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Safety is No Accident w/Scott Gardner

Introducing Safety Technical Editor, Andy Armstrong


MoparMax magazine is proud to introduce Andy Armstrong as our new Safety Technical Editor. Andy began his career in the movie business at 19 as a vehicle stunt performer. He then worked in production on many movies and after a meteoric rise through the production ranks by 1987, Andy became the highest paid First Assistant Director in the world. But by then he decided to concentrate on action. This time, creating and directing entire action sequences. Andy designed, coordinated and directed some of the largest action sequences ever filmed. One of Andy’s early big career breaks happened while he was still only 28 years old, when he took over Directing the Second Unit of the hugely successful Highlander, now a cult classic.


 The success of Highlander and the notice Andy’s action sequences received helped establish him as a successful Action Unit Director. In 1989, Andy moved permanently from England to California. Andy’s work is typified by the huge (twelve hundred people) Teamster battle in Hoffa, the (fourteen hundred people) charge and battles in Stargate; the action on Galaxy Quest, the World War One Battle Scenes for Oscar Winner Frank Pearson’s TV Movie Truman, and the huge battles in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, the action sequences on Scooby Doo 2, Cat Woman, I Robot, and Eragon the now iconic music videos, Metallica’s I Disappear and Sheryl Crow’s Steve McQueen as well as many TV series episodes for Jerry Bruckheimer TV and Warner Brothers TV.


 Andy is part of a living dynasty of a stunt family, the Armstrongs. This family has been responsible for as many action moments on film as any family on earth. Andy and his brother Vic work together as a team as often as possible and together with Andy’s Son, James, Vic’s Sons, Scott and Bruce, Vic’s Wife, Wendy and Vic’s Daughters, Georgina and Nina all worked together to create the action on Sony’s The Green Hornet. During the making of The Green Hornet James, Scott and Andy each performed some large vehicle stunts in the same car chase. The family once again teamed up for Marvel’s Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. This was immediately followed by the commission to design, choreograph and shoot some huge additional battle sequences for the Nicholas Cage crusades movie, Season of the Witch.


 Then the Armstrong Action family was together again to reinvent the whole style of action for The Amazing Spiderman and the next chapter, The Amazing Spiderman 2 for Sony Studios. Andy then accepted a new and different task, designing the action for a huge traveling live arena show, Marvel Universe Live which began touring worldwide in 2014 and is still touring now. After that, Andy was hired by Twentieth Century Fox to design and direct the action on one of India’s biggest foreign box office hits BANG BANG, starring Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan.


 Andy’s work has taken him to 45 countries on six of the world’s seven continents. Andy has successfully written, directed and produced movies and TV and has lectured on the art of action movie making in colleges and film schools. Andy is now in demand as a public speaker at many functions all over the world.

That’s My Wife!

Words by Andy Armstrong

Photos by Andy Armstrong and others

On the left, Jennifer Caputo-Armstrong. On the right, Andy Armstrong


“That’s your wife?” This is a question I have been asked many times. Sometimes, like this, the question comes at a race track. But more often the question comes after the person asking it has just witnessed my wife deliberately and violently crash a car on a movie set.


In both cases, inevitably the first question is quickly followed by another, pretty predictable one, “Don’t you get scared?” This second question is almost always accompanied by a look which would suggest…“This guy’s clearly a nut case!” or, “He must be trying to get rid of her without the cost of a divorce.”


This time these questions came from a very nice couple standing beside the drag strip. Now, it might have been my imagination but the man of the couple seemed to look at his wife with a sort of …“Mmm, perhaps you should drag race,” look on his face. If he was thinking that, let’s hope it was for all the right reasons.


We were standing directly opposite the Christmas tree lights from which my wife, Jen Caputo-Armstrong had just left, under full power. Now, in my opinion, the expression “full power” gets often overused, however in this case I feel that expression is completely justified. This is because my wife’s Nomex clad right foot was controlling almost a thousand supercharged and race-fueled horsepower. And I know that foot was firmly holding the throttle pedal under it, pinned to the floor. In the twenty-odd years I have known Jen, I am not sure I have ever seen her back off from doing anything flat out. She does not have that character trait.


To explain a little more, Jen was at the wheel of “Maggi,” the quite well known black Liquid Glow MoparMax Dodge Magnum drag race car. Maggi’s supercharged 426 Mopar HEMI generates very close to 1,000 horsepower. The exact number depends on air temperature, altitude and some other variables. But the number is always not much below the magic 1,000. That’s enough grunt to lift the front wheels off the strip as the big and pretty heavy station wagon is propelled at over 2G’s from a standing start to around 140MPH in just over 9 seconds.


So, back to my reaction to that second question about if I get scared. My answer is usually the same, “No, that doesn’t scare me! She’s very good at what she does.” My answer is not bravado or bullshit and it’s not fake. I really don’t believe in bravado or bullshit or anything fake.


There ARE many things in this world that DO scare me. Polar bears come to mind because they really scare me. Especially when you’re on foot in the frozen waste of the Canadian artic! And as you’re walking back to the ski-fitted sea plane that brought you there, you realize a very large polar bear has crossed over your outbound tracks. THAT scared me! And realizing the solid lead slugs for the single shot twelve gauge I was carrying would have the trajectory, accuracy and effective range of a baby throwing a house brick, THAT scared me even more!  Polar bears are very big, powerful, fast and extremely lacking in compassion. So, these fears are very real and extremely valid.


But someone in peak physical condition, possessing a lot of skill and operating a well prepared, high powered car in the way it was meant to be handled? No, that doesn’t scare me at all. That is calculated risk minimized and as much as possible, controlled. Or at least, predicted as accurately as possible. This is precisely what Jen and I have spent many years doing.


