stunt show so was a great place to learn stunt driving. I then went away and practiced a lot and picked up small stunt driving jobs that built my reputation. Its quite a long process becoming a stunt driver.

MT: Do you have a stunt performer mentor?

AK: My mentor was my Step-Father (Steve Griffin) who is a stunt coordinator and a 2nd unit director. He was very helpful showing me how the industry worked in my early days and still offers me great advice.

PHOTO Slide Show: Adam does a car stunt. (Don’t ever try this!)

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to http://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Double Olga Wilhelmine (10 Cloverfield Lane)

Making her home in New Orleans, Olga Wilhelmine is a singer/songwriter turned actress turned stunt performer. Jumping out of planes brought her to her new career (see below). In the last year she has stunt doubled for actresses Haley Bennett and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in two of the most highly anticipated films of 2016.

For more info, go to her website: www.laolga.com

olgaMatthew Toffolo: Are you an actress who also does stunts, or a stunt performer who also acts?

Olga Wilhelmine: I am an actress who does stunts, or I’d say it started out that way for sure. A lot of times depending on where camera is, you have to do your own stunts and this is of course also depending on what the stunt is, but it is certainly a big factor.

MT: You were the stunt double for Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the upcoming film 10 Cloverfield Lane. Tell us about your experiences working on that film? From complicated to simple tasks, what was your role as stunt double on the film?

OW: I was Mary’s stand-in, photo double and stunt double on 10 Cloverfield Lane so I was there every day with her on set. We filmed about 7 weeks in New Orleans mainly on a sound stage bunker set which was kept dark and lots of smoke, dust and special effects that add to the bunker feel. Being in the dark all day was a bit harrowing especially in the beginning and we really felt like we were in a bunker. As with all films I’ve experienced, waiting is the hardest part. There are so many factors that go into each camera shot and set up and those factors add up in time. Once camera rolls it goes fairly quickly, the set up is the longest part and the re-set after a take can also take time. Mary is a really wonderful and natural actress and very gracious. I actually learned a lot from her and she was brave and did a lot of the physical work herself because the camera was on her face. After a few takes it can wear you down, so she put up with a lot. There is a camera close up of her face in a gas mask which was a heavy and awkward camera rig set up she had to wear. I tested it out for the camera people several times and at one point and it on for an hour! It was heavy awkward and difficult to move with and certainly hurt after a while and she wore this rig too to film those scenes. I have so much respect to her and I did my best to help her wherever I could, which is part of what you do as a double.

MT: You also worked on the upcoming film “The Magnificent Seven”. How was working on that set and what stunts did you perform?

OW: I was doubling the actress Haley Bennett and had a shooting scene (imagine that in a western!). There was a lot of sitting and waiting on this film as it was filmed on location and lots of factors went into it; weather, horses, actors, background actors, camera set ups and resets…although I did meet quite a few people and spent time with some of the other actors. One day several of us had other auditions for other projects, so we used the downtime to help tape each other. That was fun actually!

MT: You’ve also done a lot of stand in work. What exactly does that job entail?

OW: A stand-in takes the place of the actor doing the camera set up and lighting. As I mentioned above that can take a long time depending on the shot and how many components there are. For example, you might have to remove a wall or two, re-dress the set, lay track for the dolly, light the scene and then rehearse the action or blocking with camera movements. I did a lot of this on 10 Cloverfield Lane and they also used me as a photo double, so they would roll camera and I’d do the take in Mary’s place. She was carrying the film entirely, so they used me to help with that as it is a lot of work for one person to do alone—it’s actually not possible without wearing the actor out. In some cases you may have several people fill in, but in this case is was just her and I handling the bulk of it.

When I first started out in film in New Orleans, I was hired to stand-in for Melissa Leo on Treme which was in incredible experience for several seasons. I learned a lot from her and learned a lot about lighting and cameras. Following that I had a tremendous experience standing in for several male actors on Django Unchained. It’s unusual to have females stand in for males, usually not done, but Quentin decided to have fun with Bob Richardson and hired me after I played violin for a party the production had one night. I wore men’s clothing and high heels in some cases, and we had a lot of fun laughing about that. Some of those set ups would take quite a long time but we had a blast, listening to music and plenty of joking around.

