Home Movies “John Wick” guns: how the franchise balances creativity and safety

“John Wick” guns: how the franchise balances creativity and safety

“John Wick” guns: how the franchise balances creativity and safety


The “Dragon’s Breath” ammo is real, but the muzzle flashes are visual effects – inside the Wick world led by director and former stuntman Chad Stahelski and his team.

Among the many weapons that the mythical assassin John Wick used to kill hundreds of bad guys over the course of four films (a book, a pencil, a wire, a car door, a horse, an axe, drums), a gun always defines him best – and the series.

“Nobody Makes More Weapons Than We Do,” Says ‘John Wick’ Director Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman. With all four films in the franchise, Stahelski has taken “gun-fu” (a ballet mix of martial arts and gunfighting) to new commercial and creative heights even as the use of firearms on set has been hotly debated since the death of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

“John Wick: Chapter 4” was in production in Paris when the incident happened in October 2021, but although those involved caused serious concern, the ‘Wick’ ensemble was not shaken – mainly because Stahelski went to great lengths to create a culture of security and preparation around armaments.

“There’s no reason to have a gun that practically works on set,” Stahelski says. “Having a live tour on set is criminal. There is no gun on our board that you could put a bullet in that would be able to fire.

The subject is particularly close to Stahelski, who was the stuntman for Brandon Lee, who was killed by a gunshot on the set of “The Crow” in 1993. Stahelski refrains from speaking specifically about Lee or what happened on “Rust” but says there’s an industry-wide problem. “Ninety percent of the guns available for hire are convenience firearms,” he says. “So you’re asking the industry to empty all their rentals and restock. Not that it shouldn’t happen.

Yet the “Wick jeans 4The production brought together dozens of stunt actors, hundreds of guns and thousands of cartridges in 14 action sequences on four continents, while creating a unified tone for a cohesive narrative without anyone ever getting hurt. by one of these weapons.

“The baseline is that we don’t give a damn – more than anyone else,” Stahelski says with Wick-esque candor.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick: Chapter 4. Photo credit: Murray Close

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in ‘John Wick: Chapter 4’.

Murray Close/Lionsgate

While most productions bring in their stunt teams four to eight weeks before production, Stahelski brings in his six months. Most actors train for six to eight weeks; Reeves trains for six to eight months. The extra effort and diligence is expected of the film crew and everyone on set.

“They train for months and months not to master a streak but to master movement and flow,” says fencing master “Wick” Rock Galotti, who worked on “The Matrix Reloaded” with Stahelski. , who was then the stunt coordinator. “So when you put the gun in your hand and something happens in the moment, they can change and the action grows.”

Nothing illustrates this better than when Reeves’ gun occasionally jams during a take, such as when the bullet casing gets stuck in the slide. In most productions, the actor will stop and wait for a replacement or for the weapon to be repaired. But not the man who plays John Wick. “Keanu’s gun handling is such that he’ll see what’s wrong and release the slide, or he’ll switch magazines on camera,” says ‘Wick’ stunt coordinator Stephen Dunlevy. “So some of the magazine changes are unscripted. This is how John Wick would actually deal with a weapon malfunction.

“Keanu is the most gun-focused actor I’ve ever worked with,” says Galotti, who spent months with Stahelski developing the guns for “Wick,” including guns entirely new ones such as the Pit Viper handgun, and eagerly modernizing clumsy singles. fired dueling pistols into something cool.

On set, Galotti expects “everyone to listen” when he speaks. He advises the crew where to place the camera and where the actors should stand in case casings are released. For each take involving a firearm, the weapon is inspected by the first assistant director, the stunt coordinator and Galotti, who passes the weapon to the actor and, while maintaining eye contact to ensure that he’s understood, talks about what’s important, including keeping your fingers on the triggers and how many shots will be fired.

“I work on movies so I don’t make friends,” says Galotti. “I work on films to make sure no one gets hurt.”

On an industry-wide level, Galotti has been instrumental in this area having developed what are known as “solid grip charge” guns, or simply “solid grip” guns, when he worked on John Woo’s “Face/Off” in 1997. Plugged-in guns are what they sound like: There’s no hole for anything to stick out. But a load – or bullet casing – can still travel through the chamber, and the weapon manipulates the slide so that the brass is ejected, making it feel like it functions like a real gun. The gun and brass may still heat up, but lives are not in danger. There are also dummy rubber guns, and during rehearsals actors and stuntmen sometimes use Airsoft guns, very realistic toy guns that can only fire plastic pellets.

