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Magnus Rex – Full Disclosure

July 21st, 2012 · No Comments · Stuntwork

Way back in November I posted a partial disclosure of the work I had done for the film Magnus Rex. If you didn’t read it then know that I’m not going to repeat things I said then now except to provide more context and background information so I suggest checking it out first.

Now then on to the big news: Magnus Rex is really The Dark Knight Rises!! Okay, so this isn’t actually big news as this fact has been known on the internet since before I ever became involved with the movie, but it’s not something I could say online earlier thanks to my contract. So yes, I’m in the third Christopher Nolan Batman movie. Yes, I saw Christopher Nolan on set. Yes, Christian Bale was there as Batman. Yes, Tom Hardy was there as Bane. Yes, Matthew Modine was there as the police commissioner. Yes, I saw the tumblers. Yes, I saw the Batpod. Yes, it was all awesome.

Rehearsals Day One

The scene we are filmed in is the big climactic battle sequence between Bane’s army of thugs and mercenaries and the Gotham City law enforcement, which has been hiding underground for months and has finally returned to retake the city. At rehearsals we were all paired thug/merc and cop/SWAT so that we could each engage in one-on-one combat after an initial charge and clash – the common description was the big battle scene in Braveheart (“without the ‘Freeeeedom!’ crap,” said the film’s fight coordinator) where the two armies just meet together and slam into each other. We started rehearsing this as a long line about 2-3 people deep and eventually had to work it closer together to fit us all in a NYC street about 30 feet wide – which put us several dozen people deep.

Obviously the main problem is that there was no “layering” of the people in the two groups. So for example if everyone in the front of one group happened to have their partner in the front of the other group, they would meet, start fighting and everyone else would have to move around them – this caused things to either spill out to the side or just cause everyone to get crushed together in the middle so much that I and others were actually getting picked up off our feet and getting carried around by the crowd – I won’t lie it was a bit scary. Fortunately no one ever got trampled or anything like that. But it did create a problem and I guess the logistics of arranging us so that we would clash evenly (and not make it look like we were specifically placed to do so) was just not possible for the number of extras they were using.

The majority of the day was spent working fight sequences with your partner. The stunt team people had 4 sequences of fist-fighting for us to go through, all the type of fighting you would see in what’s commonly referred to as “barroom brawl” style. This is the same type of fighting style we used in the Batman Show – no fancy kung-fu or Hong Kong-style action, just head and gut punches. My partner Chris and I decided to stick with the most basic sequence – left jab, right cross, left hook. We also added that we would both start in a grapple hold and he would knee me in the stomach before I broke us apart and started the punch sequence. Very simple, very basic. This made it easy for Chris and I to work on the nuances – like starting with your guard up but gradually dropping it with each hit reaction. Slacking the facial muscles when taking a punch. Little stuff to help sell the hit more. Meanwhile a lot of other pairs were still trying to remember all the fancy moves they made up.

Rehearsals Day Two

My partner and I were both invited back for the second day of rehearsals, which had about half as many people participating. We ran through some more clash sequences and some people were given training in shooting and dieing. Again though the majority of the time it was one-on-one with your partner rehearsing the fight sequence you were going to loop in the shot. “Looping” a fight sequence is basically you just keep throwing the punch combo back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, until cut. Chris and I had the grapple and knee sequence to use whenever we wanted to move around a bit to find some clear space or just exchange some words. This was also a general piece of advice the stunt crew gave us.

One point during the day the stunt crew had some groups run clash sequences to film on their iPhones to see how things looked. They didn’t let us use our partners so I stayed off to the side and just watched. With the majority of the extras being rather excitable during this sequence I wasn’t about to engage in mock battle with someone who didn’t know what they were doing (with me, I mean). There were a few punches thrown into each other’s fists, my partner got head butted a bit – nothing serious but I wasn’t interested in getting knocked around in the slightest. Within our group we also did some clashes with our partners for the stunt guys to record and let us look over.

By this time a lot of the people in our group and others had worked up some rather elaborate fight sequences – and many were not that good. In fact we spent a little while just standing around watching the other groups since we could see them all from various angles and taking note of how and why some punches and kicks just didn’t look good or sell well. Chris and I continued to stick with the simple grapple and 3-punch combo since even during clash rehearsals we had found ourselves getting caught up in the action and making mistakes like I would throw a sequence and Chris would go back into the grapple without responding or I’d throw a hook instead of a cross, etc. It was important for our safety I knew that we be able to do the fight sequence but also have part of our awareness watching what was going on around us.

