In Your Dreams – James Heim

James Heim chats about stunt work in Inception

Words by Ryan Dunfee

What was the movie about?
Dreams. But when we were there they didn’t tell us anything; all we knew was what we were supposed to do. It was cool to see the movie for that reason. They’re trying to plant an idea into someone’s mind, which is harder than taking the information out. They put people in other people’s dreams to get deeper into their subconscious… it’s complicated.

How were you approached?
My buddy’s friend was doing rigging for the stunts and doing mountain guiding for the film crew, and they asked him if he knew any skiers. They needed two skiers and one of them was my size, so we got the call. I got hired as double for Tom Hardy (Eams). I hadn’t done any stunt work before.

Where were you guys?
We were at a closed ski resort in Alberta called Fortress Mountain. It had all the infrastructure of a resort but nobody there, and they could use cats and sleds however they wanted. There are also some really amazing backdrops there, and they built this massive structure that they blew up, so that was cool to see. Bottom line was that we could get away with a lot more there.

What was the scene you were in?
They are in their dreams in a hotel towards the end of the movie and then they enter this next level of dreams, and all of a sudden are in this mountain landscape with this soviet-style compound they have to infiltrate. They are entering the 3rd layer of dreams, and their subconscious is fighting to get the inserted dreams out. The dreams are collapsing because they’re trying to hurry it along, but they were too deep in the dream world. The guy I played was distracting all the bad guys who want to get to this guy who’s mind they’re trying to crack, and it’s basically a chase scene. He skis off, for whatever reason they’re all on skis, and there’s avalanches, and all the bad guys chase him around, and he shoots a bunch of them and then steals a snowmobile, then tries to run back to blow up this tower so that all the people can “die’ and come out of the dream at the same time. But they didn’t tell us what the scene was supposed to be like at all, so we were just bumping around without any clue what the movie was about.

What was the action like?
The skiing wasn’t super technical, I had to jump off some small stuff to flat and they’re wasn’t enough snow to jump big stuff, but it was tough to get the timing; all the shots are quick, and the sequences were crazy, like “sled out of the woods, sled behind the Hummer, snap two ropes, hit the brakes, sled to the Hummer, pull the bomb out of my pocket while sledding, pull up to the Hummer, throw a bomb in the Hummer, wave while taking off.”

To cut the ropes, they used these little bombs to blow them up, and one time the guy did it too late and it blew up right next to my hand, and a piece of copper went all the way down to the bone on my thumb. It was intense for sure; there’d be 100 people watching and helicopters flying around filming and you’re on the spot.

Then they taught us how to shoot machine guns and I had to haul and then hop switch and then aim near them, but not at them. I couldn’t have aimed at them if I tried, so it was pretty wild trying not to aim at them when I could barely be accurate with that thing at all.

Other times I’d be skiing, and they’d tell me not to look into the camera, so that you wouldn’t know it wasn’t Tom Hardy. You’d try not to look at the camera, which was funny because you’d be skiing around trying not to look at the camera, but sometimes the camera would be right where you needed to look, so that was interesting trying to ski without looking in the right direction. But because of my experience filming for ski movies, I had a really good awareness of where the camera was and how to work with it, so they were pretty stoked on that. Chris Patterson was also there filming, and he used to film for Warren Miller, so he was great to work with; he’d be chasing me through the trees with this enormous camera; it was pretty impressive.

One day we just needed scenic shots, so we just ripped around on their brand new sleds for the whole day, which was awesome. We tried to buy the sleds from them when it was over, but they sold them for cheap to the local cat skiing place instead. We were bummed.

How long were you shooting for?
We were up there for two weeks; it was pretty quick, and amazing to see how much they could get done in a day. Usually we’d be up there for 12 hours – the entire length of daylight. We’d drive to the mountain in the dark to get there for first light and then leave when the sun went down. It was early – the end of November and not a lot of snow but enough to do what we needed to do. The weather was really, really cold and windy and snowing – really cold. I could occasionally sit in the cat to stay warm. It sucked because it was the same time Whistler was getting 60 cms a day, so I missed most of that epic month.

I got to meet Tom Hardy and he told me a bunch about the character and how he wore his clothes and stuff; I had to wear an army hat with my ears exposed and it was extremely cold. Everytime between shots I would put the flaps down but then the continuity guys would find me and yell at me. It was brutally cold though; I had to put them down.

Did you get to hang out with the rest of the film crew very much?
For the most part, we were all in the same hotel. It was pretty cool, like a little base area. We went out and taught the stunt coordinator to ski when we had a day off and he was stoked; he was a stuntman, so he wasn’t afraid to crash and he just went for it. Christopher Nolan was also super nice along with most of the crew. I just tried not to get into trouble. Some nights all the stunt group would hang out at the bar, other nights I’d be so tired from shooting that I’d pass out before I could even get dinner, and I’d have to order a pizza at midnight because I’d wake up so hungry. But Tom Hardy was cool too, he’d hang out in the hot tub with us. A lot of people from LA were involved, and they were all curious to hear what I actually did as a pro skier, and we’d show the director and stunt guy some footage of us so they’d know what was possible if we got good snow.

How was the experience overall?
It was a wild experience and I’d be stoked to do something like that again. It was cool being there with my friend, Ian MacIntosh, who was doubling for Leo. He wasn’t as busy as I was but it was cool getting to hang out. He got to spend a lot of time with Leo, who’s apparently a pretty cool dude.