STUNT COORDINATOR, AUSTRALIA
THE ORIGINAL FILM
MATRIX: How did you come to be involved on THE MATRIX sequels?
GLENN: I was actually the Stunt Coordinator on the first MATRIX. This time ‘round we’re working with Americans who joined with the Australian contingent because they started RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS in America.
MATRIX: At the time, had you ever coordinated a stunt as large as the Government Lobby scene?
GLENN: The Government Lobby was completely different from pretty well anything else that I’d done before. The magnitude, the amount of hits, the size of the hits, and getting the principals and the wirework and the ratchets to all work as a unit was a lot of work. I was very excited and it was a lot of fun to do. The Hel Coat Check scene is similar to the Government Lobby, but a bit harder because of the nature of the action that happens on the set.
MATRIX: Was there much pressure on the first film, since nobody expected much or had heard anything about it?
GLENN: There wasn’t that much pressure; but there was plenty of enthusiasm. The enthusiasm of the Wachowski Brothers and their storyboards were infectious. Because the nature of the things they were trying to do seemed quite different, we wanted to put everything we could into it to give them what they were looking for. It was very exciting, and being enthusiastic about it was what drove us to try and achieve new heights in the action sequences.
MATRIX: Stunt people are expected to do so many different stunts; what kind of training do they need?
GLENN: A lot of the stunt guys were chosen because of their physical prowess since it’s a physical kind of film. They all generally keep themselves fit, and a lot of them have a martial art/gymnastic/acrobatic background. Australian stunt guys are usually well-rounded skill-wise; because of the nature of the industry here we can’t specialize, but the main criteria for the first MATRIX was their physical prowess, really, which is the same for the sequels.
MATRIX: How many of the guys from the first film are back for the sequels?
GLENN: Quite a lot. Some of the guys aren’t available because they’re doing other things, but I got a lot of the guys that I had on the first one to come back, especially the performers and the rigging team. There are a couple of new guys on the rigging team that I’ve met since the first MATRIX, who are very experienced and very skilled, and helping to make my job a little easier this time. The first time around we were treading a lot of new ground — we’ve grown and developed since then.
MATRIX: What were some of the films you worked on before THE MATRIX?
GLENN: I had just finished coordinating a war film with Terrence Malick called The Thin Red Line. I did a film with John Frankenheimer, which was The Island of Dr. Moreau, and Dark City with Alex Proyas. I’ve done a lot of Australian telemovies, and recently worked on The Queen of the Damned.
MATRIX: Have you always been in the stunt business?
GLENN: Yes. My first film stunt-wise was in the seventies — I did a telemovie, but then I went on and did a film with Peter Weir called Gallipoli with Mel Gibson. I ended up doing Mad Max 2 [Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior] and then Mad Max 3 [Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome] and Dead Calm with Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman. I also went to Mexico on Titanic, which was fun, and I met a lot of international stunt guys, which was one of the main reasons for working on it.
MATRIX: Did you find many differences between the way that the Australian stunt industry works to how they work in other countries?
GLENN: No, we all approach it pretty much the same way. That was the interesting part about it, because we don’t get that opportunity in Australia to see how others work. There were so many international stunt guys down there and Simon Crane, a world-renowned Stunt Coordinator, was coordinating it, so I sat back and watched. We do things the same way in Australia, which was quite a relief.
MATRIX: In general, do your stunt crews in Australia rig for a shot as well as perform the stunts?
GLENN: Yes, and that’s probably because of the nature of the industry here. Because the industry isn’t as large as it is in the States, the guys actually get involved in rigging a lot, which is a good thing. Since the guys rig their own stunts they know how it works. They’ve rigged it, they’re happy. Knowing exactly what is required makes them have a certain empathy with what is going on and what the performer needs. I’m sure if they could just perform and that’s all they had to do they’d do that, but because the industry isn’t as big here, they have to become exceptional riggers as well to keep working.
MATRIX: Do you still work as a stunt person as well as a coordinator?
GLENN: As a coordinator, I usually try and stand with the directors at the monitors or off camera to make sure everything is happening the way they want. A lot of the stuff we’ve been doing lately is very complicated, and if I’m on set performing I can’t really do the coordinating side justice, so I like to stay away from it. Occasionally there might be something I’d like to do, but I’m getting a bit on in years and the young guys are so keen and so excited about working I like to step back and let them do it.
MATRIX: What was one of the most challenging stunts done for the original film?
