Hey guys just a heads up. Today’s episode references a song with explicit language. If you have young children around you might want to put on some headphones.
Hi and welcome to the backlot a discussion with the entertainment industry’s top talent. I’m Aeriel Segard.
And I’m Eric Conner and in this episode we’re going to take a look at the absolutely insane action film Hardcore Henry and the world of stunts.
Normally our fearless editor Kristian would slice in a bunch of clips but they don’t really see much in Hardcore Henry.
No, they don’t have time to talk because it’s basically like a first-person shooter game like Halo or Call of Duty expanded. So the entire movie is shot from the main character’s eyes.
They needed stuntmen to do the filming as they parkour from building to building.
Jump from the exploding bus or car into a moving motorcycle.
It took a lot of parkour guys stunt men even actors to pull off this effect.
That’s right. And two of them Sergey Valyaev and Andrei Dementiev joined us at NYFA to discuss the making of Hardcore Henry.
I’m in the movie business about ten years. We’re starting from parkour. Shot our videos and suddenly one of my friends a Russian director he invites me to the movie to do all the stunts and acting. Actually I’m not a professional actor. Ten years ago. I only be a stuntman. And after that you know step by step. Feature film TV series a something like that.
To help us with our discussion is NYFA alum actor stunt man Adam Gomez.
Why thank you all for having me.
Dude thanks for coming by to the wonderful studio here in always sunny Burbank.
Of course I love to discuss stunts and this is right up my alley. All action.
He even climbed a wall to get in here.
So Adam talk to us a bit how you got your way into this world of stunts and how you’re able to still be here and tell the tale.
Yeah so I found my way right after I got into the military. I literally fell into it. I got invited by a friend who was working as a magician’s assistant at Six Flags New Jersey on the train right there the Batman in the stunt show fell and broke his back. As soon as I got off the train I was rushed by my friend right from the train station to the back lot of Six Flags. I learned the show on Thursday Friday I was Batman in the stunt show. And I was like This is what I want to do the rest of my life. And that’s kind of what I’ve been doing ever since for the last 14 years. But yeah as a stunt man I totally love these guys. One thing that’s admirable about what they did they were stuntmen doing things trying to break in. They got video famous which is how a lot of people want to get into it. There is that avenue. So I think it’s incredible what they did as a stunt man. I’m totally envious and they actually did it for the most part safely.
And as crazy as the stunt work actually was in the film. The team realized that only having one man shoulder this alone couldn’t happen. They needed several people to play Henry.
When we start the work on this movie. We actually understand that one man can’t shoot such insane scenes. We have too many shooting days maybe one hundred and 15 days of shooting all these insane scenes.
So sometimes we mix the scene Sergey starts the scene and I’m finishing the scene because I am human we need to rest.
So you can see that five seconds shot by Andrei. And then next five seconds shot by me. And then next five seconds shot by stuntman who just burning. Yeah some special stunts made by professional stuntman because the producers just don’t want to risk ourselves.
Right so there wasn’t just one guy as Henry it was lots of guys and part of the challenge then too is how do you make all the performances seem like it comes from that sort of same place you know and the collaboration between them wasn’t just about working together on the stunts it was also kind of crafting this performance together too.
When you’re doubling you have to pay attention to how they move if they have a limp. So I mean in this I didn’t not once in Hardcore Henry could I tell that it was a different person which is just you know hats off to those guys because they’re obviously paying attention to that in however many different you know between these two and the stunt people are doing it. I couldn’t tell the difference.
No not once it looked like the same person the entire time.
Yeah. And you’ve got a trained eye for this too so like if you can’t tell most of the audience won’t be able to tell.
Normally when it comes to doubling work. That’s one of the biggest things you can point out in film . And you feel like you’re with him the entire time and it is the same guy.
And that’s something too right they have to find ways then to mesh all the stuff so that the audience isn’t aware of all that magic and chicanery going on behind the scenes. Speaking of the guys talked about the inherent dangers of doing these fight scenes when you have multiple Go Pros attached to your head and how you couldn’t really fake it you can’t hide it. They discussed what it was like for them filming it.
We used only GoPro on this movie .
It’s 60 days usually. But we have a problem that we all know how to shoot a movie with one camera two cameras.
But when you try to make it on Go Pro. Everything’s changed.
