Rigging in Film: Behind the Camera With An Industry All-Star
By Mike Chalmers for Wire Rope Exchange
Many of the world’s most famous faces and personalities will garner precious amounts of camera time at this year’s 88th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. And the films themselves will, at least for a night, finally receive their just deserves.
What probably won’t receive as much of the spotlight is the enormous amount of rigging that goes into a Hollywood production. In fact, entertainment rigging is a world within a world, with its own celebrities, mad scientists, daredevils, and rock stars.
Oddly enough, WRE had the great fortune to track down one of the biggest names in the world of entertainment rigging (and in this case, stunt rigging), and ask him about the ins and outs of this “world,” and what it’s like to set up and operate rigging projects that comprise some of the most talked-about films of the year — films that end up on stage in envelopes at the Dolby Theatre each February.
Keir Beck is one of the most experienced and sought after Stunt Rigger/Stunt Coordinators on Earth. With over two decades of adventure sports and climbing under his belt, and nearly fifteen years at the helm of his own entertainment rigging endeavor, Beck has become a world-renowned specialist in the Stunt Rigging and Coordinating arena. His resume is a head-turner: Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions, Casino Royale, Superman Returns, San Andreas, Narnia, Pitch Black, Sherlock Holmes, Mad Max 4: Fury Road, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and many more.
In 2001, Beck started his own specialized rigging company — Inmotion Rigging — based in Arundel Old, Australia, with an additional location in Inglewood, California. Inmotion caters to the film and entertainment industry, working all around the world to provide creative and unique rigging solutions for both stunt and camera departments, game shows, live circus, and aerial entertainment.
We got ahold of Beck while he jumped through time zones between California and Australia late last year. Instantly likable, here’s what he had to say.
WRE: You’re one of the most notable names in the industry. Can you give us a quick run-down of your job description day-to-day, and how you landed within this line of work?
Beck: My title is either Stunt Rigging Coordinator or just Stunt Coordinator. Working on a film that is heavily weighted with rigging-related stunts means that on a day-to-day basis, I would be either designing rigs from the storyboards or pre-visualization, doing safety reports, overseeing rigs going up, rehearsing, or filming. With more complex rigs, there’s a lot of time just thinking about how you can achieve what the director is asking.
WRE: Before stunt rigging, your career, while equally cool, was somewhat different.
Beck: I started out as a tree climber (Arborist) back in 1987. I pretty much spent ten solid years climbing trees, rocks, and mountains around the world. In 1997, I started in the film industry as a stunt performer — just when rigging and wirework was taking off. The Matrix was out around that time and everyone was wirework crazy, so my timing was perfect. The rigging and climbing was something that I was fully comfortable with, and to me, that was an area in Australia that no one was covering. It was truly a find-the-hole-and-fill-it career move.
WRE: It wasn’t long before you launched Inmotion. What sets your company apart?
Beck: I started Inmotion back in 2001, and I’ve been steadily growing and expanding over the years into other areas of rigging, like suspended camera systems for sporting events, and film. I think what makes Inmotion unique is that we’ve always maintained the highest standards possible. Our self-imposed rule is: How can I do this better, or what have I missed? A clear vision on how your work is carried out is paramount — especially when you have someone else’s life on the line (so to speak).
WRE: Being in the position you’re in at this point in your career, what types of projects do you find yourself gravitating towards as an individual, but also as a business?
Beck: These days, I’m more involved with the concept and design of whole sequences, as well as working on films. I’ve discovered that the creative design side of rigging is my passion. From first hearing an idea and thinking, how do you do that, to seeing it through to completion, I really enjoy it. A great example is the opening to Casino Royale with the crane jumps.
WRE: And you probably know just about everyone and anyone in the industry. In terms of cable, wire rope, and other rigging equipment, who are some of the most reliable names that service the industry in your opinion?
Beck: I would have to say Jack Rubin & Sons (Burbank, CA) are the most reliable and have the most comprehensive range of rigging and stunt rigging-related gear. And their customer service is unmatched. Personally, I mostly use Tech-12 or Dynex Tech — which has the best heat resistance, so it’s more film-set friendly with all the hot lights and special effects. With other gear, like stunt harnesses and vests, the go-to brand is Climbing Sutra — a Las Vegas-based manufacturer. I bought harnesses from them for Mad Max: Fury Road in Namibia — sometimes up to thirty at a time — and their delivery was spot on every time.
WRE: Your resume is saturated with huge projects. What’ve been some of your favorites, and why?
Beck: If I had to choose one film, it would be Mad Max: Fury Road. Everything about this film was epic — the locations in Namibia, the distance between sets, and the sheer scale of the production. The crew was amazing and dedicated. I embraced the opportunity where there really were no limits to the scale at which creativity could be taken. Casino Royale was similar — and it must be said: to help create an opening sequence to a Bond film was truly an honor.
WRE: Everyone sees the “front end” of a movie, but what’s the back end like for someone in your position?
Beck: A stunt rigger’s job has two sides. There is the physical workspace side — planning and gathering production information and equipment for the job, and then actually doing the job — and there is the internal thinking side of the job — the idea development side. Everything is born from a thought. If there is one thing that I have learned about moving people around on the end of a piece of rope is: your one and only responsibility is to keep that person safe. The more you can manage risk, the more elaborate you can be. But without managing that risk, you’re boxing yourself into some scary conditions.
WRE: What was it like trying to mange that risk on a film like Mad Max?
Beck: We were working six days a week — up to twelve or fourteen hours a day. There was never any instruction to go small or play it safe. What comes with this territory is a silent agreement and responsibility that you will go beyond what is normal and do more than what you’re getting paid to do in order to achieve the goal, but also manage the risk. On Mad Max, George Miller wanted a bike under a moving semi-trailer truck where Charlize Theron’s character would be grabbed by the legs as she climbed into the belly of the tanker.
This stunt had to be rigged with virtually no margin for error, as the truck was on the move. It was one of those moments in life where nothing else exists other than what is happening here and now. Sometimes, with great responsibly comes great pressure. I felt it that day. But, you must trust your intuition and follow what it tells you to do. It is a subtle and almost invisible thing.
WRE: What would you say is a pretty standard checklist for you and your team when considering not only the day-to-day rigging, but exotic rigging for an incredible scene?
Beck: Checklists allow you to work efficiently without missing critical steps. It also helps with time management — as everyone knows, time on set is costly. A pretty important checklist for me would look something like this:
• Am I following a safe work method set out for this job?
• Is all the equipment required available and ready to go?
• Do I have the correct safety kit for myself to carry out work at height?
• Do we have our rigging plan in place?
- Have we informed the right people or departments of our work?
There are many more items to check, of course, but this would be a proper start. To conclude, I would have to say that even if you are the one coming up with the ideas, they’re worthless without the team to support you and help those ideas become a reality. We are, ultimately, that which surrounds us.
— Learn more about Keir Beck, his incredible life, and his stunt rigging services at www.inmotionrigging.com.