THE ORIGINAL FILM
MATRIX: How did you get into stunt work?
SHEA: I was always interested in stunts, I had always wanted to do it, but I didn’t really know how to get into it and I didn’t know anything about the entertainment industry. I started off by ringing up an agency and they said to stick around as I have a bit of talent. And I also got in through Warner Bros. Movie World [on the Gold Coast], getting into the two stunt shows there, the Western Show and the Police Academy Stunt Show. Slowly I transferred to the other way ‘round; I was just getting more and more film and television work, and doing less live shows, and then pretty much full time doing feature films.
When it came to THE MATRIX, I had worked with Glenn Boswell in the past, and we seem to have worked well together over the last few years, so I think he wanted me on the team. At the same time Agent Brown [Paul Goddard] told them I was a good double for him, in size and look.
MATRIX: How would you say that the film industry in Australia has changed during the last ten years?
SHEA: It wasn’t as technical; it used to be get in there, do the stunt, and just take a hard knock. Now we have all these blue screen effects, computer enhancement work, and all the CGI [computer-generated imagery] — it’s all forever changing, even more so for the coordinators that we work for. Productions don’t want the liability of anyone getting injured on their hands, so we take every precaution necessary to make a stunt as safe as possible. That may be as simple as having a safety cable here and a safety cable there, that might have to be deleted later, to avoid any risks.
We’re basically training a new generation of stunt people on how to work with cables, and there’s a lot of rigging involved. At the same time you still always need people who have the versatility to do martial arts, acrobatics, high falls, and a combination of a bit of everything. We’re not just specialists; we all have to cross over and work together now. There’s definitely been a big contrast from doing a stunt to making it a whole lot safer and getting it to look as real as possible, but not taking those risks we used to take.
MATRIX: Were you involved with the original MATRIX film?
SHEA: Yes, for about six months, I was Agent Brown’s Stunt Double. That was mainly in the first scene or so, when Agent Brown was chasing Trinity through the building and the rooftops. I was also involved with the rigging aspect of things — setting up the stunts and flying rigs for Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity. That included the helicopter sequence, the flying rigs, and things like that.
MATRIX: Had you ever done any stunt doubling before?
SHEA: Yes; I’ve been doing stunts for about ten years now. I worked with Glenn Boswell [Stunt Coordinator, Australia] doubling for various actors on Dark City and The Thin Red Line. They are probably the main big American features I’ve worked on, plus I’ve done some of Jackie Chan’s things as well.
MATRIX: In general, do you stunt double as well as rig on a film?
SHEA: For the films I mentioned I did. If you’re a main stunt double, sometimes that’s all you do, although if there’s a bit of time left you can go off and rig and set up for other stunts that are being prepared. So basically we rehearse the stunts, and then move them into the set or the location, and then they’re ready to go.
MATRIX: Does THE MATRIX play into amplifying the complications on some of these stunts?
SHEA: Oh, definitely, the rigging that is involved is incredible. For simple flying rigs you always have to have a backup, and then a backup upon that backup, just so we’ve taken every risk and every precaution necessary to make it as safe as possible. If a shot involves a simple person flying from A to B, a lot of the times we can’t put the truss or the equipment on the set itself, so we have to transport it all up to the roof and make sure it’s all secure and tight. So just for doing a simple move of maybe even half a second, there’s a lot involved and a lot of rehearsals. It gets only more technical for a bigger stunt or a more difficult stunt.
MATRIX: What were some of the most challenging things you worked on for the first film?
SHEA: The whole thing was challenging. I suppose it was probably the biggest production I’d ever worked on, and the scale — there was such a wide variety of things to do. We had to learn a lot about the rigging aspect of things, and blue screen, and keep in mind what was going to be deleted with the computer enhancement work and how those scenes would be filmed. It was a huge challenge.
