‘Falcon + the Winter Soldier’ Stunt Coordinator on Helping Actors Find Their ‘Violent Vibe’

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Photo Source: Disney+

For Brad Martin, it’s all about the action. As a kid he dreamed of becoming a stuntman, and after moving to L.A. in his early twenties he made that dream a reality. Since then, Martin has worked on some of the biggest franchises in Hollywood: as a stunt double for George Clooney’s Batman and Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man, as a second unit director for the “Underworld” series, and most recently as the stunt coordinator for Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” which airs its finale on April 23 on Disney+

How did you get your start working in stunts?
Well, the way that I got into the union was that there was a stuntman producing a movie in Idaho. And so I went to him and I said, “Hey, I’ll go work for you as a production assistant”—basically the lowest person on the totem pole—“and I’ll work for free if you give me one day of stunts, and then put me in the union.” And he took the deal, and I went up to Idaho, and I helped him with this movie, and they gave me one day of stunts and I got in the union. And I think I was just running around shooting a gun, and I got shot and fell down, and that was all I really did. 

What does a stunt coordinator’s day-to-day look like on set?
A stunt coordinator’s job description can vary from job to job, depending on the knowledge and the information that the director wants. So sometimes a director may know what they want as their vision, and they might not ask for too much creativity. And another director may be an open slate, and say, “Hey this says car chase right now. What can you bring me for a car chase?” We’ll do everything from just implementing action and making sure it’s safe, to designing a whole action sequence. And we hire the stuntmen, we train everybody, we train all the actors, we work with everybody making sure they are all doing a good job. And when we’re on set, we watch them closely, shot after shot, and make sure that they’re giving the director exactly what they’re going for with the action. An “action designer” is what I strive to be, and that’s what I consider the job description to be.

How does working on something episodic like “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” differ from working on feature films?
That was really my first time doing television. I’m pretty much just a feature guy. This was a new experience for me, and it’s definitely challenging. For a movie you might average, say, two and half, three pages a day. Whereas on a television show, you might shoot five or eight pages a day, on a big show like this. That just means there’s a lot more work that you have to get through in a given day. So, we do our best. We don’t always get as many takes as we want to get it just right, so we have to be more prepped on a television show. The pressure is on in a bigger way, I’d say, in television.

What is your relationship like with actors on set?
There’s some big fight scenes [in “Falcon”] where we trained the actors for months, to learn how to look like they’re actually kicking ass. And we developed a great relationship with these guys. Sebastian Stan [who plays the Winter Soldier] is a super cool guy, we would hang out on set and just talk about things. He’s a really adept filmmaker, and he likes talking about shots, and how things are done. And we used to talk about that all the time. And he knew that I always had his back when he was in the middle of a scene, and there’s stunt guys flying around. When you’re doing stunts, and when you’re doing action—and especially when you’re doing it with actors—you have to have their trust, and they have to have yours. So, there’s always just a little bond there, and it’s nothing that comes right away, you have to develop that. 

Are actors from certain backgrounds, athletes or dancers for example, more prepared for this type of work than others?
I think that there’s actors that get more action movies, and the ones that are really serious about it put in their work to train hard. An example would be Jason Statham—you know, I tell people all the time: Jason Statham is the best screen fighter that I’ve ever worked with. He’s as good as 75% of the stunt guys. He’s a joy to work with. But, he was an athlete. He was a diver growing up, and he trains all the time. He’s really serious about his craft. So, you take somebody like that, and then you take somebody like Sebastian Stan, who was an athlete but wasn’t a martial artist, and he picks up quite quickly as well. And then you have some people that don’t have that skill, that aren’t really that in touch with their action side. So for instance, when you’re doing a fight scene, you have to find a violent vibe inside of you, because that’s what you’re trying to bring out. And there’s some people that just can’t dig down and find that attitude, and find that physicality that goes along with it. So, sometimes those people just take a lot more work.

READ: How to Become a Stunt Performer

What’s your advice for actors looking to get more involved in stunt work?
There’s maybe 5,000 working stunt people in America right now that are actually making a living. So the door’s wide open right now. And another thing that people need to do is move to L.A. or Atlanta or New York, where the hubs of filmmaking are. I would say Atlanta right now, because it’s going off—there’s so much work there that they don’t have enough studios for the amount of work that they have. And then offer up yourself for free. Start interning if you can. Say, “Can I help you on set today moving pads?” Find out who the stunt people are, reach out to people and find out, somehow, who’s training and where you can go and train, and learn with these people. Because all this training can basically be free if you can find the right people. And nothing is fast, it’s just persistence.

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