MT: How did you get into the stunt game? Did you take an extensive course(s)? How much time do you spend weekly working on your craft?

OW: This is something I recently wrote about for an article for Parachutist Magazine link here: http://parachutistonline.com/columns/how_skydiving_changed_my_life/olga-munding

Through skydiving I got into stunt work as not many actresses jump out of planes, so it illustrates the ability to focus and perform under extreme pressure and that is impressive to people. There is of course a physical element to skydiving and you learn how to maneuver your body in the air and control your terminal speed, along with canopy piloting to reach the ground. Most people don’t know, is that skydiving is immensely psychological in that it all comes down to your mental headspace. The calmer you are, the better the dive, the more successful you are. One minute can become a very long time by slowing down your thoughts and streamlining your focus.

I met some stunt guys who upon discovering I was a skydiver, encouraged me to get into stunt work. Both stunts and jumping are continuous learning experience and I have gotten comfortable in the space of “not knowing what’s next” just going with it and trusting myself, that I will know what to do and I will be able to perform.

MT: What’s it like being a female in the “boys” club of the stunt performers on set?

OW: I grew up sort of a tom boy, so I was always around boys. I played plenty of sports and was on a ski team, but I was also a musician, composer, singer and writer and actress so I had a lot of other areas of talent and skill. I am quite comfortable around the guys, although now I’m all grown up and a bit more girlie, but I find they are easy going for the most part an easy to get a long with. I suppose one of the challenges is that is is hard to break into stunts and “the club” if you will, and so that can be difficult for women. But that seems to be the case in whatever business you get into, honestly. Don’t even get me started on the music business!!

MT: Have you had any minor or major injuries working as a stunt performer?

OW: Thankfully not (knock on wood). Bruises and scrapes and sore muscles though…

MT: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

OW: I’d say jumping out of planes is my biggest high risk and I do that for fun! There are different kinds of stunts at different risk levels. Certain people are better at certain things than others and I very much respect people who do the things I cannot. For example, I know nothing about car crashes and car stunts. There are experts in that area and I would defer to them as it is a special skill.

MT: Do you have a stunt that you love to perform in a movie that you haven’t performed yet?

OW: I’d like to skydive in a movie!!

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

OW: Star Wars – A New Hope is my favorite and I’ve seen it a million times, it never gets old.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Special Effects Coordinator Donnie Dean (Emmy Winner – American Horror Story)

A special effects coordinator is an individual who works on a television or film set creating special effects. The supervisor generally is the department head who defers to the film’s director and/or producers, and who is in charge of the entire special effects team. Special effects include anything that is manual or mechanically manipulated (also called “practical effects” or in camera effects). This may include the use of mechanized props, special effects makeup, props, scenery, scale models, pyrotechnics and atmospheric effects: creating physical wind, rain, fog, snow, clouds etc.

Interview with Donnie Dean: 

Matthew Toffolo: “10 Cloverfield Lane” is set to hit the theatres this week. Can you give us a sneak peak as to what to expect? How was your experience working on the film?

Donnie Dean: Unfortunately we’re bound to confidentiality before a film comes out in theaters. I can say we didn’t know until everyone else in the world that it was to be 10 Cloverfield. It was called Valencia up until then and no one knew it was related to Cloverfield at all.

PHOTO: Effects in the film “10 Cloverfield Lane”

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Matthew: Explain the process of being a Special Effects Foreman and Coordinator. What is your job description?

Donnie: To become a Special Effects foreman a person must demonstrate a certain level of competence and management experience. This is gained through years of learning the trade and being mentored by people who have been in the industry for some time, some of them for several decades. When you start in the business, you must earn the respect and trust of these professionals. Once you have that they will generally teach you anything you are willing to put in the effort to learn. Its all about attitude and persistence.

My current job description is Operations Coordinator for Spectrum FX. I’m responsible for the day to day operations for whatever films or television shows we are working on. Usually I’ll take on different roles depending on what the projects require, from “consulting” with the SPFX Coordinator who is running the project to acting as SPFX Coordinator or Foreman personally. The job requires knowledge of budgets, schedules, and most importantly how the Effects on the show are to be done and when. About eighty percent of the time I copy Matt Kutcher (FX Supervisor) on emails and/or photos and videos of the planned Effects for his input or approval. He has almost 3 decades of experience so his input is extremely valuable.

