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Interview: David Leitch on returning to SXSW, The Fall Guy, and why it has taken so long for The Academy to recognize the Stunt Community.

I had the pleasure of seeing The Fall Guy at SXSW back in March. I found the film to be an absolute blast that not only a love letter to the stunt community but a true celebration of the film industry. The Fall Guy is now playing in theaters and a few weeks ago, I had a chance to sit down with filmmaker David Leitch to chat about the film and discuss all things stunts with him.

Scott Menzel: Hi there.

David Leitch: Hi, Scott.

Scott Menzel: How are you? Scott Menzel. How are you doing?

David Leitch: I’m good, man. How are you?

Scott Menzel: Doing well, nice to see you again.

David Leitch: Good to see you.

Scott Menzel: As you know, I saw the movie at South by Southwest and I Loved it. Absolutely Loved it.

David Leitch: Thank you.

Scott Menzel: What was it like for you going back to SXSW after Atomic Blonde?

David Leitch: It was fun, because that was such a moment, as well, in my career to have that screening go so well. We exploded after South By. I love the energy of that festival, and I love that people are there to enjoy movies, and there’s not a lot of cynicism involved in it. They’re just people that love movies, and that’s what we did with Fall Guy. We really wanted to make a great version of a popcorn movie, the best version possible. Every turn, we were like, “What would the audience want here?” Then I had the two best actors in the world delivering it. We want to make them laugh here. Okay, then let’s make them laugh. We want to make them feel here. Well, then let’s make them feel. When you could take people on a ride like that, and then have them celebrate it like they did at South By, it was amazing. Felt so good.

Scott Menzel: Yeah, I can only imagine. As an audience member, you feel the excitement. I was explaining to the people who I talked to today, the energy that this movie has is undeniable. You feel it in every frame of this movie. It feels like a passion project. It feels like a love letter to not just, like everyone’s saying, the stunt community, but the entire movie industry. That’s what makes this movie so incredibly special.

David Leitch: Thank you. It really is. Ryan has said it a couple times recently, in the press. We did think about the audience every day. You don’t always do that. You’re telling a story, and you’re thinking about the characters, and you’re thinking about… But we had those covered. It had two great actors that were bringing these characters to life. We were able to rest on that they’re relatable and they’re authentic, because they had it locked. We could also then lean into, how do we make this moment memorable? How do we… And the flexibility we had on set to change scenes and make magic moments happen because of the confidence of everybody and the experience of everybody. It’s a world we’re also familiar with, it’s making a movie. It was great. That’s a really special place to be, because you’re not so much a slave to the script, you’re a slave to the moment. We really embraced it on this movie, and it shows. We were having fun, and we were embracing the fun.

Scott Menzel: As someone who is so passionate about the stunt community, and has worked as a former stunt man, what are the reservations that you have to face when you’re working with actors who aren’t used to stunt work in the same way that you are?

David Leitch: You have to encourage them and build a safe place. You should do an evaluation of their physical abilities, then you build confidence with their abilities. Part of my career has been taking unsuspecting people and turning them into action stars. I think Bob Odenkirk in Nobody is an example of… You would never expect him to be able to do those things, but through the process that we had, it’s building the foundation of some martial arts, then pulling out his attributes, then designing sequences that he’s really strong at. Again, just building trust and confidence.

It comes from being a stunt performer. That’s what you do, a lot of times, when you’re working as a stunt double. You’re testing the rig, you’re showing them how to do it, they’re watching you do it, you do it multiple times, then you do it at half the distance with them, then they end up doing it. Then you’re like, “Oh, I wanted to do that stunt, and now they’re doing it.” But that’s what’s great. You want to try and get the actors to do as much as possible and keep the illusion for the character and the experience. I try to do that on all my films. You just have to build trust. It takes time.

Scott Menzel: You nail it every time. 

David Leitch: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you.