Shoot Day One

Where’s Drew? Look for the guy with shades. I wore them because they could go quickly into my pocket before “action!” and were sturdy enough for me not to worry about them getting smashed

We filed out of holding by group onto Wall Street in downtown New York City, where the action was to take place. I was in the “Tiger” group, which was the group that attended both days of rehearsal. We were put up front to be closest to the camera on all occasions. The only people ever in front of us were the principal stunt actors (one of whom was a friend of mine and fellow Joker Henchman from season 1 of the Batman Show, along with his wife. They were both cops though). As in rehearsal, we started off with the big clash scene which was broken down into multiple shots with multiple takes for each. So sometimes we were charging and other times we were simply marching forward to yell and scream at the cops way down on the other end of the street. We were lead by a camouflaged tumbler with two more pulling up from side streets.

Tumbler leads us on. I’m wearing a blue jacket with a green vest on top

A problem that evidenced itself early on was communication. It was very difficult for the stunt guys and various crew to address the mass of people and make everyone understand what was going to happen in an upcoming shot. Eventually some on the crowd would take to yelling back instructions that were passed on down the throng but it was usually a paraphrase so for example “Don’t bunch up, keep your spacing so that people can come through” would get passed on as “Don’t bunch up!” It was unfortunate they didn’t set up some sort of PA system they could use to address us effectively but to be honest now that I think about it that may still not have worked as people tend to do what they want, not as they’re told – especially when everyone there wants to be on camera. Yes, including me. I’ll admit I couldn’t fully restrain myself all the time.

The clash – note the cluster fuck in the middle!

So the clash scene – once again the main problem with the scene was that people would meet up in the middle and get stuck. However the problem this time wasn’t so much to do with people stopping to fight, since they instructed us to just push through, but more with the people behind us catching up before we have a chance to squeeze through the gauntlet created by the two tumblers that come out of the side streets. Look at how bunched up we are at the start of the clip. They tried moving the tumblers back a few feet to give us more space, but the result was the same – too many people would try to squeeze through at once and we’d all get stuck. Once again you would get picked up off your feet and carried a few inches every now and then as the crowd just moved you. I can’t imagine what it was like for some of the smaller female extras – I was personally trying not to accidentally grope any.

So the solution was to get us to space out more – of course this was a problem since the farther back people went the less they considered themselves to be in the action – and of course since everyone wanted to be in the action getting everyone to back up and stay back was problematic. They would get us spaced arms-length out but then when we marched forward I would have people from behind me march up past me – so by the time we got to the stand-off position everyone was bunched up again! Or, if they had to make an announcement while we were waiting for the shot people would cluster up to hear and then not quite space back out as much afterwards. I won’t deny that I myself was guilty of this – I had to mentally force myself to move back in the column while my brain screamed “but the camera is way up there!” When we returned “back to one” for reset after each take some people would also casually not go back quite as far as when they first started.

People being told to back up. One of the stunt actors needs to stand atop a tumbler to address us – note some people already moving forward again by this time

Still it helped a little. We had extra spacing right from the start, and another thing they did to help make sure the cops made it through the mass of Bane’s army (which was a story point) is that we didn’t charge, the cops charged towards us which limited the movement of the spaced-out thugs to prevent bunching up prior to meeting the cops at the intersection clash point. The mass of cops formed a knot for a little while but then that broke up and started flowing again a bit better. Again, we were instructed not to engage but to pass through – on this take or one similar to it I did actually make it all the way through and enacted some mock battles with some cops before the air horns sounded cut.

The majority of the morning was spent working on this scene. Snow lining the street was really ground up paper-like material strewn around and the snow being blown through the air was a soapy-like material that evaporates once it lands and is blown by a large fan after being ejected from the separate machine making it. My partner said it crackles as it evaporates when it lands in your ear. It can get annoying when it lands on your eyelash or something but otherwise non-caustic and harmless. In between takes could take upwards of 10-15 minutes or longer where you’re just standing around – my lower back started to kill me about halfway through the day. Sometimes you could sit on a curb or one of the vehicle passage blockers that were in the street, often I was crouching or standing straddled to get weight off my lower back and legs a bit. My feet weren’t so bad, mainly a little achy so I would walk around a bit.

Another reason this scene took so long to get right was because a lot of people were forgetting that there is some acting that goes along with this job besides throwing and taking punches. Specifically, we’re all supposed to be completely pissed off at one another. So the problem was that most of the background extras were grinning or smiling as they ran past the camera or stood off exchanging blows with one another. I may have been one of them, I could never remember afterwards if I smiled or not but I would think back to my henchman role in the Batman Show before each take so I don’t think I ever smiled. I may have grinned after smacking around my cop partner though. An “evil grin” to be sure but we’re not seen well enough for the context of the grin to be apparent – so none of that was allowed.

we’re all so HAPPY to be here!!

