By Kevon Pryce
After a series of interviews with the most hardworking people responsible for stunts on the biggest shows and films at the box office, there is one thing they all had to say: “Atlanta has a lot of talent.” Over the past decade, Georgia has dominated production for film and television. This has allowed various departments in the industry to grow and expand concurrently. The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Stranger Things, and Doom Patrol all share one thing outside of all being filmed in Georgia. They all required talented, well-trained stunt coordinators and stunt performers to pull off some of the most epic action sequences to date. Stunts have a place in just about every production and without people like Monique Ganderton, Jennifer Badger, Thom Williams, Scott Dale, and Stanislav Shkilnyi we wouldn’t have these groundbreaking films and television shows. These 4 stunt performers, coordinators, and owner of an insurance agency all call Georgia home now after working here for years on end.
Monique Ganderton & Tom Holland
"After doubling for Bridget Moynahan on The Recruit, I did so well that she ended up calling me for I, Robot, which completely changed my life.”
- Monique Ganderton
HOLLYWOOD, CA - APRIL 23: Monique Ganderton, at the World Premiere of Avengers: Infinity War at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, California on April 23, 2018. Credit: Faye Sadou/MediaPunch
Describe the role of a stunt coordinator, and how does it change depending on the set?
There’s a lot to that too. So the role of a stunt coordinator from the beginning is you’re in charge of budgeting, hiring stunt people, and safety on set. After all of that, you’re still responsible for the designing of the action, or bringing a team together to design the action depending on the size of the production, hiring riggers, stunt performers, stunt doubles, fight coordinators, and at that point you’re basically a CEO of a corporation. Then having to take meetings with the director, having constant communication to make sure we get down to the style of the fight, go back to my team so they can choreograph something, then bring it back to the director to get final notes. But it’s all depending on the size of the production. Sometimes I’ll just do it all myself. The set is a nuance itself. It has its own personality. It’s really getting to know the people that you work with and adapting to their strengths and then having to fill in the gaps.
How’d you get involved with stunts?
I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada which is not a film place. I grew up very athletic. I took gymnastics and martial arts, track and field, and rode horses. When I was sixteen, there was a modeling agency that wanted to represent me to do mall shows. That was actually the first bit of performing I did. When I finished high school, I wanted to go to Toronto for a few months since there were bigger agencies there. I was able to get an agent with no clue that the film industry was booming there at the time. I started doing runway shows on television shows and for movies so I got to actually see a little bit of the filmmaking process, and it just completely blew my mind.
There is one job I got to see a girl do a fight scene. She shot some guys then kicked another guy and then she rolled down some stairs and I was like 'Oh my God, how is this a job?’ After seeing that, I knew there's so much more that's possible and so I started taking acting classes, started writing letters, and then rollerbladed to production offices handing out resumes. I had one stunt coordinator call me and he was like 'You know, that was a really long letter that you wrote. I wasn't sure if you're an insane person or if you are actually serious about this,’ and I was like 'No, I'm serious. This [stunt performing] blew my mind and I want to know everything about it.’ So he let me come to set and just watch some stunts for a couple days and I met some people and then was able to start training. Shortly after, that led to an opportunity for me to double for Bridget Moynahan.
What film changed the trajectory of your career?
After doubling for Bridget Moynahan on The Recruit, I did so well that she ended up calling me for I, Robot, which completely changed my life. I moved to Vancouver from Toronto and worked on that movie and that’s when I started working full-time. It was absolutely life changing. To go from owing money for rent to paying it all back. It took about 4 years after moving to Toronto to make it to that point. I always tell people it’s like going to University, don’t expect things to blow up the next day. After about 4 years of solid hard work, or maybe even 8, you’ll see results.
Stunt coordinating or performing?
I love all of it for different reasons. Sometimes I feel like my brain is melting after a big show and all you want to do is go to your trailer and someone knocks on the door and you're like, 'I’m ready!’ Then, off you go to get thrown through a table. Everyone claps and you're like 'Thank you, thank you, thank you so much,’ and then you go home. There is something so peaceful and wonderful about that even though you’re getting thrown through a table. Then again, I love coordinating because I know how to solve a lot of problems. I only step in if I see a need for it. I’m always helpful. I love hiring people, finding the best stunt actor that fits this specific role. I love the directing aspect of the role too. It's just a lot of work. It takes up a lot of time so I’ll coordinate a movie then perform on some things for a while, then maybe go back to coordinating a small show. It’s important to have that balance for me.
Why was it crucial for you to move to Georgia for your career?