Scott Menzel: There’s so much about your movies that I love. The number one thing is that in every single one of them and I know everyone throws around the quote, “See it on the biggest screen possible,” but your movies are those rare exceptions where every time, and going back to Nobody for a second, it was a shame, I watched that movie at home. I didn’t get to see that one on the biggest screen possible. But they’re such great popcorn movies, and I love that. This movie has so many incredible scenes that I feel like with every new movie that you do, you just continue to up the ante on the stunts. It’s like, “We’re going to make this even more outrageous. Bigger, bigger, bigger.” My question is, what was the most challenging stunt scene in this film, and what were the logistics behind that scene?

David Leitch: Wow, it’s hard, because they all had their unique logistical qualities. The opening scene where Ryan does the big descender, it’s him doing the stunt, but the logistics of getting the building and the permits and the rigging that we had to put up inside this building and the cantilevers and the science and the physics that the stunt team deals with. You don’t think stunt teams are dealing with math. We’re dealing with math and physics all the time because you’re maximizing safety and amplifying spectacle, and you need science to help you. That was a hard one.

Obviously, the cannon roll that was set the world record was a hard one, and probably the hardest, in the sense that people have been trying to break that record for a long time. And we were trying to do it on sand, because I liked sand. So then I gave them that curve ball. The stunt team’s like, “Thanks. We’re going to do it on sand? Awesome.” Makes it like 20% harder. To build out the logistics, the rehearsals, the number of times they rehearsed with cars beforehand, the pressures, and the… Man, if people knew the amount of time and effort that goes into doing practical stunts at the level that we did on this movie, I think they’d be blown away. That was months in the making, that roll. The descender, months of paperwork.

The car jump towards the end of the movie was another. We built that truck custom to have the suspension to take the landing. It’s a huge undertaking, to do that stuff, and it just goes by in a flash, but audiences appreciate it, because it’s like, “That’s real. That was real.” They know it’s real, and they feel it, and then it’s worth it.

Scott Menzel: It hard not to bring up this topic, but why do you feel it is taking so long to get the stunt community recognized by these major guilds? Why isn’t this happening? You got hair and makeup, you got all these other things, but these are people are literally putting their life on the line every time they step forward onto a film set. Why is this taking so long?

David Leitch: It’s also that. Stunt performers risk their life and limb, but it’s also, they creatively design the sequences. Most movies, the stunt department is choreographing those action scenes. You get the script and it says, “Car chase, they go around a corner, they do this.” You take that, and you interpret it, and you choreograph a car chase that’s 20 times bigger than was on the page. Then the director curates it. You are doing what the costume designer does with costumes. You’re doing what the hair and makeup does with the hair. You are creative and creating story and action and all of that. It’s really about noting… Because as performers, we’re supposed to not be seen, and that’s sort of been the deal. I think that’s part of why it’s been so long. It’s like, “You guys are the unseen magic, and that’s the unwritten code.”

But what I’m really trying to fight for is that this is about what we design and this is what we create. And it’s not so much the one stunt, it’s the idea of that stunt. That was not in the script. That was now created by the stunt team that came up with this idea that this should be on a building and they should fall off instead of this… It’s happening. There’s a lot of great people working on it. You could see by the academy celebrating it this last awards that, hopefully, in the near future, that they can recognize it.

Scott Menzel: Thank you again for the time to talk today. I really love this movie. Let me know if there’s anything that I can do to help promote it and push it because it is just so great. Thank you again for your time and keep doing what you do because you’re one of the best at it.

David Leitch: Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. That makes me feel great. And we’ll be calling. Sell. Let’s go. We got to get people to see it.

The Fall Guy is now playing in theaters everywhere!

Author

  • Scott Menzel

    Born and raised in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been a life-long supporter of all things entertainment. At age five, he fell in love with film and television and was inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg, Robert Zemeckis, John Hughes, and Tim Burton. Scott grew up in a mixed-race household with six adopted brothers. His career as a critic began in 2002 when he started writing reviews for IMDB. Scott is autistic and has dedicated most of his career to supporting and elevating underrepresented voices within the entertainment industry. He serves as the Editor-In-Chief of We Live Entertainment, the CEO of the Hollywood Creative Alliance, and is a Television Academy and BAFTA member.

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