Just check the clip above for perfect examples that probably had Christopher Nolan face palming. They actually threatened to pull people out of the shot so we wouldn’t have to keep doing takes over and over again. Finally though we got what was needed and moved on to the next scene, which took place further down the street behind us – in the picture above you’ll see a statue to the back right, this is the Federal Hall National Memorial, and it’s where Batman and Bane meet up and fight. This was the first time Batman came on set and we realized that it was actually Christian Bale doing the fight sequence, which was pretty awesome. My partner and I happened to be positioned in the right place for the stunt team to instruct us to be part of the corridor that Batman would use to access the principal stunt actors and then Bane himself. So Batman began the shot standing literally 5 feet to my right, and he shoved past me on his way towards the stunt team. It was the job of me and my partner to close up behind him and prevent anyone else from pushing into the “bubble” of space the stunt team, Batman and Bane needed to carry our their sequence. Several other background Tiger pairs also formed the corridor.

Batman pushing me around…. once again.

We did several takes of this shot, which was filmed from overhead with the camera crane. Eventually we moved on to other shots with Batman and Bane continuing the fight further up towards the steps of the building although my partner and I largely stayed where we were – there was no way we were going to risk winding up in a later shot and maybe having to be cut from the Batman entrance scene because of continuity.

Once we were done filming at the Federal Hall equipment and us were moved back to the intersection for more shots of the big street brawl – these were post-clash so we were all spread out and paired up with out partners and fully engaged in mock battle. Chris and I were next to a telephone booth behind which was one of the liquid smoke machines. I dealt with these a lot during my time at Six Flags but the kind they were using on set weren’t quite the same as I do not recall ever having my throat feel so scorched after gulping a lungful of dense smoke. Ow, my throat was already hoarse from yelling so much earlier in the day during the clash scene and now it was getting irritated – however the crew was good about bringing out water between takes so that helped.

Look straight under the camera for me and my partner duking it out

I should mention here, since you can clearly see our fight sequence again like the last video, how glad I am we decided to stick with a basic sequence. We were still messing up during some takes, because again we had a good portion of our attention focused outwards to avoid tripping over someone’s feet or reacting to a hit and turning into a punch from another pair of background extras. Other than stuff we couldn’t see happening directly behind us (Chris caught something in the back and I got kicked or kneed or something behind the legs) neither of us got knocked around much and our routine was tight enough we didn’t need a big space. It annoyed me how some people were constructing these elaborate kung-fu-ish fight sequences that didn’t look like they belonged in a brawl but it wasn’t my place to say anything so I kept it to myself. Chris and I wound up on the far right side of the phone booth (relative to that clip above) and were also throwing each other against it at times to mix things up a little bit.

The very end of this clip you can see me getting flung against the phone booth

We wrapped day one with this scene. No injuries to me and my partner thankfully other than the jostling around I mentioned earlier during some of the fight scenes. During the initial clash scene I did end up feeling some tenderness in my elbows thanks to a lot of hard weapons on people’s backs and equipment they are wearing getting shoved into me as the mass of people closed up and compressed at the center. Also during one take I actually made it through into clear space and grappled with a few cops – I tripped over someone down on the street and clanged my forehead into a standing metal pipe – didn’t bruise up or bother me later on though. However the set medics did complain about numerous people getting banged up – no surprise there. As I mentioned the majority of these people have had no formal training and are really excited to be in this movie – I know I saw one guy just barelling through cops like a steam roller! No one on set was seriously injured, however.

Shoot Day Two

Day two ran much the same as day one to start, and also much like day two of rehearsals in that not everyone was called back. We started with some additional shots of the clash scene to get some shots of the tumbler driving up through the Bane army to lead us up at the front where it was positioned the day before. Although there were less people the same issue persisted with people wanting to clump up towards the front of the line. These shots were mainly for the build-up to the clash scene we shot yesterday so there was no charging but even in marching up following the tumbler people were walking from behind me up against the people towards the front of the crowd. We’d start spaced out and then bunch up again. I finally gave up dealing with it and walked all the way to the back of the column to just fill it out – no one was doing any serious fighting up front anyways and in case they were I didn’t feel like getting sardined again. At one point they passed out earplugs for an explosion they were shooting – I didn’t take any since I was way in the back and it was more of a white star mine that went off, not a gasoline explosion or anything seriously concussive. We did eventually shoot some clashes as they had a camera on a track running parallel up the middle of the street to capture the action but I stayed to the rear and only ever charged up as far as the tumbler.