GLENN: I think in a way they all were pretty challenging because we always tried to inject something different into them. The helicopter sequence was interesting, and some of the wirework the Australians did [as opposed to the Hong Kong wire team], as well as Trinity’s leap over the building. For the shot when Keanu was leaning back dodging the bullets on top of a thirty-five story building, we had to get all the equipment up there so that in itself was a job. Then there was the shot where we had to drag Keanu’s stunt double along the roof when the helicopter was crashing. You look back and wonder how we managed all that, but you also sit back with a proud feeling, and you’re actually excited that the film did so well.
MATRIX: Were you impressed when you saw the footage after post-production?
GLENN: Yes, I was, especially since I didn’t get to see many of the dailies because a lot of the time we were out prepping, so we didn’t have time. Then when we saw the film we thought it was fantastic, and all the heartache and pain and sweat and everything paid off. The stunt crew and everybody who worked on it were so excited when it came out. It’s one of those jobs you’re quite happy to see on your resume.
MATRIX: What else in the first film stood out for you as being different from other films you’d worked on before?
GLENN: I’d have to say the special and visual effects approach; Bullet Time, the set-ups in Bullet Time, the green screen, and the way we did some of the high falls, mainly with visual effects cable work — some of the scenes were up twenty-five or thirty stories. A lot of the times we were in a studio, and they used shot plates to make it look like it was a lot further off the ground. There was always that element of danger, but the special effects made working a lot easier. Their approach to special and visual effects was exciting because it opened up what we could achieve.
HEL COAT CHECK
MATRIX: Has the feeling that you can achieve even more increased from that film to the sequels?
GLENN: I think so. Because we achieved what we achieved on the first one, it makes you excited that you can do it again. With Larry and Andy, you know how meticulous they are — their attention to detail is astounding — so it gives you that incentive and motivation to go even further, to push it even more. And that’s what led us to sit down and try and really develop something in the Hel Coat Check that was a little bit different.
MATRIX: Describe what has been developed.
GLENN: Because of the nature of the shoot out, what we tried to develop in the Hel Coat Check shared some elements of the Government Lobby scene. Now with gravity having no effect on the characters, they can actually run around the ceiling and up the wall while explosions are going off and all the bits and pieces of concrete are falling down. Since we needed to achieve guys running around on the ceiling and up walls in camera, we had to develop something.
Together, the Americans and Australians put together a machine — it’s kind of like a crane — that would give the performer substance and mass. With it, a performer could fly from one pillar to the other and not look like he was on a wire or pendulum. You feel like there’s mass and substance to the character and that they’re actually reacting to the set. We really pushed to develop that so they wouldn’t appear to be floating or bouncing, and that every direction they were standing — sideways or upside down — had mass. Gravity was working with them but was upside down on their body. That required a lot of rehearsing, because while the guys had to look like they were walking on the ground but upside down, we also wanted to give them mass. We didn’t want them to look like they were on wires.
MATRIX: How long did it take to develop the rig and what does it look like?
GLENN: It was actually quite simple, and because we’d done a lot of wirework on THE MATRIX it didn’t take too long. We had a pretty good idea what we wanted to do, and spent probably a week playing around with different things. Then we sat down with RA [Rondell, Stunt Coordinator] and Chad [Stahelski, Martial Arts Stunt Coordinator] and chatted to them; they had some great ideas about crane arms. We built a jerry-rig crane arm you could put someone on that seemed to work well, so we developed it more and more.
Since the lighting is so complicated and, with this set having a ceiling, we couldn’t actually have tracks or wires running above, and floating panels in and out for special effects were going to be a problem as well, so we thought of using yachting track. We got the specifications on yachting track, and got the track to work within our ten to one safety factor, which would do it. We put a test piece of track about six meters long on a tomcat system, which is a moveable truss ground support system, and one of the guys started running along it. You normally have to pull the trolley left and right, but the good part about the yachting track was it was so light and ran so well it would work itself. Controlling it was up to the guys; when they stood or crouched or moved, the trolley traveled with them. They instigated or stopped the movement so they could move as fast or slow, turn, go backwards or forwards as they wanted. That makes operating the system a lot easier because, once they’re up on the roof, they operate themselves.
So in a way it all fell into place. Everything worked out really well and the new rig gave the shots a different look. The guys can really slam on the ceiling when they’re running up there. We’ve got a maneuver we call the “gecko” move when they’re on all fours, and the “bat” move when they’re hanging upside down. The tricky part was getting the track in and out of the set, but that proved to be fairly efficient as well.
