You worked with PM Entertainment; what was that like?
Pepin and Merhi were awesome producers; what a great time that was for all of us. There were many independent production houses making rental/foreign action films, so it kept stunts people busy. We’d be working on one show, grab some sleep, then rush off to another set to work or help out. Hollywood was great before 9/11; I’ll always recall those days fondly, but after that, there were a lot more restrictions.
You starred with action star, Jeff Wincott! What was it like working with Jeff?
I choreographed fights, stunt-doubled Wincott, and often stepped in to play a baddie or side-kick. The producers gave me a chance to experiment. Before that, all Hollywood fight scenes were shot the same way as acting scenes (how they were taught in film school), but I changed that; I mixed Hollywood with Hong Kong styles and it worked pretty well.
Wincott was fun to work with and we often joked between takes. He was determined and very professional; he always performed the choreography as I asked him to. It was hard work, but he did it; he never slacked off. Wincott knew I was willing to do whatever it took to make him and the films be the best they could be, and he appreciated that. He could see that I loved making action scenes, and I was always pushing to get more done.
You got to work with Jeff Wincott on the fun, die-hard-like movie, Open Fire. How did you want this to stand out from the other Wincott movies, in terms of stunts/fights?
I wanted to do more high falls and elaborate stunts, but there was no time nor money; we had to cut back. Pierre David, the executive producer, said the end fight was one of his personal favorites though.
Mission of Justice was a great movie! Do you have a favorite fight scene from it?
I have two favorites; the ‘Chop-Shop’ scene (that I’m also playing his buddy in), and the ‘stick fight’ scene, when he has to pass a test to go undercover in the villain’s organization – I carefully story-boarded those two in advance.
On those films, I needed to save time and money; I split the cameras into separate units, shooting only a few yards apart. In the Chop-Shop, I was fighting a bad guy on one side of the shop, while Wincott was fighting on the other side. I would run back and forth between the two cameras, setting up Wincott’s action, and then doing my own bit too. We did this on other shows too; I’d angle everything so the two crews would never shoot each other, and have two fights going on at the same time. Then, similarly to the Power Rangers, I’d have the two (or more) fighting leads come together in various choreographed shots. It all edited together seamlessly and it worked.
You also worked with villain Matthias Hues on Bounty Tracker! How did you find coordinating fights for such a large and well-muscled guy?
He is so great to work with; one of the nicest ever. Everyone loves Matthias.
The funny thing about show biz is that often it’s the actors who play the meanest villains who are really the kindest people; Matthias is one of those actors. He can scare the crap out of you in an acting scene, but when the camera cuts, he’s the guy who will give you the shirt off his back.
I always choreograph according to discussions with the director and the producer on each project. I have my favorite styles, but each show is different according to what the producer and writer envision. You take into account what the actor is physically capable of (and is safe for them), and what your stunt doubles can do. Matthias is big, that’s true, but he was also very flexible for his size and I believe he had some dance training, so he wanted to use kicks too. Matthias was always ready to perform whatever was needed; I really appreciated him.
You worked with Daniel Bernhardt on Black Sea Raid (Special Forces). Did you get much set time around Daniel?
That one was crazy. Daniel was great and so were the Russian stuntmen and second unit crew I worked with. They were having a lot of problems in the middle of the film and asked if I fly to Ukraine for ten days to help them catch up. It was an emergency I was told, so I grabbed the tickets and took off.
I had no idea what this was; I kept getting off planes and boarding others. Each time, the plane was more rickety until I was literally sitting on a box next to a cage of chickens. I thought, “Oh. This doesn’t bode well”.
When I got there, I directed Russian military tanks which was fun. Then, the Russian translator told me I shouldn’t lie on the grass as it might make me ill. I thought he was either joking or not translating properly, but I soon discovered it was because we were shooting near Chernobyl and the ground was considered radioactive!
Daniel and I were lucky in that we got bottled water; we’d been warned not to drink water from the tap. They would always bring a bottle and open it for me; I thought that was nice. Then, I found out they were actually filling the empty bottles at the tap and only pretending it was bottled water!
Everything was low-budget. When I was ready to shoot a scene involving the tanks opening fire on a mountainside, I asked to see the Special Effects Coordinator regarding the position of the effects so I could line up shots. They didn’t understand. Finally, they explained that they couldn’t afford Special Effects; they were firing live rounds and really blowing up the side of the mountain!
I was shooting a big burn stunt inside a garage and just as we started to light the stuntman on fire, our ambulance sped away. The director was angry that we were shooting so much action (Daniel only wanted to shoot with me), so he tried to film a tank sequence himself when an ‘extra’ slipped in the mud and was run over by the tank! Amazingly, the mud was so soft that he survived.
Daniel and I worked hard, but the director cut out most of the footage we shot. It was a mess; the director tried to sabotage his own star but he only made himself look bad in the end.
My hotel room was an experience: I had a cot with a hay-filled pillow (no, I’m not kidding!), the window was broken, and the water was freezing as they only permitted hot water for a couple of hours a day – which, coincidently, was while we were on set.
By the time I flew home, I was sick as a dog. I’d inhaled something from the pillow and developed a bad sinus infection; I was green. It took days to get home as the flights were messed up, so I was had to stay at motels.
What a gig that was; a terrible movie, but Daniel and the guys were super cool. It was all funny to us, but I felt bad for Daniel; it could have been so much better.
To be continued