There are many cinematic heroes that have made their way into popular culture in the past few decades.
We have the wise-cracking everyman in John McClane from the “Die Hard” series, the hardened Vietnam vet John Rambo from the obviously self-titled “Rambo” franchise, and the slew of Arnold Schwarzenegger on-screen heroes that despite their different names are usually just Arnie being, well Arnie. More recently we have the more tech-based spy heroes such as Jason Bourne and the welcome return of James Bond, among many others.
But what does it really take to be an action hero? Could you do it? Could I? Given the chance, could anyone do it?
So with a veritable gift basket of action films from Universal Sony being released – including “Man On A Ledge,” “Safe House,” and “Contraband” all arriving on Blu-ray and DVD in June – we were given the chance to answer that question by spending a day doing what the big guns are hired to do.
There were two scenarios: a fight on a bridge overlooking a vast cityscape – added digitally of course – and a five metre ledge jump in honour of Sam Worthington’s latest action-thriller, “Man On A Ledge.”
Our instructor was Grant Page, a man whose credits go all the way back to the original Mel Gibson blockbuster “Mad Max,” in a time when there was little development in the occupational healthy and safety areas of the film world, and when stuntmen were pretty much expendable. But there was none of that for us: safety was paramount, and apart from a few scuffed knees from a dodgy landing or two, it was pretty smooth sailing the whole time.
For the bridge fight scene, we were given a short choreographed fight to rehearse with the very capable stuntmen and then it was time to have a go. The hardest part was trying not to hit them, since obviously that would make for a short career in the stunt world.
After a few run throughs where we had to get used to timing our reactions to the hits, things started to look more natural. It become clear pretty quickly that to make a fight look believable while staying in character and remembering an entire choreographed scene, there certainly was some skill involved. For your fight to have enough personality and drama to propel you to action stardom, it certainly takes a little something more than half a day spent in a studio.
When it came time to do the ledge jump, that five metre gap seemed to stretch just a little bit further, but the safety harness alleviated any fears and soon we were leaping around like the members of the Cirque de Soleil. Normally the harness would be hidden under the clothing of an actor, but for the purposes of our training, we wore it over the top.
Through some digital trickery, the wires are removed in post-production, the city background added in and then voilà: you’ve got an awesome shot that show you breaking each and every rule that your parents taught you, all at once.
The visual effects revolution in the past decade has meant that anything is possible in film, showing that if you can dream it up then it can be done, or at least made to look like it can.
This does come with a price, however, as no matter how amazing the visual effects become, there will always be that little splinter in your mind saying “this isn’t real.”
It is, in this writer’s opinion, the charisma of the actors and the strength of the story that suspends disbelief when watching a film, not the quality of the effects. No matter how far we advance, finding talented people to embody our heroes is what will keep the action genre alive and punching.
If you have an interest in doing stunt work, you can always take a casual class, there are several studios that hold weekly events and extended courses. Even if it’s not the career for you, I suggest having a go at least once: it’s a lot of fun and you’ll meet some interesting people.
And who knows, the next time you’re held hostage at a bank, you might have some moves to get you out of a bind.