Yeah everything. Everything when you read the script you read. Okay I understand everything. Let’s go to the shooting and when we go to the set. Everything like directing drama. Actor thing everything is ruined because Go Pros have a special.
Distortion. You can’t change the lenses.
Nothing working the script just doesn’t work and we were like oh my god what do we need to do. We’re on the set and nothing is working because you to be more closer. If you’re about to one metre from the actor on Go Pros it looks like you’re three metres.
When you shoot close objects on Go Pro you need to make your punches real.
Because you see this.
You see everything you see. Just everything.
You punch like this. You see this is not a real punch for the scene when Sergey hits me in the role of slip Dimitri I think it’s four punches and I’m just going hit me man hit me harder because it’s better to take one good punch than four or ten just like. I have a little bit for some reason I think I deserve it. Maybe.
They must have had a lot of conversation because they couldn’t always go back and check the footage because it was on Go Pros at times they couldn’t. Other times it was just well let’s shoot it with two or three cameras because we don’t know if one breaks we’re not going to be able to see the footage. So that in and of itself is something they had working against them that they obviously had to really prep and plan for because nowadays most the time if I have actors fighting I can be on the monitor and I can say OK well that hit missed this one you know made it. But for them they were kind of an that’s what they talked about. They really ended up hitting each other because you don’t want to waste an entire thing and they actually had to do some reshoots because you could easily see the misses. And they talked about that they actually were hitting the stunt men and as most stunt men were they were saying hit me harder harder which when I heard that I wasn’t shocked. There’s no depth of field. I mean normally if I have two actors fighting that can’t fight. You got to go with a longer lens you can have them father apart but on a GoPro you don’t have the luxury of hiding behind depth of field. So they really were making contact. There’s I really hope she was a stunt woman on the escalator scene it’s towards the beginning. He’s sliding down. She took what we call a Thumper. We say when a stunt coordinator calls you up he says hey I got one for you. It’s not complicated but it’s a thumper. That means it’s not a lot of moving parts but you’re going to hit the ground repeatedly. But yeah she definitely took a thumper on that one.
So is it truly better to take one good punch than five mediocre ones.
As a stunt coordinator I have to say no because there’s ways to tell a film story without hurting your actor as a stunt man our natural response is I think for a good stunt man is always yes sir may have another. And that’s what we’re paid for that’s literally our job is to take that hit act like it didn’t hurt. And then when it cuts and the stunt coordinator comes up says you guys OK. Your number one response is absolutely let me do 10 more. So I mean these guys are what they’re saying is you know what a true stuntman would say and I could easily be there on that with the producers being like Yeah I don’t want to hear that. But they obviously knew what they needed to get the shot and make it look realistic.
And the filmmakers admitted that hardcore Henry was a Russian production which afforded them a certain amount of freedom.
We used all real things real knife real guns.
Yeah safety isn’t first In Russia you can do whatever you want.
Yeah we’ve got a couple more laws here it sounds like. But then also within a film school setting. We don’t want students going out there and putting themselves at risk. Putting their cast at risk. I mean for yourself as a coordinator what do you find yourself having to put the sort of kibosh on that. You tell filmmakers no.
A lot of it is just basic physics and common sense. Where’s momentum going to carry them how far is it going to carry them. So no your dolly track can’t be there because they’re diving right there and I have to have my mat there whenever I’m dealing with students. The first conversation I have because they tend to be on lower budgets is there’s a lot of departments in the film industry that you can stretch a dollar with ingenuity it’s a lot of things production design wardrobe locations these are places where if you have time and ingenuity you can stretch a dollar. Stunts is not one of these. Because whether your budget is low you know $1000 or $20 million physics doesn’t change. Gravity doesn’t change. These are things we still as stunt coordinators have to be safe about. So I urge them if it’s possible learn to create conflict and drama without using action because it’s one of the easiest things in the world is put a gun to somebody’s head. And now I have conflict. And if you don’t have the money for stunt doubles and no rehearsal stunts is one department you get what you pay for. There’s no way around it. Either you’re paying a lot of time they see my budget. They’re like That’s ten times what our budget is and I’m like exactly. And honestly I think some of the biggest accidents happen on the easiest stunts because whenever I’m doing like a full fire burn or if I’m doing a 40 foot high fall we’re paying attention we’re all locked in on what we’re doing we’re double checking double checking. I was doing a film. We finished the stunt scene. It was a fight scene I took a guy down then there was another thing it was just two actors arguing and they weren’t supposed to touch each other but one of the actors in the argument poked the other actor in the chest and he broke his finger on the mic pack. So a lot of the times it’s not the big car wrecks that happen because that’s what everyone’s locked in. It’s oh quick we’re losing the sunset. Let’s just go and do this. You know that’s when people get hurt.
