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Sensational Stunt Success Starts With Safety
Safety

Sensational Stunt Success Starts With Safety

By Sphera May 18, 2020

In this edition of the SpheraNOW podcast, James Tehrani, Spark’s editor in chief speaks with Ashlee Fidow, a professional stuntwoman with a decade’s worth of experience, about safety on the set when performing stunts. Fidow is one of Liu Yifei’s stunt doubles in the upcoming live-action film “Mulan.”

James Tehrani:

Welcome to the SpheraNOW podcast. I’m James Tehrani, Spark’s editor-in-chief. Today I’ll be joined by Ashlee Fidow, a professional stunt woman who has appeared in films and TV shows, including Alien: Covenant, The Meg, and the upcoming live action Disney film, Mulan. We’ll be discussing ways that stunt coordinators and stunt people work to mitigate risk to ensure the safety of the participants. My producer, Michael Oleshko might be joining us a little later and he might jump in with a question or two. And thank you so much for joining me today, Ashlee. I really, really appreciate it.

Ashlee Fidow:

No worries. Thank you for having me.

James Tehrani:

So, tell us about yourself. You’re from New Zealand, right?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yep. I’m from Auckland, New Zealand. I was born and raised here. I’ve been doing stunts for the past 10 years professionally and I crossed over from martial arts. So, a friend actually that was in the industry at the time, he did it. There were auditions, looking for new female stunt performers. So that was my first foot in the door, actually. I went along to those auditions not knowing what to expect. You had to do a range of basic hand-to-hand combat, basic gymnastics skills, basic weaponry skills, and then the rest is history. I got my first onset job and then from there, I just kept on getting new opportunities. So here I am.

James Tehrani:

That’s great. So how long did it take you to get your first job from the first time you started learning about being a stuntwoman?

Ashlee Fidow:

To be honest, I didn’t know what I was getting into to begin with. The stunt world, to me, was very new and it’s something that’s not really talked about actually, unless you try to find out more about it and delve into it. So, the audition process for me was pretty cool. I was like, ‘Wow. People do this for a job?’ The only time I did hear about stunt people was Zoë Bell, she’s from New Zealand. And she was a stuntwoman for ‘Xena’ back in the ’90s. So that was my first impression.

James Tehrani:

Oh wow.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. That was my first impression of what stunts were and what it took to be a stuntwoman. So, it was quite overwhelming at first. And I didn’t think too much of it, till I got a call the next week saying that I’ve got a rehearsal. So, then I thought, “Oh rehearsal, that means I’ve pretty much got the job.” And yeah. I kind of just went on from there and I just enjoy myself, really. And it’s the kind of job that relies heavily on reputation. So apart from having a good skill base, you have to be a really good person to work with, work well on a team, have open communication skills and yes, just be fun to be around, I guess.

James Tehrani:

Sure. And what kind of martial arts do you do? How long have you been doing those martial arts? And how do you work with your partner in a stunt situation to ensure that both people are safe during the stunt, what looks real on film, but isn’t that real in real life?

Ashlee Fidow:

Well, my first martial art was karate. I started that when I was eight. I didn’t spend too long in it, but what drew my interest was Taekwondo. I joined Taekwondo and then I did that well into my teens. I competed and I fought, and I got my black belt when I was 17. And then I think it was when I was in my early ‘20s I got my first [inaudible 00:04:01]. So, crossing over martial arts into film is quite an [inaudible 00:04:05] because you have to make sure that you have a plan. Your fight choreography, that you create with your stunt team or with the person that you’re performing it with, the other double. So, it’s just hours and hours of rehearsal and practice till you perfect it and get it down to a T. And then obviously making sure that you’re both safe when you are performing it. Because a lot of the time, you have to show the choreography to the actor.

Ashlee Fidow:

The actor might not be experienced in martial arts or they might be awesome, and they might pick this stuff up pretty quickly. So, it’s a mixed bag a lot of the time. And you got to gauge it, what a person is really good at, and there’s open communication with the actor and with the stunt team like, “Hey, I’m not comfortable doing this. Can we make this a little bit easier?” Or “Hey, I’d like to add this in and that in.” So, it’s about being lenient, it’s about knowing what the boundaries are and obviously delivering what the script entails or what the director wants. So, you’re having to please a lot of people at the same time, but then coming up with an awesome product.

