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Set Visit Report #5 - Stunt Coordinator Garrett Warren

Garrett Warren's eye patch is a funny thing: It's the first thing you notice when you meet him, but the last thing you think about after you've been around him for just a few minutes.

Garrett Warren and Jimmy Jax Pinchak
The Ender's Game stunt coordinator, known for his work on Avatar, Alice in Wonderland, and all three Transformers films, is one of the most sought-after men in Hollywood. He recently wrapped on the highly-anticipated Divergent in Chicago but when we first met him last July he was still null-gravity focused, all grins and a big booming voice that surely came in handy when trying to wrangle teenagers for scenes in the Battle Room.

Warren first read Ender's Game when his then 11-year-old daughter was assigned the book for school. "And the only reason why I read it was because I thought it was a really cool cover when I saw it," he told us, with a slight grin. "I have read Twilight, you know, she was reading Twilight for school, and she read The Hunger Games. So, I mean, I do fancy the idea that what she's reading... I'd like to know what she's reading."

"It has some really important lessons to be learned about growing up in the future, which I believe we are doing right now. I love the idea of the whole philosophy of war, and I think that was something that I learned at a later age when I was a fighter - I was a professional fighter - and I read the book Sun Tzu, The Art of War, which is of course required reading for an awful lot of business people in the world. [...] It's incredibly valuable to children as well as adults, so I liked that."

And it was his appreciation for Ender's story that made signing on to this project such a joy for Warren. "I've worked on some great films in my past, I really have," he nodded. "My career is fruitful, and I've worked on some things that are technically groundbreaking. This one's different. This one's amazing."

A Young Cast

Working on a movie with a primary location that is essentially a boarding school in space, the stunt coordinator had to work with a lot of young actors who had school, time limitations and bad days, but he found out that the cast was very eager to practice and rehearse, and in the end their flying skills far exceeded his expectations.

"When we first walked into this show, we pretty much go by the same limitations we always have with kids, and that is no kid should be in a wire for more than five minutes at a time, no more than thirty minutes of training a day, etc. [...] I have to admit, the kids did not want to get out of the wires. They had an awful lot of fun. They would find themselves time while they were doing shots to run over to where we were with our wires and jump in for rehearsals. So as far as our limitations, we really didn't have an awful lot of limitations. I'm very fortunate in saying this, because by the end of their training period, they were all very proficient at flying in these wires. They did it all themselves. So I can't tell you how excited I am for the world to see these kids actually doing their own movements, their own choreography, their own stunts, and their own action."

One day, he said, a couple of the boys became so capable that they were out-performing some of the professional  performers they had hired to help with stunts.

"That was Moises. As well as Aramis. I have to admit, Aramis grew to become amazing in a wire. Aramis was the showboat in a wire. Moises was the guy that would make you look at him and go, oh my gosh, he's weightless. He was able to animate his body so perfectly and show no pendulum or break in his core stability that you would think he's weightless. Aramis was the kind of guy that wanted to flip and fly and bounce off walls, and Moises just wanted to fool the world and make them believe, and he did. He was beautiful, the way he flew weightless. Everyone else did great."

"I can tell you that there was nobody that was bad in the wire; however, it took some people longer than others to try to get there. And let me tell you, we had Cirque du Soleil performers as their stunt doubles, but really I think that the job of the stunt people we had as their doubles was only to be their teachers, because they really didn't do the stunts for the movie. They were only there to basically make sure the harnesses were attached properly and then between shots they flew up and they went, ‘That was great, just animate your hand a little bit more like this,' and then that was all they would do. All the kids did it themselves; it was really good."

Training

Most of the kids walked on the set having never before been challenged in such a physical way, so before they were allowed on the wires, they had to undergo weeks of training, boot camp, and calisthenics to build arm and stomach muscles, as well as close-quarter combat training where they had to learn to "dismantle a person basically with their hands."

Space Camp © Summit Entertainment
"This is the greatest training I have seen in my life and been a part of in my experience as a filmmaker," Warren admitted, "The other training was wires. They were in wires for anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours. They were doing push-ups, calisthenics, they were doing core stability exercises with straps... It was some of the best training I've seen in my life, and the apparatus that we have was an apparatus that hasn't been used in this way in the movie industry before, so it's incredibly difficult. You have to have incredible stomach muscles and lower back muscles to be able to use this piece of equipment that we developed for this movie. And so all the kids when they first got in here were just dying, you know - 'Oh my gosh, this is so hard, it's hurting my back, ahh!' And by the end of about six or seven days, they were all brave. No complaints, they were all 100% ready to do whatever the stunt wants them to do."

They didn't just put the kids on wires to simulate null gravity -- they also developed something completely new which Warren described as the "closest thing to weightlessness you will ever be able to experience on this world." He called it a lollipop, a wire hung on an arm. The actor could be placed in a teetering ring which they could fly around the facility - anywhere they wanted, as far as a football stadium.

"While they're in it, they are able to manipulate themselves. Not someone else on a wire, pulling and tossing, no. They're able to touch something and float away. And they're able to spin around, and they have no wires associated with their bodies as well. And then we put air pumps on anything, so it was like an air hockey game. We were able to move this big huge crane arm that has them on this ring as well around the whole floor."

The Shower Scene

"There's a fight scene in there that I'm incredibly impressed with and proud of. And it's going on my radar," Warren admitted later, surprised when we all jumped to ask more. "Oh, you know the whole shower scene? How'd you know about the shower scene?"

How, indeed.

© Garrett Warren
"I have to admit, aside from the fact that it was a group attack, um... And I'm not going to give you guys anything to spoil, because I really do want you guys to see it in its entirety the way it's done. I think that it's a scene, it's filmed so well. Gavin did such a great job, and Asa and Moises did such an amazing job, that it goes down in the annals of history as a fight sequence that many people will copy, I think, for years to come.  Aside from the fact that they were kids, you know, put that aside, and it's a really good sequence. Your chops will be salivating the whole time watching this scene from beginning to ending, the way that it's drawn out, the way that it's transpired, it's really accurate, the way it's shot - beautiful shots, composed so well, cinematography."

The scene will also use movements taken from aikido, a Japanese form of self-defense and martial art that "employs holds and locks and that uses the principles of nonresistance in order to debilitate the strength of the opponent."

"It's learning how to make more or brush off you instead of smacking. It's learning how to take someone's weight and their momentum and use it against them," Warren explained. "It's constantly seeing someone, figuring out where their weaknesses were, and utilizing that against them. My hat's off to Gavin for wanting to use that for fight scenes."

He was as passionate about the project as we were and we could have chatted all day, but we unfortunately had to wrap before any of us were ready. It was time to explore sets, play with props, and chat with the cast -- a cast made up of a group of young actors Garrett Warren had become very fond of. 

"I think more important than anything was the fact that these are possibly the greatest kids I've ever worked with in my life in the film industry, and I'm not just saying that to be hopefully in your blog," he laughed, and so did we, but it was clear that he meant every word.  "I honestly believe that these are the greatest kids I've ever worked with, so my hat's off to Gavin for his casting process, and my hat's off to the producers for finding these kids because these kids are the next greats in Hollywood. And I'm telling you, whether it be the Al Pacinos or the Robert De Niros or the Natalie Portmans, they are IT. It's really good. So it's not just watching a kid run and jump and do something on-screen. These kids deliver dialogue. These kids..."
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