Dennis “Kiwi” Marchant [MECHANIC]


MATRIX: What is your role on the production?

KIWI: I’m one of four Fabricator Mechanics. We start by acquiring the vehicles, modify them to the production’s specifications, then take care of them throughout the filming. We make sure they perform as they’re supposed to perform. Four is actually the most mechanics I’ve worked with on any one show, and we have a lot of help from other departments like Special Effects, but this is still a pretty big operation.

MATRIX: How many cars would you say are on this shoot?

KIWI: We have probably thirty feature cars donated by General Motors – these are new cars given to us to do whatever we want with – we’ve rolled them, flipped them, flown them and destroyed them. We have another fifteen or so of the new Cadillac CTSs, the Catera Touring Sedans, which we have shot up, blown apart and ripped the roofs off of. We also have the EXT, which is the big Cadillac truck, and we have probably another fifteen or sixteen or so of those that we’ve done all kinds of things to. And there are probably another two or three hundred background cars involved that we try not to hurt.

MATRIX: If a car has a problem do you guys step in?

KIWI: Right, but it starts a long time before that because what we try and do is prepare the car for anything that may happen. These are fairly new cars and we’ve prepared them well enough so we don’t anticipate mechanical breakdowns, but what we do get is when you have explosions or bullet hits, the cars may need to appear in different configurations. Once a window has been blown out and you are shooting a scene after that event, then that window has to not be there. If we bring in a fresh car and it has a window in it, that’s not good enough, we have to hurriedly take that window out. Also, because things are very rarely shot in sequence, you may go back to where the window is back in the car so we have to put it back in. The car always has to be in its correct configuration, which means doors on, doors off, roofs on, roofs off, wheel blown out, wheel back to being good, bullet holes in, bullet holes out. So even though we have many cars that play the one car, often we have to make a car look like it should for a particular scene.

MATRIX: How do you put the bullet holes in a vehicle?

KIWI: The bullet holes are handled by our Special Effects guys; they have special permits to operate explosives, but I’ve been around it long enough to see the way they do it. They have several contraptions they’ve designed themselves that put an indentation in the metal. In the center of that indentation is a small drill hole, which is where they put a squib, which is a small explosive charge. A small wire from that squib goes through the hole and into the back of the door, then there is a putty-like material or bonder that goes over the top of that indentation, and then it’s painted so the car looks like it’s undamaged. Then, at a predetermined time, that particular squib will be detonated. The material actually flies outwards and it exposes the indentation, which looks like a bullet hole. It happens so quickly and usually in conjunction with many other bullet hits that the illusion is that the bullet is going in and things are flying everywhere. Because bullet hits from so many different kinds of automatic weapons have to be simulated on this particular show, everything has been very well orchestrated and is controlled by computer.

MATRIX: When you go back to an earlier scene, do you literally take a new car out?

KIWI: We often shoot a scene several times over. Let’s say we have several blasts of machine-gun fire throughout the scene; let’s call each wave A, B, C and D. We’re heading into the first shot where we’re going to set off the A bullet hits and the A bullet hits go off, which may be a row of holes down the left hand side of the car. Then after that shot we do take two, bringing in a second car that’s already prepped with that series of bullet hits, and we’ll set off the A series bullet hits again. Since there might be a take three and even a take four we have those cars prepared as well. Those cars may remain with the series A bullet hits exposed, but they’ll already be loaded with a B series, which will be bullet hits somewhere else. In the event that we run out of cars because of too many takes, we have to seal up a certain series of holes so that we can reshoot a scene where it only had the A series holes exposed.

The further you get into filming the more complicated it gets, as far as having cars available in certain configurations. For example, in a particular chase scene if a car gets rear-ended and suffers a lot of rear damage, in every shot after that the car has to appear with that damage. Keeping on top of how each car is supposed to be for any particular shot is quite a job.

MATRIX: Do you take care of your own continuity or does somebody look out for you?

KIWI: There are people who are specifically designated to do that, although we all watch that as much as we can. We have our own person in the Transportation Department who takes notes, and I personally watch and the guys I work with watch. It’s not uncommon for us to wonder if a mirror was there, and then we’ll have to go back and look at our notes or video tape to see if the mirror had been blown off in that particular scene.

MATRIX: Are you familiar with the scene where an Agent jumps on a vehicle?