James Tehrani:

How much collaboration is there with the actor? Do they check out how you perform the stunts, and they say, “Oh, I can do that.” And then they go in, or they say, “There’s no way I would do that, I need the stunt double now,” how does that work?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. You get a bit of both. Like I said, depending on the actor, if they’re very confident and they do have some sort of physical background, those actors tend to be quite easy to work with, because they have that base already. So, if you’re teaching them a fight, they might be able to pick up those skills pretty easily and they’re a dream to work with. Otherwise, you might get actors who are not comfortable with particular things and it’s a matter of the stunt double jumping in and doing it or changing it, so the actor can do it themselves. Ideally, a lot of the time, you want to make sure that you have awesome choreography, you have an awesome product, so you don’t want to be changing too much. So, it’s just a matter of being a good mentor as well with the actor and then just coaching them as much as you can to get the particular piece of choreography and just going from there.

Ashlee Fidow:

So, there is a lot of patience with the action and designing stunts. And the stunt team are the ones who are in charge of making the decision between them and what the director wants as a whole. And sometimes the actors are quite lenient, and they’ll let things happen as they are, so they can’t change something. Yeah. I’ve had my fair share of actors that I’ve worked with who aren’t too confident at picking up particular sets of movements, but they haven’t hindered it or anything, we’ve always made it work, we’ve always come up with other new, exciting ideas and then gilded it in with them. So yeah. It’s definitely teamwork. It’s just definitely putting your brains together and saying, “Cool. How can we do this? How can we change this? How can we make it safe?”

James Tehrani:

Is there a lot of improvisation or is it all choreographed or is it a little bit of both when you’re doing a fight scene?

Ashlee Fidow:

There’s definitely a little bit of both. Yeah. There’s a little bit of both. Say, it’s a huge fight scene, obviously, it needs to be designed from scratch. So, you have your key players, the key stunt performers, there might be background characters that are fighting the lead. So, then you’ll need, for example, the stunt doubles who is [inaudible]. Plus, you need all your key stunt guys that are in the fight. And then from there, you’re making [inaudible] based on what the scene entails. And then once you’ve got a good outline, you just keep drilling, you just keep drilling movements, take, after take, after take. You shoot your pre-vis, which is a pre-visualization of what the fight is going to look like in the final edit.

Ashlee Fidow:

And that’s something that you would present to the director and go, “Hey, this is what we’ve come up with. Do you like the look of this?” So, he can actually see what it looks like. Because sometimes, if you’re describing a fight scene with someone, who it’s just not their forte, it’s a lot to just show a pre-visualization of what a fight actually does look like. So yeah. What else is in the question again?

James Tehrani:

No, that’s great. That’s great. So, I know last time we were talking about ‘Mulan,’ and I know you’re really excited about it. In the states, I think it comes out July 24th. Have you seen the movie yet or do you get to see it after it comes into the theaters?

Ashlee Fidow:

I haven’t seen the movie yet. I think we’ll have a pre-screening for the cast and crew or my premiere. So, we’ll get to see it before it does actually get released into the public. But yeah. I’m excited about that. It’s one of my best jobs that I’ve got to work on to date. Especially genre wise, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do coming from a martial arts background. So yeah, I’m pretty stoked about it and I’m looking forward to it. Yeah.

James Tehrani:

I’m excited to see it. And I know last time, and I’m sure I’m going to get her name wrong, you told me the actress, is it Liu Yifei? Did I say that right?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yes.

James Tehrani:

Oh wow.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yifei Liu. I don’t even know if I’m saying right too. Yifei Liu.

James Tehrani:

Okay. We’re in the ballpark, I think.