Let me explain. Jen and I make our living designing, planning and executing action and stunts for some of the largest and most successful action movies ever made. This is something I have done for the last 45 years and Jen has done for, although not quite as long, still over a quarter of a century. So, yes calculated risk is something she and I are pretty familiar with.


Whenever you tell someone you’re a professional stunt person, the response is quite often, “Oh, you must be crazy!” or “You must have no fear!” There is often disappointment when I say, “Absolutely not! I have plenty of fears.”  In truth, even roller coasters frighten me! Not as much as polar bears, but still, roller coasters do actually scare me.


When people say to me “Oh, my son (or daughter) should be a stunt person!” “They have absolutely NO fear!” “They’ve broken both arms, one leg, fractured their skull four times and written off a dozen bikes and cars!” My response is always the same…No! Not only should they NOT be a stunt person but, I don’t want to meet them! I really don’t want them anywhere near me! The reason for this possibly harsh answer is simple…Anyone with that little regard for their own life is not going to have regard for other people’s lives. They are also probably not going to be around very long! There is a huge difference between calculated risk and lack of fear. If a mouse had no fear of cats, it would only live until it met that first cat! That is a simple fact of life.


Fear is a wonderful inbuilt gauge and predicter of danger that we are all born with. Understanding and controlling appropriate fear and having no fear are two extremely different human conditions. My fear of polar bears and roller coasters are based on very real reasons. Different reasons but real and calculated fears based on simple facts. Polar bears because of the obvious reasons I have already mentioned and roller coasters because I have absolutely no idea when, how or even if, the damn thing has ever been serviced. And if so, by who? So, my fear of riding on roller coasters is based on real life self-preservation. I enjoy life. I like fast vehicles and I enjoy movie action but I have the greatest respect for the potential dangers involved with both.


And so does Jen. This is why every time she straps into the race car, she is surrounded by the finest automobile safety equipment on the planet. Safety equipment suppliers such as Simpson Safety and G-Force Racing provide us with the finest helmets, Nomex suits, shoes, gloves and seat belts in the world. The car is fitted with a very strong roll cage which has been professionally constructed and fitted. The car is impeccably and consistently maintained by team owner (and Editor-Publisher of this magazine) Richard Kratz. But still, racing any car at 140 MPH is never going to be absolutely risk free, that’s a given. Understanding and accepting that fact is extremely important. But still, to presume with lots of high end safety equipment in place, all danger simply evaporates is unrealistic. That sort of presumption is also extremely dangerous. However, the chance of surviving some catastrophic incident can be hugely increased by the correct use of the right safety equipment and the application of disciplined safety procedures.


These are precisely the same set of safety concerns and preventative measures Jen and I have employed many times over the years when we KNOW she is (or we are) going to crash. I feel we have a great advantage over other racers who have yet to experience their first big crash. We have set up, performed and lived, unharmed through many, many vehicle crashes. To some extent, this is precisely what we do for a living.


Actually, I realized something extremely important at a very young age, probably 12 or 13 (when I accidently rolled a car onto its side in the field of my parent’s farm). My thoughts in order were: A, that crashing a car was actually a lot of fun, quickly followed by thought B, which was that crashing cars could be extremely dangerous and C, that crashing cars could become very expensive, very quickly.


These same thoughts were still with me when I began my movie stunt career. Only now those thoughts were quickly modified to become A, crashing cars actually IS a LOT of fun, B, with the right equipment and preparation, crashing cars CAN be relatively safe, and finally C, crashing cars can not only be free of charge but CAN actually pay extremely well! Profound and life changing realizations.


Since that realization, I and also Jen have performed and designed literally hundreds of crashes.


Between Jen and I, we have quite a large personal collection of cars and motorcycles. All are cared for like members of our family. But although we both absolutely love vehicles of all ages, shapes, sizes, performances and values, there is still something wonderful and strangely satisfying about intentionally and professionally destroying vehicles in a spectacular and well-designed fashion. Some of which are include in the photos below.


We obviously hope that Jen will never need to put all the safety equipment and measures to full use. But we operate with the peace of mind that should something catastrophically violent happen while Jen is at the wheel, she will be protected as well as humanly possible.


In my next article I will share my thoughts about fire and the best ways I have found to survive being engulfed in it.



Andrew Garfield and Andy on “The Amazing Spiderman 2.” A great photo by Director of Photography, Dan Mindell.

Tim Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” From L to R Kris Kristofferson, Andy Armstrong and Sean Graham (Mark Walberg’s Stunt Double).


Directing Jim Cavezal on the Action Unit of “Highwaymen”, Canada.

Andy on “The Amazing Spiderman” with Emma Stone.

Andy Doubling Robert Prosky (on fire) with Jack Nicholson on “Hoffa”.

“Season of the Witch” Nick Cage chatting with Andy.

Andy (after the fire) on “Hoffa” with Director and Co Star, Danny DeVito.

Andy chatting with Jack Nicholson on “Hoffa”.

From L to R, Burt Reynolds, Hal Needham and Andy on “Rough Cut” in Holland in 1979.

Andy directing Will Smith on the Action Unit of “I Robot” in Vancouver.

This is Jen Caputo Armstrong (in the airborne car) on the Bollywood blockbuster “Bang Bang” in the desert of Abu Dhabi performing a quite complex crash using a ramp built into the car she is hitting. This sequence was designed and directed by Andy.

Andy performing a canon turnover on “The Green Hornet”. Andy was also the movie’s stunt coordinator and the action was directed by Andy’s Brother Vic. In the same week as this crash, Andy’s Son James and Vic’s Son, Scott also performed very large vehicle stunt crashes.

Andy and Jen after Jen performed an interesting travelling pipe ramp turn over in the police car behind them. This was on “The Amazing Spiderman 2” in Rochester, New York. 



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