KIWI: Yes, there’s a scene called ‘Agent jumps on car’ where an Agent basically jumps on the hood of a vehicle. If you were really to jump on the hood of a vehicle, you’d probably go down a few inches and hit the engine and that would be it, it wouldn’t be very dramatic. What we did as mechanics was pull that engine out so the car had no engine in it, then the Special Effects guys ran some kind of air or hydraulically operated ram contraption that actually sucked down the hood to give the illusion that the Agent is heavier or more powerful than he is. There was some pretty elaborate stuff underneath the hood for that one shot. They used lots of little tricks and several different materials — if it was a steel hood, say, they used a lightweight aluminum so it gave a better crush. It’s not just simply a man jumping on a hood; it’s a lot more than that.

MATRIX: How long would you say the freeway is?

KIWI: The freeway is about two and a half miles, and it’s all handmade. It was put up by a group of guys that came in before we were here; as you can see they did a brilliant job. Once you step onto that freeway you’re taken into the illusion that you’re on a freeway. You don’t even remember you’re on an abandoned airport or anything — you’re on a freeway.

MATRIX: Would you say there was one day or one stunt that was the most complex in the Freeway scene?

KIWI: Probably the most memorable to me would be the scene where the Agent jumped on the hood of a lead car — an Oldsmobile Aurora — causing it to flip, then all kinds of chaos takes place after that. I was fortunate enough to be riding in the opposite direction on the freeway with one of the stunt guys who needed to be in the area of the accident when it occurred; so that when we called cut he could jump out and make sure his guys were okay. After that car flipped, a sequence of events — all orchestrated — took place that involved cars hitting pipe ramps, which meant that they took off into the air, they barrel rolled, flipped, they flew and they disintegrated. All of this is was happening at once.

I’ve seen cars crash and flip many times, but it’s pretty impressive to see cars everywhere, flying by me in the opposite direction at roof level doing a barrel roll. It gave me quite a chill because even though it was very well orchestrated and choreographed, you’re never really not sure if something was going to bounce over a rail or something. Of course everything went perfectly — it was quite a trip.

MATRIX: What precautions did you take within the vehicles to ensure the safety of the stunt people?

KIWI: Unbelievable precautions were taken. The cars were fitted with racecar quality roll cages that were very elaborate, and the guys are strapped in securely. It was quite amazing the lengths that were gone to in protecting those guys, and it’s no wonder — when you see some of the action that takes place, it’s quite unbelievable. One of the cars in the scene I just described was upside down and hit a van on its roof on its way through, that’s how high he was. When he came over he landed on the ground, the wheels and suspension broke loose from the front and the guys stepped out to a lot of applause and back slapping.

Anything that was destined to crash or could have crashed was outfitted with a cage. We set them up with fuel cells and a minimum amount of fuel, as well as a safety cell that would prevent explosions and leakage. Each car anywhere close to the action was protected. Anything further back was not protected as well, but that was well out of the range of any of the action.

MATRIX: Could you explain what a fuel cell is?

KIWI: We remove the gas tank and in its place we put a one gallon fuel cell that carries a minimum amount of fuel for explosion purposes; it’s sealed and we install a vent for the gas to flow out of. It’s filled full of foam and we put it in a place that is thoroughly guarded; usually in the trunk or out of the way from where we think the hit will take place. That replaces your fuel tank and is what we call a fuel cell.

MATRIX: With so many cars in this production, what is going to happen to them after filming finishes?

KIWI: General Motors was kind enough to donate many of the vehicles and those cars go straight to the crusher, they’re actually destroyed. Once we have done our thing with them they’re no good to anybody, so they will make sure every last piece of that car is disposed of and never sees its way to the public. A lot of the prototypes that we got will go back to General Motors and they’ll do what they need to do with them, but the cars are now essentially junk.

MATRIX: Are you talking about all the cars?

KIWI: Everything that is a primary picture car. The background cars belong to those people so they take them home, but anything that we’ve touched was pretty much destroyed once we used it.

MATRIX: Do you do anything to fit the background cars into this world?

KIWI: That’s done by the Prop Department — they have quite a colossal job on this show to make sure that nothing tipped our hand to the public of where we were. They had to put special license plates on all the background cars and there were a LOT cars. Those cars belong to people that are specifically background drivers, they’re called precision drivers, and their job was to create a traffic situation that helped this look like a real freeway, but there was no accident where they were or in what they were doing. Everything was choreographed and they were exactly where they were supposed to be at any given time in case a scene has to be matched. It was a big undertaking to make sure these background cars were where they were supposed to be.

MATRIX: What kind of preparation did you do for the truck explosion today?