Ashlee Fidow:

I know. I’m part Chinese and I should know how to pronounce her name, but sorry. Yifei Liu, if you are listening to this, please do correct me. Yeah. She was awesome. She was an awesome actress to work with because she had a physical background. I think she did a bit of dancing. I’m not sure exactly, but you could definitely see it come through in her performance. Yeah. She had to learn all of her fights. She had to have them down. And she had two stunt doubles, which was myself and another stunt double from China, that came in to cover [inaudible 00:10:31] specifically. And I did a lot of her wire work stunts in the film that you’ll see. So, there’s more than one Mulan that makes one whole Mulan.

James Tehrani:

The triple Mulan. Interesting.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yes. Yes. Plus, she had a horse-riding stunt double as well. Yeah. It’s cool when you think about it. The collaboration of different people that make one character. It’s awesome.

James Tehrani:

The character in the cartoon never had a stunt double, she did all her own stunts.

Ashlee Fidow:

Man, how did she do that?

James Tehrani:

I think it’s Disney magic. So, tell me about some of the stunts. I know you told me last time, that there was this really interesting water stunt that you had to do over and over again. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. That was one of my favorite stunts to do on there. Might give too much away. But it involved me doing a breath hold underwater. So, I had the full costume on. I had the heavy cape, the armor, the leather boots, and I even had a sword in my hand while I was doing the sequence. So, all of those factors made it-?

James Tehrani:

How heavy was all that?

Ashlee Fidow:

Quite heavy. Really, really heavy. Especially when you’re getting in and out of water and you’re wet the whole day, you’re carrying what? An extra 15 kilos, at least, around with you most of the time. And the challenge, I think, was trying to get out of all of that to go to the bathroom and then put it all back on and it was soaking wet. Yeah.

James Tehrani:

Wait, did you have to put on a dry costume each time that you did the stunt?

Ashlee Fidow:

No. No. I mean, they did have duplicates of the costumes, but I had to put on the same costume soaking wet. And then you’ve got to consider continuity and all of that. It’s so many factors that a lot of people forget about stunts, that a lot of the times you need to do the really uncomfortable stuff. The icky, yucky stuff that you’re like, ‘Oh. Who wants to do that?’ Well, that’s what stunt doubles are there for. So, the actors don’t need to sit in that discomfort. So, they get the stunt double to do all of the uncomfortable icky things. So yeah. That was a challenge. But the stunts itself it was pretty cool to do, the buildup to it, because there was a dive team that they had there to specialize in the water stunts.

Ashlee Fidow:

So, I spent a bit of time training with them and doing scuba dive training and then free diving training to build up to doing the scene. So, the whole process I enjoyed so much. That’s what I love about stunts is the rehearsal time and the people, again, that you get to collaborate with and learn new skills from too. So that was the first time that I did freediving. A freediving stunt, actually. Because water isn’t my forte, but along the years I got qualified in scuba diving. I’ve done a little bit more work in the water, so you do end up picking up new skills along the way. And you have to, because sometimes you are doing a range of different things on different jobs, so you have to be okay with going out of your comfort zone. Yeah.

James Tehrani:

Sure. So, in a stunt like that, how many scuba divers are around you and how often are they asking you, “Are you tired? Do you need a break?” Because it’s got to be exhausting to go up and down, up and down with the costume and the props you’re holding onto.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. A hundred percent. Well, at the time, I think there was about five divers down in the water. When I hit the deepest point, they were there already with regulators, with air supply just in case I did all of a sudden, panic or I got water in my mouth. They were there. So, I had to make sure that I knew the signals for asking for air supply or asking for help or saying that “I’ve had enough. I want to resurface right now.” So that was all inclusive in the training. And then, also shout out to the Australian stunt guy, Andy Owen. He was our stunt safety guy, and he looked after me the time when I was in the water. He was from our department, just making sure… He was there as my mentor, kind of a coach as well. Come up to the surface to be like, “Okay Ash, just breathe. Just calm down. Just let the crew know if you need more time, there’s no rush.” Because you’ve got the director going, “Hey, come on. Let’s go again. Let’s go again. Let’s reset. Let’s reset.”

