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Odd Hollywood Jobs: Set medic

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Set medic Tony Whitmore with Jackie Chan.
Courtesy Tony Whitmore
Set medic Tony Whitmore with Jackie Chan.

When films include a lot of action, and really big stunts, sometimes, people get hurt. That's why you need a set medic. Medic Tony Whitmore has worked on films ranging from "The Hangover" and the "Amazing Spiderman" to "Bad Teacher" and "War of the Worlds."

Time for another installment of our series on Odd Hollywood jobs, which looks at the gigs behind-the-scenes that help make the movies. 

When films include a lot of action, and really big stunts, sometimes, people get hurt. That's why you need a set medic. Medic Tony Whitmore has worked on films ranging from "The Hangover" and the "Amazing Spiderman" to "Bad Teacher" and "War of the Worlds."

Whitmore joins the show to talk about how he got into this corner of the business. 

Interview Highlights:

On how he got into the profession:
"I'm a lifeguard with L.A. County and have been for a number of years. A friend of mine was a production supervisor and I had worked on something as a lifeguard and the medic said, 'You really ought to look into this as a career.' I approached my friend and asked her how I got into it and she told me that she was on a movie. They hadn't signed their contract yet and I could come in and fill out my start work and when the movie flipped and became union, then I would be on the payroll and I could continue to work. Get the 30 days that one needs to get in order to qualify to join and that was how I did it. That was 17 years ago."

On what a typical day looks like:
"I have a large cart that has all my medical supplies on it and it's set up so it's accessible by the crew. I will station myself next to the cart and open it much like someone opens their business for the public. The crew knows where the cart is. They know that they can help themselves and I'll go around and say hi to everybody and see how they are doing. People approach me if it's a Monday, something may have happened over the weekend that they would like some treatment for and then settle into the day. Usually, I will hang out with the video assist so I'm close by and know what's going on on camera."

On the most challenging moments of the job:
"Usually when there is going to be a stunt involved in filming and the stunt coordinators that I have worked with have just been tremendously professional, very well prepared. Infrequently have I witnessed any accidents because of the preparation that the stunt people have put into it. But there is some tension because it's an accident.

"We don't know what's going to happen and anything could happen and occasionally it does if it's a stunt where somewhere is going to go through a glass wall. For instance, we had this on "Captain America" and there's a lag between when the stunt person is going through the glass and when the special effects people will fire off the squibs to break the glass. In this on particular case, the actor, the stunt person, went through the glass a little early so he hit it full force, it broke after he hit and he sustained some cuts to his hands that necessitated going to the hospital for some stitches."

On the worst accident he has ever seen:
"The worst accident I have ever seen, we were doing reshoots on a movie in Palos Verdes at a location where all the equipment needed to be helicoptered in because it was difficult to get to the actual location. The shot involved a boat being pulled on to the rocks, it was empty, by another boat using a line piece of rope. What happened was that they had just recently developed this spectra-line, which was super terrifically strong. It was mounted to the bow of the boat with a false bow eye so you couldn't see it and they could take it out in special effects.

"In the first take, the boat came on to the rocks and the line was cut by the barnacles on the rocks. I was standing next to the stunt coordinator in line with the rope. And it recoiled, but not like a steel cable so I thought, 'I'm going to move because I don't want to be here even though it's not steel cable'. He elected to stay in that position, reattached the rope, they decided they want the boat to come in hotter this time, faster. Unbeknownst to them, on the first take it has weakened that bow eye so when it came in faster and it hit the rocks again, the piece of pipe to which the rope was connected, which was about a foot long and had a nice eye on it, broke loose from the boat, came flying through the air, the stunt coordinator, who had remained in his spot to watch the shot happen, a piece of metal flew towards him. He attempted to duck to get under it, but it caught him in the middle of his forehead and cut him about halfway down his head. 

"The crazy part about this is we got him up to the hospital and he went off, got 63 stitches, came back later in the day to operate a boat for a scene in another marina. That is the sort of mental toughness that stunt people have. They are contrary to how a medic wants to operate with a patient because they always want to continue on. Most people would like to be taken away, taken care of right away."

On what it takes to be a set medic:
"It's a combination of diplomacy, crowd management, and communication. The diplomacy because everybody knowns the person who has been injured, we have worked long hours, we may know the people personally. There's a sense of family on a movie set so everyone is very concerned, and my responsibility is to be able to calm the crew and let them know that the individual is getting the proper medical attention, and to be able to communicate clearly with the first assistant director what needs to be done in terms of do we need transportation for this person'. What's going to be the follow-up after the initial treatment? Working with the producers to let them know how we are going to continue on, should this take the individual out of the day. And that's where all those three attributes come into play."

On the toughest movie star:
"Probably, Kurt Russell. He injured himself and was very adamant about continuing on even though my recommendation was that we take some time off and we better treat his injuries."

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