KIWI: Once again that was our Special Effects guys, they are licensed and skilled at making things blow up. Several weeks ago we did the lead up to that stunt — it’s a scene that involves the Twins chasing the CTS and Carrie-Anne’s character in it and they go up the off ramp, the cop car crashes into the barrels, there’s some shooting going on, and a tire goes flat. The flat tire is all an effect, it does go flat but a special wheel was designed and built so the car could actually still drive with the flat. And eventually the truck rolls over and slides to a stop, which was all done with cables. The explosion today was a continuation of that, where the truck will explode and burst into flames, so weeks have gone by from the time it rolled over and it actually blew up today. We don’t want to blow anything up until we’re done with it, so it gets blown up on the last possible day.

MATRIX: What are some of the other films and projects you’ve worked on?

KIWI: I’ve done quite a few now: Men in Black, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Mighty Joe Young, probably about thirty or forty films I think in total. I have been doing this for ten years, I started out just doing motorcycles. I’ve always enjoyed working with motorcars, and once it was discovered that I enjoyed working on them and loved modifying them the work came and it’s still coming. Being around these kinds of people and working in this business is the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.

MATRIX: We’ve focused mostly on cars; you also specialize in motorcycles?

KIWI: Yes, I got into this business through motorcycles because I had a motorcycle shop in New Zealand and was importing motorcycles and building motorcycles of my own. I often get a call to do shows with motorcycles.

MATRIX: And of course this show has Trinity.

KIWI: Yes, and the folks at Ducati have been very good to us. I think we have six 996 Ducatis which are all duplicates of what we call the Trinity bike which is her bike. Over and above that we have about another thirty-five Ducatis that appear on the carrier. We also have some MV Agustas which we’re doing some work on at the moment.

MATRIX: How much safety modification can you do on a motorcycle?

KIWI: We have an expert stunt rider doubling Trinity, so what I do is listen to her, and if she tells me she wants more air pressure or less air pressure in her tires for certain things, that’s what I do. She’s in tune with the bike, she knows what she needs, and my job is basically to make sure that it’s right for her to ride. She’s carrying a passenger more often than not, so a lot of the riding is very tricky. I have set up the bike on occasions to do things to enhance effects on camera, like burnouts, to do smoke when she’s braking, things like that, so we’ve done a few little tricks to the bike to help in that area. She has jumped the bike on a thirty-foot ramp about thirty-six inches high, quite a jump for a big street bike like that. We have strengthened things, changed foot pegs and adjusted suspensions to facilitate stunts like that.

Apart from that, a lot of motorcycle work is done on special rigs so the bike will appear to be doing things that it isn’t really doing, real do-not-try-this-at-home-folks type of things like jumping off the top of a truck. There’s a lot of very good stunt riding in this movie.

MATRIX: Where does Carrie-Anne [Moss, Trinity] fit; has she done a lot of riding herself?

KIWI: Yes. Although she doesn’t do much of the difficult riding and she shouldn’t — it’s very, very tricky stuff — she learned how to ride a motorcycle, and I’ve been told she picked it up very quickly and is now quite an accomplished rider. That’s great because now when the movie comes out you’ll see her and the motorcycle and it’ll be her riding it and it won’t look hokey.

MATRIX: The Freeway shoot is coming to an end, what is left for you?

KIWI: I will be involved with sound for the motorcycle. When this footage is being shot it’s very difficult to have the sound match since the scenes are constructed with a shot here and a shot there that will be stitched together later on, so we record the sound afterwards. To enhance the sound of the motorcycle I changed the pipes and added a computer chip to the bike so it’ll rev a little higher. I will have a recorder strapped to me and microphones mounted in various places on the bike, and I’ll go out on the freeway with the sound guys and make certain passes, go through gears, duplicate the sliding, the accelerating, the burning out and record it all.

I’ve done passes at one hundred and twenty to one hundred and thirty miles an hour past the microphones the sound guys have set up at the side of the freeway to get that effect of a bike passing by very quickly. We’ll pass those variations on the sounds off to the sound editor so he can choose whatever sounds he finds that pertain to that part of the shot. We’re also doing the same thing with the cars at the moment, where we’ll record certain sounds from the interior of the car as well as the exterior — accelerating, braking, peeling out — and it will go to the sound editors who will do their thing with it.

MATRIX: Would you say THE MATRIX is breaking new ground when it comes to the Freeway sequence?

KIWI: The scene I described earlier with the multiple cars doing their thing is pretty fresh, and the sheer number of things happening at once on this show is the most I’ve personally been involved with. More impressive car work may have happened elsewhere, but I haven’t seen it.

MATRIX: Thanks Kiwi.

Interview by REDPILL
May 2001