Ashlee Fidow:

And sometimes I’ll just be floating there going, “I can’t. I need a little bit longer.” And so, he looked at my face and could tell that at times, I was a bit stressed and kind of fading a bit. But he was there keeping me strong. I actually couldn’t have done it without him. He was awesome. I mean, I probably could’ve done it on my own, but he made my experience more enjoyable, if that makes more sense. He made me look forward to wanting to do take, after take, after take. And it took about a week, all up each day to get this shot, because there were so many different angles that we had to shoot this from and so much repetition. And after a while I became confident, and I was actually having fun in the water. That’s when I realized, “Oh, this is easy. So yeah. Thanks to Andy Owen.

James Tehrani:

Easy?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah.

James Tehrani:

You told me last time at one point you thought you were concussed. It couldn’t have been that easy.

Ashlee Fidow:

Oh, yes. I forgot about that time.

James Tehrani:

So how did that happen?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. In  one of the tapes, they needed to see me pretty much jump into the water. So, I had to jump off a scaffolding that was made, and it was a plank, and it was a narrow plank. So, I was pretty much squished on this little plank with all my heavy costume on and wet at the same time, having to throw myself backwards on top of this wax that was made by our art department, that is supposed to look like ice. So that was pretty broken. It was pretty broken, so I could fall through it smoothly. And I think, it may have been the first few takes because I hadn’t gone through it yet. So, I think the first or second time I hit my head quite hard on the wax and I felt a bit concussed, as I was falling deeper down through the water. Once I hit my head and I kept on getting dragged down- Sorry. That’s Alexa talking in the background. Yeah. So, I realized-

James Tehrani:

Hi, Alexa welcome to the podcast. I’ve always wanted to have you as a guest.

Ashlee Fidow:

Alexa, you’re not part of this. Anyway. Yeah. I was getting pulled down and I just realized that it hurt so much. And my head was pounding in the water, but the only thing I could just feel was calm, knowing that I had the safety team down the bottom of the water. But that was something, that’s quite scary and you’re the only one that has control over it, really. Yeah. That was a close call.

James Tehrani:

So, are there concussion protocols on the movie set? Do you have to get evaluated by a doctor? Do you just not tell anybody? What do you do at that point?

Ashlee Fidow:

Ooh, yeah. That’s a gray area still. I mean, yeah, obviously, you, as a performer are in charge of your own wellbeing. So, if you are hurt, you have to notify the team. You have to notify your own department. There’s an onset doctor, a safety guy that’s there as well, just in case you do need anything. And I was getting painkillers from him throughout the week.

James Tehrani:

Just from the general soreness.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yes, just from the general soreness. But you do have that control to say, “Hey, can we just stop this for a while?” That’s definitely an option. But I’ve realized in my 10 years doing stunts, there’s this old stunt culture that I just toughen up, just suck it up. I don’t know. You get proverbial medals for it. She’s tough or he’s tough. He just sucked it up and did it with a concussion. Yes. So, I used to think, “Oh, yeah. I’m tough. Just get on with it. If I’m hurt, just do it.” But as you get older doing this profession, because I’m in my ‘30s now, you’re thinking of longevity and you’re thinking of, “I’ve got to preserve my body” because I do want to perform still, and I do want to do the things that I enjoy doing. So, you have to take calculated risk and you have to choose a job that you want to do but do it wisely. Especially new stunt performers coming in, they want to do everything.

Ashlee Fidow:

But there are specialists for a reason, and you go to those professionals for specific stunts. Like for driving, for example, I’m not a racer, I’m not a precision driver. I’m just being honest. What do you do? You ask the next guy, the formula one driver or something. You ask those people who have been in this class for years. It’s the same thing with me with fights. I’m pretty confident with that, even with making up choreography, that’s something I enjoy so much, and I love to do it. That’s the job that I want to do. So, it’s just choosing your battles wisely. But every now and then you’ll get asked to do a job that you might not be comfortable with, but that’s you to gauge, “Hey, I do have the skills and the mentality to still or to still own this for a certain amount of time to pull it off.”

James Tehrani:

Has there been a stunt that you’ve said, ‘No, I can’t do that?’

