MATRIX: What have your main roles been here on THE MATRIX sequels?
PHILLIP: I was the car Rigging Key for the freeway sequence, and here on the Zion Temple set I’m the On Set Key for the shooting crew.
MATRIX: How did you get this gig to start with?
PHILLIP: I’ve been doing movie productions for 15 years, and I do a lot of rigging. I’ve been Rigging Key on numerous movies in LA, I’ve also been Production Grip and Rigging Key on a few others up here in the Bay area. I talked to Tony Mazzuchi [Key Grip] in January , who I hadn’t met at that point, and offered him my services, which he accepted. He was looking for a Camera Grip, or a Grip who deals directly with mounting, hanging and flying of cameras. My resume covers those realms, so he hired me.
MATRIX: Have you been with the production in Alameda long?
PHILLIP: I started around mid to end February .
MATRIX: As the car Rigging Key for the freeway sequence, what did that entail?
PHILLIP: During the freeway sequences we had anywhere from one to nine cameras being used at the same time. Tony was handling the main production part of the shooting company and anytime a camera needed to be mounted in a car, on a car, above a car, round a car, on the insert cars, or on the tow trailers, I supervised and made sure all those cameras were safe. The car sequences all took place at fifty miles an hour, and some of the cars were wrecked, but none of the cameras could move once they were set inside the cars, they all had to be stationary. That was pretty much my primary function during the freeway sequence. We handled anywhere from three rigs to twenty rigs a day, we probably had a couple of thousand feet of Speed Rail fittings being used, but we always needed more.
MATRIX: Safety must have been one of your major concerns on the freeway.
PHILLIP: Safety is always a major concern. Anytime you have anything that is not part of a human body mounted in a car, which can come loose, it becomes a safety issue, and not just for the driver. When cameras are mounted outside vehicles and they come off during a sequence, they could become dangerous for people driving behind them. For the insert cars, we either had cranes on them or multiple cameras. All the Camera Operators had to be safetied off, we don’t want to have anybody inadvertently fall, because when you’re shooting you’re very much paying attention to what you’re doing, not to what is going on around you.
MATRIX: Elaborate on the term ‘safetied off’.
PHILLIP: All the people on the camera cars are wearing harnesses, and they are safetied off to the car itself, primarily so they cannot fall off the car. We keep them tethered tight enough so they don’t have a lot of motion, other than what they need right in front of the camera.
MATRIX: With people attached to the outside of vehicles, what kind of communication did you have with the stunt drivers?
PHILLIP: R.A [Rondell, Stunt Coordinator] is in charge of the stunt drivers and all the driving teams. Everything is blocked in sequence before they take off, they don’t just go out and drive willy nilly all around. It’s all blocked in a sequence of movement with the camera car, and with the timing. The cars were actually stopped and parked, so you could see the blocking of where the cars were going to be as they were actually driving. Speeds were all set, no one varied their speed unless they were asked to by R.A. Takes were usually done at a lower speed and they progressively moved up to speed, so they actually started a lot of sequences from zero miles an hour. Our speed on the freeway was supposed to be 50 miles an hour, I think most of the sequences took place at very much that. They gave themselves pretty tight tolerances, anywhere from eight inches to 2 feet, with cars passing each other.
MATRIX: Was anything done differently for the motorcycle scenes?
PHILLIP: We had two motorcycles: one was what we call the side hacker, or sidecar motorcycle, and we had a guy who had a single motorcycle mount for the Libra head, either front or back. The Libra head is a self-stabilizing camera with three axes rotation, it can be either mounted high or low, front or back. Most of the fast sequences with the motorcycle were handled with that motorcycle rig. The sidecar motorcycle was used to get up close and tight for any of the chase scenes, motorcycles are much more maneuverable. The sidecar motorcycle can have an Assistant and a Camera Operator in the sidecar, whereas the single mount is obviously radio controlled.
MATRIX: Did you encounter anything on the freeway sequence you haven’t come across before?
PHILLIP: It was incredibly fast and incredibly tight. The action had to be very well choreographed, everything was very, very dangerous and very difficult. The way it ran was beautiful, it was unbelievable, we had an excellent team. I had some great people working for me, probably the best car riggers around – Kenny Phelps [Grip], Jimmy Stuart [Grip], an incredible camera mounting team.
MATRIX: Did the Park set present a different set of challenges?
PHILLIP: We actually worked on the freeway, the big blue, small blue, and the Park set. The Park set, for the Grips, was probably the easiest set to work on, as we didn’t have very many challenges. The fight sequence needed a proper amount of lighting for the digital work as well as to see the action, because their shots were wide and there was a lot of action. That primarily involved setting one key light, and letting what the electricians did with the overhead lighting fill the ambient. There was a lot of flying, and we had one camera rig on a descender with a guy suspended beneath it for when he falls down on Neo.
