John Wick 2 may be bloodier and more action packed than the first one, but that doesn’t mean director Chad Stahelski wasn’t ready to up the ante. Stahelski, who co-directed the first one with David Leitch after Keanue Reeves approached him with a script and asked them to develop a pitch, has been dealing with action movies throughout his twenty-four year career. All of that experience has taught him the importance of preparing.
“I look at process no matter what we do. Easily how you build a house is more important than what the house is. Have a plan. Even if you don’t like it, have a plan. With action you gotta have a plan. And that doesn’t mean you have a plan a week before [you’re on set], it means you have it before you even start shooting.
To achieve just one fight scene in John Wick what do we have to do? The stunt guys have to be good. Stunt guys didn’t just see it for the first time. Remember, they’re human too and they need to remember the moves. Granted, they’re trained to do that, but still. So Keanu’s got to be good at the skill set. He’s gotta be good at judo, jujitsu, guns. You ever tried to do reloads when camera guys are yelling at you, when I’m yelling at you? You’re dropping magazines left and right. So you gotta be good at that and find the camera all the time. The lighting guys gotta be good. The camera guys gotta get it all, so if the camera guy doesn’t go to all the rehearsals we got nothing. So for three months Keanu is rehearsing, the stunt guys are rehearsing the camera guy’s rehearsing, the lighting team is there, and wardrobe knows he needs to do it in a suit.”
While John Wick 2 certainly had a higher budget than the first film (about double if estimates about the first film’s budget are to be believed), Stahelski said he was pleased the studios did not impose their own vision on the project. Without naming names, he mentioned a few films he’s worked on where the actor is not available until one week before shooting and the studio often does nothing to help.
“If someone doesn’t throw up a red flag going ‘how is this gonna happen?’ you kind of deserve what you get.”
Stahelski had nothing but praise for John Wick himself, Keanu Reeves, calling him dedicated to the project and eager to learn.
“I can have all the great camera guys, editors and stunt team, but what do I need most? The actor. If the actor can’t do it, everything else goes to shit. An actor is a human being, or usually they are. So you got this guy, if he’s human, do you think he can be an expert martial artist, do long takes and have a memory that can remember 50 to 100 moves in a week? It usually takes five months to a year to get that good because we train them as stunt guys.”
Compared to most directors, Stahelski develops action sequences a little differently. Instead of being handed a script with a certain type of scene, Stahelski approaches the writer (in this case Derek Kolstad) and tells them about what kind of sequences he wants to include. Originally, the catacomb sequence in John Wick 2 took place in a basement/stairwell area inside a large mansion, but Stahelski felt he had seen too many similar scenes. Before shooting started, Stahelski explored Rome and eventually discovered the catacombs, inspiring him to move and completely rework the scene.
“But if someone handed me the script and it had catacombs in it, I’d go see the location and I’d bring two or three of my stunt guys and we’d live down there for a weekend and just play play play play play play. And anything that I couldn’t get on video real quick I’d have the story board guy draw.”
For Stahelski, the most important part of the planning process is getting together and practicing.
“You know how long that catacomb scene took? Three days that’s it. Most movies take three weeks to do something like that but because we had rehearsed for three months beforehand we knew what we were doing. So if you want action, great, just rehearse it. If you go there, and you got your $200 million movie and you show up on set and you’ve done maybe a Saturday rehearsal and something else without the camera guy, without the wardrobe, without the real guns, without the stunt team, how do you possibly do it? We approach choreography and action just like live rehearsals. A Broadway show takes months, so why is it any different than us? And we have more moving parts than a theater.”
Stahelski closed out our interview with a challenge for any aspiring film makers within the Heroic Hollywood community:
“I challenge anybody that hears this interview- and you’re not doing the splits, back flips, there’s no wire work- go take the catacomb sequence and see if you can get through it in a day. I challenge you. Go frame by frame through it with your friends and try to memorize it. It should take you a while. Plus reloads, plus the real guns, plus the wardrobes, plus you can’t see anything, plus the camera guys trying. Try to duplicate what Keanu did, I dare you and see if you can do it in under four weeks.”
John Wick 2 is already available for digital purchasing and will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 13.
Keep checking back to Heroic Hollywood for information about the future of the John Wick franchise as it becomes available!