Inside the wild stunts and fight sequences of 'Birds of Prey,' which were inspired by 'John Wick,' 'Atomic Blonde,' and Jackie Chan's 'Drunken Master'
- "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)" has been praised for its action scenes.
- The fight sequences were conceptualized by Jon Valera and Jonathan Eusebio, coordinators from stunt company 87eleven Action Design, as well as Shahaub Roudbari.
- The company was founded by "John Wick" filmmakers David Leitch and Chad Stahelski, who came in for reshoots to fine tune the action.
- Roudbari broke down for Business Insider each character's distinct combat style and the process of filming action scenes at the previsualization stage before production begins.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Warning: This post contains mild spoilers for "Birds of Prey"At one point in "Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)," the latest R-rated DC Comics movie from Warner Bros., actress Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn storms a police station in a cocaine-fueled blitz, taking out officers with a gag gun and a metal bat.
For that, viewers can mostly thank 87eleven Action Design, a Hollywood stunts training and equipment company founded by "John Wick" directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski. 87eleven stunt performers and coordinators Jon Valera and Jonathan Eusebio oversaw the fight choreography, along with Shahaub Roudbari.
Each character had a distinct style of combat
The trio began conceptualizing the fight sequences four months before production began last summer in Burbank, California, Roudbari told Business Insider. They had the scripts and designed the major sequences for a few weeks before starting previs (or previsualization), which included zeroing in on a "distinct style" and "specific visual language" for each main character.Roudbari broke down the vision for each character's style:
- "Harley was interesting because we had what was already established [in 'Suicide Squad']," Roudbari said. "We wanted to take that and make it more exciting." But they also wanted to keep her movements grounded in reality. For this, the coordinators took a page from the Charlize Theron-starring "Atomic Blonde," which Leitch directed. "That's something we had in mind for everybody. But specifically for Harley Quinn, she had to have an unpredictable wildness to her ... An inspiration was Jackie Chan in 'Drunken Master.' She's not pre-planned, which makes her very dangerous but fun to watch."
- "For Black Canary [played in the movie by Jurnee Smollett-Bell], we focused on taekwondo and we wanted her to primarily kick," Roudbari said. "In the comics, she's known as one of the better martial artists. But again, it's the idea of believability. If she's throwing a bunch of punches against a big guy, she's going to wreck her hand. But when she puts her strength into a kick, that's going to sell more."
- "For Huntress [Mary Elizabeth Winstead], we went with the 'John Wick'-style brutality," Roudbari said. "She was raised as an assassin and thinks about how she can take out her opponent as quick as possible. She's the most-trained fighter of the whole group and of the highest caliber."
How the action scenes came to be
Once the coordinators designed concepts for the characters and action scenes, they moved into previs, which Roudbari described as a "visual storyboard." They filmed the concepts in full in similar wardrobe with similar props to what it would look like during production as a pitch for the final product.
"It's a back and forth with production," he said. "We're constantly talking with every department, whether it be wardrobe, special effects, construction, et cetera, so they can let us know what kind of sets are being used, the dimensions of the area, whatever."After the concepts were filmed, they were sent to Warner Bros. and the movie's director, Cathy Yan, for notes, which were typically focused on striking the right balance between R-rated brutality and comedy.
"We usually design a bigger concept, so that they can say, 'Okay, take that away or this away,'" Roudbari said.
And during all of this, the coordinators were training the actors and stunt performers. Roudbari said that the actresses did many of their own stunts."The work ethic of the actresses was mind blowing," he said. "They were training for two to three hours a day a few days a week. Of course, we have our stunt doubles for some extraordinary moments, but another big part of the doubles' job is to get the actors up to speed. That's what makes the 'John Wick' movies and 'Atomic Blonde' stand out is that the actors do a lot of the action themselves."
Roudbari said that one of the most challenging, but fun, sequences to coordinate was the climactic fight at an abandoned amusement park, when Harley, Canary, Huntress, and Montoya come together to fend off an army of henchmen. It takes place primarily inside a fun house."It was like a fun puzzle because there were so many moving pieces," Roudbari said. "It's like designing a dance performance. It's a fun ballet of the camera, the stunt performers, and the actors, and they all have to move in sync. That's the challenge we live for."
Chad Stahelski, the "John Wick" director, came in to help during reshoots. Stahelski made adjustments to the fun-house fight and other action scenes in reshoots, including Harley's attack on the police department, Roudbari and stunt performer Yoko Hamamura told Business Insider. This involved trimming down scenes that were originally longer to make them move at a faster pace."Chad came in and fine-tuned the details," Hamamura said. "Drama and action require two different types of filmmaking. To mesh the two is very hard. Cathy has a great vision for drama. It was cool to see that mesh with Chad's style of action."
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