Focus on Philli Anderson

Hailing from Sussex in the UK, Philli has made a name for herself as a stunt performer since arriving in Australia a decade ago. If all goes according to plan, she’ll become Australia’s first fully fledged female stunt coordinator. A familiar face at Docklands Studios, she stopped for a chat as her work on The Whistleblower wrapped up.  

How did you get into stunt work?

Well I didn’t really mean to! I came over from England as a dancer and that industry isn’t as strong here as in England so I got in touch with a stunt coordinator instead. After the first meeting I said I want to be the best in the world at this, and he just said “we’ll see”! Through every step I’ve been supported by everybody in the film industry. I’m not sure how I’ve ended up here but it’s great.

Is that a weird transition from dance to stunt work?

Well it’s kind of irrelevant how you get into it because the scope of what we do in stunts is so broad. One day you can be in the water and the next day you’re jumping off a building or setting yourself on fire or crashing a car or doing a big fight sequence. So whichever path you come in by, you still have to expand your skills base and your knowledge so it’s about what you do once you get the opportunity.

How many productions have you worked on?

A fair few – easily over 50, most in Melbourne and a lot at the studios. For us as an industry it’s great to have a base here (at Docklands) because we know everything about the studios and where every department is – little things like where all the points are, how to access the grid, the best pathways to move our equipment.

You must have had a fair few injuries?

The least dramatic was the worst injury! I took a bit of a knock (to the head) and went to sleep for a bit. It was in the silliest of situations. You do so many crazy big things and then when you least expect it something happens but, touch wood, we’ve got a really good safety record here in Victoria and we have so many protocols to go through to stop injury. I think I used to be a lot more nervous in the old days. There was one stunt in particular that kept me awake where there was a big explosion and I was wrapped in a wire and as the explosion went off I went up through the flames and landed on the ground with no mat. And we don’t usually get a rehearsal immediately before the shoot – maybe the day before but not on the actual day. We have a saying, “eat a cup of concrete for breakfast”!

The Whistleblower is a Chinese-Australian co-production, how do you manage the language barrier?

Hand gestures, lots of thumbs up! There’s always a way and I guess that’s what makes it fun and you have to know they know what they’re doing, and be able to communicate with them if they’re not happy with something.

How long before you’re a fully qualified stunt coordinator?

If I qualify as a stunt coordinator it will have been a ten year process which is the minimum amount of time you need. I have to get another 12 months experience of being an assistant stunt coord first. Whistleblower is the biggest production I’ve worked on as an assistant stunt coordinator.  So I’m in charge of putting the safety elements in place and making sure all the workplace requirements are met. A lot of work is to do with casting, getting a double that’s a match for the actor, finding creative ways to do stunts. Ultimately you want to get them to do as much as they possibly can within the realms of safety. So we don’t want them to jump off a building or anything but we’ll get them up to the point where a trained professional takes over, and in order to do that we have lots of safety protocols and ultimately they can say “no I don’t want to do that” or” I don’t feel safe”.

Stunt performers are not recognized in the Oscars? Is there’s a campaign to change this?

Ultimately we’re the people that aren’t really there! Actors like to say they’ve done their own stunts and to a point they do, but they’re all worked out by a stunt team and the more complicated elements done by the stunt team. We’re the ones not to be seen. You have to know that someone else is going to take the glory!

Thanks to Genevieve Stanley for assistance in compiling this article.