Blog: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend (Interview)

Blog: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend (Interview)

All Things Film Blog The Blogs

Question for you…. what do TANGO & CASH, IN HER SHOES & TREMORS all have in common? Well apart from the fact they all feature in my DVD collection (Let me assure you ‘In Her Shoes’ is more down to my fiancé than me!) they also, and more relevantly, feature stunts or fight coordination by Jeff Imada. And whilst Imada may not be a name you instantly recognise, you have certainly seen his work.

Let me quantify that statement. A friend of mine in the States was recently sat watching TV. Uninspired by the latest reality TV show he starts channel hopping. First channel he switches onto – ‘Big Trouble In Little China’, featuring a quick appearance of stunt man, actor and fight coordinator Jeff Imada. Turns over the channel to a Master Card advert which happens to once again feature Jeff Imada. Turns over again Heroes. There he is again – Jeff Imada. Another channel. 24. Jeff Imada. And that was just one advert break. But then again when your resume includes over 150 films and TV shows chances are most days at least something that Imada worked on will be screening.

Jeff Imada was born and raised in Inglewood, California, USA, where he began studying martial arts at the age of fifteen. While in college studying medicine, he started working as a movie “extra” which lead him through to stunt work and eventually some years later fight and stunt coordination. Today Imada is a member of highly regarded US stunt team Stunts Unlimited and one of the most respected men in the industry.

In the past 25 years alone he has worked along side directors as John Carpenter, David Fincher, The Coen Brothers and Tony Scott and choreographed, worked with or appeared alongside Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Brandon Lee, Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal Clint Eastwood, Stallone, Eddie Murphy… the list goes on. And on.

Impact: When was the defining moment where you diced you wanted to do this for a living… when DO you say I want to throw myself off high buildings for a living?

Imada: Ever since I tripped off that building as a kid… (laughs) I‘ve always loved athletic, things that involved movement, being physical. I started my life studying medical, science and heading into a career in that field through high school and college. But when I was in college and getting closer to graduating a friend off mine sort of got me involved in the movie industry one summer. I got to watch a lot of the stunt guys doing their thing and I though it looked pretty cool to do. I had an interest in the acting which steamed from back to junior and high school doing the stage aspects and on top of that my father and grandfather were photographers so without knowing it I was kind of influenced from the start to get involved in the industry.

Impact: Did you have any specific inspirations growing up?

Imada: Bruce Lee Obviously. But also I grew up with John Wayne movies and in another respect Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly because it’s all movement, movement in a very accomplished manor. I really enjoyed watching those films. A lot of the old Hong Kong movies as well – the Samurai films, Yojimbo, Seventh Samurai were all an influence to me. All of these different films and different styles have been synthesised into bringing out what you see on in my work on the big screen today. I wanted to dig a bit further into Imada’s background. After all he didn’t start his career looking towards movies. After all whilst at t El Camino College and UCLA, he majored in pre-med and minored in music. Neither of which says stunt man or fight coordinator.

Impact: How does your background inform your work?
Imada: I have a music background and so I incorporate music, rhythms & timing in what I do. It’s all utilised for my action pieces. Keeping true with the characters and making sure whatever they do as the character is key. I need to know that I’m not creating something that won’t take the audience out of the experience. Its really important… Any type of action that the characters are doing is, to me, is another way of doing dialogue. So if you want to stray true to the characters, goes hand in hand with verbal dialogue.

Imada nails in for sure. After all how many times have we laughed at Steven Seagal who, with his very grounded fighting style, occasionally ends up jumping off walls and performing kicks men half his age would struggle with. Imada continues…


Imada: There was actually a project with Steven that I was called me about. But this time they wanted Steven to do some wire work. Knowing Steven I asked them ‘Does Steven know that?’.” Imada laughs remembering back to the conversation, “Talking to them some more I wanted to know in what manor the wire work was going to be used. Was it to enhance something or is it to deify gravity because I don’t know if the audience is going to accept that otherwise! And on top of that I don’t even know if Steven WANTED to do that. I understand that the studio thinks it’s cool to do all of that stuff because it’s the trend and all but certain people are known for certain ways of fighting so to take it into a different context when it’s not a fantasy type film… you have to watch that line of believability!

