Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you get started in the film industry as a Stunt Coordinator and performer?
I have a martial-arts background. I began training in Tang Soo Do as a kid and started competing and got my black belt as a teenager. In high school, I started dabbling in acting and character work. Later on, that lead me to an audition for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. I toured with them as clown, zig-zagging all across the country and playing in some of the biggest arenas and in front of the largest crowds I’ve ever seen. I met a former Ringling clown while the tour was in LA, and he told me about his life as a stunt performer. I hadn’t realized it, but that made sense for me too. As clowns, we’re cross-trained in everything from pratfalls, to working with heights (trapeze and wire walking), to fire, and all-around physical performance. Between the martial-arts training and my circus background, I was a in a pretty good spot to start my dive into the world of stunts after my circus contract ended.
What’s your process for coordinating stunts and action sequences for a film?
Like most departments, it usually starts from the script. I try to read through the script for the first time uninterrupted and without any biases. Then on the second time around, I pull things out and note what’s needed for each scene in terms of players, props, location, wardrobe, etc. It’s all a big collaborative effort, so I talk with the other departments and request certain things I need and find out what I can do for them to make things easier. My main priority is always to get the job done safely, while making the action still look real and violent. Many times this is easier said than done, because of budget constraints and the element of surprise. Things don’t always go according to plan, but I think that’s why many of us work in production; we’re a certain type, adaptable and quick-thinking on our feet.
Can you break down one of the key action scenes from Keeper?
When Anna Remus, the writer and director, sent me the script, I loved the action she had written. It was already a great start. To design the action for the biggest scene, I initially went with what was on the pages, then played devil’s advocate to make sure everything was possible to pull-off in real life. I suggested some of my own personal flair/flavor at that point, but also wanted to make sure the action fit the story (and wasn’t motivated by cool moves I wanted to see on screen).
It’s a very collaborative process and Anna was wonderful to work with. She was open to my suggestions, but also made clear and concise decisions for me to work from. That helped us figure out the style for the action. A few of the characters were involved in a good amount of stunts and in cases like that, I try to get stunt doubles, and/or have rehearsal time to train the actors involved. For Keeper, we met at a happy medium and Anna liked the idea of having stunt performers in some of the character roles. I was a bit concerned about who would play the lead character, Missy, knowing how physical she had to be for the role. I was relieved when I found out Anna Rizzo was cast as Missy because I had worked with her on a show in North Carolina a few years earlier. On that film, I watched Anna jump into freezing water, get bruised from hitting the ground, and get tossed into arcade machines. She never once complained, so I knew she was perfectly capable and a total professional.
Another big piece of the puzzle was the DP, Quinton Brogan. On the pre-visualization (“previz”) day with the stunt team, Anna and Quinton came down to review the choreography. I usually have to shoot the previz, but Quinton brought his camera and jumped right into angles and shots. I could tell working him was going to be awesome. When we got to set, if something wasn’t working, Quinton instinctively knew which camera moves would help sell the action better. Honestly though, the entire Keeper team was a pleasure to work with. I also want to give a huge shoutout to my stunt team for having my back from previz to wrap. They were attentive, took some hard hits, and made my job a whole lot easier since they allowed me to focus on the bigger picture.
Who are some of your big inspirations and do you emulate your style after anyone?
I have too many to name! One of my earliest inspirations is Jackie Chan. My style is naturally comedy, so I think that’s why I gravitated toward a lot of Jackie’s films. He has a great sense of rhythm and flow for the choreography and then he accentuates moments with big stunts, like in Police Story, where he jumps from several stories in a mall, grabs onto a pole, and slides down as real light bulbs are break and explode around him. I remember watching his movies and going, “Wow, life keeps beating the crap out of him, but he always gets up. I want to be tough like that!” Nowadays, a lot of the mainstream action on TV and film has a more serious and brutal flavor, so I’ve been working more from that, but I still keep a lot of the concepts I learned from watching Jackie Chan. There are some subtle nods to Jackie in the action of Keeper, if you can catch them.
Follow Anthony Huang on Instagram @actionanthony