Stunt Coordinator Mike Gunther Talks TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Working with Mark Wahlberg, and Stunt Training, Plus Bonus Michael Bay Comments

     June 24, 2014


In a movie like Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction, the poor human characters are expected to keep up with the 30-foot-tall, super-powered robots in relentless action scenes.  Tasked with getting the actors in shape and shepherding them through these challenging sequences is stunt coordinator Mike Gunther, who took time out of his busy schedule to talk to our visiting group of journalists.

While the crew was setting up a massive stunt sequence most of the day, Gunther talked to us about the variety of stunts on display in this film, working with Mark Wahlberg and Bay, training the actors for the stunts, performing practical stunts around the spaces where the robots will eventually be added in, and the process of shooting these action sequences.  Hit the jump for the full interview.

transformers-age-of-extinction-interviewMike Gunther: This has a little bit of everything: car stunts, high falls, fight sequences, Parkour sequences. It’s everything. You’re moving from city to city, which makes it a little harder, logistically, because you’re not just locked down in one place. You’ve got to get up and move. 

Question: What’s changed for you with Mr. Wahlberg compared with how you’ve made action before?

Gunther: You know, I think he’s one of those guys that’s just the go-for-it guy. He wants to do all of his own stunts. For me, it’s kind of hard to hold him back and be like, “Hey, you can’t do this,” because of insurance reasons and stuff like that. But he’s more of a go-for-it kind of guy, so he makes my job easier because that’s what audiences pay to see: him doing his own stuff. 

Do you put the new kids through their paces too? This is sort of their first big action movie.

Gunther: Yeah, my team trained them for about four weeks back in LA to get them up to speed on what they were going to face in this movie. 

So what is the prep for you on the Transformers movies? How soon were you talking to Michael about what he wants to do?

Gunther: About 10 weeks before we started filming. Then it’s kind of a jump on the plane and I start tech-scouting all the locations, based on his notes and what he wants. We come and logistically figure out how to put that together, then we report back to him and say, “We can or can’t do this.” “No” is not really an answer he likes to hear, so you just come up with solutions for him, and then he’ll pick and choose what he wants out of that. 

Has he ever done any, just to see if he can do them? Because he’s a fit dude!

Gunther: Oh, yeah, yeah. He’s into fast cars, yeah. He’s a go-for-it kind of guy, for sure. Yeah, he wants to be in the mix all the time. He wants to put his camera in the most dangerous spot he can, and he wants the best shots. In that aspect, that’s where he’s different. He wants to be in the pocket, for sure. 

transformers-age-of-extinction-interviewWhat sort of balance is there between getting stunt people in versus the actors. I mean, you talk about Mark wanting to do things, but at this point you could do face replacement on a person. You wouldn’t even need to bring them in, theoretically.

Gunther: Yeah, I guess, but I think that… 

Well, I guess I mean, how much — generally speaking, on this movie — how much of a balance has there been between using stunt people versus the actual people in those sequences?

Gunther: I’d say 90 percent of what Mark’s doing is him. Probably 10 percent is his double. But as far as the overall stunts… we just back into a safety factor to make sure that they don’t get hurt. 

We were talking to one of the VFX guys earlier, and he was saying that sometimes they want to do something with the Transformers or Decepticons and they’re trying something new with the VFX. He said sometimes they’ll get the stunt guys or the actors to put on a mo-cap suit and do something. Have you had any experience with that?

Gunther: This is my first movie. [Laughs] 

[Michael Bay stops by.]

He was just telling us that you’re not afraid to get in on the action.

Michael Bay: Yeah, yeah. 

Gunther: Yeah, he’s the man! 

[Long pause.]

Bay: You’re asking the tough questions. [Laughs] 

How much training time do you like to spend with the actors to prep them, you know, versus if they’re experienced or not? What’s your ideal timeframe?

Gunther: It depends on their skill level, to be honest. If they’ve never done action, we spend more time with them. If they’re known as an action, kind of fit person, then we can spend less time with them — depending on whatever the action sequence is. 

transformers-age-of-extinction-interviewYou were saying this is your first experience with the mo-cap.

Gunther: This is my first experience doing Transformers. This is my first Transformers movie. I don’t have experience with the mo-cap and that world for this movie yet. I’m sure when we get there I’ll be able to answer again.

Are your people involved in every single location?

Gunther: Yes, yes. 

Since this is your first film then, did you ever refer back to other ones and see what they’d done before, to take it up to that next level or see what the tone of it was?

Gunther: Absolutely. I spent a lot of time studying Michael’s work. He’s just at a pace all on his own, so we just hit the ground running. 

What is it like coordinating the stunts between the actual physical characters as opposed to the digital characters and having to mesh those two together, as far as action scenes are concerned?

Gunther: I just deal with the physical part of it. As far as marrying that with the robot world, I don’t deal with that at all. Those are plate shots, and that’s ILM — that’s their world. 

Do you have to work around that in some cases?

Gunther: There is an understanding of where the robots are going to be and what their action is going to be and how the practical person’s going to move and interact with that — absolutely — but that’s as far as it gets for me. So it’s actually exciting for me to see the end product as well, because I’m only doing half of something like that. 

Is there a sequence that you’re particularly proud of in this movie?

Gunther: I’m actually proud of this whole movie, because it’s been an amazing experience being able to work with Michael at this level. With no prior experience on the first three, it’s just raw for me all the way through. Every day is challenging. The bar is just so high. I don’t get much sleep, but I will in November. [Laughs] 

transformers-age-of-extinction-interviewWhat did you come off before doing this?

Gunther: Fast and Furious. Yeah, so I did 4 and 5. This is way bigger, way different, than those — and those are big. 

What did you start on?

Gunther: As a stunt performer, I started way back on Strange Days

Do you have a lot of women on your team here?

Gunther: I have a few women, yes. Whatever the movie needs, we facilitate whatever that means: ethnicity, women, whatever it is — and we’re trying to get the best people in the world to be a part of this movie. So their background’s from Parkour, professional motocross, professional race car driving, professional fighting — we’re trying to pull from all walks of life. The one thing Michael’s not going to settle for is average. You’ve got to be the best, or he’s not happy. 

How much do you adjust, whether preemptively or while you’re working with Michael, in terms of looks? Because you can choreograph a fight that looks incredible, and then he wants he to shoot it in a way that changes that.

Gunther: That’s a great question. The one thing I’ve learned on this movie, out of all the other movies, is that you have to have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. So you go in prepped like, “We’re going to do this.” It’s not that. He’ll come up with a better idea, and he’s constantly thinking to make it better. So you’ve got to prepare for more than one idea. It just makes the project better, but it is also more difficult for the stunt team, as far as that’s concerned. 

transformers-age-of-extinction-posterGoing off of that question, how do you figure out how to interact with these incredibly detailed sets that you have in front of you? Do you know ahead of time more or less what the set’s going to look like and what you can and can’t do?

Gunther: We do get a blueprint, but he’ll walk the set by himself, and he’ll formulate a game plan. He quarterbacks, “Hey, I want this to happen here and this explosion to happen here.” So he really quarterbacks what we’re going to do. So if we came in and said, “Oh, we’re going to do this and this” — he wants the freedom, I think, so he can make it better.

For more on Transformers: Age of Extinction, here’s our coverage from our set visit:

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