Director's Notebook: The 'John Wick' Directors on Creating "Car Fu"

Director's Notebook: The 'John Wick' Directors on Creating "Car Fu"

Feb 04, 2015

In this monthly column we spotlight new Blu-ray/DVD releases by interviewing directors about the scenes that stood out most for them while making their movies. This month, we talk to directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch about their Keanu Reeves-starring revenge thriller John Wick (on sale now).


In a film that’s nonstop action, is it possible to bring a unique look and feel to what’s on-screen and still feed an audience's appetite for thrills? That’s the dilemma Chad Stahelski and David Leitch have been faced with for most of their careers as stunt coordinators and second unit directors for many heralded action-thrillers of the past few decades. By calling the shots in their directorial debut, John Wick, the pair was allowed to step even further outside the box and in doing so crafted an actioner that not only proved Keanu Reeves can still be a convincing action star at 49 but introduced us to new fighting styles, like “car fu.”

The idea of having Reeves not even leave his car to battle his foes came to Stahelski and Leitch while developing one of the film’s final scenes, where they admittedly made something out of very little. Having watched John Wick spend the last hour shooting, stabbing, kicking and punching the minions put in front of him, the directors decided to change things for the lead-up to Wick’s showdown with the boss of the syndicate, Viggo (Michael Nyqvist).

Here Stahelski and Leitch explain the inspiration behind the car fu scene and if they have anything else up their sleeves if a John Wick sequel were ever made.

 

 

“We just throw the script out and rewrite for what we have”

“We kind of came up with car fu after realizing we ran out of time and money and had to come up with something interesting and fun. [Stunt coordinator] Darrin Prescott, a good friend of ours from the stunt world, he came up with the idea. He was like, 'We can’t do a big car chase through New York so let’s get a nice area that we can play in and really beat the s**t out of the bad guys and the cars.' And we were like, that’s cool. We’ll stretch it out and really show off John’s driving skills. And we started putting it together.

“The script writer had written a little action bit where John is pursuing Viggo as he’s trying to get to the helicopter and then some action ensues and they drive John’s car into the water and John has to get out of the car and get out of the water. We, as action designers in our day job, often we do this for other movies where we just throw the script out and rewrite for what we have. Usually you’re inspired by location and by the resources you have. The toolbox of what you have. In this case we had a dock. And we knew how many cars we had. We knew we already had established a character who was good with guns and we showed his driving prowess, so we were inspired to combine those two and make car fu, where John Wick would fight everyone in the two SUVs taking Viggo to the helicopter without leaving his car. It wasn’t in the script, it was something that came out of prep and development.”

 

 

“We had to have a plan”

“You have to definitely design something like this in prep because you want to make sure you know how to photograph it and tell the story and how it matches the rest of the film. We had to have a plan, especially with the car stuff because it involves rigs and different rehearsals. There’s so much that goes into it. If you don’t prep it you won’t get a fraction of it. Darrin had to train Keanu for some of the shots, Keanu went to the track and studied stunt driving and drifting, we had to use some camera rigs and the special effect guys had to crate side rigs for the cars, it’s a huge process. And then you have to weld the cars so they don’t get destroyed when they bump each other.

“There’s a shot where John Wick is drifting at 180 degrees and shoots a guy in the head, well, that’s Keanu Reeves. He did the whole stunt.”

 

 

“You gotta go on a journey with the guy and have to like the guy”

“Because we’re action guys we’ll never be satisfied. We get to play with bigger budgets and bigger tools on studio movies but as first-time filmmakers when we left that scene after those four days we were like, ugh. We could have done so much more. You wish you had five or six more setup shots that would tie everything together. But in post once we got it all together, and put in the lightening, we were like, you know what, it’s working. It was below zero on those nights. The amount of shots and setups and the amount of s**t we got done in four days—and that’s what we had in that location from car chase to fight scene to putting the actors in rain—we were super happy. Our own performance? We always expect more from ourselves.

“We’re in development right now on a sequel and there isn’t a lot of pressure to come up with new action ideas. We have ideas for days and without blinking twice we know we can outdo the action from the original, it’s the matter of story and how much you like the character. That’s always the most important. If there’s great action but you have a character that no one likes and doesn’t have charisma you’re not going to watch it. Look at any great action star, whether it’s Harrison Ford or Liam Neeson or Robert Downey Jr., pick a name, you love the guy first. Good action, bad action, you just love them in action. So we want to make sure we have a story and a character that everybody loves and then we’ll dress it with action that we promise will be awesome. You gotta go on a journey with the guy and have to like the guy.

“That being said, we had Keanu endure a lot of physical things. The training we put him through was not easy. And without any complaining he powered through. He’s a perfectionist and wants to do it again and again. But even he couldn’t help but smile when we put him in a car and told him to drive around and shoot people.”

 

 

 

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