Speaking of this you know it might not be surprising when we’re talking about Hardcore Henry that there was more than their fair share of injuries.
We have injuries in one scene. One of the stunt men hit me a little bit harder and broke my tooth. Yeah. And. Also I have a problem with the spine. I have six spines not broken but.
It’s herniated it’s called herniated. And if you’re wearing the heavy helmet. You can see almost nothing. You just have [Russian].
Like a horse. With the blinders you only see the front of you.
You can’t see your legs. You can just look forward that’s all.
And also we have a for playback we have a Teradek on our head and the sound so it’s pretty heavy.
So we have all of the things on our helmets while filming Hardcore.
Have you been in that position as a stunt man. Where you actually are kind of in some kind of contraption that makes movement really complicated or difficult.
There’s times where I’ve had to wear like prosthetic mask and one time I had to do a twelve foot high fall over a balcony into a real wood table and the mask I had was a wolf mask but the problem with that is when you don’t have the peripheral. You have to that’s where rehearsal comes in because and timing you have to be able to work with the people knowing when you’re there.
It’s all about trust too.
When I fall I have to go I had to go over and get my head around with them. I mean especially when and sometimes they’re even on wires but they can’t see things. So not only are you doing a very dangerous stunt but you’re doing it with limited vision. That definitely was one of the challenges they faced in this you know 90 minute action packed film.
So I was curious any notable injury stories you care to share.
Yeah I have my one I think unfortunately if you’re in the business long enough you will have the one main injury. I fractured my L4 I was doing a stunt show in Paris. The Wire I was on snapped it was a fluke accident. I fell 45 feet landed like a sack of potatoes broke my back stood up in about three seconds put my cowboy hat on ran around finished the scene which is like 10 more minutes of fighting and kicking and then it ends with me getting my head slammed into a stage coach and I get dragged off by the horses. That was about a six month recovery.
And you finish the show after.
I did I have the video I landed. I don’t remember if it wasn’t for the video I would remember none of it. The adrenaline was going and I hit. I stood up I finished the show. I actually had to get the Cowboys back stage had to stop me from getting back on my horse because I was continuing with the show I’ve been doing for two years so my muscle memory was kicking in. And finally Chad who’s from New Mexico was like Gomez you should probably just sit this one out I think we got it. So that was you know my one main injury and that’s in Hardcore Henry they have a lot of wire work and wire work. Is it adds a level of safety but it’s not completely safe. If you’ll notice in one of my favorite scenes in Hardcore Henry is when they’re going up on the convoy on the motorcycle. It’s a great mix of real practical effects and CGI. I think it was a really good balance but you can see when he’s going from the trucks to the motorcycles those were on wires which adds a little bit of stability to the stunt. But it’s not guaranteed because the motorcycle can easily pop a tire go sideways. So you’ll see why and we’ll talk about wire work they do quite a bit in Hardcore Henry it is safer but by no means does that make that a safe thing to do. But I think they pulled that off really well. Like I said earlier something at some point is bound to go wrong and that’s just why we get to call ourselves Stunt men and women.
Thank you for that.
Well stunt women are actually the toughest because they don’t get to wear pads as much as the guys do.
When they have to do a stunt in a skirt.
Yeah exactly guys are always in tuxedos and jeans and leather jackets. And the women are running around in high heels and skirts and you know the shirts with no elbows. So there’s no elbow pads. So yeah the stunt women are actually the toughest out of the bunch.
Speaking of safety. I just I was thinking about Sergey and Andrei worked with this director before on a video called bad motherfucker. They had really no budget no safety harnesses and well essentially no rules.
The idea of this movie is raised from a music video for biting elbows. It’s a Russian indie rock band and the leading frontman of this band. It’s our director Ilya Naishuller he’s a musician and the director and talented guy bad motherfucker is actually the second video is the second part.
The first one is insane office escape and the song is called stampede stampede yeah when we start to shoot the bad motherfucker video we have no money we have no anything we just start shooting. And so when we come to the big movie.
Feature film. We have a budget.
