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Sunday
Aug212011

The Unknown Stuntman

One thing that keeps coming up again and again in this blog is me whining about how little money we had. I know this is going to sound clichéd but it does spur you on to be a bit more creative then you otherwise might have been. It also puts you at risk of personal injury or death when the budget won't stretch to a stuntman, your principal actor isn't insured (and doesn't like the look of what he was being asked to do anyway), and you happen to be the same size and build as him. That is how I came to be in this position. 

As we had pretty much no other choices, I ended up being the spaceman in Moon doing all the stuff that looks in no way dangerous at all on-screen but actually is. Sorry Mum if you're reading this, but when we were actually filming your little boy was a half-inch mis-step from falling ten feet and smashing his delicate, human face to bits on scaffold poles and the concrete floor.

We had two space suits made for Moon, and were both identical apart from an orange stripe on suit 2. The actual costume was lined with double-layered duvet and was hot as a bastard. To compensate for the way body heat built up and the lack of any naturally moving air inside the helmet, Bills' chaps filled a motorized fan inside the helmet chin-area to provide ventilation, de-misting on the faceplate and a cool, refreshing breeze. I'm a huge fan of Bill Pearsons' work but that fan was rubbish. It just sat there next to my chin, whirring quietly and blowing the most minute waft of slightly cool breeze roughly equivalent to a piece of dropped A4 paper. It was right in front of my face when I had the helmet on, teasing me with the promise of cool refreshment and never delivering. One time, whilst waiting to go for a take, I was in position and all alone and quiet up the top of some scaffolding straining to hear the shouted stage instructions to go. The fan was teasing and annoying me by doing shit-all. Annoyed by it's ineffectiveness, in a fit of pique I decided to show the puny motor who's boss by stopping its' pathetic drone by inserting my tongue into it. Which I did, and lost a little chunk out of the side of it. Cheers brain, nice suggestion. Here's what Mr. Rockwell thought of the whole thing the first time he tried the suit helmet on.

It didn't help with me having a little bit of hay-fever too as the duvets lining the suit were all made of feathers. It was very hard to bend and flex in (much like a real space suit so I'm told by the internet). The arms were hard to move too as it zipped up at the back and was all one-piece so when you took it off somebody had to come round the back, take the helmet and yolk off, then the backpack and then unzip you and you'd sort of shrug the suit forwards and let your arms slide out. The front of the suit would hang in front of you like a tired ghost and as it was unzipped there'd be a gust of air and all the feathers would go up my nose. I wouldn't mind so much but there was nowhere to stash a hankie, so I had a runny nose most of the time. I grew to feel a sort of kinship with Mel Smiths' character in Morons from Outer Space. It's a good look for getting chicks.

The suit was so hot that you couldn't wear normal clothes underneath it, which meant a complete astronaut ensemble of white leggings and baby-grow style top (same clothes Sam wears in the film), and the little cloth helmet. This particular item of clothing always got on my tits as it was supposed to have two little boom-mics coming off the cap like the Apollo astronauts wore, but the costume designer forgot to add them. We were all so busy that nobody noticed until we'd already filmed the little helmet and by then it was too late to change them. There wasn't much that got past me on this film but this is one of the things that did and every time I see that little hat, it makes me cringe. The whole point of that little helmet is that it's supposed to keep his communications gear on his head and the mics in front of his mouth. The absence of the boom-mics makes it completely redundant. Whenever I see it on-screen I can't help but think "nice baby-hat, space-man".

Funnily enough, a lot of the potentially face-changing danger that I was exposed to came from the suit itself. The combination of no tactile feedback, no feet-bending or sense of feeling or touch, no looking down, sideways or behind, being super-hot and misty, not being able to hear anything, weird extra weight on my back throwing my balance and generally restricted movement and vision made making a cup of tea a risky prospect. Adding that the set was up in the air suspended on chains, covered in scaffold poles and various other hard, knobbly bits that were slippery having been dusted down with grey powder to represent the fine lunar dust and it gets a bit more likely that my mum won't recognise me when the casts come off.

As if clambering all over that thing with no peripheral vision or feeling in ski boots wasn't hard enough, during the crash scenes it was cocked up at a 15-degree angle making it into a slippery slope of certain death. The suit had snowboarding boots painted white for the feet so you can imagine how little tactile feedback you get when you're just trying to walk and you can forget bending important bits like your ankles and toes. Chuck in the helmet base that completely prevents you from looking down and the overall numbness from thick gloves, hard to move arms and a helmet that pretty much deafens you to the outside world and you're good to do some stunts! 

This is one of the fantastically detailed animatics I did, which is a pretty straight-forwards shot of Sam getting into one of the Rovers through the hatch in the roof. We see this at the beginning of the film whilst the credits are coming up. Looks pretty straight-forwards right? Well it would have been easier if the set of the rover hadn't been mated to the rover cab interior as this put it right up in the air.

Anyway, I'm banging on a bit about the massive danger a bit too much now. It's not like I was fired across a canyon in a rocket-propelled bucket or anything, it was just very easy to fall and it would have been bad for my face if I had. I ended up doing quite bit of this sort of thing on Moon and probably the hardest bit to do was pretending to be in Lunar gravity after Sam falls over being sick in his space-helmet. It was all shot against green-screen and I had to spring up like I weighed about six stone in the complete space suit without any sort of rig or support. We got it in the end but I had to do it about thirty times. I couldn't take the suit off as I'd sweated all inside it and it was soaking wet but the studios were freezing and if I opened it up I'd just freeze in a couple of minutes and catch the shittiest cold ever, then just have to get back into the cold, damp suit and go again. I don't know who's got that suit now but whoever you are, if you're reading this; please don't be tempted to put it on. That thing must be absolutely minging and almost certainly a biohazard.

Here we all are, filming the shot from the beginning of the film that pairs up with the animatics above.

I didn't bother editing this clip as I thought you might like to get a glimpse of what it was like as we were actually working. So there you go, un-insured space stunts on a budget. Like I say, we ended up doing a lot of this sort of thing and the bit I'm most proud of is opening the rover-hatch and coming in at the end with my gun to finish off Sam 1 only to find him already dead. In the zero-budget spirit of things I just grabbed some of my paintball gear and took it down to the studio that day so the space-assassin is actually me with a bit of extra belt-kit and a couple of extra pouches with my trusty Tippman X7 with a tactical light with a tail on. If you look closely you can see the gas line that I just tucked into the belt so it looked like there was a bit more going on as everybody likes floppy cables and shit like that.

When you watch this scene in the film, don't feel too concerned for Sam 1. The only real danger he was in was getting a bollocking from Gerty for covering the inside of the Rover in little orange paint splats.

Reader Comments (2)

Having a snotty face that I couldn't wipe would probably drive me insane!

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Timson

Stumbled across your blog from somewhere random on the internet.

Just wanted to say that a) I loved Moon, and b) I love seeing the detail and depth you've put into this blog.

I wish you great success!

- Ed

July 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEd Orman

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