The sequels seem like three times as much. It’s bigger crews, bigger rigs, and bigger setups. They’ve taken what we did for THE MATRIX about five times higher; it’s like go for it, let’s try to blow their minds apart and really surprise the audience. I think because we set such a high standard on THE MATRIX, we want to blow the audience away again on RELOADED, so we’re trying to beat it, which is another challenge in itself. That’s the challenge everyone has set for themselves, to make it better than number 1, which is really exciting. It has meant improving the flying effects and the stunts themselves, whether that meant working with the Special Effects Department or the computer guys [in the Visual Effects Department], or just coming up with new timing schemes for setting off pyrotechnics and things like that. It’s going to be unreal.
MATRIX: The Government Lobby scene was a key scene in the first film.
SHEA: Yes, there was a lot involved, and working with the Special Effects Department was very important. There were lots of rehearsals so they could work out the timing and know exactly when to set off which pyros, whether it was on the body themselves as squibs, or whether the pyrotechnics were on the columns.
The safety aspect became an issue again with them using our movement as their set off triggers for the pyros, so they could feel confident we weren’t going to turn around and look into a pyro or anything like that. So that was really challenging; a lot of technical work was going on. I helped out in the rigging aspect of things, as well as helping with the guys inside the set at the same time. It was pretty full on.
MATRIX: What was it like to be in the middle of the bullet hits when you doubled for one of the Agents in the office sequence with the helicopter?
SHEA: That was unbelievable. We were actually in a huge soundstage, looking outside a window with the backdrop there with all the lighting; it really felt like you were inside a city skyline. And seeing this helicopter come down on these huge cable rigs, it actually moved like a real helicopter; it was quite freaky, it really felt like you were there. With the sprinklers coming on and all the gunfire it was just an absolute mess in there, total chaos. But it was an unbelievable experience.
A lot went on in that shoot; bullet hits were going everywhere. I think I ended up having eighteen squibs on my body, by far the most squibs I’ve ever had, so that was a good experience. You really try and get the timing right on something like that because you knew it would be a long setup again if you messed up. That was challenging, we were very nervous, of course, making sure that we were all set up to be blown apart, and then you had to let your body go at the exact right time. They were using little air cannons as well, so there was a lot of intricate timing involved. I couldn’t even begin to count how many things were going off at one time; it was a pretty busy set.
MATRIX: Did the water add any complications?
SHEA: I think it did because it inhibited your visibility. With water from the sprinklers coming down as well as the air cannons going off and spraying water up at you, it was quite difficult to work out where you were and who was doing what at a particular time. We tried to work out cues for ourselves, whether it was a verbal cue or whether it was watching somebody else do something. There was a lot involved so you had to work out what was going to work for you; if it didn’t because of everything else going on you had to figure what else you could go off.
MATRIX: How many takes were done for that scene?
SHEA: I think we did it in two or three takes. We did the full on setup, and then of course we went into close-ups, but as a wide shot, two or three takes.
MATRIX: Second Unit would have done a number of shots for that scene as well; what were some of the differences between working the First Unit and the Second Unit?
SHEA: Second Unit for us is probably more involved; First Unit, or we sometimes call it Main Unit, works mainly with the actors whereas Second Unit picks up a lot of the stunt action sequences. As the stunt crew we’re of course involved with Main Unit, setting up the actors with pads and equipment and going through their moves with them, as well as helping the stunt doubles for the leads follow the actions of the lead performers. But most of the main line action is shot with Second Unit, and that’s rather full on; Second Unit is probably where we’re at our busiest. With Special Effects, absolutely everybody is involved, so it’s not a small unit; it’s just more intense for us because the emphasis is on the actual main line stunts or whatever needs to be done for the Stunt Department.
MATRIX: Would you say the Government Lobby was the most complex stunt on that show?
SHEA: No, there were a lot of complex stunts in there. I think, overall, when the final product came out the Government Lobby definitely stands out to most people. There were lots of challenges, whether it was a simple flying rig that became difficult with a particular landing or look, or if we had technical problems or something like that. Each stunt had its own little challenges, which was probably why I enjoyed it so much.
MATRIX: Did you get a chance to do any action with Wo Ping’s [Fight Choreography] wire team?
