Weaponry, Combat and Melee Fights
Stalingrad is a story of love and heroism born in the heat of a terrifying
battle. Fights and battles play an important role in the film, including
hand-to-hand fights with digging tools, knives and bayonets. All this has to
look convincing on the wide screen.
Additionally, a historical war drama with no tanks is like a football match
with no goals scored. So, military vehicles are present in Fedor Bondarchuk's
film. On the set there were T-34 tanks, a German tank destroyer Marder
(Marten) and a heavy Nazi tank Pz-IV (Pz.Kpfw. IV).
These tanks were all replicas constructed for the film. Pz-IV was built on
the chassis of a Soviet T-44 tank. The production designer heavily modified the
turret, welded on extra armour plates, covered the track wheels with shields,
and painted Nazi swastikas on the sides. The tank destroyer was built on a
civilian ATV chassis. Finally, the T-34(76), is a full-scale model made of
plastic and plywood, modeled by specialists from Vitebsk. The same designers
created the model of the shot-down plane.
There were three kinds of rifles and submachine guns created for the film -
for carrying, for regular shooting and for the fighting scenes. In the battle
scenes, as the Soviet soldiers fight with the Germans, the actors fought with
rubber or wooden guns in their hands. Furniture broken in the stunt scenes was
made of corkwood. Glasses meant to be broken were made of sugar. "Liquid glass,"
which breaks into safe pieces, was also used.
Stunt supervision was performed by Sergey Golovkin (The Edge, directed by
Alexey Uchitel and Leningrad, a Russian-American war drama), and Viktor Ivanov
(The Bourne Supremacy). The stunt crew worked specifically in two blocks of the
shooting. In Kronstadt, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, the art department
constructed a pier to represent the full-flowing Volga. A group of 50 stuntmen
rehearsed the crossing scenes, the Soviet positions under Nazi fire, and the oil
spill. Their number was increased for the melee scenes in the trenches of
Stalingrad. The other location was in Sapyorniy village, where it's the
full-scale set of Stalingrad was constructed.
According to Sergey Golovkin, Fedor wanted all the stunts to look convincing, so
they held a casting call for the stuntmen. Many of the stuntmen were not only
hired for the stunts, but to act in the film, too, providing an opportunity to
show faces in many of the action scenes.
The filming itself was preceded by thorough preparation. Stunt scenes were
first drawn in storyboards. The most complicated ones (e.g. melee) were not only
rehearsed, but pre-visualized. The filmmakers shot the rehearsals, then showed
the videomatic to the crew to clarify the scene type and the difficulty of work
they had to complete. The stereo shooting influenced stunt direction, too.
Training and rehearsals were conducted, not only for the actors and stunts,
but for the re-enactors and extras, too. As the shooting of the mass melee
fights and explosion scenes commenced, the main cast needed rehearsals and
proper physical training. The rehearsals were organized on location in Sapyorniy
where the scenes were to be shot. The actors put on their costumes, took the
guns and started their "boot camp" under the supervision of Alexander
Samokhvalov, stunt director. They crawled in the mud, ran between shell holes
and jumped over trenches while carrying their guns. Special focus was made on
firing training so that the actors knew how to use their guns, weren't afraid of
firing them and could act accurately in firing and explosion scenes.
The most difficult scene to shoot was a melee with all the actors, stunts and
extras involved. If one person made an error, the whole scene would have to be
reshot. It was also difficult to shoot explosions right next to the actors. The
crew resorted to special pneumatic devices to pull the actors from the
epicenter. First, it was thoroughly rehearsed with a stuntman. Later, Petr
Fedorov and Dmitry Lisenkov would have to be pulled back from the pyrotechnic
explosion themselves. Their acrobatics got more and more stunning due to the
pneumatics and the actors' dexterity. In this episode, Russian soldiers don't
stop fighting even as they are overthrown with a wave of fire and blaze up like
torches. The scene was rehearsed in front of fully prepared cameras. All the
participants memorized every movement they had to make. At this point, everyone
on location, including the assistants and spotters, were dressed in Red Army
uniforms, so that they wouldn't spoil the sequence if they were in frame by
chance. Within three filming days, 96 burning episodes were produced. At one
point, 14 stuntmen were simultaneously burning on location.
In order not to get injured, the stuntmen covered their costumes with special
gel which Ivanov had brought from the United States, and put on safety masks
representing faces. Some stunts that didn't involve the use of fire were
performed by the actors themselves, without any professional stuntmen.
Sergey Golovkin commented that: "In the film, there's a moment when a German
officer jumps on the Soviet scout from a beam of the building. It works like a
real leap on the person standing down there. The cable system slowed down the
fall only at the very last moment. To be honest, I thought this trick would be
performed by a stuntman because Thomas Kretschmann would probably refuse to do
it. But he watched the stuntman practice the jump and decided to do it himself.
At first we brought him down very slowly and then he jumped down at Petr Fedorov
for several successive takes. The same happened in the fighting scenes - he
watched his stuntman do it and then walked right into the gunfire and
explosions. Stalingrad is a film of very complex production. A project like that
is a memory for a lifetime. We'll have stories to tell our grandchildren."
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