Matthew: You were the Special Effects Coordinator on the landmark TV series “True Detective”. How was your set experience? During the production did you and the crew know you were doing something special?

Donnie: True Detectives brings back memories of sweating buckets in the sauna that is New Orleans in the summer. Carey Fukunaga is very specific about what he wants to see, which helps in planning the Effects on a show. This was the first show in which we filmed the whole season as if it were one huge feature, so keeping up with the schedule was a bit of a challenge. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both really strong actors, watching them perform in person was really amazing.

I would say it’s very difficult to judge how “special” a film is when you’re actually creating it. They all feel special in various ways sometimes only because you work so closely with so many really great people, and it can be sad to see all the heart that goes into a film like “Beautiful Creatures” or “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” and then it doesn’t really see success in theaters.

PHOTO: Matthew McConaughey in True Detective Season 1:

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Matthew: You’ve worked on over 50 productions in the last 8 years alone. That’s amazing. Do you have a favorite experience?

Donnie: The final episode of American Horror Story: Coven was one of my favorites. We had to perform virtually every effect from the entire season in one night of shooting. The biggest moment for us was the tracking shot of Emma Roberts in the bathtub when the camera comes in and you see the fireplace light, then the bubbles fill the tub, and with a wave of her hand the candles on the floor light spontaneously. There was no VFX required in that shot, although it took 3 takes to get the timing right. Between the time it takes to ignite a fireplace and the bubbles filling a tub alone its a very difficult thing to provide cues. The call goes to the technicians ear (because he can’t see the set) then there is a delay to his hand moving the valves, and then the time for the propane to travel to the ignition source. There is a similar process for every mechanical effect. The whole crew cheered on the last one, they had seen the process as we developed these effects over the 6 months we filmed, on that last day it took literally 8 technicians on set to accomplish everything. Making a candle light on its own is an “impossible” practical effect to achieve all by itself, if its ever been done we don’t know of the instance but we did it over and over throughout the season. It was just a perfect end to that show.

PHOTO: American Horror Story: Coven. Emma Roberts bathtub scene: 

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Matthew: What job have you performed on set that you’re most proud of? Your crowning achievement to date?

Donnie: The job I’m most proud of is without a doubt the Emmy Award for American Horror Story: Freak Show. We spent a lot of time on so many details that showed up but are not so obviously Practical Effects. From the tents moving a little because they are supposed to be outside instead of inside a stage to spending days on the display tanks for the “freaks” to be in for the museum, it’s the little things things no one really recognizes as Practical Effects that help a set come to life.

I can’t really say it is “my” achievement however, as much as it was an achievement for everyone who has ever trained me or worked with me from day one. More than anyone, I think it reflects on Matt who has mentored me personally for the last seven years, being available every single day 24/7 on both a personal and professional level.

Matthew: You have also done some Stunt Driving too. How does one become a stunt driver?

Donnie: To become a real stunt driver requires time, training, and experience. I’ve worked with quite a few and am far from being a “professional stunt driver” by definition. I managed to get into it on True Detectives because we constructed a driving module on top of the car. As the actors were inside performing the car was driven from outside the vehicle, we constructed the “driving pod” and I was familiar with its operation so it was an easy step into driving the car.

Matthew: What do the Special Effects team look for in their director?

Donnie: The more details a director provides, the better. I think the same is true with all departments. For us the more interactive and approachable the director is, the easier it is to achieve the desired effect. As a matter of process we do demonstrations of the more specific effects to be used in a show and rely on the director’s feedback to make changes.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most times in your life?

Donnie: It’s hard to name one specifically, I’ve watched The Fifth Element so many times I know each frame, and the same with Tombstone. It would have to be a tie between those two.

Matthew: What suggestions would you have for people in high school and university who would like to get into the industry in special effects?