MATRIX: Besides the guys running around on ceilings and flipping, what other elements are happening in the Hel Coat Check?
GLENN: We’ll have the principals in there. Trinity [Carrie-Anne Moss] is in there, she’s shooting, firing, running up walls, and doing side flips. She does a fight scene with one of the characters called Jerry [Keir Beck], he ends up flipping back to the ceiling and she kicks him while he’s upside down on the ceiling, then from there we had to slam him back through the wall. That proved to be tricky because we had to hang him off the roof and then get him back into the wall.
Morpheus is also running around doing his shooting to coordinate. It became quite a dangerous set with the actors having to work around so much firepower and explosives and so many hits going off. But they’re so professional; they do most of it themselves. They’re just really switched on, especially from what you’ve seen on the first one and this one they’re even more switched on. But they’re involved with everything, which is quite astounding.
MATRIX: What safety precautions do you take in there being such a small closed set?
GLENN: It’s quite difficult. Steve Courtley [Special Effects Supervisor, Australia] and his Special Effects team are, of course, all very concerned about the fire hazard. There also has to be the fire department on set standing by, exits have to be marked, minimum crew is on set, fire extinguishers are on set, and R.A. and I have a plan to get the guys out of their harnesses. If they’re upside down on the roof and a fire breaks out and we can’t contain it or control it, we have to evacuate the area, get each person off the roof, out of their harness and off the set. We have dedicated one person to look after each performer to get them out, not to mention protecting their eyes from any kind of particles being thrown around.
All the necessary procedures are in place: no mobiles, you can’t use your radios, all communication must be verbal in person. We’ve tried to keep our commands between the stunt crew to a minimum, so we tend to use one word commands. So if I say, “set,” the crew knows that they have to be ready to shoot. If I say, “stand by,” they know that they’re getting close to shooting but not shooting. I think there are about fifteen or sixteen people to operate the guys in one shot, not counting the performers. So there are about twenty people operating this scene… and that’s just the stunts, it’s not counting special effects or anyone else.
MATRIX: You mentioned Trinity and Morpheus would be in tomorrow — will that be the principals themselves?
GLENN: Yes, they’ll be part of the shoot, and I think they’re looking forward to it. Because the camera operators can get so close with their coverage, you can see it’s Laurence and Carrie-Anne, so it just makes the whole scene work so much better.
MATRIX: How long will the shoot be for the Hel Coat Check?
GLENN: Five to seven days on Main Unit, I think. We’ve spent about two months in preparation.
MATRIX: Do you have any idea how much screen time will this scene will have?
GLENN: We haven’t done the close ups yet, but I think, once it’s cut, probably two or three minutes. I’m just guessing there – I’m not too sure because we didn’t do full coverage on the small cut we did on DV. We just did the action coverage, and when we cut just the action it was about a minute and a half.
It’s amazing when you think about the amount of equipment and rigging needed for the stunt just to hold the roof up. The construction team did a really good job of putting the roof together, but now that we’re actually on the roof we’ve had to support our gear as well. That has meant putting scaffolding and wire to hold up our track to make sure that when the guys are hanging off, the roof doesn’t drop or even move or sag. To achieve that we can’t touch any of the lighting grid which is all over the set; any kind of movement on the lighting grid will upset the shooting. So all our rigging to hold the tracks in place has to go up to the roof and then we have to rig everything to run our trolleys on the tracks. It’s very time-consuming and complicated.
MATRIX: The principal actors have done a lot of training with wirework; have your stunt team had to do any of that?
GLENN: The stunt team has done quite a lot of wirework. They haven’t actually worked one on one with the Hong Kong team like the principals have, because their wirework method is totally different. They’ve been at it for such a long time it’s amazing what they can do on wires.
Doing wirework for film has increased for the Australians since THE MATRIX — I wonder why? So we’ve spent quite a few years working on wire jobs for commercials and for features, and I’ve kept these guys on the job with me a lot because I know they’ve had the experience in harnesses and wirework. The more work they do on wires, the more work they get, so they’re reasonably experienced and well trained prior to coming to RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS. Before THE MATRIX a lot of it was new ground, so we had to spend a bit of time training the guys, leading up very specifically and progressively to get what we needed for the scenes.
MATRIX: Have any of your techniques changed after learning different things from Wo Ping’s Hong Kong team?
