One can’t avoid arguments when working on a high-speed production with hundreds of people running around on tight schedules. I’m not the most aggressive person in seeking the arguments, but I’m not avoiding them either. Yesterday we ended up clashing with the stunts coordinator. He had been preparing for a stunt based on my instructions for quite some time, but when he finally presented the stunt for me, it was a big disappointment. People just sort of slumping down, when I wanted them to FLY out because of an explosion. He had not paid attention enough to my description, and only after I told what I thought of the stunt, he suggested he needs another 45 minutes to set it up.
Film set time is always to be tripled, so that would’ve meant over 2 hours of preparation, so I couldn’t allow it. I barked at him some words of disappointment and the translator didn’t really do great job, so the only word left floating in the air was fuck. He got really upset and started shouting to me something in China, and I came back to him and we both were shouting at each other with languages neither of us understood, and Lei was trying to be a mediator to keep everyone cool.
We broke off the fight and went to our corners for a bit of a cooldown, and for round 2, we started off with much more constructive way. I took the stunt coordinator aside and spoke privately with him (and Lei) and explained my problem in clear terms about the stunt. He said he understands and wants to rebuild the stunt, and needs only a little bit of time. I told I don’t believe we get this shot done in under two hours, he said it’s only fifteen minutes.
Turns out I was right, as I very often am when it comes to predicting the amount of time wasted on things on the set. This time, the reason was an accident which followed immediately after the first attempt: a stunt came head first to the asphalt from five meters high, because the jump he made was a bit too short. He was taken away with an ambulance, and I learned later on he only suffered a minor concussion, which was a relief, but right then I thought the man had just died right there.
Mood of the shoot went sour understandably, but we decided to continue. We spoke more with the action coordinator and he said he wants to try this once more. I gave him the permission and they prepared the stunt a bit more and then it was a go-time.
This time around, the stunt was just beautiful. Big explosion, guys flying across the air exactly the way I had wished for and nobody got hurt. We didn’t dare to celebrate until we heard what was going on with the injured guy (which we did only the day after), but managed to move on.
So, three lessons I learned here.
First, when working with a bilingual team, be careful with the words, because it may be that only the one, most commonly-known word (“fuck!”) goes through, and you end up having a heated argument for nothing.
Second, be very precise when describing a stunt. Hand gestures are not directing, you need to be specific with words and explain in great detail what kind of a stunt you need, how far the person should fly and what kind of an effect it should have on it all.
Third, never rush the stunts. They are professionals working on a tight schedule and know what they are doing, and they never slacker around, but just want to make things perfect and plan carefully to make sure nobody gets hurt. It will take time, just accept it. It may even seem ridiculously detailed sometimes, but that’s the way it is. Give the stunts the time they need for the preparations, and you get a great one-shot wonder. Rush it, and you get bad action and a higher possibility of injury on set.
The only thing you can do is to ask much before the shoot how long time they will need preparing it, and then work around that info.