Donnie: The first thing is to find a mentor or a group to work with, you go in humble and you just do what is asked. Nobody really cares how cool you are or what you “know how to do”. You do what is asked and you do it to the very best of your ability every time.

It’s the same as for any industry. You have to really enjoy what you do, so much so that you don’t care about the money. You really have to give yourself over to it just like a Doctor in Medical School, it has to become the most important thing for a while. You don’t know what day that moment will come when you get the call and everything has to go on hold because it’s your opportunity. We work 12-14 hour days 5-6 days per week, you won’t even know what day of the week it is, much less if its a birthday or anniversary, and NO ONE understands why from your “real life”. You can’t RSVP to anything…well you can but you might have to cancel. There are a LOT of people who think they want to work in film in general, but its not for everyone.

If it is for you, then you show up every day, and show up on days you’re not getting paid, somewhere, anywhere there is a person who can teach you. You do jobs to demonstrate what you can do, if you are asked to sweep you smile and sweep better than any person ever could. If you’re asked to dig a hole its the neatest hold ever dug with the dirt that came out of it is on a tarp all nice and neat. You always say yes with a smile even if its fake. Once that door is open you never walk back out of it unless you’re sure you don’t care if you’re there or not. Because right outside is another guy like me that can’t wait to get in there and nail that door shut because he wants it worse than you, and if it takes 6 months of sweeping a shop or cleaning trailers for free, and doing other side jobs just to survive and be present, then that’s what he’ll do. The money and success will come if the passion and persistence are there.

One of my favorite quotes is from Will Smith to the point of “other people may have more talent and skill than you, but there is no excuse for anyone to outwork you.”

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer/Actress Kayla Adams (Deadpool, Oblivion)

It was fun to chat with Kayla Adams, a definite artist on the rise. She gives us the insight on being a female stunt performer on Hollywood productions and moving to working as an actress (who can also do her own stunts!)

Go to www.kaylaadams.co and follow her on twitter @sugarKAYne

kayla_photo.jpgMatthew Toffolo: Oblivion was your first credited film? Quite the introduction: working on a large budget Hollywood film. How did you get initially hired to work on that film? How was the Tom Cruise experience?

Kayla Adams: Oblivion was my first experience on a feature film. I had booked commercials prior to Oblivion, but this was my first time working on a feature for the run of the show. I was like a sponge, soaking everything up. Initially I was hired as the Stunt Department Assistant which provided me with so much inside knowledge of the filmmaking process. As the project went on, the Stunt Coordinators, Robert Alonzo and Joe Box, knew I was very athletic and trained in acting so they threw me into a stunt performing spot that I was physically capable doing. It was a week in New Orleans in an old, leaky, basically condemned power plant. We had to shut down one day due to flooding! And that’s how I got my SAG card! Working with Tom is like being greatly inspired and challenged all at once. His level of dedication, professionalism and creativity is infectious and can only drive you to be the same. The film sets are some of the tightest run sets I’ve worked on, simply because efficiency is the only option when working with Tom. Outside of all the work, he’s truly a kind, welcoming man. Each time I’ve seen him since Oblivion he always welcomes me with a big hug and expresses genuine interest in you. I hope for the day to work on set as an actor with Tom.

PHOTO: Kayla with Tom Cruise, and Stunt Coordinator Robert Alonzo:

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Matthew: How did you get into the stunt game? Did you take an extensive course(s)? How much time do you spend weekly working on your craft?

Kayla: I got into stunts through Oblivion. I grew up doing gymnastics, so strength and flexibility has been in my body since I was a kid. I didn’t pursue stunts as much as I pursued acting; However sometimes the universe gives you a path that you don’t plan for. I train in Martial Arts with Richard Alonzo who is a 3rd degree black belt and is an amazing teacher. Since my last stunt performing gig on Deadpool I have decided to pour my energies back into acting. Trying to excel in stunts and acting is nearly impossible as both crafts require a large amount time. That’s not to say I don’t stay physically fit and prepared for stunt roles, I just don’t actively pursue it as much anymore.

Matthew: As of this interview, the film “Deadpool” is out in theaters. The first blockbuster of 2016. How was that experience? Was it a hush-hush set?