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. There have been. There have been in the past. I can’t remember exactly what, but yes, there have been. You get that gut feeling when you’re like there’s only so much preparation you can do, but then sometimes the risk outweighs that, potentially. You could get hurt.

James Tehrani:

Sure. And I’m guessing that the water stunt would be kind of extra dangerous because you can’t control how the waves are moving, if you’re doing your thing and you get hit by a wave that you weren’t expecting, I’m sure it adds a dimension of risk that you’re not necessarily prepared for.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. Especially in the ocean. Yeah. Because the stunt that I did for ‘Mulan’ in the water was actually in a tank. So that is a controlled variable. But if you’re out in the ocean battling the elements that’s something that you can’t have control over at all. So, it’s best to get in a person that has been doing this thing for years and years. Or someone that’s been a lifeguard, for example, or a surfer, who’s always used to being in the ocean all the time. And that’s the coordinator’s job, the stunt coordinator’s job to make sure that he or she selects the best person for the job. And you, the performer, if you say yes to that job straight away, even if you’re confident in it or not, you have to pull it off because you’re the one that said yes to it in the first place.

James Tehrani:

Yeah.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. I mean, it’s just up to you as a performer. You’re going to put yourself out there, you have to deliver. Yeah.

James Tehrani:

I think you said last time when you were filming ‘The Meg,’ you actually saw somebody get knocked out during a scene.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. Yeah. One of the performers that was on a wire… I mean, there was a few of us on wires and we were on these platforms, and we pretty much were getting thrown up in the air and into the water. And it was just one of those accidents that happen. Because if you’re doing something multiple times, sometimes, you’re going to get varying outcomes and we try not to do that. In stunts, you’re trying to plan something, so you get similar or the same outcome each time. And I’m not sure exactly how she did it. I think it’s just the way she did land and went headfirst, but it was just the impact that got her. So yeah. Another person as well, I think, hurt their shoulder or something. It’s got something to do with the timing of when the platform that was getting controlled by special effects was kind of getting flipped. And at the same time the stunt [inaudible] were pulling and it was just missed timing. And then that performer got hurt as well by getting hit in the shoulder or something. I can’t remember the details, exactly.

James Tehrani:

Sure. But I think that speaks too, how much has to go into preparation.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. Yeah. Preparation, but then also communications between different departments because sometimes that’s a miss. We forget that we are working with multiple people, who don’t know too much about what we’re doing as well. So, it’s making sure that you’re telling them, “Hey, this is our plan from our side. Do you have this? Is that going to work with you? Cool, we’ll work in with you.” It’s just all about that cross communication that sometimes gets all up in the air because you’ve got director and [inaudible 00:24:01] in your ear, on the radio. There’s just so much going on set all the time. It’s up to people in your team to make sure that that communication is getting delivered across to those other departments, that aren’t even thinking of the safety, they’re just thinking, “Oh, those are stunt people, they know what they’re doing. They’re cool.”

Ashlee Fidow:

We’re the only ones that are aware of what we’re doing and how close this person is to me. I got kicked in the head during that particular stunt, as well by the performer next to me. But yeah. Again, it was just how his body was getting thrown up in the air. We were so close to each other too. So yeah. It’s like, how do I prevent that from happening? And sometimes you need to take it upon yourself and go, “Well, maybe I’ll step to the left a little bit more to make sure that next time I’m not in his line.” It’s common sense, really. And some people do lack that, surprisingly. Yeah.

James Tehrani:

Well, in that and every other field there are always people lacking common sense. So obviously, one of the most dangerous stunts is when there’s explosions involved. Have you had any experience with that and what kind of preparation and safety goes into that kind of situation?

Ashlee Fidow:

Not with explosions. I haven’t really had too much experience, but I’ve been on set when explosions have happened, but the special effects tend to deal with that a lot. But [inaudible 00:25:26] doing fire stunts. Yeah. I’ve only done that in-

James Tehrani:

You’ve done a fire stunt?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. But only in training though, that was just to learn about how to actually get set on fire, what you need to wear, the gel that needs to be applied. But other than that, I haven’t done it on a job. I haven’t done it in a film before. So yeah.

