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Stunt actors punch things up for interterm students at Dodge College

January 11, 2012

Professional stunt actors stage a fight for Dodge College students during an interterm class on the art and science of stunt filming.

It was quite a week in Professor Andrew Lane’s interterm class. Two men brawled, hurling sucker punches and groin kicks during one morning class. The next day a guy got set on fire — twice. And at one point enough guns appeared that a campus security officer was put on standby.

All in all, a pretty good week for a first-time course on the art and science of stunt filming, taught by Lane during this month’s interterm session at the Dodge College School of Film and Media Arts. Because of the risks and expenses associated with the staging and filming of stunt work, a course like FTV 271 Location Filmmaking: Stunts/Fx, is a rarity for film schools, Lane says.

“This has never been attempted before. It is so much a part of motion-picture-making, and it’s sort of the elephant in the room. For cost, safety and insurance reasons you can’t really do this at the student level. But we want them to understand what it takes,” Lane says.

But by using interterm’s compressed schedule – four meetings a week in four-hour sessions – and coupling it with the college’s unique film industry relationships, Lane was able to pull together an eye-popping course for students that included fire, falls and fisticuffs and guest lectures by a host of movie professionals. Kicking off the course was a week’s worth of demonstrations by Hollywood stunt legend Buddy Joe Hooker, whose twin sons, Houston and Kanan, are freshmen at Dodge College and themselves experienced stunt performers.

Hollywood stunt legend Buddy Joe Hooker takes some heat during stunt filmmaking class.

Co-teaching the course with Lane are Buddy Joe’s wife, Gayle Sherman Hooker, who’s worked as a stunt coordinator and performed as a stunt double on numerous film and television productions, including Desperate Housewives and Law & Order: Los Angeles, and Linda Montanti, whose credits as a first assistant director range from L.A. Confidential to The Starter Wife.  The resulting combination of expertise and technical demonstrations is “unique in the universe,” Lane says.

So every day last week Stage B at Marion Knott Studios was alive with action. In one session Buddy Joe and other stunt professionals staged a variety of fight scenes, adjusting and re-working the fight from angle to angle based onstudents’ direction. Hamming it up, Hooker amused students with a mock display of star drama when no one could quite convey what they wanted in a fight scene. He threw up his hands and called out: “I want to talk to the producer!”

Throughout the week students were pulled from the class to direct the stunts and scenes. Montanti nudged advanced film production student Mac Nelson ’13 to be the real deal during his turn at the helm. Get demanding, she told Nelson.

The student summoned a bit of a shout. “OK, I like everything, but …”

Montanti smiled. He was getting it. “Right!” she said.

When it was time for Hooker to climb into a fire suit and slather fire-repellant gel over his face, neck, scalp and hands before being ignited, a special effects technician and a City of Orange fire official talked about the importance of not being the sort of director who rushes a shoot to meet budget at the risk of safety. Later, a film industry weapons expert explained the protocols of handling guns and discharging blanks on sets.

Meanwhile, cinematography students filmed all the stunts, which will be used in two action shorts produced by the entire class. And the work and special guests continue. Among the class visitors this week was Steven Bernstein, director of photography for Monster, Underworld, and Half Baked, to name a few.

There’s nothing half-baked about the stunt class experience, Montanti notes.

On a movie set, students “would not get this close to anything, even if they were an intern,” she says. “They would be standing way, way at the back of the room.”

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