The Film Junkyard: Choreographing stunts

By Kavishna Wijesinghe


Known for his work on Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), Fury (2014), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and also on Zack Snyder’s Justice League as “Ares”, Nick McKinless: The stunt co-ordinator/performer spoke to Junkyard Theory about his journey in the filming industry.  

Nick revealed that, like everyone else, he was greatly inspired by the amazing TV shows and movies of the 80s: The Dukes of Hazzard, The A-Team, and also by the legendary action star, Jackie Chan. His desire to get into action films encouraged him to join with the National Association in England and the continuous hard work fostered an extensive reputation for him.


Nick McKinless speaking to Akash Sunethkumara

Preparing for stunts or disciplines 

According to Nick, training specifically for movies depends on the workload. Back in the day, training for films or TV shows had to be done alone and depending on the difficulty, they would be given massive prep time plus rehearsal. However today, rehearsing and training time has been cut down to facilitate more time for shooting. 

He also explained the complexity of performing certain stunts such as car knock downs and explosions which make it very rare to not get bumps or bruises. Stunt performers are insured by productions to deal with any injuries they sustain on set.

Nick added that stunts have to be impressive aesthetically but also kind of serve the story. As a stunt co-ordinator with over 25 years of experience, Nick always starts work with the script by pulling out the action sequences. He then injects the action, technical requirements, and required rehearsal time before scheduling the shoot. He prefers to keep the prep time less long, because having too much time could also make the spur go away and end up demotivating the performers.

“In Transformers: The Last Knight, there was a scene of 14 guys in the air at the same time (a time bubble sequence) and they took it in three takes.” Nick also stated that it was very fun and thrilling to work with Michael Bay, who he calls “a tornado of energy”.


Nick as ‘Ares’ in the snyder cut

Dealing with limitations and boundaries 

Nick says that dealing with limitations is about being able to adapt. For instance, in Nick’s short film Faith (2012) they had wire gags and a pipe ramp turnover, but they had limited takes. Even though he wanted to rely on experienced stunt performers, they were occupied with work. Therefore, he had to train a new crew. He says it paid off, as they are now top performers in the field and Nick is very happy that he contributed to their careers as well. 

He revealed that the idea for his short film came from the opening sequence of Casino Royale (2006), where Daniel Craig’s character chases a parkour runner and includes lots of jumping from heights. Nick says that he always wanted to prove the fact that size doesn’t matter for stunt performing. They had a week to prep and four days for the shoot where they did a great job in pulling it off successfully. 


Nicks short film Faith

Stunt doubling and acting 

Nick has doubled actors several times: Brendon Gleeson in the Harry Potter movies and Troy, but in the movies like Justice League, it was about portraying a character rather than doubling another. He reveals that when he was called for the character, it was a few days after a surgery but he wanted to work on the project where he was given a specific look to achieve by Zack Snyder. Zack wanted “paper-thin skin and veins like worms”, and he trained for months and had to maintain 6-7% of body fat which required tonnes of dedication. 

When asked about his opinion on the lack of awards given for stunt work in productions, Nick stated that he strongly believes the work should be seen, not heard, and even though the recognition is necessary, awards are not. According to Nick, the amalgamation of both real stunts and real pictures enhanced by CGI (computer-generated imagery) is the best. Productions like The Mandalorian, which has in-cam stunts, in-cam actions, special effects, and good technology all together is a great sample.


Advice for new stunt performers 

Nick encourages young people who are interested in stunts to be committed and to work hard towards their goals. “Have heart and passion for what you do and it will always benefit you.” 


The full interview with Nick is available on the Junkyard Theory YouTube channel and Nick’s work can be found on his website

Junkyard Theory is Sri Lanka’s first and only film education platform that brings on veteran filmmakers from Hollywood as guest speakers. Their webinars, hosted by Akash Sunethkumara, have been recognised on industry sites such as “No Film School”, and the team now runs film courses for upcoming filmmakers in the country.