GLENN: Yes. The interesting part was learning how they work with multiple wires. Instead of using just a one wire pendulum, they operate two or three or four wires, which is really interesting. We learnt a lot about Chinese wirework from watching these guys work, and you find out how much they know when you’re trying to duplicate their methods, especially about timing. When they’re working with an artist or performer you really notice how well timed you have to be with the performer’s movements. It’s not something where you can just take someone out of the crew and say, “Can you jump on this rope about this time.” It takes a lot of experience and a lot of practice to get it right and having a feel for it.
What we noticed was after THE MATRIX was that a lot of work has become safer because of Visual Effects and wirework. For instance, in Australia a lot of the high falls now are done on wires. If we can use wires and descenders and decelerators we’ll use them as opposed to doing a free high fall. So, in a way, by controlling people on wires and working in ten to one safety factors, THE MATRIX has improved safety in our side of the industry. Now we don’t have to rely totally on the stunt performer, who for some reason might miss queue, miss time, or not be quite thinking about what he’s doing. Because he’s on a wire we can, for instance, control his fall so he can fall asleep, but he’s still not going to hit the ground.
MATRIX: Now that you’re on the second film is the pressure a little bit more intense?
GLENN: Everyone has a sense of, “How can we do better than the first one?” People are expecting RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS to be better than the first one, so we don’t want to let anyone down. It’s in the back of their minds, so everyone is striving to try and make it really different. Someone will have an idea about bettering it and you will get an idea on top of that, so it just escalates.
MATRIX: Do some of the stunts come about from a team collaboration, everyone putting in what they think would be cool?
GLENN: Yes. When we brainstorm nothing is too silly; anything you think of gets thrown in there and we take a look at it. We find that we are more creative that way. Then we start narrowing ideas down and try to figure out what we can do. It’s amazing in a short period of time how many weird things you can think about. We go out and try the ideas, although the way we execute an idea in the end might be totally different than the way we started. We’ll try a set-up with yachting track and a guy on a trolley with a bit of wire, which sounds simple, but the effect is so much different. Then you try bungee or any number of different ways until you get what you want, so you wonder why we didn’t do that the first time ‘round. But you have to actually work through an idea to eliminate all the things that aren’t right until you get something that works.
MATRIX: How much of a help are the storyboards sequences, particularly after a brainstorming session?
GLENN: Take storyboard number five for example, which depicts the guys disappearing and reappearing on the roof. We thought, “Why would they do that?” and figured we should just get them up there in a weird and wonderful way. So we sort of threw together our own little interpretation of that scene. But we usually stick to the storyboards. When we get storyboards from Larry and Andy, they’ll have drawn a map of where everyone should be on set. We actually pre-shot the Hel Coat Check sequence from the storyboards on the weekend with a little DV camera, and then cut it together to show Larry and Andy to make sure we were on the right track.
We had to be really specific about where to put the guys and where to put the tracks and where everything had to be prior to us shooting in there, because there wasn’t much room for us to change later. The best way for us to set things up right the first time is to give us something concrete to work from that we can work through and then show Larry and Andy. That’s why we’ve been religiously working to the storyboards because it gives us something to operate with, and the guys pretty well remember what they’re doing. Each of the guys are also responsible for their rigs and the safety of themselves and their crew, so they’ve each got their own little mini-crews that run their rigs.
MATRIX: Did you adhere to the storyboards as much on the first film?
GLENN: We did. It was really good because it meant we knew what we needed to achieve for Larry and Andy because the storyboards depicted what they were looking for. They spent a lot of time with the idea of THE MATRIX prior to shooting it, so if you get some of the footage from the film and match it up with the storyboards it’s nearly exactly the same. It can be tricky if you’re not sure what you have to achieve and you get to set and realize it’s not right, especially with complicated visual effects and special effects and stunts.
MATRIX: There will be firearms on set tomorrow; what kind of safety precautions are taken in that regard?
GLENN: One would be proximity to humans, because even a blank is extremely dangerous. So if you’re ever aiming towards a performer or the camera crew and there’s any chance of being too close, then they’ll be behind Lexan [a sheet of clear plastic]. Some of these weapons give off a lot of flash when the blanks fire, so when the guys are running around on the roof or they go upside down, they have to watch where they aim. As we work to get them up on the roof and into position, we hand them their armed weapons, which can get heavy.
MATRIX: From what you’ve seen so far, do you think that RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS are going to surpass THE MATRIX?
GLENN: I have to say yes, I think it’s going to be amazing. I think people will think they’ve surpassed themselves, that RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS are even better. All the guys here think that, just from what they’ve seen — that it’s THE MATRIX but the next step.
MATRIX: Thanks Glenn.
Interview by REDPILL