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There's a scene in the Firefly film Serenity where we see River Tam clinging to the ceiling like a giant lizard:

from below
from in front

Over on the Outdoors Stack Exchange, there's some discussion, in ChrisH's answer and comments thereon, about how this scene was filmed: whether Summer Glau (who trained as a ballerina) is really clinging to the ceiling or whether there's some camera/editing/prop trickery involved.

Is there any behind-the-scenes info about this?

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    To me it appears she is actually doing it with no camera tricks.... The space is just wide enough that she can wedge he feet against the walls at a slight angle downward, supporting a lot of her body weight, and hanging on the Sprinkler head? to support her upper body. Its possible she is wearing a harness to hold her to the ceiling, But personally I doubt it.
    – NJohnny
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 8:08
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    @NJohnny - She's wearing a harness that hooks at the back
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 9:12
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    I was waiting for this question! If it hadn't appeared I was going to ask it tonight. +1. Also well done on finding the 2nd shot, I just wish we had a clip
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 16:08
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    In the Director's commentary on the DVD, either Joss or Summer said the gap was too wide for her. They added the panels on each side of the corridor so that it's narrow enough for her to (just) reach. They're dressed asif they are hiding ducts or other service pipe.
    – CSM
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 16:09
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    @ChrisH 1080p clip: imgur.com/a/rhIRvRV
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 12, 2021 at 1:53

1 Answer 1

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It would appear that Summer Glau was lifted into position and is able to sustain that pose because she's extremely flexible. She was, however, given additional support from a hook that was attached to the ceiling and tied to a harness.

A technical question on how Summer stayed on the ceiling in Serenity. She stated the walls were built to her measurements and that she hung from a hook from her back.

Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Firefly & Serenity 2007: Summer Glau & Nathan Fillion Q&A

Note also that the hallway width was measured specifically to fit the distance that she can do the splits. In the Director's Commentary, Joss also mentions that they built it slightly wrong and they added a pipe rail and padded the wall to make the gap smaller.

SFO: Was there anything they told you to do and you thought 'no way'?

SG: [Laughs] The split on the ceiling, but we got up there and we did it. When I was up there it didn't hurt. There was a guy who was helping me, and they had to rebuild the hallway three times because they had to measure my legs. If it's off an inch I can't hold my leg up. So I would get in a split and get situated and I stood up there between takes. It was easier than I thought.

Sci-fi Online - Summer Glau

It was, apparently, not fun.

She was asked about how uncomfortable the pose used for the Serenity publicity photo was. This led on to a story about the famous "splits on the ceiling" scene. Her stunt double just couldn't physically hold the position, so Summer herself had to do it for all the test shots and set up and whatnot. Not only did she have to stay up there during multiple takes, but it was too much difficulty to get her down, and so she had to hold the position in between takes while camera angles and so forth were being changed.

Meeting Summer at Armageddon Expo

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    Thanks! Now go and drop a comment on Outdoors SE to put their debate to rest :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 8:09
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    @JCRM - At the very least she needs to sustain the weight of her legs and arms. That's accomplished by holding her feet in place against the walls and holding onto the handle
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 17:23
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    I'd give an extra +1 for Summer Glau if I could. Sometimes an actor goes above and beyond.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 19:00
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    And presumably that sprinkler-head is rather more reinforced than they typically would be - they're not meant to support a human... Commented Dec 10, 2021 at 22:14
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    @ZeissIkon - agree 100%. I mean, how often do you read that the stunt double couldn't do the physically-demanding thing that the actor can?
    – Omegacron
    Commented Dec 11, 2021 at 1:00

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