I've always loved real estate and when I worked on the Hunger Games series I got to learn Atlanta a little bit and realized this place was so cool and the prices for property were great, but ended up not buying anything at the time. Then I booked Avengers so I knew that I was going to [stunt] coordinate Infinity War and Endgame, and that was like a three-year process at Trilith. So I started doing research and looking at prices for something I could buy realistically that's over 10 acres, that's within 5 minutes of this brand new studio. I found a place that was perfect. Since I had horses, dogs, and a cat in LA, I thought we could buy this place, keep it for 3 years and sell it after, since production was going to pay for housing. This was a perfect opportunity since I wouldn’t have to pay someone to take care of my therapy animals for 3 years. After the move, I ended up falling in love with Atlanta. I loved the idea you could own land for a reasonable price, having the accessibility to cool places around where I’m working, and I loved the people.
"I have had the most fun doing comedic-action."
– Jennifer Badger
You’ve been in the industry for decades; what are some things you’ve noticed that have shifted?
The stunt industry 30 years ago was very much the cowboy up mentality where we had the groundbreakers of stunts still around. It was ‘You suck it up and do the gag,' even if something felt off. I think that the younger generation is much wiser when it comes to having boundaries. A lot of the performers now are willing to lose those jobs or be blacklisted by a coordinator and their groups rather than endanger their lives. I also have seen more attention to safety as well as more individual performers taking responsibility for their safety.
How did you get involved with stunts?
Well I was a competitive athlete growing up with really supportive parents. I grew up mostly in Florida and a little bit in Chicago. When I was in Florida I started doing acting when I was thirteen. I started getting picked up as a lead actress on some shows for Nickelodeon and did some pilots for ABC. At 16, my mom heard about a stunt workshop down in Tampa, Florida, so being that I was an athlete and that I liked acting, she thought I might be interested. I went and everything they taught us was completely wrong. Of course I didn’t know that at the time but still had a great and fun experience. I learned about an audition for the Batman stunt show here at Six Flags Atlanta and the auditions were held in Orlando. I did the gymnastics, stunts, and acting portion of the audition and they offered me the job on the spot. Then I said something to the effect of ‘Oh, when does it start? Because I’ll be done with school around that same month.’ They then asked my age. After telling the producer I was 16, I followed up with bringing my mother up to tell them I had a work permit and that her and my dad were supportive of me. My mother came up to Atlanta with me that summer in 1993 and that started my career.
How has Georgia’s production boom affected the stunts department?
There are a lot more opportunities for a lot of people, all types of people from all different skill levels. It used to be you had to have a sports background to kind of niche your way in or you had to be part of one of those families already in the business. Now there's so much more opportunity here with Marvel because of the sheer number of people they need to hire which is a wonderful thing, but it also needs to encourage people to train and step up to become more diverse. We have so much talent here in all areas of our industry. We have way more training centers, both some that were started here in Atlanta and some that have moved to new locations like JAM, who came here from LA.
What do you love the most about being a stunt coordinator and performer?
I think I found that as much as I love coordinating action-action films, I have had the most fun doing comedic-action. For example, Pitch Perfect 3 had ridiculous fights and action that was just stupid and fun. I love when the director gives me creative license to choreograph the action. Then I get to present to them and it allows the director to cherry pick what they like and I just mold it because my whole goal is to support their vision. Sometimes they don’t know what their vision is until we start bouncing around ideas. As for performing, one of my speciality niches has become being a stunt driver, which luckily doesn’t have an age limit on it. Also, as long as I can double for these actresses and do water stunts, that’s all I aspire to outside of second unit
Thom Williams and Robin Wright
As a stunt coordinator how do you usually go about approaching sets?
First and foremost the main priority for me is always safety. My job is to make sure that everyone who shows up goes home in the same condition. There may be a little more bumps and bruises and a little bit of blood here and there, but safety is the key part of my job. I have to imagine any and everything that could go wrong so I could prevent it from happening. You have to know when to delegate and let your people you put into those positions shine and bring what they brought to the table up for you.
How has Georgia’s film growth directly impacted your career?
Well particularly for me, the move to Georgia eight years ago was family-related and I was already thriving in LA before. I will say Georgia has really done their incentives right. Coming from California, I was always going on-location working in different spots that were doing their own tax incentives and you saw a lot of places losing their incentives because they weren't managing it properly. One of the things I really looked into when I first got here is how Georgia was handling it and Georgia's been smart. They reinvested it in their youth, they built film schools, they put it back into the infrastructure by building soundstages all over the place so it was really done well.
At what moment did you feel like you made it here in Atlanta?
It was pretty non-stop the moment I got here. I got offered Red Band Society the day I got here. I went to New York for a few months to do the first season of Punisher and ended up with the opportunity to do Doom Patrol, which I loved the script for and got my DGA card. So the first season of Doom Patrol is when I felt like I made it here.
What’s the relationship between the stunt coordinator and director like?