Once that scene was done, we moved back over to the Federal Hall to get some additional shots of Batman (once again Christian Bale himself) making his entrance to the brawl. This time, they had smoke through which Batman walked through and they had the corridor opened up a bit wider so he didn’t have to shove me aside but instead strode by. Chris and I didn’t want to be in the middle of a punch combo when Batman came walking past and swing/react into him so we stayed in a grapple and I threw a head butt and a knee – by then Batman was past and Chris maneuvered us into the space behind him, threw a knee at me and we started our fight loop, keeping other pairs of extras from meandering into the area being used by the stunt actors. Again, several takes of this with a steady-cam operator and his guide starting directly behind us, with his hand on my back to make sure I didn’t bump the camera. Again the scene eventually moved on to Batman and Bane and the rest of the action taking place closer to the steps of the building.

However this time some of the crew actually pulled our group around to the opposite side of the fight to fill in an area by the stairs that was being used for more of the stunt actors. So the action began to our left then panned around to our area – Chris and I actually had to wait a few seconds after “action!” for the clap board guy to scamper past us before we started our fight loop. Once they were done with this scene they announced it complete – and that it had taken three cities to do so! (New York, Oakland and Pittsburgh). That’s pretty amazing. A couple of extras were from the Pittsburgh shoot as well and it will be interesting to see how it all looks in the final film knowing that it wasn’t all shot in the same location.

Besides the clash and Federal Hall scenes, later in the day they did the aftermath shots – which had cops and thugs strewn out in the street. They had no problem getting volunteers to lie down! In fact I’m sure several actually fell asleep lying there on the ground or propped up against stuff. I had actually lost track of Chris by this point – so when they needed people to be fighting in between all the bodies I paired up with a random cop who also didn’t have a partner. He seemed a bit disappointed when I told him we were just doing the most basic fight sequence but thankfully he didn’t argue. Since it was the end of the fight I had us both swinging sloppier and reacting bigger to the hits – also because we had way more room to do so anyways. We shot the first few takes on Wall Street and then they pulled us over to fill out the background for shots looking down Broad Street.

My new partner and I rehearsing our fight sequence (under the T in Trump)

At the end of the day they had all background up on the sidewalks to clear up room for the stunt actors to work some shots – in fact I’m surprised that they let us stay out there and didn’t just send us all back to holding. Granted they still needed a couple extras for shots here and there but for the most part we were all just up on the sidewalk watching and trying to stay out of the way. It was now that they brought out the Batpod and parked it right next to where I was standing with a throng of others. Like the tumblers, it was pretty impressive to see up close. Two tumblers were filmed peeling out from the Federal Hall down Broad Street, and then they had a bunch of us cops and thugs line Wall Street for the Batpod to make its run down with the stunt driver at the controls dressed up as Catwoman.

Two of Bane’s tumblers peel out down Broad Street

A continuation of the previous shot

Jack up the resolution and look under the arch of the lamp post to spot me up against the wall, arrested

The above shot was actually done in one take, and that wrapped the day of shooting and the end of my extra work on Magnus… errr Batman: The Dark Knight Rising! Unfortunately, while my name was on a list of 9 other thugs/mercs to get shot and die, they never needed us to. Probably afraid we would be trampled in the charge – don’t blame them I would too! Same as yesterday we went back to holding and were processed out after the crew announced that they were all extremely happy with the performance and it’s something that will look great on the big screen – the really big screen as this is an IMAX film.

The Final Result (no spoilers)

Well I finally was able to see the movie today and it’s amazing to see how it all comes together to form such an epic story. As a whole the move and the trilogy is masterful – the last few minutes moved me as close to tears as I’ve ever come from watching a movie.

There’s a chance, a small chance, that on the blu-ray with some freeze framing I could spot myself fighting in the crowd behind Batman when he begins his fight with Bane on the streets of Gotham. The pacing was so fast at that point in the movie they cut his entrance to a mere fraction of what they actually shot. From the video above where he shoves past me and begins fighting the principal stunt members, they showed maybe one quick cut of him dropping a thug or two before engaging with Bane, as even a few extra seconds of him entering through the throng was too slow to keep the action moving.

But that’s okay, I’m happy to have been a grain of dust in the world of Batman that Christopher Nolan created. It was nice seeing the battle scene on the big screen and knowing that all those people were real people, not CGI characters – and that I was one of them.


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