‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Blindspot,’ ‘SWAT’ Stunt Coordinators Talk Importance of Safety

The Emmy nominees in the drama/limited series/TV movie stunt coordination category had challenges ranging from creating epic battles and burning a city (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) to flying stunt performers more than 700 feet off the ground (CBS’ “SEAL Team”). Every stunt comes with risks requiring precision, experience and a lot of trust — and not only between the stunt performers and coordinators. The entire production team puts its faith in stunt coordinators who must work safely, efficiently, and in a budget-conscientious manner — all while turning in work that inspires heart-stopping emotion. What is most important to these coordinators is safety; they take great pride in what they can pull off for the camera in scenarios allowing the action to jump off the page — and plenty of helicopters.

“The Blacklist”
As a stunt coordinator, Cort L. Hessler III feels he is best known for “real car crashes, real fights, real falls.” This year he is seeing his 11th nomination for stunt coordination, his sixth for “The Blacklist” alone (his sole win has been for this show in 2014). The sixth-season premiere included one of his favorite sequences of the series: getting bank robbers out of the situation in a “unique way, something we haven’t seen before.” His team dreamed up getting “the bad guys” into a dump truck for an escape, with the robbers shooting at the police officers chasing them. “Then [Red] pulls the switch and, as he’s flying down the road, the dump truck lifts its bed and dumps them out right in front of the cops as they’re speeding down the highway. It wasn’t a big, huge action piece, but it was fun and interesting — something different,” he says.

Blindspot -- Ep. 422 -- "The Gang Gets Gone" -- Photo Credit: Arnaldur Halldórsson / 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Five-time Emmy nominee and stunt coordinator Christopher Place is on the ballot in this category, as well as the comedy/variety stunt coordination category this year. This third consecutive nom for “Blindspot” is for the fourth season of the broadcast drama, in which he had to take his team skydiving in Iceland, near the top of a 2,500-ft.-high glacier, for the finale. “The winds were so strong, the jumpers had to exit the plane a mile away from the designated landing zone and let the wind travel them there,” Place says. “The issue was [that] a mile away, where they jumped, was over the highest point of the glacier.” The trust of his doubles and his actors — led by Jaimie Alexander and Sullivan Stapleton — is what makes everything possible, he says. “The more action sequences you pull off together, the more they begin to rely on you and listen. If I didn’t have the actors’ trust, work every day would be a chore, and I would need a new job.”

“Game of Thrones”
Rowley Irlam, the stunt coordinator for the premium cable fantasy epic, is certainly the most decorated in this year’s race, having won the statue each of the three previous times he was nominated (in 2015, 2016 and 2018). But in the final season he really had to pull out the stops to prove why this series has become such a lauded pop-culture phenomenon. “I think we’re known for setting people on fire,” says Irlam. And of course, there was no shortage of flames to work with for the show’s last run. Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) burning of King’s Landing required everyone to be set aflame. That presented a creative challenge because, ordinarily, they’d have stunt people wearing masks while burning, but this time they wanted to show facial expressions. So, they directed large fans at the performers, creating wind to push the flames down and away. “[The audience] had a much bigger sense of empathy for those people on fire — whether they were good or bad characters on the show,” he says. “They were people in pain and you could clearly see it.”

"Never Say Die" -- Coverage of the CBS series SEAL TEAM, scheduled to air on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Monty Brtinon/CBS©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“SEAL Team”
Husband-and-wife stunt coordinator duo Julie Michaels and Peewee Piemonte have each been nominated for Emmys in their field before, but this is their first joint accolade. They are proud to lead a team that leans on authenticity for the Navy SEAL broadcast drama. In fact, Piemonte says, one-third of their team, including “all our lead doubles,” is made up of real-life veterans. “Most everybody that played the part of a military performer was a veteran.” Michaels adds that many of the actors they work with who perform their own stunts are also veterans. “It felt like it was our duty,” she says of paying back such a community: Both Michaels and Piemonte come from military families.

"Trigger Creep" -- Coverage of the CBS series S.W.A.T., scheduled to air on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Bill Inoshita/CBS ©2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Stunt coordinator Charlie Brewer is seeing his first-ever Emmy nod for the second season of the broadcast procedural, but it is not an honor he considers to be his alone. His team starts with his family, including his nephew Austin Brewer, whom he calls his “right-hand man.” The two have worked together for 10 years, and Brewer says he would be nothing without him of the rest of his team, because the show is “fast and big” and “a handful.” “We started off the first episode hanging a stunt double from a helicopter off the highest building [in downtown L.A.], flying around and shutting down portions of [the city],” Brewer says. “It was the variety of action that we did [this season] that got the attention of the stunt community.” That included utilizing horses, motorcycles, trains and practical fire.

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