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Stunts Went Old School in Oscar-Nominated Films

Filmmakers used every digital tool available to amp up the action in “Deadpool.” In the film’s hyper-violent freeway chase scene, stunt performers were shot against green screens in vehicle interiors or otherwise bare soundstages, then virtually placed into (or hanging off of) careening CG autos alongside wholly-digital characters and a backdrop created with multi-camera plates of freeways in Detroit, Chicago, and Vancouver.

But sometimes the most innovative and effective approach is to dial back the digital technology and go old school as stunt coordinator and second unit director Mic Rodgers did on “Hacksaw Ridge,” the true story of a pacifist’s battlefield experiences in World War II.

“For me, old is new,” says Rodgers. “We kept it as real and as in-the-camera as we could.”

Rodgers’ favorite tool was a 10-inch by 10-inch black cardboard box containing ground-up peat moss packed around a tennis ball filled with black gunpowder and a proprietary flash chemical that, when ignited, spewed fire and debris into the air.

“They made a soft explosion that would spread the cardboard box,” says Rodgers. “You could be within three feet of them.”

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In most war films, when characters are hit by onscreen explosions, they’re thrown 10 or 15 feet by a device called an air ram. In “Hacksaw Ridge,” Rodgers would simply attach a stunt soldier to a line, and three stunt people on the other end would give it a sharp pull as the box bomb was triggered.

The old fashioned hand-pull “gives you the indication that [the stunt person] has been hit by something, but he’s only going six or seven feet,” says Rodgers. Compared to an air ram, “it’s more realistic … not ‘Avengers’ stuff.”

Realism was also of upmost importance on “Deepwater Horizon.” The film was shot on an 85% scale re-creation of the titular oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 crew members. To re-enact the catastrophic blow-out, the filmmakers used large amounts of real mud (made of bentonite clay) — 25,000 gallons of it a day — and real fire, which in one scene was applied directly to the backs of the actors Mark Wahlberg and Dylan O’Brien.

“We had them in protective clothing and we put [fire retardant] gel and fuel on their backs,” says supervising stunt coordinator Kevin Scott. But even with those precautions, “if you happen to turn the wrong way and the fire wraps around you, you could burn yourself.”

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