Wine, whiskey, cheese, and stunt coordinators?

Okay, pardon the title- that’s not meant to be a suggestion for craft services.  Rather a comment on things that may or may not get better with age.

It has been shown in several studies that people do mellow with age.  I guess the question is if that’s a strength or not, or how to cultivate the parts of it that are.

This is one area where I’ve found people with stage backgrounds and people who start out in movie stunts to differ, in general.

Many of the would-be stuntmen I’ve run in to over the years start out just young and wild and wanting to do crazy stuff.  They bring youth and enthusiasm and fast healing first, and hopefully gain experience and knowledge and skill along the way, gradually learning through trial and occasionally painful error until they arrive at a place of maturity and safety.

On the other hand, many of the people I’ve worked with who started out as stage combatants took classes first, learned rules before doing anything, and have very definite ideas of what is or is not safe, what is or is not proper, etc.  They bring discipline and principles and good safety first, and hopefully learn to chill out over time, learning when rules serve you and when you need to make exceptions, learning to deal with taking occasional lumps for a good shot, and developing the necessary confidence and presence.

If you’re going to be coordinating fights or stunts on a set, it’s important to know who/what you’ve got, and how to get what you need out of them.  Some people need to be held back, others need to be drawn out.  You can get to the same place through either path, but the faster you can learn and acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses, the easier it’ll be to make forward progress.

I’ve had people ask me to just hit them.  This is a bad, bad, idea.

I’ve had directors ask me to step in because they were working with a stunt person who refused to ever let any gun prop be pointed directly at an actor.  This too is a bad, bad idea.  Granted, it’s a safer bad idea than the above, but it means you’re putting safety in direct conflict with desire of the rest of the production team to bring their vision to life, which means they’re probably going to either fire you and get someone else, or fire you and just wing it… which could end badly.

My own path has been more that of the stage combatant illustrated above, slowly transitioning in to doing more video these days.  Learning the importance of when to keep my mouth shut and listen to a coordinator.  Learning the importance of when to take a stand (no, I will not allow you to shoot shotgun blanks directly at actors at close range, even if you insist that’s what you want), and when to let it go.  This last gig I worked on, my gear was all packed up, so I show up on set and they have sharp stainless steel blades (swords and Wolverine claws, all sharp & pointy).  Ten years ago I might have either gone off on them about that, or walked away.  On the other hand, I knew from the storyboards that the way we  were shooting this nobody would need to actually swing any of those blades in close proximity to anyone else for anything other than one particular shot, which I could supervise closely to make sure they were still out of range and safe.  It was a pretty easy gig, and it all went fine.  Was it how I’d choose to equip a video shoot?  Heck no.  But I’ve mellowed out some and learned to roll with the metaphorical punches as well.

Mellow isn’t always better- sometimes as a gun wrangler or stunt coordinator you need to be able to take a firm stand, to dress down an irresponsible actor from across the set, and you definitely need to be on your game and have the energy and stamina to see the job through.   But you also need stability.

Most of us come to this with some sort of baggage, be it idea(l)s about what is safe, or about what is historically accurate, or what is realistic, or what is ‘cool’.  Nothing wrong with having your own opinions or aesthetic sense, but know that everyone else has their own baggage too, and there may not be room on board for everything you try to bring with you.


3 Trackbacks

  1. By Bonzuko » Safety and Coolth on June 16, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    […] Great post I just ran into by fellow stage combat blog Them’s Fightin’ Words re: safety. Read and enjoy!  ~Jenn // Categories: Stage Combat Tags: Stage Combat Comments (0) Trackbacks (0) Leave a comment Trackback […]

  2. […] Wine, whiskey, cheese, and stunt coordinators? « Thems Fightin Words. […]

  3. […] Wine, whiskey, cheese, and stunt coordinators? « Thems Fightin Words. […]

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