Chris O’Hara, stunt coordinator for Ryan Reynolds’ new movie, talks about what he needs to choreograph an open world without limits.
Tell us about one of the most impressive shots: a 360 ° turn around Ryan Reynolds, when he sees everything that happens around him, including explosions and a crashing helicopter. How was it designed and filmed?
That was probably one of the coolest takes we did, because while we’re there with Ryan we’re looking at him and the world around him. So the cool thing about this is that you’re in a video game, but he’s in a world where anything [could happen]. So, in a way, we had creative freedom to do whatever we wanted. We knew that every time we went to a certain area [of the scene] we wanted there to be a bit of action, so I think you can see a burning subject running in the background, a subject riding a zip line at the same time who shoots with a pistol; there was another falling into flames from a second story window, or a person driving [a vehicle] while firing a 50 caliber machine gun, and a helicopter crashing. Then, All of these things were designed very specifically. We did rehearsals for what that movement would be like and how to position the camera to achieve a frame large enough to capture Ryan Reynolds in front, but also show all the little ones.easter eggs that are in the background of this 360-degree shot. We had a great location in Boston that was like a five-way intersection that allowed [for] depth to create the 360 vibe.
How did you film all the elements [of that shot]? Was it separately, or with motion control ?
No, it was all done in live action .
Really? Was everything happening at the same time?
And how long did they rehearse to do everything in one take?
We had already rehearsed all the initial elements and went through everything. I think we had a rehearsal day to find out what each of us was going to do. We had the camera outside and we rehearsed: “Well, that guy was a little ahead, that other one was behind.” We just did everything as layered. We knew we wanted to find the right spots for the camera to be there. “Send him [to do the shot] now.” All of this was done with rehearsals. I mean, definitely no helicopter crashed [in reality], which made everything easier for us. But, you know, all the live action with people was choreographed for a great 360 degree shot.
It was interesting that each action scene has its own story. In the first we find out who the people with the sunglasses are and in another the character of Ryan Reynolds falls in love. How did you find the peculiar style of each action scene?
I think the great thing about the movie is that there is an arc about who is Guy. So you start by going from point A to point B, doing the same thing every day and then you have this little glitch in your schedule that forces you to realize where you are [in history]. We were able to build the action in phases, so, you know, Guy gets really badass in the end. […] And the great thing is that Ryan Reynolds is always the lead in Hollywood or you always hope to see him as a superhero and here… we basically reduced him to [being somebody] dumb. He was going from A to B and suddenly he started trying things that didn’t work, but then he got better and learned from it. Regarding the choreography of the action, it was great to start from the basics and take it to be super badass.
We haven’t seen a movie in a while where there’s action from the very first take, you know, in the opening scene. What led you to the decision to film something that captivated our attention from the beginning?
I think that came from the script. You know, the script was super cool and they didn’t want you to realize what was going on, because in a video game world you can create whatever you want. There’s Call of Duty and these first-person games where there’s a lot of chaos going on around you, and you’re going through [the stage] and absorbing everything. I think the great thing about the beginning of the movie is that you don’t know what’s going on because it’s a world where you can be in action and create all this crazy stuff. I think it was a great way to “punch you in the face” immediately.
How many stuntmen were in this movie, and which part do you like the most?
Heck, I’d have to go through my stunt list, but as you watch the movie – and if you watch it many times – you see there are layers, layers, and layers of people in the background. Having said that, I think we had about 50 subjects, probably. Just because there are big scenes in which there were different people and several layers of things that are not seen. I mentioned it before, but I think that 360 ° scene [is the part I like the most about the movie because] it was great and very novel working with the times and with subjects that fall and do things. We set someone on fire. […] And for safety we used a fire extinguisher, but while that subject was on fire, it fell into a mailbox and we continued shooting. There were other people putting out the flames with the extinguisher. Just working with the times while all these people arrived [on the scene]… The zip line, the falling windows. […] Working with all that in the 360 ° scene and trying to do everything was great. That big scene stands out to my eyes.
What kind of video games did you have in mind when creating the action sequences for Free Guy ?
