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Magnus Rex – Partial Disclosure

November 7th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Stuntwork

This past week I was rehearsing and shooting for the film Magnus Rex in New York City, as I mentioned in my last blog post. Here’s what I’m able to say so far:

Rehearsal Days

These took place Wednesday and Thursday out in Jacob Riis Park on Long Island, which has a huge parking lot that we used as there were a lot of extras there. I hadn’t gotten wind of the scope of the scene we were shooting until after I arrived, checked in and sat down for the catered breakfast – it was then I noted the small line I had waited in at 7am had by now grown to at least three times its former size. It was now only about 7:20. It wasn’t until closer to 9am that all 500 or so of us were checked in and ready to go. There were two sides represented – the good guys (cops and SWAT) were wearing mostly white while the bad guys (thugs and mercenaries) were wearing mostly black.

We spent the first day in basic fight training, which harkened me back to the beginning of my Batman Show days. They let us pair ourselves up with a partner from the opposing side after forming us into our separate camps out in the parking lot. I was right across from a fit-looking older guy around the same height as me, so when they let us break rank to find a partner I went straight to him and grabbed his hand to shake it and introduce myself. Once Chris and I had exchanged greetings we waited until the stunt people separated us further into 50-person squads that would each be trained by two members of the stunt team. None of the stunt guys asked for prior experience and I didn’t mention that I had any – I figured they would see it. Sure enough, as the morning went on my partner and I were pretty much ignored by the stunt guys, who walked around giving pointers and lessons to the rest of the group. I spent the time passing on what experience I could to Chris when needed – fortunately he himself, while not having previous fight experience, was able to pick up a lot of the basics on his own.

Before lunch they had us separate back into our good-guy/bad-guy groups and gave us an idea of what would be happening in the scene we would be shooting the coming weekend. We rehearsed the action for a while before breaking for some catered lunch and rest. I’ll admit that my arms and waist were already starting to tighten up from throwing punches and reacting to getting hit – ironically enough my neck seemed to be just fine, which is usually the part that gets really sore from snapping back.

The afternoon was spent back in our groups rehearsing various fight sequences that would fit a brawl-type scene, and we also ran through the scene’s action a lot so that we could do so as a smaller group and fine-tune things. Chris and I also got some attention from the stunt guys as well as the fight sequences became a bit more complex. Later in the afternoon the stunt guys in charge of our group came around taking down names and putting stickers on the shirts of people who would be returning for additional rehearsal the next day. Both my partner Chris and I were selected, which was great because some people were asked to return without their partners and would have to find new ones.

The next day only about half of the people from Wednesday were back, and it was largely the same deal as yesterday except more detail was given to the fighting to really make sure everyone was throwing and reacting properly. Additionally, some of the extras were taken out to receive weapons training (both proper gun handling and actually firing blank rounds) and kill training. I was selected for the latter, and they had several of us from my group and others walk on mats and react to getting shot in both the head and the shoulder and taking the fall onto the ground. Several people fell backwards or flopped down on the mats and were reminded that they would not have this padding during the shoot. When I went down I tried hard to remember to use my contact points – knees, elbows, shoulders, hands, that would be padded. I did almost fall sideways off the mat once and was reminded that I should be aware of where I’m falling in general as well.

Once day two of rehearsals were over it was just a day off before shoot weekend.

Shoot Days

We were all warned about early call times due to the number of extras being used in this scene, so I was ready to wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning on Saturday. Luckily they worked the calls in groups alphabetically, so while people whose last names began with A-F had to report at 2:30 in the morning, my group of surnames weren’t needed until 5:30. This was also a great thing as my plans to stay up with friends in the city fell through and I would have to drive. So it was up at 3:30 and on the road at 4am – I got to the location at 5 but the parking garage closest to the set was full-up – the last car pulled in just ahead of me! So it was a 30-minute scramble to both navigate the city streets and find another garage in the area that wasn’t full – I finally ended up a good 15 minute walk off location but a cab was right there as I exited the parking garage so I was only 10 minutes late for call. Luckily it wasn’t that important I be strictly on time as there were still a lot of us to process and it wasn’t like I was holding up anything by being a few minutes late.

Six flights of stairs up the building led you to check in – talk about your morning work out! 🙂 They had signs posted on the wall at the top of each flight – “Good morning! Welcome to Magnus Rex” and “You’re almost there!” and the like. Once through check in it was down two flights to wardrobe where we exchanged our clothes for our costumes. Then it was down another flight to our holding area, which was divided into three groups – those that hadn’t attend rehearsal, those that had attended one day of rehearsal and those that had attended both rehearsal days. In here we could still use cell phones and have our bags to read books and eat or do whatever while we waited to be called out to set. The cops and SWAT were a floor below us in a similar holding arrangement.

It was cold out, and although the day warmed up a little it was generally chilly – luckily most of us like myself were costumed appropriately anyways. They organized us out on set by ranks – those who had attended both rehearsal days were up in front, those who had attended one day were behind and those who had not rehearsed were in the back. The idea obviously was to get the better-looking background fighters closest to the camera. Still, those all the way in the back might have been consoled a little to know that they were still part of something big – one of the Assistant Directors or Production Assistants (couldn’t tell who) let everyone know that we were officially in the books as the largest amount of paid extras used in a scene in NYC film history! I don’t have any official numbers but the rumors put it at around 1100 extras.

We spent the first day working all the way up until the sun was too low to shoot. Obviously there were numerous takes we had to go through to get things up to a level acceptable for the director, especially considering the number of people that were being used. We shot several different scenes throughout the day and we had lunch breaks in waves so that there would always be enough extras out to use on camera at any given time. At the end of the day they had us all return to holding and reversed the process we had gone through in the morning, letting the people who had arrived at 2:30am get checked out first. We all managed to get out in just over an hour – which pleased production immensely as they had expected it to take more like 3 hours to get everyone checked out.

The second day of shooting was similar to the second day of rehearsals in that only about half of the extras were called back to shoot some additional scenes and some closer shots of the scenes we worked on the previous day. I was able to park in the garage right down the street from the location this time and was early for my call, which was a bit earlier at 5am. The day didn’t last as long as Saturday, and we actually got our last shot in one take for a wrap.

Apparently production was extremely pleased with how the weekend went, and many of the ADs and PAs went to lengths to tell us they weren’t saying good job just to make us feel good or anything but that they really were happy with our performance and cooperation. Well, we get to wait and see now as the final result won’t be viewable until Summer 2012! Once the film hits the theaters (in IMAX!!) I’ll be able to post up more information about the scenes we were shooting. Until then, stunt-wise, we’ll see what comes up!


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