Savas Abadsidis chats with Stunt Coordinator Steven McMichael about his work in movies like Fantastic Four and X-Men, and learns how the 20 year movie veteran stays comfortable in his own skin.
Steven McMichael is the current on-screen combat coordinator for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. He’s been in the industry for nearly 20 years, choreographing thrilling combat scenes for acclaimed action films like I Robot, Fantastic Four, Blade: Trinity, and X-Men.
As a former US Marine, McMichael is not afraid of getting his hands dirty, and herein tells us about working in the film biz, keeping super-hero fit, and his favorite stunts of all time.
Being a world-ranked wushu martial arts champion, I found a wushu school in Vancouver and started training with an instructor and quickly met several talented martial artists who were trying to break into the film industry. I had the opportunity through this group to audition for the Ninja Turtle TV series, where I did a front flip over a six foot stuntman and scored my first job on set.
What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when doing stunts?
Be prepared for anything. This involves: proper training, bringing all of your equipment, and being mentally focused. I once showed up to do a car-hit-off-a-bridge on the pilot episode of Smallville, and they cancelled the stunt only to later decide to go ahead with it. My focus was broken, and I realized I had to go back to my marine corps training: improvise, adapt, and overcome.
Who’s been your favorite director to work with?
This is a tough one. James Cameron was the most passionate and hands on director I have ever worked with. I remember doing over 100 set-ups (shots) in a day on a TV series called Dark Angel. That many shots in one day on a series was unheard of, and the crew was non-stop. As stunt people, we loved it because he really loved stunts and he knew each of us by name.
On the creative/technical side, Peter Jackson is a genius. He continues to develop new ways for the viewer to experience movies. I was in awe of the 3D process he used to shoot The Hobbit films.
You were nominated for a Taurus Award for best specialty stunt for (director Bryan Singer’s 2000) X-Men… what was that stunt?
The stunt was the opening road scene with Wolverine and Sabretooth. I was the Wolverine stunt double, and I had to do multiple 35 foot ratchets, one shot from the truck and one shot through a tree. I also had to fall 10 feet onto the truck’s hood. This was all in -31F weather – not a part of my nomination – but it made the job extra difficult.
What are five tips you’d offer to someone who wants to do what you do?
1. You must have a high level of skill in some type of sport.
2. You must have the ability to work on call.
3. You have to be prepared for feast or famine. I have gone months without work, and I’ve also been run off my feet working every day for 15 months.
4. Keep your nose clean: Do not get involved in on-set gossip with other stunt performers or crew. Good set etiquette is vital to getting further work.
5. Always try to improve yourself by learning other sports or skills and learning about camera angles/frames. Always ask questions to improve your knowledge of film.
What are five things fanboys can do at their desk to keep from becoming Fatty-MacFattersons?
1. Diet: Bring a lunch made with local and organic foods rather than hitting the fast food joints. Also, don’t snack throughout the day.
2. Drink water rather than juice or soda.
3. Exercise: If possible, try to work out in the morning before work. Take the stairs in the office, and walk as much as possible.
4. After the morning workout, shower with Dove Men +Care Fresh Awake because it gives you a jolt of morning freshness with an energizing scent to jumpstart your day. It helps with a ‘get up and go’ mindset that supports a healthy, energetic lifestyle.
5. Try exercises that you can do at your desk during your break. These include desk push-ups, seated reverse crunches, chair dips, and seat squats (all can be found online).
Who’s the most talented actor you’ve worked with in terms of being able to do their own stunts?
Will Smith. He is a consummate professional, and his willingness to do whatever it took to get the shot done was second to none. He was in the best shape of any actor I have ever worked with.
What’s the funniest moment you’ve experienced on a set?
I was involved in a practical joke in which we had a rookie stunt performer on I, Robot believe they were doing a stair fall while on fire. We had the entire production crew in on the gag. It got to the point when he was being sprayed with what he thought was accelerant (actually water) in the face and was told, “Oh don’t worry that’ll burn off first,” and we were attempting to light him in his groin area with a fireplace lighter. We couldn’t keep the laughter in any longer! He was a good sport about it though, and we all had a good laugh.
What do we have to look forward in The Hobbit that we’ve never seen before?
You are going to see new technology that is going to revolutionize the viewer’s experience. The use of 3D, red cam, filming speed, epic production design, etc is amazing.
Honestly, I was married before I became a stunt coordinator so I can’t speak for others being turned on by this. My guess is that being a stunt coordinator is not as big as a turn-on as being a stuntman, as a stunt coordinator is not doing the stunts. In addition, I try to avoid telling people that I’m in the film industry. I can only comment that anyone using this as a pick-up line is trying to use their status to meet women rather than their personality. This is why I work with Dove Men+Care, which celebrates men who are comfortable in their own skin.
This post written in conjunction with Dove Men + Care