James Tehrani:

So, what went into that training though? I’m sure there was people there with fire hoses and fire extinguishers and everything, to just make sure that everything was safe.

Ashlee Fidow:

A hundred percent. Yeah. You’ve got multiple people around you. Obviously, people that are trained in doing this as well, like stunt coordinators. Stunt coordinators, they have all the different products and different fire gels and what’s put on, and different layers, and then the actual clothing that you need to have on, the full body suits, the extinguishers, they have other people that they’re trained up to make sure that they’re on standby in case anything does happen. But yeah. So that was a little while ago now. I can’t really remember.

James Tehrani:

Have you ever worn those? Was the fire suit part of it where you actually catch on fire? Or is that something you’ve never tried?

Ashlee Fidow:

Well, there are full jumpsuits that you wear and then particular fire gel that actually does ignite when you light it on fire. And then you would just go up in flames depending on where the gel is applied to.

James Tehrani:

So, what is the film industry like right now with COVID-19? Is everything on a hiatus? And what’s going on in New Zealand? I know last time we talked; New Zealand was doing pretty well in terms of a low amount of cases. Is it still like that? Are you guys still doing pretty well?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. We are doing pretty well. The prime minister lifted our lockdown here, so we were on alert four. So now we have gotten our lockdown lifted to alert three, which means that some non-essential businesses are open now, like restaurants that you can go and get takeaway. I think a lot of traders, like landscapers and builders and plumbers are back working. So, we’re on alert three for another two weeks. And once it hits alert two, I think we can resume work. I’m already getting auditions sent from my agent about some other jobs, that are lined up after we go back to normal, sort of. So, I think productions might be up and running around July.

James Tehrani:

I see. And when did you shoot the Mulan scenes? Was that last summer? How long ago was that?

Ashlee Fidow:

  1. 2018.

James Tehrani:

Oh wow. Two years ago.

Ashlee Fidow:

A little while ago.

James Tehrani:

Yeah.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s taken a long time to edit and refine, but hopefully it will be worth it.

James Tehrani:

I’m excited to see it. Are you working on anything right now or were you working on anything before COVID-19?

Ashlee Fidow:

I was. Ooh. Yeah. I can’t say what it is. I was working on a big TV show, big budget TV show. Had a good roll in it, but we got the notice, I think, one week before we actually went into lockdown here in New Zealand, that it was going to be postponed to later on in the year. So that was unfortunate. And it’s hard if you don’t have a job and you have to be looking somewhere else. You have to be chasing up other productions or going for auditions, because I have an acting agent as well. So, I’m dipping my toes in acting.

James Tehrani:

Do you do most of your work in New Zealand? Or do you go to other countries as well?

Ashlee Fidow:

So, I found most of my work has been New Zealand and Australian based, but we have had international productions that have come here. I plan to travel to America at some point when the stars align, money comes in and everything is set to normal. Just for change of an environment, just to network, just to see what opportunities may arise over there. Because I think I’ve built up my resume quite a bit over the last 10 years working on different production peers, that I think I justify trying to get some kind of work over there. And I have friends that are in America that are telling me, “Oh, when are you coming? You should be here.”

James Tehrani:

I noticed that my producer, Michael Oleshko joined the call. Did you have any questions, Mike, that you wanted to ask?

Michael Oleshko:

Hello. It’s very nice to hear from you and speak with you today.

Ashlee Fidow:

Hello. Thank you.

Michael Oleshko:

You’re welcome. I don’t know if you already answered this, but what’s a movie out there that you’ve seen, that just in your opinion has amazing stunt work and is really inspiring to show to another stunt coordinator like, “This is how it’s done. Look at this.”

