Written by Carrie Shaw for Stunts Unlimited October 22, 2020
ABC recently broadcast the series finale of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, capping off 136 episodes and seven years of the highly acclaimed and action packed superhero television series. Bringing the Marvel universe to television could be no easy feat, so I sat down with AoS stunt coordinators Tanner Gill (SU) and Nick Brett to get their perspective on designing big action for the small screen.
TANNER GILL: “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was Marvel’s first attempt at television, so it was quite a production. ABC, Disney and Marvel gave it a big kick off. Stunts Unlimited member Eric Norris (SU) was the stunt coordinator for the pilot and I stepped in at the end of episode 2, so I just walked into a whirl wind – wall-to-wall action every day, multiple units, a lot going on and we somehow we not only got through it, we mastered it and with no serious injuries in the seven seasons of the show.”
Stunt Coordinator Tanner Gill discusses car stunts for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
TANNER GILL: “Every week a new script would come forward and we would say, ‘Wow, we are going to shoot a movie for television!’ and we did that every 8 days. We had the big budget to do it and our production team and executive producer Garry Brown were really stunt friendly – they allowed us to do the work and gave us the assets which really made a huge difference. I think you see that in the production value of the film, ha ha, excuse me I mean TV show.”
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Stunt Driver Lance Gilbert, Stunt Coordinator Tanner Gill, FX by Gary D’Amico
TANNER GILL: “Our production was fight intensive daily. We were honored to have some of the top creative fight choreographers in the business over seven seasons. The show was a huge success in great part due their incredible contributions and dedicated professionalism. TEAM and Brothers all!
JJ Perry (SU)
We all stood and met each days challenge as a TEAM!”
NICK BRETT: “The complexity of stunts in this age requires much more pre-planning and visualization than it did in the old days of bar room brawls, not to put down any type of stunts, but with the advanced technology of stunts, practical and visual effects and the viewing audience who has become accustomed to and wants that type of complexity, planning is key.
I use a 3-D rendering software called SketchUp Pro. For years I did hand drawings for Kenny Bates on decelerators coming off of buildings. The technology didn’t become available till the early 2000’s and I just starting learning how to use it, it’s changed everything. Programs like these made it so we could do a show like S.H.I.E.L.D.“
3-D renderings of action sequence for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. final episode using SketchUp Pro
NICK BRETT: “We can put together these renderings and show the director exactly what the gag is going to look like with all the pieces in place and then they can sign off on it, all of us in agreement of what we are doing and what it’s going go look like. Without that, you might get to the set day of and show the director what you are doing and that might not be the vision the director had because they were unable to convey that vision so that was mutually understood. Making any serious changes day of just isn’t going to happen.”
Stunt rehearsal for the final episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Dress rehearsal of action scene, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. final episode
TANNER GILL: “The stunt sequences are all so diverse, each one had its moment in planning, whether you are coordinating or performing. I really have a hard time narrowing the most difficult one or one I am most proud of. Nick and I have done quite a bit of complex wire work, car work and fights over the years.”
“One stunt sequence that stands out is when we had to accelerate Jason Sweat, who is 6’4”, into the back of a Lexus SUV from 12’ away. If he was too high he would hit his head on the roof and that could end badly, if he was too low he could break both of his legs and if he was too deep he could break his neck, so it took a lot of time in planning and computer modeling and rehearsals and we because of all that planning and preparation we were able to pull it off. I am very proud of Jason for all of that.”
Stuntman Jason Sweat rehearsing a ratchet into an SUV on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Jason Sweat stunt doubles for actor Henry Simmons in Episode 311 “Bouncing Back” of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
TANNER GILL: “Another memorable gag, similar to the one with Jason, was when we had to fly a gentleman 35’-40’ to the 6’x4’ bed of a Model T pick up truck. Nick and I put pencil to paper and with Nick’s engineering and calculating, rehearsals and laser marking we were successful in achieving the results we wanted, which is really satisfying.”
NICK BRETT: “This particular scene was definitely high pressure – we launched that stunt performer into the back of a pick up truck from quite a distance into a very tiny space, especially for a 6’ person who wouldn’t even fit and it worked perfectly. For the wire work on that one I call it an accelerator decelerator. We are ratcheting someone up and then decelerating them on the landing, which allows for us to use just a small amount of foam padding instead of a huge pad for the performer to land on.”
Behind the scenes of Season 7, Episode 1 Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Daisy Johnson (Quake) VS Chronicom Hunter, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 7, Episode 1
TANNER GILL: “We did another fantastic gag that I just love, it was Hannah Betts running out of a doorway with a huge fireball behind her, her arm catches fire, we flew her 22’ across an alley way, bounced her off a wall and then down to the center of the alley. We did it I think three times without a hitch, it was beautiful.
TANNER GILL: Hannah Betts is amazing! She is a world champion skydiver and sky surfer and her husband Travis Fienhage is one of the best skydivers in the stunt profession. I brought her in as a skydiving consultant with no prior stunt experience and had her double for actress Elizabeth Henstridge for a skydiving scene and just really took a liking to her. She had great eagerness and enthusiasm to train and become a stunt woman and on our show, boy she did and it didn’t take long before stunt coordinators were hiring her. She was always one of my go to performers, not only for doubling Elizabeth, but other times when I needed a stuntwoman. Super intelligent, always attentive, always training on her own and making the best of a bad situation when things got tight on time or if there was a complication, she was always all go, no quit. I can’t speak enough about her talent and professionalism”
TANNER GILL: “The show was a great opportunity to give many diverse new stunt performers a first shot. Mellisa Brown stands out as one of my best. Her first job, like Hanna’s was working with us. Soon she excelled and was one of the doubles for complex wire moves and other stunts. By the end of the show I think she had completed more than 25 big wire moves. I am very proud of her and the professional she became working with the AOS Family. It feels great to have the honor to have a hand in bringing up the the new talent. They are an amazing dedicated generation. I’d like to thank them for their tremendous contribution.”
TANNER GILL: “Ming Qui was Ming Na Wen’s stunt double, she won an Action Icon Award for her performances on S.H.I.E.L.D. She was a Chinese National WooShoo Campion and has been a stunt woman for years, I have known her for decades. She was a perfect fit for the the show and always there, always ready and she did some brilliant work on the show.”
TANNER GILL: “Creatively Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. was just a fantastic adventure. We had incredible scripts written by the show’s creators and our team of writers and it was always a challenge, but we had great directors and incredible guest stars from the Marvel movies including Sam Jackson.
I mean everything from special effects to costumes – everyone pulled their weight and went above and beyond to make show something I think really special and the fans loved it and we did seven seasons and ended it well. A big thank you to all my Bothers and Sister in Stunts Unlimited. I’m proud to walk on any set in the world with them.
We had great leadership from our Producers, Writers and Directors. A tremendous THANK YOU to Jed, Marissa, Mr.Bell, Mr. Loeb and especially Mr.Garry Brown for your creative vision and your steadfast support of our Stunt TEAM. Thank you to the best Cast we could ever ask to work with. Thank you Clark Gregg. I admire your Leadership, sprit, professionalism, loyalty and craft. I’m proud to call you Friend. Until we all meet again!”