B.L.A.S.T. Off! A Day On B.L.A.S.T.
This is it! The big one! As far as introductions into the world of stunts and screen action go, you can’t really beat this one. B.L.A.S.T. certainly lives up its name, it’s high octane, thrilling, action-packed, and tonnes of fun. B.L.A.S.T. stands for British Live Action Stunt Training and is a literal crash course into the world of movie action and stunt performing.
Designed and instructed by industry leading stunt co-ordinators, the course is designed to run you through a series of stunts, all split into different lessons. It teaches you to both setup and perform a variety of stunts. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, but the emphasis here is always on safety. In the stunt world, you don’t always get the chance to practice, so as chief instructor Andreas says, “it’s better to get it wrong here than on set!”
Over the last two days, students have been put through a progressive course where they have been instructed in everything from standard falls, to stair rolls, to bike falls to high falls to 30 feet. They’ve practised falling down stairs and being smashed off a bike by an assailant with a baseball bat.
Harnessed up whilst they ride a bike towards the assailant, as he swings the bat, they are pulled off the bike and into the safety of carefully placed crash mats. Today, as we arrive at the soundstage of The Backstage Centre, is the last day of the B.L.A.S.T. course, and things are going to be stepped up another level!
The Backstage Centre itself is the perfect venue. Regularly used for film and tv, it’s also played host to rehearsal sessions for the likes of Clean Bandit and Muse. When you arrive, you feel like you’re entering a film set. It’s a huge room and the ceiling is a long way up, which comes in handy for this particular course. As the instructors set up the first couple of lessons, Andreas takes the students upstairs to the rafters to get a sense of the height. He gives them some advice: “If you’re not good with heights, get good with them.” Stunt work isn’t for the faint of heart.
Upon the rafters, there’s a floating floor. A wire mesh which holds you 55 feet in the air. Andreas gets the students to walk on it. The floor has a slight bounce to it almost like a trampoline. The students are then told to lie down and face the floor. Looking through the netting feels like you’re floating. It’s 100% safe, but there are still some nervous legs, including my own, as everyone cautiously moves around on it. What didn’t seem that high only moments ago on the ground now seems at least 10 times higher. When Andreas tells the group that he has jumped from more than double this height on Star Wars, you physically feel the admiration of the group grow for him. You have to have nerves of steel in this profession.
Feet safely back on terra firma, today's lessons are ready to begin. One half of the group is sent to do jerk backs, whilst the other half learn about airbag safety. The jerk back is an example of an explosive power stunt. The idea is that the performer should look like they’ve just been hit by an explosion or a super-powered punch. The students, one by one, get harnessed up, the harness is attached to a pully system with two guys holding the other end standing on a scissor lift.
When action is called, the guys jump off the lift which pulls the harnessed student up into the air and backwards, where they are caught by a set of crash mats. Just add some visual effects and it will look as if they’ve been caught in the blast on an explosion and thrown across the room. The other group are learning how to safely set up an airbag.
Andreas tells the students about a film he saw when he was young, Hooper. The film starred Burt Reynolds as a Hollywood stuntman. He would drive onto the set, get out of his car, jump off something, get back into his car, and drive off. Andreas saw this as a child and thought “Great, that’s the life for me.” The reality is quite different.
On set, you are responsible for your own safety. Yes, you have to have trust in those around you, but at the end of the day, you need to know what you are doing and ask the right questions so that you are sure that you can perform the stunt safely. The group learn how to set up a crash bag, check that it’s safe, and then learn how to dismantle it. Not the most exciting activity of the day, but one of the most essential lessons they will learn on the course.
The group then switch before the instructors reset for the next set of lessons. Andreas takes one half of the group to learn how to create a box rig. This is an exercise to make a quick stack of cardboard boxes which the performer can then fall into safely. It sounds simple, but a lot of detail goes into this from the thickness of the cardboard to how tightly they are stacked. It’s another essential lesson for any stunt performer.
The other half of the group go with the other instructors, and they practice falling. Standing on a platform ten feet high, each student has to step off and land on their back on to crash mats. I know what you’re thinking - that sounds easy. It’s far from it. Jump in the air and don’t travel enough, you run the risk of hitting your head on the platform, fling yourself off and you could travel too far and miss the mats completely.
This becomes even more tricky when you add in performances and flips. The aim is that each student should land directly on the middle of the mat. The students need to hit their marks from this height, as it only gets harder to hit the target the higher up you go, and it’s about to get a whole lot higher.
Once everyone is comfortable and confident with the falls, they are now ready to fall from an even greater height. The students set up an airbag in front of a scissor lift which platform is now raised up to thirty feet. The students are put in a harness before nervously climbing a ladder to the platform, where Andreas is waiting for them. Here they take their safety wire off, and Andreas leads them to the edge of the platform. For their first go all they have to do is step off the platform and make sure they land on their back in the middle of the bag.
Not everyone is so keen to throw themselves off the platform from that height. A couple of students get to the top and freeze. They get to the edge, and Andreas counts down from three, but when he gets to zero they still haven’t jumped. Andreas takes them back and has a quiet, encouraging word with them, coaching them through it, and offering words of support. Everyone does the jump. Those that are feeling confident start to add in dives and rolls, and even run through scenarios where Andreas pretends to have a knife to their throat and throws them off the platform
If the fall from the platform wasn’t thrilling enough, its now time for the grand finale of B.L.A.S.T. the quick release. The students are taken to the first level of the soundstage and harnessed to safety ropes. They are then dangled over the edge of the balcony, held up by only the safety rope with the crash bag waiting on the ground below them. Andreas and Tony make sure they are positioned directly in the middle of the crash bag. They must be almost 45 feet above the ground. It’s vertigo-inducing just watching them. When they are in position, Andreas looks them in the eye, and asks, “Are you good?”
The student nods.
“Not any more.” He shouts before pulling on the quick release of the harness and leaving the student to fall into the airbag below, screaming all the way down, but emerging from the deflated crash bag with a huge smile on their face.
Its an adrenalin-fuelled end to a high octane course. It's clear that this course not only offers some of the most important and lifesaving safety advice for potential stunt performers but each and every one here has learned something very profound about themselves and their ability to conquer fear.
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Created by 4 Jan 2019on