I worked with the Stunt Riggers so the camera was suspended over the shoulder of a person, which fell with the person suspended underneath. You got a wide shot over his shoulder, including him and the person on the ground. The most important thing was making the sequence and the camera action follow the person, staying in the same position and working with the person. So the camera had to stay with the person and work with the person, they couldn’t be two separate objects, they had to be well balanced because the person was acting as he was falling. That was a pretty tough shot.
MATRIX: Had you done anything in previous films to prepare you for a shot like that?
PHILLIP: All films are completely different. You have a bunch of building blocks and you work from there. The most important thing is getting from the Director and the Director of Photography what they actually want in a shot like that, because there is no preview to that shot, except doing the shot for real. The more information you can get from those people, the easier it makes it on us people, to actually make that shot happen for them.
As far as previous experiences, I’ve done multiple rigging jobs and flying jobs for many people across the country. I did a bunch of flying for the Stunt Riggers on How the Grinch Stole Christmas. On the mountain for the Grinch you couldn’t put a camera anywhere, so I had a 100 x 100 XYZ grid for a techno crane to fly around the set so they could put the camera wherever they wanted. On Jade I was the Camera Rigger again, I mounted 7 to 30 cameras a day, and hundreds of stunt cars. What I do just depends on what movie is, and where I can make myself fit in the best.
MATRIX: Pre-visualizations have been made for much of this film, did you refer to those to understand what the Directors wanted from a shot?
PHILLIP: They were useful in many ways because they gave a general reference for the beginning of the day, as to where the camera was going to be working for you, especially in the car sequences: what side of the freeway it was going to be on, and what side of the car it was going to be on. As far as what the shot actually looks like, it’s much different, it’s up to the Directors and DP to get the shot the way they want it, but they gave us a rough reference of what they were looking for.
MATRIX: When you mentioned the big and little blue sets, were you referring to blue screen stages?
PHILLIP: Yes, blue screen work. Big blue was a 270 degree wrap around blue screen we used for a large sequence of car stunts involving the big rig. We did shots with people moving along the big rig, and fighting and jumping sequences over the big rig and through the big rig. We also did a couple of motor cycle scenes and some other shots along the way. It was a very, very difficult set to work on, and a lot of work. The actions were so large that we had to cover huge areas with blue screen so the person was always in the blue screen during his action. My major portion was making sure those people were always covered by blue screens, and it also involved hanging blue screens overhead, and moving those around. On the floor they used Mylar panels which, instead of needing to be lit, they actually reflected the active light working on the other blue screen, so we used less light to light the set.
MATRIX: Were you involved with the blue screen set up where the stunt twins were flipping off a crane?
PHILLIP: No, that was the Stunt Riggers. Aaron and Dave Schultz [Utility Stunt] are the primary Stunt Riggers here, they belong to Stunts Unlimited, which is a Pat Romano company. My involvement with the Stunt Riggers strictly has to do with camera sequences. For the flying cameras on the Zion Temple set we built sleds with them, we helped them position things and work out the timing; all that goes along with those shots. The Stunt Riggers handle anything that has to do with their winches, the decelerator winches, all that rigging is theirs.
The Stunt Riggers hung the camera on the Zion Temple set; it is called a highline camera rig. It involves, depending on who does it, either a single highline or a double highline, which we are using here, and there are two winches, a drive winch and a vertical lift winch. Highline camera rigs are shots that entail the camera moving through long spaces at head height or above, where you cannot have any kind of track involved. They can be completely panoramic, 360 degrees, or have very wide lenses covering huge expanses of people. They take a while to set up, technically they’re not difficult, and they take absolutely beautiful shots.
MATRIX: Having been on set for every single shot in the Zion Temple, you must have felt the energy the hundreds of extras created.
PHILLIP: It’s been very much like shooting a rock video, you do feel the energy of the people, it’s very exciting, very much like a rave. The shots will be very special, the Directors really enjoyed them, they actually got in and plotted after all of those shots, they liked the energy.
MATRIX: How do these sets compare to others you have worked on?
PHILLIP: The Zion Temple is a very large set. I think the largest set I worked on was The Haunting, we had 18,000 square feet of set, and although this might be close, The Haunting was quite different, it was the complete interior of a castle. As far as space wise, the sets are huge, but they don’t have a lot of room for people to work around the outsides of them, except for the Temple. The other ones have been very, very tight, the blue screen completely filled up the room, so we were always chasing our equipment from one end of the room to the other to get out of the shots.
MATRIX: Have you had the opportunity to read the script?
PHILLIP: I have read the script, so I know where everything fits into the film.
MATRIX: Sequels are often disappointing compared to an original film; when you read the script, did you feel the Writers/Directors were pushing the envelope?
PHILLIP: That’s a tough question to answer. I very much enjoyed the first MATRIX movie, I didn’t see it in on the big screen, I actually saw it on video and did not realize how good a movie it was. THE MATRIX 2 is going to be a very well shot movie, but as far as being better, I can’t tell until I actually get down and see it. My part in this movie ends in a week, and they probably still have six to eight months to shoot in Australia. I’m looking forward to seeing it.
MATRIX: Thanks Phillip.
Interview by REDPILL