The following was adapted from an interview with Jason Rodriguez, stunt coordinator for Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone.”
On a day we do a stunt, I show up in the morning and first make sure all my people are there and all the equipment I need to do the stunt is there. Then I meet on set with the director, 1st AD, and writer, and we talk over how we want to shoot that day, what order we want to shoot the stunt, any acting that will be involved in the stunt—everything—and put a plan together.
Then the actors show up and we do a rehearsal; we walk through what they’re going to do that day. If there’s something specific that the actors have to do and we didn’t rehearse the day before, I pull them off to the side to do a little bit of rehearsal, just for that stunt.
When shooting starts, I keep my eye on safety, whether everything is working for [the] camera, if the actors are doing the performance the right way. Throughout the day, I make suggestions on how to cover a stunt better, where to place cameras if the director doesn’t shoot a lot of action. I’ll suggest different things and help them out with that.
On set, I’m usually in video village making sure that everything looks the way it’s supposed to, stunt-wise. A lot of times, the director will be concentrated on the performance of the acting in the scene and they’ll turn to me and go, “Did the stunt look ok?” and make sure that the action portion looked right because they’re not necessarily locked in on that.
If it’s a bigger stunt, I’m not in video village because I need a bigger view of what’s going on. If there are a lot of people involved, if there’s background involved or several stunt players, a lot of moving parts, or if it’s an extremely dangerous stunt like a car crash, I have to be more involved, closer to the stunt. Then I’ll watch playback and make sure everything is what they wanted.
As soon as we feel like we have the stunt the way we want it and the scene the way we want it, we either move on to the next one or we shake hands, tell each other how great it was, and leave for the day.
In terms of coordinating stunts ahead of shooting, it honestly just depends on the project. Sometimes in feature films, you’re only dealing with one script so, during prep, you can get a lot of the stunts knocked out in rehearsal. In the television world, you get scripts every week so it’s harder to prep those. The only stunts you really get a lot of prep time for once you start shooting a series are the bigger ones. You bring the performers in a few days before, figure things out, and rehearse.
For fights, if they’re not very intricate and they’re going to be pretty much what’s scripted, then we’re just [choreographing] it on the day-of. Or I might have a pre-call and get the performers an hour or two before we shoot so I can work with them.
Fights like that, smaller things, action sequences that aren’t huge where no one has a chance of really getting injured—what I call “actor action”—I give the actors a lot of input on what we want to do with the stunt. Then I tweak the [scripted] choreography to what [the actor] feels their character would do in that situation or how they think a certain scene should go. There is a little more freedom in the stuff that’s less involved, generally speaking: small action pieces like shoving, pushing around, little fights. There’s more freedom for the actor to do what he feels like his character should do. When they’re big stunts, they don’t involve the actor—it’s a stunt double or stunt performer—and that stuff takes more planning and being more specific [ahead of shooting].
When it comes to my responsibilities as stunt coordinator, I’m just in charge of the physical aspect of a stunt. I can suggest locations, what we might need permit-wise, but that’s usually taken care of by the assistant director conveying those needs to the location department for permits and those kinds of things. I mainly concentrate on choreographing the stunts.
I am involved when we go on [location] scouts. I’ll see a location and say, ‘What you have in mind will or won’t work here.’ That’s when the creative process starts, when we start rethinking things or we just look for another location that works for what we want to do. I mainly concentrate on how we can do a stunt, where we can do the stunt, and then conveying that to the people that need to get all the other stuff.
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