Kayla: Deadpool. That was one heck of an experience. I am so grateful to be apart of that project. There was so many moments when I had to hold back laughter between the banter with TJ Miller and Ryan Reynolds characters. The bar fight scene where I played the waitress, Kelly, was one of those moments. TJ kept improving new lines and I was trying my hardest not to crack up each time. Working with the director, Tim Miller, and the writers, Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese, was an honour. They are so talented and dedicated to their work, yet stay so humble and make coming to work each day a pleasure.

Again, I worked on it for the run of the show so the amount of time and passion put into this film was huge. Being apart of the cast and crew for that many months developments a bond and comfortability that you just don’t get when you walk on as a day player. The set etiquette with privacy and keeping things quiet was similar to many big budget films I’ve worked on. However there was one particular paparazzi that continually followed us around snapping photos of Ryan in the red suit. But I hate to break it to the paps, it was most likely our stunt double in the same suit!

PHOTO: Kayla on set on Deadpool:

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Matthew: You are also an actor (without the stunts). Is acting where you see your future in Hollywood?

Kayla:  I can say a line or two 😉 Yes acting is definitely where my future is. I just finished shooting a feature film called HEX where I play a character who is a super talented skydiver about to stumble into a stream of bad luck. Keep your eyes open for that project! Over the past few years, my passion and love for the craft and the business has really developed and become my main focus.

Matthew: What’s it like being a female in the “boys” club of the stunt performers on set?

Kayla: Haha…well… Speaking only for myself, I love it! I’m a bit of a tomboy myself so it can be fun hanging out with a bunch of guys all day. I think sometimes they are shocked when they hear me crack jokes with them, but in reality I’ve been very lucky to work with some of the best stunt performers in the business and they are all very respectful and kind hearted people. I am lucky to be apart of the boys club 🙂

Matthew: We are seeing a lot more female driven action/thriller films being produced in Hollywood. One would assume that is good for you because they obviously need female stunt performers. Is the future bright for female stunt performers like yourself?

Kayla: There’s a bright future for myself being the Female lead in these action thriller films! That would be my dream role. I love strong, badass female characters with heart. And the bonus is I could do most of my own stunts. Thats if the studio lets me 😉

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

Kayla: It tends to vary depending on what I’m feeling at that time in my life. The movies I gravitate towards generally mirror something I’m going through or needing to see. Generally speaking, I love the film “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.

Matthew: “The Woods” is another film you worked on that is also coming out in 2016. Can you give us a sneak peak of what to expect? What was your role on that film?

Kayla: The Woods was a super creepy set! They built the cabin inside a sound stage and it felt so real. The stunt coordinator, Loyd Bateman, called me in to double the lead actress. It was a sequence in the cabin and involved a lot of blood! I don’t think I can say much else, other than IT’S GOING TO BE SCARY!!

Matthew: Have you had any minor or major injuries working as a stunt performer?

Kayla: Thankfully no.

Matthew: What’s the biggest high risk stunt you’ve performed to date?

Kayla: Oddly enough, some of the smallest stunts can become high risk. Not to minimize the risk of any stunt at any level, but there is always a large amount of risk involved. I haven’t had to perform something where I felt it was out of my ability that could be deemed as “high risk.” I’ve been selective with that as acting is my main focus now and that plays a huge part when taking stunt jobs.

Matthew: Do you have a stunt that you love to perform in a movie that you haven’t performed yet?

Kayla: DRIVING/CAR CHASE SEQUENCE!

PHOTO: Kayla performing Stunts on set:

kayla_stunts

 

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Stunt Performer James Cox (Star Wars VII, The Dark Knight Rise)

A stunt performer, often referred to as a stuntman or daredevil, is someone who performs dangerous stunts for the Film and TV industry.

James Cox has worked on over 40 productions as a stunt performer in just the last 6 years of his young career. He’s been a part of the most popular and iconic films and TV shows too, including: Game of Thrones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Downton Abbey, Wrath of the Titans, The Impossible, Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, World War Z, Spectre and of course Star Wars: Episode VII.

I was thrilled to be able to ask him a few questions about his job and career.