James Tehrani:

Good question, Mike.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. Good question. You know what? I love all of the Indonesian martial art films and a lot of the Asian martial art films that seem to go under the radar with American films. Like ‘The Raid’ film with Tony Jaa. Yeah. They’re awesome. And obviously, ‘John Wick.’ The ‘John Wick’ films need a mention. A lot of their ideas as well were inspired by those Southeast Asian films, that don’t get enough credit too. What else? Movies like ‘The Villainess.’ Not many people would’ve heard of that, but it’s a Korean film. Koreans are making awesome action films. Yeah. They’ve got brilliant stunts in it, that don’t get any credit as well.

Ashlee Fidow:

I really love foreign action films. They seem to take it to the next level. Some of it’s quite hard to stomach too. You’re like, “Ooh, how did they pull that off?” Yeah. They really smashed themselves, especially in Asian countries. They love the craft so much, that they’re quite happy to walk away injured sometimes. You can actually see that sometimes in the frame. You’re like, “Ooh, he really got hurt,” but he was committed. So yeah. There’s a fine line between making sure that you don’t go home paralyzed and still pulling off what you love to do too. So yeah.

James Tehrani:

I’m curious though, on the opposite end, do you ever see movies and say, ‘Oh my goodness. The stunts are just awful. I can’t believe it. And this is just terrible work’? Do you ever critique the stunt people?

Ashlee Fidow:

Yep. Yep. A hundred percent. It’s more so, if the stunt matches what the story is at that point. Something might look totally unrealistic and you’re like, “What? How did that even happen?” But if it goes well within that context, then I think it has a bit more of an impact. So, it doesn’t need to be the most flashiest stunts. It’s how it’s shot; it’s how it’s edited. If they speed ramped it or not. I don’t like it if they speed ramp things too much, because, yeah, you can tell. You can definitely tell. But if you’re watching old school Hong Kong flicks from back in the day and something’s are speed ramped, you kind of give it an excuse, because that was just the time for it that it was kind of the genre.

Ashlee Fidow:

But yeah. You definitely start picking things apart. You see details that other normal people, that don’t do stunts don’t see and you tend to discuss it with other stunt people and go, “Hey, did you realize that they fell like this?” Or “Did you realize that there was no continuity? And he landed on his left side and on the right side, but when he was up in the air, he turned that way” So yeah. You definitely do break things down.

James Tehrani:

Do you critique your own performance like that? Do you watch the show and say, “Oh, I could’ve done this better.”? Or “That looked really good, but I could’ve tried this instead.” Are you very critical of yourself?

Ashlee Fidow:

Hundred percent. Yes, I am. I am. Yeah. The best way to be is modest. Because if you think that you’re hot or if you’re awesome, you’ve stopped learning. So, I think I’m the biggest critic about myself. And I’m not the most perfect stunt performer, but I do love taking big risks and big falls. And seeing now all these stunts, where you know that, that person’ is just fully committed and they smashed onto the concrete. You’re just like, ‘Wow. That’s some commitment.’ I think those are some of my most [inaudible] stunts, when you just seeing someone just smashing through a window, smashing onto the ground, coming out of the flip in the air. You’re like, ‘Wow. That person did that for real.’ And I think a lot of people forget that, that is real. It’s not just all CGI. It’s a real human that put on a mocap suit or is in costume, in a wire, that’s just hit that ground hard with high heels on. I think that’s why stunts deserve more credit. Yeah.

James Tehrani:

Well, learning how to fall is a big, big thing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Buster Keaton who is an old-time comedian back in the ‘20s and ‘30s. He actually-

Ashlee Fidow:

Yes. Yes. Actually, yes. I was watching some of his YouTube videos a few months ago, that you bring him up.

James Tehrani:

He was never a stunt person, but he did all his own stunts. And he started when he was about four years old. His dad used to throw him around the stage back in the 1910s. So, he learned how to fall that way. And then he did all these crazy stunts, that I don’t think that the studios with the insurance companies will let you do nowadays. If anybody wants to check out his video, there’s a stunt video of all the stuff he’s done on YouTube. It’s really cool stuff.

Ashlee Fidow:

He was doing what Jackie Chan did before Jackie Chan came along.

James Tehrani:

Exactly. Well, Jackie-

Ashlee Fidow:

The timing was impeccable.

