Matthias Schendel and Stuntteam Germany
When Matthias Schendel and Stuntteam Germany appear on set, the camera operators usually choose a wide-angle shot to take everything in – and some TV heroes prefer to make themselves scarce. Stunt performers bring the action onto set, turning exciting stories into captivating productions. “Needless to say, the equipment needs to be as authentic as possible,” says the Nuremberg-native stunt performer and coordinator. “And, of course, we need to ensure maximum safety for the performers.”
With shows on ARD, ZDF, SAT1, PRO7, RTL and more besides, Germany loves its crime thrillers. From Tatort to Polizeiruf and a host of other sizzling whodunnits, the plots are almost always packed with tension and excitement. However, it’s the Hollywood-style action scenes that make them so gripping and captivating. Whether it’s wild car chases, brutal kidnappings, stomach-churning falls or menacing battles with monsters, stunt scenes are always a professional balancing act of pure camera action and realistic depictions.
Schendel believes authenticity is crucial. To help refine his presence in TV police dramas, he even completed a tactical training course with the SEK, the German special police operations unit. Plus, as a trained cameraman and photographer, he knows his craft from every angle. “It has been hard work,” he says – but his success has certainly been worth it. The Franconian stunt coordinator has even served as the stunt double for big Hollywood names like Brad Pitt (in ‘Inglourious Basterds’).
Schendel’s stunt team chat away on active duty, fight with beasts, serve as doubles for rogues and villains, leap from dizzying high-rise towers – and, almost unbelievably, the chief coordinator was once even buried alive in a coffin for an episode of Galileo. “That was borderline,” he says with a wink when asked once again whether his work had ever tested his limits.
COVID-19 has changed a great deal for the team. Hygiene concepts are now part and parcel of life on set. Everyone is vaccinated, tested and tested again. However, the stunt team certainly isn’t short of work, as a glance at their calendar over the last year makes clear.
It started with a Hollywood project and horror film called ‘The Listing’, filmed in and around a castle near Koblenz. The film’s director, Demetrius Jones, flew his team over from LA to the castle by the Rhine in order to capture the authentic atmosphere of the region’s forests. An old castle, cold rock, muddy outdoor sets and long days of shooting placed significant demands on people and equipment.
When it came to stunts, safety and special constructions, Schendel and his team were the first people the Hollywood producers called! “Our reputation has now spread worldwide,” says Schendel, with an audible note of pride in his voice. This film is the fourth major Hollywood project for the German stunt team, following ‘Guns Akimbo’, ‘The Colony’ and ‘The Matrix Resurrections’. Stunt performer Anni Nagel, wearing a set of green pajamas, flies through the air in the studio in place of lead actress Sabrina Lopez. Bob Snowman, the American on the stunt team, has also fought plenty of fights in the guise of a green monster and taken some heavy falls for his compatriots.
Schendel also delivered a breathtaking submachine gun scene for the motion picture ‘15 Jahre’ (‘15 Years’), with Hannah Herzsprung in the lead role. In ‘Der Welten Lohn’ (‘No Good Deed’), a recently broadcast Stuttgart-based episode of German cult crime drama ‘Tatort’ starring Richy Müller, Felix Klare and Barnaby Metschurat, Anni Nagel provided an unmissable performance. She played probably the most famous role in German television: the dead body on Tatort! Her performance included a spectacular fall down a steep wooded bank, captured from every angle by mobile Steadicams.
In fact, the team has also provided stunts for ‘Germany’s Next Topmodel’ and one of its main sponsors, Jochen Schweizer, on several occasions. “We were asked to secure one of the models, Yasmin, to a helicopter,” says Schendel. However, because flying and hanging from the helicopter for the proposed shoot would have been too long and stressful, the stunt team moved the scene into a green-screen studio, where they hung the helicopter skids from the ceiling and suspended the model from a sophisticated hanging system. “Everything was set up so that her arms were hanging at exactly the same height as the skids, which made the effect of hanging from a helicopter absolutely realistic,” says Schendel.
Of course, Yasmin did not want to miss out on her helicopter ride entirely, and in the end, it was still possible to snap a few shots a little way off the ground. Stuntteam Germany were on hand to ensure everything was safe, and Jochen Schweizer was on board as a special guest.
Like anyone else, stunt performers like to have fun. It’s just that their version of fun means setting off a chain reaction in a supermarket that sends aisles of shelves tumbling down, buries customers and leaves an electrician dangling from a shelf – and, naturally, it’s only the special-effects professionals in the hazardous area.
After all, as Schendel says: “safety is the top priority in our job”. With this in mind, the chief coordinator and his team leave nothing to chance when preparing the set, getting the shots and putting the right equipment in place. In this job, it’s only when everyone goes home safe that you’re a true hero.