We have wires so we have a budget for professional stuntmen.
And actually for bad motherfucker we have some little budget because this is the second part of the music video for a stampede. We don’t have any budget.
We have only free pizzas and free cheap suits from the star.
Yeah and I think the budget of. Bad Motherfucker is about two or three thousand dollars. Something like that. And we spend all this money only for explosion.
Yeah for the car explosion.
It does make me want to go out there and parkour.
It makes parkour look like the most fun way to spend an afternoon so Adam you ever have to do stuff that crazy and in a video.
I’ve been fortunate enough to get to do things that crazy it was good. I mean you have the basic things of just the ground pounding which I refer to anyway there’s some good Thumper’s in there. They do have a good use of sound effects because it’s when you combine those it makes the hits look a little harder than they are. But the good thing is they mixed it up so you have the hand-to-hand stuff and then you have the car work which is great. They’re really smart in knowing when to cut for instance when he kicks out the windshield. So they had to obviously cut there to prep that window and then have somebody behind him to drive it. So they made really good choices about how to get from one stunt to another.
So flawlessly it seemed even.
Yeah great. I mean there’s not only were the stunts amazing but again this was a team effort. You know the editor obviously editing and fight choreography have to go hand in hand because I’ve personally seen a lot of times where the fight looks amazing and then when it comes to editing it kind of is butchered and I’ve seen vice versa. This was great use of wire work. When he gets The Ascender up to the roof and then you see him fall he’s actually on a Descender so he’s not free falling but it seems like he’s free falling when he grabs the blue thing. So they put the again. They used the right stunt and the right camera movement to really really tie it all together. Yeah it seemed like they had a lot of fun doing this and they got to do it in a lot of fun places which is great. Having the time traveling device it allowed them to go to the mountains and fight in the snow and then go to you know the airplanes and be able to do some parkour on jets which we can’t really do here in the States but that’s the lesson you should take away from this is they say just strap on a GoPro and go for it you know. So it worked for them. Filmmaking is all about collaboration. If you talk about some of the best filmmakers they tend to work with the same type of crew over and over and with this I think is the right juxtoposition between these parkour guys who really love doing it and then this more musically inclined director. And they’re you know when they came together they gave birth to the music videos which ultimately became Hardcore Henry which is kind of one long action music video.
Right. You were talking before about how like kind of the small stunts sometimes are the ones that hurt you the most because you’re like in some ways the least prepared for it. But there’s a stunt in the film where a tank is coming at Henry. And again it’s his point of view. He’s on the ground crawling backwards as a tank comes at him and in some ways it doesn’t necessarily compare to the other stunts seem like. That big of a deal.
Yeah it didn’t look so terrifying to watch but you had to go back and watch it after you hear that he was so terrified of it. That it’s scary for him.
The tank is one of the scariest thing that’s happened in my life. It’s like my nightmare.
It was scary.
Because only safety that I have on this scene. It’s a rope on my back and three guys who. Take this rope and they’re stuntmen also. And I’m looking at these guys. The stunt guys and they all like OK. Let’s go so I’m lying waiting just pull you out. That’s all you see all the hands if you have some safety. You see this because you see all. In the shot.
And we don’t use.
We don’t use any safety. Just only for eyes the glass for eyes. That’s all.
You have a tank coming at you and the only thing between you and safety is a rope pulled by a couple of guys so we’re talking like what for you. What do you see as kind of the most dangerous things they did.
I mean the tank thing is definitely you’re hoping those guys are paying attention and busy chattering you hope you know they got enough sleep they you know didn’t go out drinking vodka all night. Because in that scene his life is literally in their hands. If the tank barely lands on you. That’s life threatening. But I think one of the things firework is always very dangerous. I’ve done some full body fire burns.
You have to have safety people right.
Lots of safety people lots of safety cues. But then again you’re paying attention. One of the hardest stunts I think there is and if you notice they have in Hardcore Henry. But it’s very minute is horse work. Because it’s one thing to fight with a human that speaks with your language it’s another thing to work on wire work that’s mechanical. But horses are twelve thirteen hundred pounds of muscle and their first instinct is to buck kick and run. And if you notice they do put a horse in there. But it’s very quickly he gets on it and he gets off it and they continue with all the other action.
Have you ever worked with a horse.