A lot of the shows that I've worked on are more story-driven; they're not like these big huge nonstop action pieces like a Bourne movie. It's more like Class of ‘09 that I just finished recently, which was very intellectually story-driven so all the action had to mold to the story. I love getting into the creative process and not doing a stunt just to do a stunt, but to further the storyline. As a stunt coordinator and even more so as the second unit director, we have to sit there in all kinds of meetings with the directors, the writers, and producers. I spend more time with directors on shows than I do with my family, just trying to get the grasp of what they need and cater all the action to what they want. Also, since I’ll be directing the action, I spend a lot of time observing the director so when it’s time for me to step in to direct the action, our styles match so that the action doesn’t seem completely different from the rest of the movie.
You’ve been in this industry for almost 30 years either performing or coordinating. What’s the next step for you?
Second unit directing is a really nice direct path for stunt coordinators to have somewhere to go. There are a lot of directors out there, especially young new ones that don't know how to shoot action, so it's really beneficial to us and them because we have experience putting all this stuff together. A lot of times, even on the big shows and Marvel films, they outright tell a lot of their directors not to worry about the action; 'Our second unit person will take care of it.' It’s a really nice spot for us to go to level up and make some really nice DGA money. Ultimately I want to direct.
Thom on set of Doom Patrol
Where did your journey begin in crafting one of the go-to production insurance agencies here in Georgia?
I started out at SCAD getting a degree in film producing, went to LA to be a locations manager, then to New York to be a part of stunt crews, and then got an invite to Atlanta to build up the entertainment arm of an agency with no previous knowledge of insurance. I had enough contacts and knew enough people in the industry to give it a try. After a few years, I was able to start my company Akker, LLC. We’re based here in Atlanta and have an office in New York, and are looking to expand more offices across the US and worldwide.
How are stunts and insurance intertwined in the industry?
When it comes to stunts, it all comes down to the stunt coordinator. Any project that approaches us with stunts, we want to see proper stunt breakdown, get the stunt coordinator's information and resume because most of the time the insurance companies will do a conference call with the stunt coordinator to make sure things are in order. We’ll usually also ask for the scripts to get a good sense of the stunts being performed and follow up with our underwriter to make sure the stunt coordinator doesn’t have any claims against them.
What’s the process of securing production insurance?
I’ll take it back about two years. Covid changed the production insurance space very drastically. There used to be a lot more options for filmmakers in what we do. Now those options are very limited and it simply depends on the budget size and our underwriting reviews of the filmmaker and the entire project. We are saying more no’s than yes’ now because of social media, negative press, and because of claims that the producers, directors, even line producers because they just have lawsuits pending against them. The underwriting process is based on the experience of the filmmakers involved.
What is an area of growth you would like to see in Georgia’s film industry?
The industry here has been a great boom and a great help to us but we’re hoping that more infrastructure gets built in Georgia. Specifically more local financing based - not just 'Hey we're coming out of LA, we're going to come here for a few days, few weeks, few months, shoot the project, use the tax credit and just disappear.' Atlanta needs more people here like Tyler Perry who runs a lot of their operations outside of production here. Atlanta has always had a big music industry scene with a lot of it being homegrown and I’m hoping that’s the way the film industry moves. I’d like to see a lot of independent content that is backed by the bigger studios and financed through Atlanta because a lot of the financing here still is coming through LA.
How can first time filmmakers with no experience in larger-budget productions be sure they get insurance?
I think filmmakers in Atlanta that are trying to break into the indie space had a little bit more education of how the film industry works and how important it is, no matter what your budget is, to have experienced crew.
"I didn't need a
How did you develop a love for stunts?
Well it all started when I was about thirteen or fourteen, when I went and saw Smokey and the Bandit. I loved the action sequences and knew that’s what I wanted to do from then. I remember as a senior in high school I went to see the counselor to talk about my plans after school and I told her I wanted to be a stuntman. She thought I needed a backup plan. Right out of high school I went and worked on the movie Six Pack and have been doing it ever since. I didn’t need a backup plan.
What’s one of your favorite parts about being a stunt coordinator or performer?
I love giving work back to people. You know, when you get to call and say, 'Hey I got this stunt are you available?' When you get a phone call for work it’s always wonderful and I love doing that and being able to help other people. As far as performing, it's a different experience on every movie, but the driving stuff is fun. I really enjoyed doing the Fast and Furious movies. I just can't pinpoint one thing because there's different things you enjoy about everything.
Any advice for young stunt performers in Georgia?
You got to be innovative and learn and keep learning. You just can't stay in this mindset that I've learned how to fight for camera, or I’ve learned how to drive cars; there's always something new on the horizon that you can do with a car that looks really cool on camera. There's huge potential of learning every day and I would not stop reading or learning from somebody or just being around a set so you can learn different things that people bring to the game nowadays. Georgia has all the resources. You have teenagers doing Youtube videos and all the Marvel movies being shot here. It's all here as far as Georgia; you got mountains on one end, beaches, and everything in between. It's pretty vast what we have to offer here.