To see how far TV series are going to wow viewers with stunts worthy of a big-screen blockbuster, one might need a subscription to a streaming service.
A case in point: the spectacular zero-gravity fight scene in the second season finale of CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery.” Producers weren’t content to fake it with CGI trickery. Inspired by a spinning hallway fight scene in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 feature “Inception,” they had the art department construct a 30-foot long section of the titular space ship’s hexagonal corridor on a Toronto soundstage that could be mounted on a gimbal and rotated 360 degrees like a rotisserie.
But because this was TV, with all the attendant time and budget constraints, the rotating set wasn’t ready for stunt coordinator Christopher McGuire to test his fight choreography until two days before they shot the scene.
“We discovered many things very quickly,” recalls McGuire. “It made you sick and you had no point of reference, so if you were standing at the top of that floor and you weren’t ready, you’d fall 15 feet, which was not safe. So I was on the microphone coaching the [stunt] performers, saying, ‘You need to move here.’”
On Amazon’s “Hanna,” the action is more the traditional brawl and chase variety, epitomized by the series’ opening sequences, which take viewers from a fight in front of an open incinerator to a high-speed pursuit with baby Hanna onboard. The episode then jumps years forward to teen Hanna (Esme Creed-Miles) as an assassin in training, fighting her father (Joel Kinnaman), shooting targets and scaling tall pine trees.
A double was used for all but Creed-Miles’ close-ups on the tree-climbing scene but “as the show went on and Esme got more and more experienced, physically capable and trained, she took on more of the action scenes and performed more of own fights,” says the show’s stunt coordinator Domonkos Pardanyi. “On the other hand, Joel was performing the full fights and we didn’t need to double him.”
The cast of Netflix’s “GLOW,” meanwhile, quickly regained its wrestling chops for season two. “We can go in, find each girl’s strength and build on it, and then you can showcase it with the camera right on their face,” says “GLOW” stunt coordinator Shauna Duggins. “If one actress isn’t as strong with a particular move, we ask, ‘Would you rather change the move or double them?,’ and 99% of the time they’ll say change it, because they really want to see [the actresses].”
Stunt coordinator Jean Frenette had only three weeks to prep for Amazon’s globetrotting action series “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan,” during which time he worked closely with star John Krasinksi.
“We would train and talk about what his character would and wouldn’t do, because he knows how to fight, but he’s not a superhero,” says Frenette. “We’d do a pre-vis [of a stunt sequence] and he’d say, ‘I wouldn’t go that far,’ or ‘I’d do this.’ On the day of the shoot, things would change, because it keeps evolving, but it’s always a question of: Are we keeping everything safe?”