Well, back then Fortnite was out and it was really big. We definitely use it [for inspiration]. I saw a lot of Fortnite , but it also happened that at that time I had [sons / daughters] of, let’s see… 16, 13 and 10 years old. It was great to be able to search his brain for things that can be done in a video game world. They played a lot in first person, you know, like GTA ( Grand Theft Auto ) and Call of Duty , that kind of thing. It was like a version of that, where anything can happen. I watched a lot of different footage on YouTube and actually asked [my sons / daughters]: “Would this be cool?? ” “What can be done?” “What are the parameters of this and this?” So some tweens and teens helped me develop what the action of this movie would be like [laughs].
When you designed the action, how did you draw the line between a regular person and a superhero, so as not to go too far and make a kind of Spider-Man? Because sometimes Guy does amazing things, but he has to stay true. How did you balance it?
I mean, I think with superhero movies your brain can get a little disconnected, because if the superhero becomes CGI that’s fine. I think our world was more grounded in reality, or so we wanted. For some scenes we didn’t want to do a lot of things digitally. We did have computers and planning within the action scenes, but it was more about creating the setting through the lens, seeing all of those things through it. We were able to land things more because there was not so much that had to stand out, but rather several things were in the background. That allowed us to take small elements and achieve greater things in live action.. […] It’s not really a superhero movie. We wanted to make everything more real and we tried to hold onto that a bit. Like in a superhero movie, you can see some fake subject flying in the air, but our movie really focuses on Guy’s journey, so everything else, what was in the environment was kind of an accompaniment. [The story] is more about Guy’s journey and he is a natural person within this environment.
In the action scenes we have samurai, boxers, katanas and even airbags. How did all these different elements combine?
It’s a fake world, so we wonder what would be weirder. “What is the weirdest thing [we can do], bring a boxer?” “Where does the boxer come from? Where does the samurai come from? ” And [we wanted] to use the environment. The airbag in the car was prop for a fight. It was great, like for the audience to say, “Oh, God!” But many things were also interesting for Guy’s trip. [In an action scene] he’s at the wheel, all of a sudden everything explodes and he says, “Oh, damn, damn, damn,” and we follow the character and what he’s doing. It helped a lot to have nuances in the fight scenes in terms of the props we had to work with [like airbags]. I also think Ryan’s acting ability – in all those moments – helped make it more interesting.
The fight scenes had this kind of robotic choreography where [the characters] would do one move, then pause, and then do another. What was the process like working with Jodie and Ryan to balance the “robotic” elements of these scenes and also make everything look real and fluid to make it all work?
I think [in] the process of doing that long fight with Jodie and Ryan, everything was supposed to be like a game between them. There are scenes where it is only about having action for the action itself. Action, action, action! But all these fight scenes are also about [the characters of] Jodie and Ryan’s relationship. So while we watch the battle there are these little pauses, these little moments, bop, bop, bop! I think maybe this part was the one that felt a bit robotic, but all those pauses had to do with the story. We tried not to put up a fight just to show you a fight, but we could actually tell a story through the stunts and give reasons to stunt.. That is my goal. My team and I choreographed the fight with all those pauses and Ryan’s comedic timing .
How far were you allowed to take creative freedom and what was the biggest challenge in making this movie?
I think at first when I read the script, it seemed super fresh and new to me. I think the atmosphere we were able to create is huge. In pre-production we meet and discuss a lot of things: “Where can we take it?” “How far can we go?” “What will be fun and what will not be fun?” There really were no limits, which can be difficult, because, you know, you can create whatever you want in the video game environment. Trying to land it and brainstorm sometimes we’d say, “God, that went too far,” so you had to land it. That was the creative part. It was challenging, but it was also great to have those skills, that environment.
Did you get any challenges in Free Guy that you haven’t had in other movies?
I’ve been very lucky to be a part of so many different movies, so definitely. On Free Guy I worked side by side with the special effects supervisor, Swen [Gillberg], and it was amazing to have that working relationship because it’s a video game environment, so the special effects had a huge weight in a lot of the things we did. Being able to work so closely with them [that department] to create that environment was [very good]. I’ve worked with special effects people before, but here we spend all our time in the effects editing room looking at different things and analyzing different options and changes, redoing things because we didn’t want to make a mistake. So that was something unique to me.