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.


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.


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.


Please visit 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


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 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: 

Alex Armbruster -1.PNG

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


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: 


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.


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 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 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:


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:


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?


PHOTO: Kayla performing Stunts on set:




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 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 ] As an industry we definitely need to learn the benefits of learning from failure.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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…!

For fund raising efforts for the injured Stunt Performer Olivia Jackson, go to


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 for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Harrison Norris, Director of the award winning film “A PEACEFUL MAN”

Harrison Norris’ short film A PEACEFUL MAN was the winner of Best Cinematography at the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film Festival October 2015 event. Easily the most violent film that has played at the festival, A PEACEFUL MAN is a 4 minute short that’s a must see movie for action, horror, thriller fans.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK of A PEACEFUL MAN:

I recently sat down with Harrison Norris and talked about his short film and what’s next for the Professional Stunt Man turned Film Director:

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Harrison Norris: That’s a question with a few moving parts.

It all started when I read a news article about a little old woman who, in a burst of adrenaline, managed to single-handedly lift one side of a rolled car, off a trapped child. That fascinated me; not because an old lady was lifting a car, but because she herself had no idea that she was capable of such a thing. Instinct and adrenaline took over and did something just as unpredictable for HER, as it is for us reading later. As a filmmaker I obviously couldn’t resist exploring the darker side of that coin; what other things are we ALL obliviously capable of? And what could be the trigger to pull these things out of us? If I introduced you to a man named Chris, then asked you to shoot him; you, as a rational person, would (I hope) refuse. But if Chris was running at your family with a knife and you had seconds to react; it’s safe to say the situation might shake out differently.

The fact that we have such a truly universal key to trigger such a drastic act (that we would all swear we weren’t capable of) makes for some fascinating story options. You may swear by a life of non-confrontation, but whether you know it or not, there IS a hidden key to turn that ignition, it’s just a matter of the situation arising to pull these hidden potentials out.

So I sat down and challenged myself to speed-write a short exploring that concept and ‘A Peaceful Man’ is what came out. I wanted to show a no- nonsense, vertical slice of time: the exact moment that a peaceful man transforms into something else entirely. I wanted the audience to empathize and understand where this character is coming from intellectually and instinctually; enough so that they still don’t feel entirely alienated from him upon seeing his physical actions. The way I saw it was this: if I could set it up, so that the audience could still relate, to any degree, with Harper at the end of his arc; then that’s the difference between the film being 4 minutes of forgettable entertainment, or becoming something genuinely effecting. All I really wanted was to make something thought-provoking that would spark discussion between strong differences of opinion; and I’ve loved watching people argue over whether or not they would behave the same, or over the unseen events preceding the film.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

It was a very short process, albeit fragmented. The initial draft of the script was written in one sitting, with minor tweaks made leading up to the shoot. The shoot itself was particularly rushed. Due to the extensive slow-motion aspect of the film, conventional lighting was off the table, instead we required exceptionally high-powered lighting, all with flicker-free bulbs. As I funded the project entirely out of pocket, I simply couldn’t afford more than a single night’s rental on our lights; so we were forced to shoot the entire film over the course of a few hours.

Once the film was shot I immediately flew out to begin work on a TV series over in Cape Town, Africa; so the film was edited over a period of two weeks, whenever I could steal a moment. It was during these two weeks that the other elements of the film also came together. The film featured entirely practical effects, bar one element: the screwdriver entering the eye; it was the VFX team on ‘Black Sails’ that came to my rescue, finishing that composition over the course of a few days around their other work, for a bottle of wine each.

Finally, we needed the voice of Harper Luckily for us Zach McGowan (Shameless, Resident Evil) and his gorgeously gravelly voice were present on set. I was incredibly unprofessional and flat-out rushed him with the script, somehow convincing him not to bin it. A few days later he got in touch and said we had about 1hr 20mins (starting immediately) to record Harper’s lines. Later that night I slotted the completed VO into the colour-graded edit.

Upon arriving back in Australia I had 2 extensive foley/sound design sessions with Stewart Whitely (who also composed our original theme) and submitted just in time for our first festival deadline! Following our submission we collaborated with Peter Pound to create the graphic novel tie-in.

So from concept to completion was several months, but there would have only been 3-4 weeks of work throughout that period, and that was almost entirely post.

How would you describe your short film in two words!?

‘Dormant instincts?’ God, why don’t you try giving me a hard one, you bastard.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

There were a couple, but I’ve got to start with that bloody lighting. Considering that I could only afford the rental cost for one night, we had to shoot the entire film within a few hours. This meant we not only had no time for lighting resets, I also couldn’t afford as many physical lights as we would have liked. So we ended up constructing a truss out of pipes, rigging it with various reflectors and diffusers, all pointing off at different angles, winched it up to the ceiling, and pointed our two lights up at it. That way we were able to bounce our light around the room as much as possible. All things considered, I think it turned out alright.

Our next biggest challenge would have to be that opening shot, pulling back out of the eye. It was an extremely rapid camera move, with some agonisingly fiddly focus pulling. Much to my incredibly patient 1st AD’s horror I wouldn’t move on without it, so thank god we finally got it! I’m pretty sure the shot used in the film is take 63. There was also the matter of the shot in which the angle grinder hits the ground. The shot used in the film is the 3rd take and features precariously balanced dummies. The reason I say ‘precariously balanced’ is because on the 1st and 2nd takes the angle grinder managed to amputate a foot from either dummy.