Matthew Toffolo: First off, we need to talk about Star Wars as you were a part of what is going to be the most popular movie of all-time. What was your role in “The Force Awakens”? How many days did you work on set? Did you have to sign a confidentiality agreement after you left set? 

James Cox: I was fortunate enough to join the Star Wars stunt team after finishing work on Avengers: Age of Ultron in late 2014. Its well known that security on the set of The Force Awakens was unprecedented but rightly so, the film was so highly anticipated that any leak from the set would have undoubtably ruined elements of the story that the whole crew were working to keep top secret.

Matthew: Have you suffered a lot of injuries doing stunts? If so, what has been your worst injury?

James:  To date I’ve not had any serious accidents; thats not to say we all don’t get bashed up pretty regularly, in fact thats actually part of the fun.  You can’t really fall down stairs, jump through glass, get hit by cars or get set on fire without getting bruised, cut or a little bit burnt here and there.  I’ve had friends badly injured, one recently, that was involved in a very serious accident on set which was featured in a lot of media outlets, she ( Olivia Jackson) is now starting out on the long road to recovery [ There’s a fund currently running to help Olivia in her recovery. Go to https://www.gofundme.com/UNITED49 ] As an industry we definitely need to learn the benefits of learning from failure.
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Matthew: How did you get into the stunt performer game? Was there extensive training involved? 

James: I was planning to go to university and it was while on a year out to work and earn some money that I decided to follow a childhood ambition and trying to become a stunt performer.  The JISC stunt register is the world most well established body of professional stunt performers and the training is definitely extensive, ranging from Marital arts, scuba diving, gymnastics, rock climbing, horse riding, rally driving to trampolining.  Needless to say I didn’t end up going to university and after training for 4 years in six different discipline I qualified and joined the elite ranks of the British Stunt Register.

Matthew: What type of skills do you have as a stunt performer? 

James: There are a number of sporting disciplines which you need to complete to qualify for the JISC Stunt Register but there are also number of elements which I believe are essential to become a solid stunt performer; including having a good sense of timing, a professional attitude, a commitment to working as a team player and the ability to learn and adapt quickly….even changing your physical performance from one take to the next.  The skills you learn to qualify for the Register don’t necessarily make you a good performer but they do give you the very best starting point.

James: Physically, working on Edge of Tomorrow (Which was named All You Need Is Kill during shooting) was very hard work.  For the main beach landing battle sequence we wore 40kg-50kg ‘exo suits’ which looked like mechanised exoskeleton suits, they were designed to look like they would assist the soldiers to run, jump and fight at superhuman ability, the reality was they were a combination of metal, plastic, nuts, bolts and cable ties which the stunt team had to make look like they were effortlessly wearing to fight the alien invaders. To make matters worse we were fighting on a bombed beach…imagine playing tag on sand dunes while giving someone a piggyback!

As for emotionally, I’m not too sure.  Each job has its own set of challenges and finding yourself in unnatural or uncomfortable situations without letting your natural instincts get in the way of your performance is definitely a challenge of the job. On Wrath of the Titans  (2011) a few of us were buried face down (in what was essentially a grave) with a small breathing tube which was removed a few minutes before “action” was called. We had to burst out from the ground and ambush an attacking army of monsters, those minutes lying there, sightless, soundless and unable to move would be a lot of peoples idea of a living hell.  I’ve definitely found myself in a number of situations where I’ve thought to myself “…well, this is pretty surreal”
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Matthew: I see that you worked on Downton Abbey. I’ve watched the show and don’t remember many stunts. Can you tell us what you did on the show? 

James: haha yeah thats right, I was on an episode of Downton.  You’d be surprised at the number of stunt performers required for tv shows/films which you wouldn’t think of as having much action. Downton Abbey was actually one of my first jobs, I was used as a stunt double for the actor Thomas Howes, in the 2nd series his character had gone to fight in World War One and I doubled him for a sequence where he got blown up by a shell.  I also performed various stunts as British and Germany soldiers, getting shot and blown up.

Matthew: What do you look for in a solid stunt performer partner? 

