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Veteran British stuntman Vic Armstrong (VA) started his career falling off a horse on behalf of Gregory Peck in Arabesque (1966), although he was uncredited for his pains. There were plenty more instances like that during the 70s and 80s, including Bond films, David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter, the original Superman movies and Blade Runner. Moving on to be Stunt Co-Ordinator, he found himself increasingly behind the camera as second unit director on the likes of The Mission, Empire Of The Sun and Henry V.
He took a very hands-on role in his latest movie, EDDIE THE EAGLE, which opens in cinemas this Friday, 1 April. And he talked to Britflicks’ Freda Cooper (FC) about his part in making the film, especially the mixing visual effects with genuine stunts.
FC: How well do you remember Eddie The Eagle himself and the events of the 1988 Winter Olympics?
VA: I followed it avidly and remember having sweaty palms watching him do it! Even without going on top of one of those jumps, which I did on the film, it was absolutely petrifying watching it in real life. When you know the physics of the body - the speed and falling and everything else - to me it was absolutely phenomenal. But it wasn’t only that. It was his courage. It’s not a team sport. It’s one man, who gets up there, commits and jumps. Once you’re up there, there’s no way down except down that run and launching into the air at 70/80 miles an hour. Just incredible! I remember watching it and thinking then that Eddie was my hero.
FC: What was your remit from the director, Dexter Fletcher?
VA: I was actually on a sunny beach in Thailand working with Jason Statham on The Mechanic:Resurrection, when I got the call from Dexter Fletcher and the crew talking about the jumps and how we would approach them! I’d read the script, was starting to visualise it and was wondering how to approach it. If you imagine all the years they’ve been photographing ski jumping, all the best angles, the best tracking shots – it’s all been done before, so how do you make it different for our movie? How do you show the falls? You can’t come off the ski jump and 70 mph and hit the ground and hopefully walk away from it, so how do we photograph that?
So I went back to basics and my first words to Dexter were “I want to shoot it like a car crash.” You do car crashes in movies, you can walk away from them and you can repeat them. So we set up the jumps as car crashes, inasmuch as they were controlled to a certain degree. But, at the end of the day, you’re going to have a crash, a wreck and you’re possibly going to get hurt, so you try to eliminate as much of the hurt as you can. We were very, very lucky: we had some wonderful stunt guys and it was a mis-match of stunt guys, ski jumpers and a lot of thought, process and experience going into it – and I learned from all these people myself.
FC: So how did you manage to keep every jump looking fresh? Were there any special techniques you used?
VA: That was quite a problem, because jumping is such a repetitive sport. The modus operandi is always the same: they’re going to jump, they’re going to float and they’re going to land, but they’ve all got different styles. And that was a huge problem, because we were shooting the 80s and the style was completely different then to what it is now. Today, they spread themselves out much more, they float much more on the air, and catch more air, like a glider, so we had to get world champion skiers and tell them to forget everything they’d learnt over the years to be world class contenders and go back to the old days. That was huge on their part, because some of them had to work really hard at looking bad, as it were.
It was a whole new learning process for me and basically what we did was to wonder what camera angles we could use. We wanted to experiment with body mounted cameras and that posed a few challenges as well. With a body taking off at around 80/100 kilometres an hour and then landing, you have to be very careful to have everything out of the way - not to distract the jumper because it’s critical how they land. You can’t put big cameras in the landing zones because if they touch one, they could do themselves serious damage. We had all these considerations to take on, but we also had some phenomenal skiers, and we spent a lot of time building body rigs. I’ve worked with a number of body rigs over the years, but I think we came up with some on this movie that were just fantastic.
The point-of-view cameras weren’t just the regular go-pro stuck on top of somebody’s head because we worked at a far higher resolution and you need a much better quality camera to do that. So we were working with bigger cameras, but you have to mount them on the body, there’s more weight, there’s more wind resistance, so we did a huge amount of research and development on that and that’s what makes the difference on the jump sequences.
FC: How much of what we see on screen is real and how much is visual effects? Or would you rather not say?!
VA: I don’t want to give too much of it away, but the interesting thing is that I can’t see the join! This is visual effects, stunts, real life all rolled into one. We’re shooting a movie - not a $200 million movie - but we’re still trying to re-create the 1988 Winter Olympics and we don’t have 25,000 people to do it. But I could not see the difference. Every shot I looked at, I believed I was watching a real person, doing what they were doing. And 99% of them were. Hugh Jackman doing his jump – that just mesmerized me, with him flicking his cigarette into the camera. That was great!
FC: Vic Armstrong, thank you for talking to Britflicks.
EDDIE THE EAGLE is released in cinemas on Friday, 1 April 2016.
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