“Four ‘John Wicks’ and hundreds of thousands of rounds that were fired,” said stunt coordinator Scott Roger. “And no one has ever been harmed by them.”

Stahelski acknowledges that in addition to his team’s skills and experience with firearms, they also benefit from a budget that can use visual effects to make their guns both safe and impressive. All muzzle flashes and slide movement and brass ejections from rubber guns are visual effects, while the sound department inserts all gun sounds in post-production.

“I’m all for visual effects,” says Stahelski. “As a former stuntman, are you kidding? To secure it?

What matters to the “Wick” team is that the effects never get in the way of the storytelling. John Wick is not a superhero. There are no computer-generated versions of Wick swinging from tall buildings. When he falls down 222 steps, as he does in front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, it’s a real human being (stuntman Vincent Bouillon) who falls down those steps. (In four takes.) “Keeping it grounded and real hides the illusion,” Rogers says.

The cinematic magic of “Wick”, according to Stahelski, comes down to its “aesthetics”, which he has built up over the four films. “Wick” is steeped in various traditions — wild west gunslinger, anime, kung fu movies — and feels like a fable with its own set of rules and reality. “We also try to do it with a bit of humor,” says Stahelski. “It’s a matter of tone. That’s why the blood is a little too red. We try to do it like a manga. We try to let the public in. There’s a reason we kill 50 instead of 20 [bad guys in a scene]. We want you to know we’re in on it.

One such joke involves the bulletproof suits that Reeves and others go over their heads to deflect bullets. “Once you’ve convinced moviegoers — like the absurdity of a bulletproof suit — you can almost sell them anything,” said stunt coordinator Scott Rogers. “It’s funny. So we do it.

Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick 4. Photo credit: Murray Close

“John Wick: Chapter 4”

Murray Close/Lionsgate

In the world of Wick, few elements are more fun than the introduction of the new guns – not unlike the gadgets of the James Bond series – which Wick wields with delight. In “Wick” 4, the firearm that makes the biggest impression is the seemingly ridiculous Genesis 12 shotgun, which fires massive, seemingly slashed shells of fire.

The thing is, the shotgun, when loaded with incendiary ammunition called “Dragon’s Breath”, is real. (Look it up on YouTube.) To replicate the firework-like display of Dragon’s Breath during production, two of the victims are actually propane pellets thrown at stunt people who are “powered up” so that when the propane blows, he hits a firecracker on his body and is engulfed in flames. Otherwise, the visual effects team filmed the real dragon’s breath, then digitally added it to the gun and its recipients.

For Stahelski, there is nothing gratuitous in such a shooter because it is an integral part of the film. “We want to make things cool and change things. We wanted something that could enhance the aesthetic,” he says.

In the video below, watch Stahelski explain why he teaches Reeves and others dance choreography, not stunts.

“I am on the move. I’m a fan of Bob Fosseadds Stahelski. “We want to create an aesthetic that makes you feel like it’s a dance.” His reference points include Akira Kurosawa movies, manga and “The Matrix”, as well as one of his favorite films, “All that Jazz”.

The lofty heights that Stahelski aspires to can be seen in what the “John Wick” 4 team calls the “top-shot,” a sequence in which the audience’s perspective is almost entirely from the ceiling down. We watch Wick climb a flight of stairs and then cross several rooms, confronting various attackers and killing them with the Genesis 12. direction allows a stunt double to walk for the actor in the middle of a shot. It’s all Keanu in one fell swoop.

It’s a film of bravado reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s long Copacabana filmed in “Goodfellas”, but with gun-fu. Recognizing the art of cinema that goes into such a sequence goes a long way toward understanding not only Wick’s appeal, but also, perhaps, why the franchise has largely avoided the national gun violence debate.

Not that some haven’t tried – when ‘Joker’ was criticized in 2019 for potentially inciting violence, its director, Todd Phillips, questioned why ‘Wick’ was held to ‘different standards’ than his film.

It’s not an unfair question. But if you think of “Wick” as a self-aware Bob Fosse number with guns, rooted in the over-the-top kung fu genre, you might sympathize with Stahelski when he says, “I’m not different from ‘Lord of the Rings or Jackie Chan or a musical. I’m just here to create an aesthetic.

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