James: Me personally, I definitely enjoy working with someone who I feel has good timing, without it, you could be the very best athlete in the world but if you can’t hit that mark, when your told too then you’re never going to get it right.  Often that means adapting to changing timings on the fly. For example: if an actor has totally changed the timing of a fight routine, because they feel it is right to take an ‘acting beat’ then its up to you to adapt to that and be there when they need you to be…not the other way round!  Of course it almost goes without saying that you definitely need to trust your fellow performer. One huge advantage to the training needed for the stunt register is that no matter your background, we can trust that newly qualified performers can work under pressure have a high level of physical ability.
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Matthew: Do you have a stunt performer mentor? 

James: Not a mentor as such, but there are definitely certain performers which I aspire to be like. Working as a stunt performers is an ever changing job so I most admire the stunt men and women that can learn and adapt to new skills quickly.

Matthew: How was working on The Dark Knight Rises? Another movie that was very “hush-hush” during filming?

James: It was another massive tick on my wish list for a number of reasons – while I only did a small amount of work on The Dark Knight it was amazing to see director Christopher Nolan at work, as well as the high calibre actors which appear in the Batman series.  The stunt coordinator and stunt team on the Dark Knight were also a collection of some of the worlds best stunt men and women so it was a huge opportunity for me to learn.
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Matthew: What movie, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life? 

James: As a kid I watched a re-watched Jurassic Park so many times that I would dream about being on the Island myself! I don’t get a lot of time to re-watch films but most recently I’ve seen Ex Machina a few times (I also read the original script which is very different from the final screenplay, but brilliant none the less!)

Matthew: Do you have a stunt performer or director that you’d love to work with? 

James: There are a couple of well known directors which I’d love to see working in person.  Tarantino and Spielberg are legends and it would be great to work for them, for obvious reasons.  Fortunatley I’m soon to begin to work on the new project of director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) and with Brick being one of my favourite films I’m very excited to work with him. To date I’ve been luck enough to work under some incredible directors (Danny Boyle was definitely a highlight!) but I’m always interested to work for anyone, they can all have such different ways to go about achieving the same goals its always fascinating.
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Matthew: What is the main difference when working on a television show like Game of Thrones in comparison to a big studio film like Skyfall and Star Wars?

James: Normally the biggest two elements are budget and time. Films usually have a lot more of both, I say normally because your example of Game of Thrones is actually one of the exceptions to the rule, GoT actually operates a bit more like 3 films than a small tv series; shot simultaneously across multiples countries and with a huge budget its much more like a film than a tv series.

As a stunt performer there are a couple of differences but the standard of performer is the same – you’ll get the same stuntmen/stuntwomen working on a small tv show and the biggest film from one week to the next.
On films we often get more time to prep a stunt or stunt sequence and there might be more elements involved, fire explosions, pneumatic ratchets, air-rams etc where are with tv, you might (not always) only have that day to prepare for a stunt.

Often films employ a full time team of stunt performers to work on the full duration of the film whereas tv will normally employ performers specifically for one sequence where the work could be a few weeks, or even just one day.

Matthew: Where do you see the future of green-screen stunt performing in the motion pictures? 

James: Great question!  As a performer I can only give my personal opinion and perhaps coordinators would give you a different answer but I feel that while clearly there are huge advances being made in CGI there will still be a place for physical performers.  I feel that for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, people are experts at detecting unnatural movements from CGI characters – we spend our whole life observing other humans walking, running, maybe falling over, we know how our own bodies work in the real world and until CGI can get the very smallest nuances of human physical movement past the brains detection system I think people will always react badly to seeing ‘CGI stunt performers.’ (See the uncanny valley hypothesis)  Secondly, people like to know that someone really did do a stunt.  In fact, as you can see from some of the media coverage given to Mission Impossible and The Force Awakens a lot of attention was given to the fact that real people were standing on real sets and this extends to real stunts.  One of the selling points of the hugely successful Bond franchise is that the stunts are real and there is minimal CGI, the same goes for the recent Mad Max: Fury Road film which is currently nominated for a massive 10 Oscars….none for best stunt co-ordinator, but thats a discussion for another interview…!
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For fund raising efforts for the injured Stunt Performer Olivia Jackson, go to https://www.gofundme.com/UNITED49

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Fesival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.