Innovation is easy: Hand the camera to the stuntman

So the wife and I were watching Bourne Ultimatum this weekend on DVD.

(Yes, yes, I know, a few of you still know me as the former film student who was inspired to make movies because I knew I could do better than Lethal Weapon 2, but I still like a good action flick, OK?)

Anyway, good chase scenes.  Not mind-blowing, but good.  Except for this one shot

Matt Damon is racing across the rooftops of Tangier when he finally gets an angle on the bad guy.  He leaps across the alley and through the window — and the camera follows his character through the air, right up to the point when he hits the glass. (The shot in the trailer, linked above, might not be the exact same shot, or it’s from a different take, or my short-term memory that involves the glass breaking is faulty.)

While we watched it, that shot felt a little weird — the visual style of the film is really loose, handheld, crazy frenetic stuff, so it should have been felt normal, but it seemed at the time like a wild angle — a camera on a crane wouldn’t have been able to get right behind the leaping stuntman, and doing that shot in a studio up against a greenscreen would have been wrong and obvious.

So what did the filmmakers do to get the shot?

They explain it in the DVD’s special features, and as I search around for more details, this clearly went out in the press kit for the DVD release — and maybe the theatrical release itself, as it’s in many ledes of many reviews, and in more technology-focused stories about Second Unit Director Dan Bradley and his stunt/chase work.

I’m still not clear on whether the camera crew was unable or unwilling to leap behind the Damon double, Arri 235 in hand, but the bottom line is that a second stuntman operated the camera for that shot, rigged up to a wire just like the Damon double.

Keeping in mind that I worked on union and non-union productions with no budget and with millions of dollars back in my day as a lighting and rigging technician on movies and television, here are some the questions the filmmakers obviously either answered or shrugged off on the day in Tangier when they had to get their shot, the climax of the foot chase/race:

  • Is the camera insured if the stunt guy operates it?
  • Is the stuntman insured if he’s operating a camera?
  • Does this break the rules of either the camera crew’s union or the stuntman’s union?
  • Is there a bond company stooge on set, and how long will it take to convince him or her that this is a good idea, covered by the production’s insurance?

The point is this:  The status quo, the expectations, the rules and regulations, the conventions did not get in the way of getting the shot and telling the story.  Yes, there are reasons for the rules, but there are often good reasons to break them, too.

So, look around your newsroom.  Is there a stuntman who can hold a camera?  Is there someone with innovative ideas willing to hook their harness up and leap into the void?  What if it’s not their job?  What if it’s not what the budget says they’re supposed to do?  What if you get the shot?  What if you don’t?  What does failure mean if you don’t try to do something new?

Hand the stuntman a camera.  Find out.

2 thoughts on “Innovation is easy: Hand the camera to the stuntman”

  1. I like your example, Ryan, and think it is very applicable. I just had to post here because I watched this movie for the first time on Saturday. See you in Philly. – Jason


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