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by Donnie Rust

Even though the credit roll for the biggest movies take up a good portion of the film time, it’s easy to forget the amount of people it requires to make a big budget film nowadays. The biggest blockbusters are backed by the biggest companies, employing hundreds, even thousands of people behind the scenes responsible for making the magic possible around a comparatively small amount of cast. As the audience we don’t appreciate how many people it takes to get these big budget films to a suitable standard that will impress the ever changing tastes of the audience. Star

Wars is the finest example as the fight scenes in the original films were some of the best of the time and even today are of a highly entertaining quality but they dull in comparison to the speed and grace that we see in the most recent films. We got the chance to speak with the driving force behind it all. Nick Gillard is the creative and productive force behind those fight scenes that add the extra sharpness and sweetness

to our favourite action films. A highly sought after individual, his choices and creations have defined an entire industry and yet how it all started is not what you would expect. “I was brought up in the circus, bareback horse riding. We were called in to do a film in 1977 at Shepperton Studios called ‘The Thief of Bagdad’,” he explains, “I noticed that the food was free and that’s when I decided to make a career of it.” Since then he’s been the first choice stunt man for Mark Hamill in Star Wars Episode IV (New Hope) and amongst his movie credits are Sleepy Hollow, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones The

Last Crusade. He had a minor role in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith as Jedi Master Cin Drallig (“Nic Gillard” spelled backwards). Not bad, considering it was initially the canteen that attracted him to it all. “Free food. Yes please!”- Nick Gillard. Action films will always be highlighted by the fighting and stunt work. Little will keep an audience as stuck to their seats as a dangerous, visually spectacular fight sequence. As the years have progressed, our expectations have changed. In the seventies and eighties we looked for power and strength. Epitomised by Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris, the Americanization of films at this time had such a wide effect

that Jackie Chan, to break into the American audience had to re-shoot a number of his fight scenes in his most famous films to a different style. In the eighties it was the high kicking of Jean Claude Van Damme and the brutal yet graceful Steve Segal. In the nineties we wanted something faster, fluid and stunning, we wanted to see somersaults, cartwheels, wire work, CGI special effects and if possible someone in a trench-coat flying through the air (The Matrix and Blade Trilogies) and today we look for fight sequences that are realistic, direct and brutal such as Taken, Forgotten and almost anything to do with Liam Neilson. “The industry has changed considerably. When I started we used to do everything for real which was why the stuntman was so important, real high falls, real fires, real cars in real streets,” Nick recalls fondly, “Now because visual understanding is as important as visual stunning most of it can be achieved digitally, this is much safer but way less fun. You also have to pay for the food now.”

A brief browse on the internet will supply an extensive list of films that Nick has worked on as stunt choreographer or stuntman himself. He’s acted with Davie Bowie as his stunt double in the peerless classic The Labyrinth and worked with other A Listers such as Samuel L. Jackson and Ewan McGregor. With such a reputation, which was the job that stands out most in his mind? “The best shoot for fun was Amsterdammed,” he says, “I got to jump a 24 foot speed boat over a bridge.” Amsterdammed was a 1987 film and that very scene he speaks of can be seen on Youtube at Considering that this was done with no wires, no CGI effects, you can see just how much work, skill and guts it must have taken to do this. “There were also pretty girls there too,” he adds. Cinema, film and the technology available to view it all at home both advance the industry and create industries. Despite the shiny exterior, this industry has its fair share of ups and downs, what would be the advice of one of its

longest surviving vanguards? “It’s always been a tough industry, full of hurdles. You have to learn to jump them all, at speed, with your head down and your leading leg high.” One of the most notable changes that would be relevant at the moment is the recent changing of hands between Lucasarts and Disney of the Star Wars franchise. There is a lot of debate on this subject in the media at the moment and everyone seems to have their own opinion on the matter. Is it that we believe there are some things that remain sacred and should not be changed or are we hungry for a new take on this franchise which many of us have grown up with. “I think it’s good news, Star Wars is an institution and needs to be moved forward,” And what about newcomers to the industry, for the percentage of our readers who may be looking for a career change? I’m sure that many of us have seen the special features, Youtube clips and caption images of the stuntmen performing these incredibly daring and physically robust

stunts, and shaking hands with celebrity A-listers and dreamt of doing it. How difficult is it to get into the industry? “Would probably be easier to become a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist. Safer too.” One of the key factors it seems is that this is a landscape of diversity. It seems that Nick is always working, always busy, updating, coordinating and creating. Like many of the personalities we’ve featured at Endeavour it is not a place for the average thinker or the average doer. It’s one of those industries that if you’re meant to be a main player, you already know it. Now along with major Hollywood titles he has under his belt Nick has also kept the British public entertained with the likes of The Bill, Lovejoy and other such classic of British television. We asked him which he preferred: The big over the top budget movie in foreign countries or the nice and calm series at home? “It’s also nice to be at home, especially in Brighton by the sea. But I’m easy. Whoever has the best food!”

Nick Gillard  

Nick Gillard February Personality Feature

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