SHEA: No, not a whole lot. They were mainly with the martial arts and [Hong Kong] wire team, doing kicks, climbing up walls, jumping onto the helicopters, going rooftop to rooftop, and handling the fliers and the impacts, things like that. So I didn’t get to work with them as much as I would have liked, but the two teams definitely knew what they had to do to get the job done. Where we did cross over everything blended in together rather well. They had so much to offer, and hopefully we had some ideas to offer as well. We sort of grew off each other.
MATRIX: What do you remember about the helicopter stunt?
SHEA: The whole helicopter sequence was fantastic. Probably one of the first things I actually did on set was harnessing up the stunt doubles for the hanging underneath the helicopter scene. For me, that was such a mind-blowing introduction to a huge American blockbuster. Once again, we put double harnesses on them, and then Kevlar [a lightweight, flexible manmade fiber with enhanced strength], cords, cables, and things like that so there was no way they could have been ripped or torn off.
Seeing two guys hanging underneath a helicopter flying through the Sydney city skyline was just amazing. I was so jealous! It was a lot of work to get everything synchronized: the sequence when Trinity shoots the rope, flies by and hits the window, the shot of the two guys jumping together, and the synchronization of the jump from the building to the helicopter. Coordinating all of that was a challenge in itself. It’s not just making the guys fly, it’s also making it look real, so we had to get our angles and body positions right. It was one of my favorite scenes.
MATRIX: How do you think the scene translated to film?
SHEA: Unreal. I was absolutely blown away when I saw it. When you’re on the technical side of things, and you’re actually there seeing the cables, you’re going, “How are they going to rub those cables out?” The post-production guys did a fantastic job. The final product was unbelievable. But it’s nice knowing at the same time how that was done, and it’s also very rewarding considering the amount of time that we put in. Seeing the final product makes it so much more worthwhile especially when you have such a great team tidying and polishing up; you can only do so much, and then you have to hand your work over to somebody else. When it comes back all cleaned up you feel good. It was well worth it.
MATRIX: I imagine you’ve also had experiences where the finished product does not hold up to what you would have liked.
SHEA: Not so much on this film, but there are cases where you put your heart and soul into something, or sometimes you just take a hard knock, and then you see the final product and it’s either been cut out, or it’s been edited in a way where you don’t even see the impact. Or they may have used camera B or camera C which you thought wasn’t as good an angle, it didn’t show the impact.
But they have their reasons. They have to emphasize the focus on something else, whether it was an actor and you’re just in the background, or vice versa. Sometimes it’s a bit disheartening to see that, but that’s the way it goes. You get the good ones and you get the bad ones, and it all sort of balances out.
MATRIX: Do you feel, with such a big payoff after post-production, that the energy and drive on the sequels is amplified?
SHEA: Definitely. Everyone in the stunt community would really love to get on this production; it’s a fantastic job. Obviously it has a cult following, everyone knows THE MATRIX; it’s one of Warner Bros.’ biggest hits. It definitely was something to be proud of; being part of the first film. Especially the transition from reading the script — which took me a couple of goes to really grasp — to watching the final product on the big screen. When I saw it finished I went, “Oh right! That’s how it all fits in!” It became very easy to understand.
It was, for me, a complex script to read at first. I like to get into the reasons behind what is going on. Why are we doing this? Why is that actor going there? For what reason is he taking a hit? How come they’re jumping and falling and taking knocks? It all helps the energy of what we have to do. Seeing the final product just blew me away; it became so easy to grasp.
So after seeing such a fantastic end product, a lot of guys definitely wanted to get in on the sequels and be able to say they worked on THE MATRIX. It’s definitely a huge credit to have.
MATRIX: There’s working your hardest, though, and then there’s having your heart in it.
SHEA: I think even on MATRIX 1 everyone had their heart into the film. They were really striving for something, and I think the Brothers gave off that energy. They put so much energy into even the simplest rehearsals; they’re so comical and alive, getting right into it and going through the action and shooting each other.
That was a job in itself, just putting down mats and getting knee pads for them because they’d get so into it, and seeing the directors getting so into their characters and what they wanted to see from the scene made all of the crew behind them realize how hardcore it was going to be. That energy went right down the whole line, from us to the Special Effects Department to the Visual Effects Department. I think the combination of seeing such a fantastic result and seeing the Brothers, who are such great guys, doing so well makes you want to give your all.
