I f*cking loved John Wick when I finally saw it a few weeks ago. The movie has the most simple of setups and an even more simple (but relatable) piece of motivation for all of the carnage, but that’s part of its genius. The film also builds an impressive underworld with its own set of rules, social stratification and visual aesthetic and it relays all of this information with impressive economy. However, it goes without saying that one of the true highlights of the film is all of the mayhem, stunts and plain old “getting shot in the face” that happens here. That wouldn’t have been possible without 87Eleven, a veteran stunt and second unit directing outfit run by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (their credits include The Matrix Trilogy and many, many other films).
Stahelski and Leitch also make their full-on directorial debut with John Wick, handling both the first and second units and making all of the creative calls on the film. Last week they had me down to their studio (along with a few other journalists) and taught me a thing or two about gunplay. Hit the jump to check it out. John Wick stars Keanu Reeves Adrianne Palicki, Willem Dafoe, Bridget Moynahan, Ian McShane, Jason Isaacs, Alfie Allen, Lance Reddick, John Leguizamo, Dean Winters, and Michael Nyqvist. It hits theaters on October 24th.
Here’s the video of me in action. Anything that looks remotely cool is the responsibility of 87Eleven. The music is by Tyler Bates collaborator DJ Dylan Eiland. And stick around below the video for a chat with Chad Stahelski and David Leitch:
CHAD STAHELSKI: Every film is unique as far as issues go, you’re trying to create a really big budget movie for a budget in New York. Logistically it’s always a challenge. There’s budget and there’s time, but there’s also talent and capability. We knew what kind of movie we wanted to make, but casting is always difficult. But if you have someone like Keanu Reeves who’s used to action, used to longer takes and has a great memory and has a physical aptitude, that takes a lot of the pressure off. Time is money so if you’ve got a cast member that can get it done sooner you can get bigger takes. And aesthetically, you can see the action. Dave and I, rather than doing shaky-cam with a very kinetic sense of editing, we wanted to go for longer takes and a more composed kind of film.
DAVID LEITCH: There were a lot of difficulties, don’t get us wrong. But our experience as second unit directors working on a lot of big films and working with a lot of actors… it’s like Chad said, when you have someone like Keanu you can do more choreography and longer takes – which allowed us to actually get a lot more action done in a shorter amount of time. But we also chose that visual style because we’ve been wanting to do that for a long time. Western cinema wants to tighten up the lens and shake the camera and we do that in our day jobs in second unit, but our influences are more in Asian cinema than western, like Kurosawa where you really hold the composition.
You were saying that some of the action stuff in this movie is stuff you’ve been working on for a while [and haven’t been able to put in other movies]. And was Keanu a driving factor in getting this brutal choreography onscreen?
STAHELSKI: I guess when you’re looking to direct you’re not looking to force a style onto a story. Like Dave said, we don’t have just one style of action that we love. The action fits the story and the story fits the action. You don’t just mish-mash traditional Kung Fu into a story. You’ve got to create the world and the action fits that world. Keanu probably didn’t have the same vision of action as we did, because he hadn’t been exposed to it. We brought him some of our test rehearsal tapes and he just smiled like, “okay!” No one just learns on the day, Keanu spent four months with the gun coaches and out tactical people from LA SWAT and our Navy Seal friends and then we went through our guys and our concepts at 87Eleven and put it all together.