James Tehrani:

I think I’ve read that Buster Keaton was one of Jackie Chan’s influences. So that’s kind of where he got the style from.

Ashlee Fidow:

Ah. Yeah. And with the comedy mixed in with the stunts.

James Tehrani:

Mike, do you want to ask any questions?

Michael Oleshko:

Yeah. I had a quick question. Is there any particular stunt out there that looks very simple but the complexity of pulling it off is difficult? Something that you think-

Ashlee Fidow:

Ooh. That is a good question.

Michael Oleshko:

Yeah. Something that you think that isn’t hard at all, but actually it’s really complex when it comes down to the safety aspect of it and making sure that it lands right or however you want to phrase it.

Ashlee Fidow:

I think doing major battle scenes or fight scenes, where there’s multiple stunts happening at one time, I think that is one of the hardest things to do. Because you might have a few people that are on ratchets, on wires, that are flying up in the air that needs to be landing at different times and be landing next to an explosion that might be going off at the same time. And there’s a guy on fire that’s running past. I think the scenes with multiple stunt players are the hardest and one of the trickiest things to control, just because there’s so many risk factors involved, when you’re designing with a stunt, you have to make sure that you have the best players for those positions, you have good stunt riggers on, that are making sure that they’re controlling their players that are on the wires, [inaudible 00:36:57] line making sure that they hit their marks.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. That’s what I can think of in regard to your question. I don’t know specifically about what stunts they might be doing, but anything involving multiple people is always a tricky one, because sometimes you might get one or a few people that are off- Sorry. Alexa’s talking again.

James Tehrani:

Welcome back to the interview Alexa.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. Yeah. Because I’ve been in big battle scenes and big fight sequences before. And one person’s timing might be off completely and that might be like a domino effect. Once that person’s timing off, then the other person, that is relying on that person’s timing to hit the mark, they’ll be affected, which will affect the next person. So, the results might end up devastating. You just never know. So, it’s all about trying to eliminate and control those risks, while [inaudible] get onto set and perform in costumes. It’s making sure that you’re crossing all of the [inaudible] preparation or pre-production or in rehearsals. Yeah.

Michael Oleshko:

Kind of to piggyback off of that response too, how much influence do you have when you’re brought in on a set as a stunt professional, when somebody comes up to you and kind of fills you in as to what they’re looking for as a stunt. How much influence do you have as that stunt professional to say, ‘This won’t work, we should do this instead’? Because of your expertise in the field.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah. It depends on who the stunt coordinator is. Obviously, the stunt coordinator is the guy who heads the stunt department, who hires his stunt performers, and who hires the stunt team. So, he’ll hire that person already knowing that person is capable or competent. And you do have influence, you can speak up and say, “Hey, I don’t think this will work because of ABC.” And then you can discuss and come up with a different plan of attack a lot of the time. So, some people sometimes don’t like to question the boss, so they might just do it to get the job or just to not step on any toes. There’s a lot of that that does happen at the same time. But when it comes to safety, I believe hundred percent, that you need to raise concerns. That’s just our business. If you don’t raise any concerns and have any input, you are just a ragdoll. You don’t want to just be a meat puppet that comes in and gets smashed around. Especially, if you don’t feel comfortable with something, I believe that you should bring it up.

James Tehrani:

I think that’s great advice.

Ashlee Fidow:

Unfortunately, it’s not like that a lot of the time.

Michael Oleshko:

Yeah.

Ashlee Fidow:

Yeah.

James Tehrani:

Ashlee, I really, really appreciate your time today. It was great talking to you. This was really, really insightful. So, thank you very much. And good luck with whatever film you’re shooting right now.

Ashlee Fidow:

Thank you so much. Thanks. Have a good day. Bye.

James Tehrani:

Bye.

Michael Oleshko:

Bye. Pleasure.

Speaker 1:

This concludes this episode of SpheraNOW. For more content on topics such as these, we encourage you to visit sphera.com. S-P-H-E-R-A .com. While there, feel free to click contact and submit feedback on this podcast or suggest topics you’d like to see us cover. Thank you. And have a great rest of your day.

 

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