Behind the Scenes

Recently, I saw three movies that focused on the people behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.

“20 Feet from Stardom” is a documentary on the backup singers behind hugely popular music acts.

“Drew: The Man Behind the Poster” is a documentary on Drew Struzan – the movie poster artist who painted(!) the movie posters for such iconic movies as “Star Wars”, “Indiana Jones”, “Back to the Future”, and many more.

“In a World…” is a comedy about voice-over artists.

Each of these movies are wonderful in their own way.  I love how they highlight the artistry and talent of the people who are stars in their own right, even though they don’t get the same bright spotlight.  They are a very real part of the creative collaboration that is necessary to give birth to a musical performance or a movie.  I feel like I can identify somewhat with them – since stunt performers fall into a similar role as supporting members of the team.  I can only hope to be even a liiiiiiittle bit as successful as they are.

20 Feet from Stardom (2013) PosterDrew: The Man Behind the Poster (2013) PosterIn a World... (2013) Poster



After doing stunt school this past summer, you can imagine how my interest was immediately piqued by a new TV show on Speed called Stuntbusters. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at deconstructing and demonstrating stunts – focusing on automotive stunts. I was hoping that they’d cover the full range of stunts – but I understand why they had to focus, if only because they have find the right real-life stuntpeople as hosts.

Ripping off the Roof

Garrett Hammond and Vanessa Vander Pluym serve that role well – they’re photogenic, well-spoken, and do their own stunts on the show. The last part is a really important part of these type of shows – the hosts need to be a credible expert. For example, the Discovery Channel show Future Weapons has a ex-Navy SEAL demonstrating all the cutting-edge weapons they can get their hands on.

Future Weapons Season 1 (3 DVD Set)

The portions of the show where they deconstruct stunts are only mildly interesting – it’s like Mythbusters Lite. In the episode (Ep. 2 “Bulletproof Beater”) where they crash 2 cars head-on, they use the cable-tow system that Mythbusters fans have seen many times.

Mythbusters: Collection 1

What makes Stuntbusters unique is when Vanessa and Garrett actually go and do their own spectacular stunts. Watching Vanessa do the “can-opener” stunt in the first episode is heart-stopping. This is where stuntwoman drives a car at 50mph up a slight ramp, where it proceeds to launch into the air, impact and rip the roof off a target car, then flip end over end to land roof-on-roof onto a third card. Crazy. I remember thinking, “I hope they’re paying these guys a lot to do this.” They’re putting their lives on the line. An injury while hosting a TV show can derail their careers, just as surely as doing stunts on TV and movie gigs. (See the recent injuries and deaths of stuntmen on the movie sets of The Expendables and G.I. Joe 2). That’s why they don’t feature a lot of spectacular (read dangerous) stunts on the show – which unfortunately is exactly what viewers are looking for.

I’ll keep watching the show – I just love to learn about stunts, especially about an area that I’m not familiar with at all. Best wishes to Vanessa and Garrett – stay safe!


Margin Call

Margin Call is a remarkable movie.  The premise is straightforward:  24 hours in the life of a Lehman Brothers-esque finance firm at the start of the 2008 financial crisis.  Since we all know how that turned out, the audience can sit back and just watch the wonderful acting, the smart, tight writing, and atmospheric dread hanging over every shot.

Margin Call [Blu-ray]

Let’s start with the actors. Zachary Quinto (Star Trek) plays a young financial analyst who discovers that something’s very wrong with the firm’s books. I’ve liked his acting ever since I saw him as the scarily malevolent Sylar in the TV series Heroes (before it jumped the shark). Kevin Spacey (The Usual Suspects and so many others) is his world-weary boss. Simon Baker (The Mentalist) plays Kevin Spacey’s boss. Demi Moore (A Few Good Men) and Jeremy Irons (Die Hard: With a Vengeance) round out the star-studded cast. Even Aasif Mandvi (The Daily Show), and Mary McDonnell (Battlestar Galactica) make appearances in the film.

Star Trek (Single-Disc Edition)
Heroes - Season One
The Usual Suspects [Blu-ray]
The Mentalist: The Complete First Season
A Few Good Men (Special Edition)
Die Hard With a Vengeance [Blu-ray]
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 10/20/08
Battlestar Galactica: The Complete 2004 Series [Blu-ray]

All this acting talent is not wasted. The opening scene of mass layoffs at the firm recall the impersonal corporate coldness of George Clooney’s Up in the Air. As the scope of the coming financial disaster is revealed, the situation is “escalated” to ever-higher layers of superiors who are as willfully ignorant of the details of how their own firm runs as they are obscenely rich and profligate in their use of power.

I loved how the director assumes the audience is smart. Financial jargon is largely unexplained, combined with clever use of “plain-English” exposition where the underlings have to explain to the bosses how much trouble they’re in. Even the movie’s title is never mentioned in the movie – if you know what a margin call is, you know it’s bad, and it doesn’t bode well for the firm. Another touch I really liked was the use of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude during a key point in the film. The prelude (Prélude in D-flat Major, Op. 28, No. 15) is all about rain – a sweet, light sprinkle in the beginning; stormy and turbulent in the middle; the rain washes away in the end. The passage used was, of course, the middle passage to presage the coming storm. A perfect touch.

Easily one of my favorite films of the year.


Stunt Movies – Jackie Chan: My Stunts and Hooper

Aaron from stunt class recommended that I see a couple of movies about stunts: Jackie Chan: My Stunts and Hooper. I did – and I have to say, great recommendations!

Jackie Chan: My Stunts is a behind-the-scenes look at Jackie Chan’s stunts. Jackie Chan directed and produced it himself, and takes us through the process and preparation for his stunt-driven movies. His stunt team (like Jackie himself) is amazing – they’re dedicated, skilled, extremely well-trained, and willing to put their bodies on the line extreme stunts. Jackie explains some of his famous stunts from his movies from the 1980s through the late 1990s (this DVD was released in 2001) – including from Police Story, Rush Hour, and Who Am I?. It’s inspiring, amazing, and scary all at once.

Hooper is a film by Burt Reynolds as a homage to stuntmen. I didn’t know that Burt himself started out int eh movies as a stuntman! It’s basically a whole movie about stuntman hanging out on sets, having fun, and doing crazy stunts. As campy as it sometimes is, this movie is really heartwarming in the best sense of the word. Required viewing for any stuntman (wanna-be or otherwise).