During the cinema5D Virtual Show, we had the chance to talk to America Young – Hollywood-based director, actress, and stunt coordinator – about what a stunt coordinator is, what he/she does on set, and get some exclusive tips to help you shoot your next action sequence. Let’s take a closer look at it!
The cinema5D Virtual Show is the perfect occasion to talk to fellow professionals from the film industry that are usually extremely busy. During this period, we had a conversation with America Young to learn more about a department that you don’t find on every set: the stunt team.
To give you a little bit of background, America Young has been working as an actress, director, and stunt coordinator for over a decade now. Her work includes credits such as a music video for “Katy Perry – Hot N Cold,” dozens of feature films, short films, and TV series, including “The Science of Mortal Kombat” by Kyle Hill, which we already interviewed during the cinema5D Virtual Show. Also, she worked on video games like “Halo 5: Guardians” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops II.” But, what does a stunt coordinator do on set?
What Is a Stunt Coordinator
Every time you watch a movie, and there is an action scene or some stunts, there was a stunt coordinator behind it. A stunt coordinator is a person that works closely with the director, the producer, and the art department to arrange the casting and performance of the stunt. Also, he/she will help with the choreography, set design, and props of the scene, so your stunt looks incredible.
First, let’s talk about the relationship between the stunt coordinator and the director. Indeed, very early in the process, America Young reads the script with the director. The idea is to define what is a stunt and what is not, so she can help the director to execute its vision.
Next is the producer, to make sure that a scene is safe or not, and stays within the budget. Stunt coordinators are the ones that can say « no » to the director or producer if safety is not a 100% given. However, this is often not a straight « no,» but more of a « no, but we can do it in another way that is less risky.» Safety first, especially in the stunt department, because things can turn bad quickly. For example, Olivia Jackson, a stunt double for “Resident Evil: The Last Chapter” staring Milla Jovovich, had an on-set motorcycle crash in 2015, which resulted in several injuries, including the amputation of her left arm.
Finally, stunt coordinators do collaborate with the art department to get you the « right » props for the scene. As an example, if you need a knife for a stabbing sequence, they will use several versions of that same knife: a sharp one, a plastic knife, one that is in foam, and so on.
Directing and Shooting an Action Sequence
If you ever shot an action scene, you know how difficult it is. In that type of scenario, the position of the camera – as well as the blocking of the stage – can be your best friend or your worst enemy. America Young likes to shoot action sequences the “Jackie Chan way” as she calls it. It means that she starts by shooting a wide-angle shot of the entire sequence (also called a master). Then, America records a lot of closeups shots of the whole scene. These closeup shots will help you to cut the entire performance and add some dynamic to your movie while you’re in the editing room.
Also, one thing that is important when you want to shoot any kind of action scene is to know the movement and choreography of the actors. As a cinematographer, “slicing” the sequence will help you to drive the camera movement and all the various angles. You want the film and the scene to look as real as possible. It is crucial not to underestimate how your choices of camera positions and movements can make or break an excellent performance of your talents.
Finally, America Young reminds us that being a stunt double is not just about being good at falling from a building or jumping out of a car at 40 mph. Being a good stunt double includes being an actor as well to give/know the personality of the character they’re going to play. As such, they need some time to watch the actor they are going to play. This will help them to learn how to mimic an actor in their attitude or the way they walk, for example.
Did you ever work with a professional stunt coordinator? How do you deal with stunts when working on a modestly priced production? Let us know in the comments below!