I have. I’ve done horse work and that’s really challenging because again horses are like humans they have different personalities they have good days bad days but you just never know because if they want to go this way or that way there’s no stopping them. You hope if you have the budget you get on a trained horse but it’s not always the case. Sometimes you just show up and hope. The scariest thing for me in stunts is when I’m coordinating and I’m behind the camera because I’m always worried about their safety. I’m double checking everything did I double check the ground did I tell them enough were my instructions clear but it’s also not only the stunts it’s the production life because like they said on this they were filming 115 days. And now I’m assuming this was exactly union to the going over twelve hour days. That is a long time to be exhausting yourself and that’s when complacency sets in is you’re three weeks into it. We’re all doing it we’re tired we’re on a six day shoot on location. We don’t sleep well in hotels. You add all that up and it’s very easy that you know that accidents happen at that point.
One thing that Sergey and Andrei discussed in the making of Hardcore Henry was that actually and this surprised the heck out of me that they improv’ed some of that work. Sometimes we improv in the shot. Ilya just saying. Do whatever you want. Hit this guy hit this guy. But. Look wherever you want to just. Feel your body. How. You’re moving into the scene. But we have a script this is a original story and when our character also riding on the horse it’s also original story in the script.
We have a original idea with the horse Henry should go on the Horse down to the ground in the bunker and ride on the horse and shooting to the mad dogs.
And the guy on the helicopter also chasing the gallery and shooting from a bazooka and we’re riding on the horse and it’s a lot of explosions but because we have a lot of days of shooting when we editing all this movie.
Almost three hours almost three hours of action. It’s too much for the movie. And Ilya just a cut scenes.
I think cut half of the movie. So somewhere is Hardcore 2.
Have you ever been in a situation where you show up on set. You think you’re going to do one thing. It wasn’t going to work out. And now you have to improv it .
That happens more often than not normally. Whenever I do get the chance to have a rehearsal I don’t the director was like OK exactly what’s going to happen. I’m like well we’ll basically block it out and 60 percent we’ll use it because when we get on set. Now the DP is like well I can’t shoot that way I have to shoot this way so you have to change the fight scene we have to be over here lighting. So it always kind of changing. You really want to stay away from improv-ing. I mean that might be one reason that they had to shoot for 115 days. Because as far as getting what you need safely and effectively you don’t want to be making up everything on the spot. That’s when accidents like they said Somebody got their tooth chipped in. Stunt men were hurt that’s when those things happened. So I highly suggest against improv-ing but it always happens to where something has to change and you just have to be willing to adapt. And if you have talented stuntmen it’s easy to go from a right punch to a left punch to a left kick to throw to this table instead of that wall. You know when have a good team it makes that transition smoother. But yeah I would stay try and stay away from improv-ing when it comes to the bigger stunts.
Before we wrap all of this up what kind of advice would you give to students if they wanted to put stunts in their scenes or any any safety tips last minute things that you want them to know about stunts.
The best thing they can do is contact a legitimate experienced stunt coordinator right away before they cast before they get locations before they pick wardrobe. The common mistakes they tend to make. Things like wardrobe they don’t think about oh if I want to have my actual actors fall into an alley. If I give them long sleeves and long pants they can put pads on and then they can really do it so the best thing can do is contact a coordinator and go through with what they can do and a coordinator will help them be like OK well you can cheat this or you can actually do this stunt and this is how you do it. But as a stunt man. There’s a part that like Hardcore Henry guys that is just go for it. But there is consequences to just going for it. And that includes legal fines but even jail time. So my advice is just be smart about it and contact a professional and then see how you can create your vision.
There’s a lot of really great behind the scenes videos about the making of Hardcore Henry. So you can enjoy the madness yourself of what these guys did to make Hardcore Henry happen.
We want to thank Andrei and Sergey for joining us and Adam Gomez for co-piloting this episode.
Thank you very much for having me it was a pleasure.
And thanks for putting life and limbs on the line repeatedly as a stunt man and for making sure filmmakers including our students are that much safer when when putting stunts in their movies.
Well thank you. I love my job and I love seeing the students create their vision safely.
Let’s call that the moral of the story. Thank you so much for listening. This episode was based on the Q&A moderated by Ekatarina Terakhovich and myself.
Edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden. Our creative director is David Andrew Nelson who also produced this episode with Kristian Hayden and Eric Conner executive produced by Jean Sherlock Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter.
Special thanks to Robert Cosnahan Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at nyfa.edu. See you next time.