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Welcome to Emmy Contenders 2020. This month, SYFY WIRE is speaking to some of the actors and artisans whose work earned them Emmy nominations this year. Today we speak with Hiro Koda, the Emmy-nominated stunt coordinator for Netflix's Stranger Things.
Apart from love scenes, stunts involve some of the most up-close-and-personal work actors can be called upon to do, which makes action sequences especially fraught with safety issues. Protecting actors (and their stunt doubles) requires a large array of equipment and especially thoughtful stunt coordinators. For stunt coordinator Hiro Koda, who doubled on Stranger Things as a second unit director, that means mapping out the action in the form of pre-visualization videos, making sure production designers have filled the set with soft surfaces, and checking in with actors to keep them comfortable. Koda chatted with SYFY WIRE about how he accomplished a few key scenes in Season 3 and what precautions he’s taking to return to work during a pandemic.
Let’s talk about one of the most challenging stunt sequences in Season 3, because you managed to do so much despite your actor and his stunt double being wet and shirtless, which a lot of folks appreciated. I’m referring to Billy’s visit to the sauna, which I can’t even imagine how you would do now.
That was a fun sequence! And it was interesting to design, action-wise, and come up with these crazy rigs to fly Dacre Montgomery’s stunt double and Dacre himself, without a shirt on. It was a big scene, and unfortunately, when we were throwing Dacre into things, he could only wear pads from the waist down. He would put on knee pads and hip pads, but there was just no way to put any padding up top.
Shawn Levy is an incredible director, and putting together these storyboards, we were like, “Oh my goodness, how are we going to do this? There’s just no way.” But he was very detailed in what he wanted to do, which was very helpful. And we had a meeting where he asked, “Can you do this? Can we do that?” and I threw some ideas at him, and he said, “I love that. Let’s incorporate that.” We had a lot of ideas, but there was just no way to shoot it all, even though we did shoot some of that on second unit with the heavy wires and the stunt double.
What ideas didn’t make it in?
Let’s see. There was a little more interaction with Mike, when Billy was trying to attack Eleven, kind of a little fight between Billy and Mike. That became a bit shorter, but it was still exciting and scary. Max was a little more involved. There were a couple of little wire stunts we had planned, but we just didn’t have the time, and it didn’t even make sense to have it in there. Like there was already a moment between Billy and Max when he busted through the window and tried to cut her with the tile, and there wasn’t a need for another moment like that.
Apparently, Dacre hit his head against the glass too hard when he was head-butting it, and broke it too early?
That was the breakaway glass. It’s fragile already. [Laughs.] When Dacre really gets into character, it’s probably hard for him to control his power and anger. That scene was pretty incredible with the intensity that he put into it. You could literally see his real veins popping out, not just the fake ones they had on him. It was pretty crazy. And he was hitting a real door, smashing into a real door. His stunt double got pretty banged up, but it’s all about making everything look more painful than it really is. We don’t want, like, to really wreck anybody.
The finale fight was a nod to the airplane scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
The whole Hopper/Grigori fight, it was kind of building over the season, from the very first time that they met at the Hawkins Laboratory all the way through to the control room and generator room in the finale. Each of those fights got gradually bigger. The finale set was so massive, and we had several meetings with the Duffer brothers to figure out where they wanted this sequence to start and where it needed to end. It took us some time to choreograph and design the action from start to finish. It’s not the same choreography as Raiders, but it’s the same feel — especially that little moment where Hopper is like, “Hey, I’m not through with you yet.” And when Grigori gets tossed into the laser, it’s similar to when the big Nazi was tossed into the jet engine. It has that same flavor.
What’s it going to be like when you restart production, given the new safety protocols?
It’s going to be interesting. I mean, all the studios have different guidelines and protocols, and so do the various states, depending how bad the situation is in their state. So it’s going to depend on what they come up. I have a lot of my own guidelines that I’m coming up with to keep my team safe within the working environment on set, pandemic-wise.
What are some things that can be done to make things safer specifically for stunt people? Especially considering that stunt people put their own well-being at risk more than other cast and crew as it is. You don’t want them to feel like their lives are disposable.
Right. And a lot of people think that we are, or at least, it kind of feels that way with certain things when it comes to stunts. If a cast member gets hurt, then the production could shut down. But if a stunt person gets hurt, it’s not going to shut the production down. We continue shooting. It’s not a good thing, obviously, but that is the case. With this, we’re going to have to rethink day players. When I hired people before, there were some who would come in for a day, and then be gone, if it were for a nondescript stunt or doubling someday. They’re in and out. So that might need to change a little bit. The main cast members who do have doubles, the doubles may have to be brought on for an extended period of time so that they’re only working in one area, after they’ve been tested and gone through all the protocols. I feel like that’s going to be a lot safer, to be able to stay on board longer than just coming in and out. And I feel like it’ll keep everybody a lot more comfortable, you know what I mean?
One of the benefits of the production pause is that you’ve had more time to prep for Season 4.
Yeah, they’ve had the time to continue prepping, but I can’t do what I normally do when I’m prepping, which is pre-visualization of the stunts. I can’t bring in my stunt guys when the production is down, so the only thing I can do is brainstorm on my own.
Unless you do the previz videos with your wife and fellow stunt player, Jahnel Curfman? She also joined the production for Season 4 …
[Laughs.] We can do that. We can kind of prep ideas. But the real work to be done is when we get back, because I need physical performers in there so we can start throwing things together. But Jahnel and I can definitely brainstorm. It’s actually been nice to have some time off with the family, without work getting in the way. We just had no idea it was going to be as long as it has been. I thought it might be a couple of weeks, tops, when we got shut down. But we should be up and running again before long. I don’t know exactly when.
At least you’re shooting in the state of Georgia, which has opened up more than some other locations.
Yeah. Tyler Perry resumed production at his studio, and I hope things have been going well there. I mean, he’s got his own kind of guidelines. He’s actually quarantining people at his studio. That set a good precedent of what’s to come. All the different unions have their guidelines, Netflix is going to have their guidelines, and then Georgia has their guidelines. Some of it overlaps, with quarantines and testing and how many tests prior to being on set, and things like that. It’s going to come down to what the production company, Netflix, and the state of Georgia agree on, and from there I can gear up my guidelines for my team.
I researched the different types of masks that are made; I want a mask that can absorb sweat. I’ve gotten new equipment to clean pads and harnesses every night. The whole thing with stunt doubles, they used to bring their pads and they might throw pads on the actors. But we’ll have to purchase new pads, so it’s just for their personal use, only for them, not going back and forth between stunt doubles and actors. These guys are probably going to have to have their own harnesses. They’re not going to be able to share harnesses. It’s a lot of extra expenses, time, and work, but if that’s what we have to do to get back to work, you got to do it. I don’t know everything, but I’m trying to keep things safe and get some kind of normalcy going on, you know?