There was the matter of slugging our lead in the head with a sledgehammer. We wanted to avoid VFX work wherever possible; on a high-key moment like that it’s easy to tell when two actors aren’t in the same room and a botched visual effect could throw the whole ending. So we knew it had to be practical. We constructed a lightweight sledgehammer handle to double our original prop, with a detachable foam head. Each take consisted of selectively dotting super glue on the head, sticking it to the handle, slugging Judd in the forehead with the very tip (so the head would detach upon impact, and handle could keep swinging past him). Then we’d scramble around to find the foam head, re-attach it while watching playback, and thump him in the forehead all over again. Judd’s a really good sport.

International translations were a challenge I never saw coming. I never expected that the film would have the milage it’s had, so I was caught with my pants down when it came time to translate the film for the first time. Other languages obviously have different grammatical structures, and few words have exact translations. So not only did I need to be sure the word by word translation did the intended message justice; it had to do so inside the new grammatical structure, while maintaining approximately the same timing, so as to match the edit.

Finally, directing for extreme slow-mo is a notably different to directing otherwise. Typically ‘result directing’ is considered lazy (ie: “look angry, then pick up that cup, then throw it at him, then look sad”). But when you’re capturing 30 seconds of screen-time in 4 seconds, you need to approach that actor’s performance like a checklist. If you want anger, then realisation, then conflict, then acceptance; you need to workshop what each of those expressions look like individually, then have the actor quickly chain from one to another in a way that feels incredibly unnatural on set, but plays well in the footage. It’s certainly an odd process, but it was fun to experiment with.

What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was nice to hear that the audio design was appreciated, particularly that knee stomp (Hi Stewart!). We spent a lot of time making it ‘wetter’, so it’s nice to hear it specifically mentioned. It was also nice to hear the production design was appreciated. The mention of that shot where everything is swept off the table got me particularly, as watching playback for that on set was the first moment I felt we really had something cool in the making.

I find it interesting that we often have comments on the ‘great effects’ (usually in reference to the blood), but as mentioned above, there was actually only one effect element in the film, and that was the screwdriver going into the eye. The comparison to ‘Oldboy’ was flattering too! (Though I hope to god he means the original) Particularly considering I’ve always enjoyed that hallway fight myself.

As for the topic of excessive violence, I’m continually surprised. Not by the fact that people are switched off by it, but by how few people DON’T switch off. I know it sounds pretentious as a creator to say that if somebody didn’t like your work, it was because they didn’t ‘get’ it. But with that said, I was fully expecting the majority of the films audience not to ‘get it’. Every step of the production, I knew the most important thing was the dialogue, and by extension I knew there would be a percentage of people who saw the shocking visuals and dismissed the film at face value as too violent for their tastes, missing the intended message. Fortunately, I’ve been absolutely floored by how many viewers are willing to engage with the film as a whole. Across all the festivals I’ve visited, I’m able to count on two hands the number of people I’ve spoken with who have walked out; which is amazing considering the reaction I was expecting!

What have you learned working on Stunts in the film industry to help you as a director?

It’s been absolutely invaluable for understanding what makes good action. There is such an dearth of terrible, lazy action making the rounds. Having a hands-on understanding of precisely what goes into performing stunts, does more for planning the coverage of an action sequence than anything else can, particularly because you’re aware of exactly which boundaries you can stretch to make your footage unique.

Good action is as simple as a 4 step checklist:
1.) Is the footage visually clear? Can you tell where everybody is at all times?
2.) Does it tell a story? The best action is character driven; can you tell what every major character involved wants at all times?
3.) The most memorable fight scenes could only have taken place in a specific location. Does your fight incorporate pieces of the environment it takes place in? Or are your characters just standing in the centre trading punches and kicks?
4.) Does it keep the audience engaged? The trick is to alternate between telegraphing upcoming moments, and revealing surprising consequences; in short, balancing the audience between: “Oh my god I know what’s he/she is going to do!” and “Oh my god, I can’t believe that just happened!”

What film have you seen the most in your life?

I couldn’t possibly name one film that I’ve watched most, but I can easily tell you which directors I particularly enjoy; I’m such a sucker for filmmakers with a distinctive style.

Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Edgar Wright, George Miller, Doug Liman, Alfonso Cuarón, Christopher Nolan, David O. Russell and (the older work of) The Cohen Brothers are all right up there. Over in the realm of animation I can’t resist mentioning Tetsurõ Araki and Satoshi Kon.

I can’t go without saying though, over the last few years my personal writing has been far more influenced by the narratives in games, than film. With the (often) reduced studio oversight, extra hours of ‘screen-time’, and sprinklings of player choice, there is some incredible tailored narrative stuff going on in that space. Look no further than anything recent by Telltale Games for proof (Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands and The Walking Dead will all knock your head backwards for entirely different reasons.)

What is next for you? A new film?

We’re just about to do some really exciting stuff to shake up the VR space. Keep an eye out for PROXi