I think a lot of people here feel the same way; walking around you can see they’re working so hard with their heart and soul into it. The hours that they’re doing, the energy and effort that they’re putting in making everything absolutely perfect is what is really nice to see. Each department also has a slighter larger team, so I’ve noticed the whole perspective thing has grown. It’s like your normal film crew on the first one, doubled.
MATRIX: What do you think the expectations are for a scene like the Hel Club Coat Check sequence, in comparison to the Government Lobby from the first movie?
SHEA: Basically bigger and better. The lead characters enter, and then the guards and the other characters, instead of just hiding, literally start flying up on rooftops and hanging upside down and blowing things to smithereens. We’ve got huge martial arts style fight scenes and guns galore, and bullet hits everywhere. It’s absolute mayhem, and all I can say is, it’s going to be bigger and better. It’s good to be a part of it.
MATRIX: Larry and Andy’s style when it comes to covering action seems that they’re not into cutting it up or close-ups.
SHEA: As far as what I’ve seen before, they like to get as much in as possible in the wide shots, and when it comes down to it zoom in onto whatever needs to be focused on. They definitely love their action, so that certainly helps the Stunt Department because we love it too. And, as I said, to give them what they want is quite rewarding because they feed off that as well. The communication between the Stunt Coordinators and the Brothers is pretty important because what they hear we hear as well. So if something is not quite right, or they need a harder impact, or that looked a bit soft and they need a bit more oomph into it, that’s something that we need off them as well.
MATRIX: How specific are the Directors in communicating what kind of action they want?
SHEA: Very. Sometimes they like to have a bit of a look and then they’ll get back to the Stunt Coordinator who will relay their messages to us, saying they need it harder or faster, or maybe to slow it down for some particular reason. You don’t really know why it’s going on, or what is happening at that stage, but when you see the final product on the split screen or even on the big screen, it makes sense. The Directors have set things in mind and the whole film in their heads, so they know exactly what cut is going to go with what, whereas we’re a bit blind at that stage of things. The way they develop it and bring us through, and bring the best out of us is incredible — I suppose in the same way as they do with the actors. It’s pretty amazing how it all comes together.
MATRIX: What are some of the big events we can expect in the sequels?
SHEA: Basically we’ve got large setups for a lot of flying. In one scene we have these guys coming out with guns and then flying up to the rooftop. Some of them are spinning while some are running on the ceiling towards a lizard-type character on top of the roof, firing their machine guns. Then Neo and everybody come in and run us down. There will be a lot of flying and CGI work involved deleting cables and things like that, and we have a super cool flying rig [pitchfork rig] as well where we can basically spin, and twist, and lift up anywhere we like.
MATRIX: Talk about the preparation for the Hel Coat Check scene.
SHEA: The guys have been rehearsing this probably about a month now, and we’re coming up to the final days just before shooting. We actually rehearsed on a half-built alternate set; we set up the whole system and once we had most of our moves down we pulled it all down, let the guys build the set all over again, then moved in our final rigs. After that we worked out our final positions, rehearsed every move, and then we had to pull the sets down again and let the painters come in again to tidy it all up.
Now that all of that is done, we hope we can move in and set up what we need to set up. I think one of the first shots is the wide shot for their entrance, which involves four or five guys all disappearing up on top of the roof. That’s a quite complex rig; we have about five to six guys on each person, just pulling cables and being able to lift them, and then tracking them along the rooftops, and of course the stunties themselves performing. So it’s quite complex, with everything happening at once. I think that whole shot will take around about two seconds.
MATRIX: How difficult is this set to redress?
SHEA: Well for us, cable-wise, it’s not too difficult. It’s probably going to take more time with wardrobe and doing squibs, especially all the pyrotechnics involved in the pylons and the walls and ceilings themselves. For us, there’s obviously resetting cables and weights and counterweights and things like that, and there’s also our safety checks and making sure the guys are feeling comfortable.
MATRIX: Thanks very much, Shea.
Interview by REDPILL