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Welcome to Awards Contenders. This month, SYFY WIRE is talking to the actors, directors, designers, and craftspeople whose work was featured in the best movies and TV offerings of 2019, and who are now the leading awards nominees. Today, we're speaking with the SAG-nominated stunt coordinator Monique Ganderton of Avengers: Endgame.
Proxima Midnight is a deadly supervillain — every Avengers fan knows that. What they might not know is that Monique Ganderton, whose body provides much of Proxima's movement, was also the stunt coordinator for the entire last film of the series. In that role, she was in charge of all those super-slam fight sequences — a real challenge in such a CGI-heavy film. Ganderton chatted with SYFY WIRE about the state of the industry, her favorite fangirl moment, and the importance of adopting a California surfer attitude.
I hope people are gaining a new appreciation for what stunt people do — not only with your film, but with Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, which is the story of a stunt double, with stunts coordinated by Zoë Bell.
I think it's amazing that two female stunt coordinators are nominated this year. It's pretty awesome. I don't know if that's ever happened before? Probably not!
Maybe someday there will be a year where all the nominees are female?
Right?! Oh my God, that would be awesome. I really liked that film. It definitely showed a version of a stunt person's life, for sure.
It seems there is an enormous disparity between the amount of pay and the amount of risk in stunt work.
Yeah. But there's another side to this. I've been like, "Oh, it'd be really cool if I could be more recognized and more supported," all that stuff. But then on the flip side, I get to be the cool kid on set. I am privy to everything that's going on. While the stars are in their trailers, I'm on the floor, or on the mat. I get to be a part of it, but also I get to be a fly on the wall. And if I make a crappy movie, I get to work again. If they make a crappy movie, they get tarred with "Oh, you make crap movies." There's kind of this buy-out for being famous. It's a high-risk lottery that they take.
Our field, it's really interesting, because nobody talks about money, and I actually love talking about it. As a stunt performer, it's very hard to make above scale, unless you're the double for a big actor. The maximum that I know of is double scale, which is still considerably less than what a lot of other people make. I talk to my male stunt coordinator friends, and I'll be like, "Hey, congratulations! You just got your first stunt coordinating job. What did they give you?" And he'll be like, "Oh, I asked for $7,500 a week, and they just gave it to me. Isn't that crazy?" And I'm like, "Yup." That's happened to three or four friends of mine, and they know that I've been building it up by hundred-dollar increments, from getting paid scale to where I am now, and it still isn't the same amount as what a lot of men just ask for and get on their first job.
Has the conversation about equal pay and the move to hire more women helped?
Yeah. There are a lot of 5050x2020 initiatives, where they are trying to get a 50 percent balance of male/female and across-the-board diversity. It's fabulous, and not because I'm like, "Women power!" It's not about that. It's about the balance. It's like, get all the bases covered, you know what I mean? It just becomes a better picture when you have multiple perspectives.
There is an amazing women-power moment in Avengers: Endgame, when all of the female superheroes share the screen together.
I know! I was such a fangirl, looking at them on set. I was like, "This is so cool." And I couldn't pick a favorite among them. Captain Marvel is like the ultimate superhero. She's the Superman of it all. And there's a lot of responsibility that comes with being that destructive. But then I love Black Widow because she doesn't have any superpowers. She's so smart. And I love Gamora. She's so feisty.
What's it like designing the stunt action for a film that has so much CGI? On the VFX breakdowns, it looks like you have all the Marvel heroes running in one direction, with like six people in mo-cap suits running at them just so they can maintain the right eye line.
As soon as I watched some of the animatics that the VFX did, I realized, "This is a super, super heavy visual effects movie." Clearly, they all are, but this is extraordinarily heavy. They're introducing the Black Order, which are these crazy-size people. Thanos, another larger-than-humanly-possible character. And we want all of them fighting human-sized people, and interacting with them. It just hadn't been done that successfully before.
I started going over to the visual effects department in my golf cart, and having them over on our stunt space. We would just sit there and ask them questions, like "How much does it cost if I choose to put wood on the floor so that she can wear her high heels versus her flat boots? What does it cost to replace them?" Or "We need people to jump on his back and struggle with him, but obviously there is no person that size." So we came up with a combination of shots.
We also had these body-displacement pieces done separately. If I needed someone to grab an arm and throw one of these big guys, we'd have this extra-large padded forearm, so that our actors could engage with something the size of Thanos or the Black Order. That was a good development, because before that, it looked like a really bad circus show. We had stilts, platform boots, everything, before we went, "This is really dangerous, and really stupid. So let's figure it out with the visual effects department and discuss what our limitations are." There were things that they thought would be difficult for us, and we would be like, "No, that's actually one of the easiest things."
Marvel doesn't keep all the actors on set for the whole shoot, so how much flexibility do you need to have when designing the action, in case someone isn't available? Luckily, you have stunt doubles that you can hide with helmets for most of these characters …
We ended up with this crazy, amazing database of action moves and fight sequences, because any given day an actor might be unavailable, and the night before a shoot, the Russo brothers could be like, "You know how it used to be Bucky? Well, now it's going to be Quill." So we just had to be ready to go. We just tried to be California surfer about it: "Yeah, man. All good. We got ya." Otherwise, you'd just go crazy.