Hugh Aodh O’Brien
Hi, I'm Hugh Aodh O’Brien, stunt coordinator and producer (with Laura Davis) of A New York Heartbeat.
First a word about stunts, which are defined as any unusual or difficult feat requiring great skill or ability, and vary in size and scope, depending on the story. On A New York Heartbeat this action ranged from fight scenes to gun battles, car crashes with priceless classics to climbing up an eight-story building.
As the stunt coordinator, my job was to work with director Tjardus Greidanus to interpret the script and design the action to best deliver his vision of the story. We also analyzed the costs associated with each of the action sequences and re-worked scenes to stay within the restrictions of the budget and schedule because no matter what size the project, there are always restrictions. But, all that aside, the primary and overriding objective of my job is the safety of the cast and crew.
I take great pride in giving the audience a feeling that what they are seeing is real. To accomplish this task, I let the actors do as much of the action as possible without being irresponsible. I can honestly say that the actors did over 95% of all the stunts themselves.
One of the most memorable stunts was Spider’s climb up the outside of the eight-story Granite Building in downtown Pittsburgh. There were many challenges for the production with this sequence. The building’s façade was hand-carved in 1890 by Italian stonemasons, and there could be absolutely no chance of damage.
We solved this first challenge by using no cables or metal connections to the building, only specially designed soft attachment points still strong enough to hold over five tons each. Next, since we could not have our lead actor Escher Holloway climb higher than the first story, in one of the few places where we used a stunt double, we brought in expert climber, Tom Prigg, who closely resembled Escher.
Additionally, to simulate the act of free climbing up 5 stories while still keeping Tom safe, we set up a modified Top-Rope system that removed slack as he climbed so he couldn’t ever fall more than several feet before catching him. This system ran from the climber up to the top of the building, then back down to the ground out of sight of the camera so that we could watch and safety him at all times. We used a special rope called Tech 12. At only 1/4” diameter, it is virtually invisible to the camera at night but strong enough to hold over three tons. Because of all the planning, we got the shot in one take!
For over 27 years, I've been performing and coordinating stunts for movies and TV. I dreamed of doing stunts since I was eight years old and feel blessed to be making my living doing what I love!