Impact: What’s you take on the advent of Wire Work in US and mainstream films?
Imada: Don’t get me wrong I can appreciate the Matrix style wire work and special effects but in the right place. For a while the audience was burnt out with this technique– movies, TV it was everywhere… It’s funny but before Matrix I was trying to convince people to do use wire work in scenes and they’d look at me and say “Wires? What? What are you talking about…”. After The Matrix comes out everyone’s asking me” Can you do any of that wire stuff!” There’s an interesting story I was told from Woo Ping from the filming of the movie Sand Pebbles. Loren Janes (legendary stunt and action performer) went to over to Asia to work on the film and, according to Woo Ping, it was HIM that introduced wire stuff and the mini trampoline to them!!! Before Sand Pebbles the Chinese never did that. He showed them a little wire set up with piano wire and also mini tramps… so it’s interesting that all the Hong Kong acrobatics and wire stuff came from him, from that movie. It was the first time they ever did it. He took that to the Hong Kong, which in turn created an industry and only now has come back full circle…

On the subject of Seagal, it wasn’t long before we ended up off topic again as I recalled a conversation with Cage Rage and Pride Fight Commentator Stephen Quadros who once told me a great story about Seagal and how, on meeting people for the first time, has a special trick where he likes to sneakily kick you in the groin. Knowing that Imada and Segal have a history together I just had to pose the question on the validity of the story. 
Imada: Yeah that’s kind of true (Imada shares a sly laugh before continuing) Stevens a funny character… I’ve known him a long time and he’s pretty funny that way. When guys work with him for the first time I tell them when ever your meeting Steven as a stunt guy you need to work out. They always look at me as if to say “Really?” and I just say work out, trust me on this because maybe he’s horsing around but if you put your guard down he’ll nail you and when he does you’ll know it!

Impact: Obviously you seem to have an excellent relationship with John Carpenter, you’ve worked on a quiet a few of his films, what is it about him that keeps you coming back for more?
Imada: He keeps asking me back! Which is nice… I appreciate that! John’s a great guy and I’ve been very fortunate to work with him. I’m a fan as well… in college I remember watching previews of The Thing thinking wow that looks like a cool film. I thought I’d love to meet him one day… so years later meeting John, working with him on Big Trouble In Little China and to play a part in the film was awesome.

Like Imada I have always been a massive fan of Carpenter. Big Trouble In Little China is one of my favourite Carpenter fans. That and They Live. In fact the fight between Keith David and Roddy Piper in They Live is, for me, by far one of the greatest Man-o on Man-o fights I have ever seen. Just so happens that the man who choreographed this was sat right in front of me.

Impact: You choreographed the infamous fight in They Live, which for sure is my favourite fight scene of all time…
Imada: I love that fight. You know that the version you see now has at least another 50 seconds cut from it. At least. Roddy and Keith did a great job. I been fortunate that since Big Trouble John has asked me to coordinate ever one of his project’s but to be involved in They Live was especially great because he called me up and said “Hey Young Man, I’ve got a script for you”, (Laughing) John always calls me young man even though we’re not THAT far apart. He started talking about the old John Wayne films with the big long fights, he wanted to recreate that with two big guys going toe to toe… So I take a look at the script and there was something about the glasses being thrown down and then the page says “The Fight begins”. I turn the page it says “The Fight Continues”. I flip the page again “The Fight Still Continues”. After a few pages it says “The Fight concludes”! John looked at me and says “You know what to do so cerate it for me!” and that was it. “Show me what you got”.

Impact: Did Carpenter want anything specific in the scene?

Imada: He only asked me to include three things, three wrestling moves. A suplex, a closeline and a side walk slam. Other than that I had free reign. So it was a great opportunity to create an amazing scene where two big guys fight for six minutes straight. John allowed me to add the character moments, moments about the glasses, their friendship… to create the whole scene.

Impact: What was Carpenter’s reaction when he saw what you put together?
Imada: John liked what I did, the highs and the lows of the character, the extra dialogue I threw in, the character moments so it made it more believable so at the end when Keith finally puts on the glasses you really buy it.

Impact: How long did you have to film the fight?
Imada: Not long. Two, two and half days. We had blocked it out and rehearsed it at John’s house in his backyard! The actors did everything themselves. With Roddy we had to tone him down a little because he’s used to doing fights BIG for a live audience so we had to bring him in a bit so it wasn’t so unbelievable. We shot the fight in a parking lot. But the whole place was padded. Which people don’t realise. So if the actors fell down or into something they had a soft landing that wasn’t on concrete. Just made to look like it! It was very subtle so no one has ever picked up on it!

Impact: So was ‘They Live’ the first time a director had turned around to you and said “Here’s five minutes of screen time… fill it”?
Imada: Yeah mostly. Possibly this happened a little more when I was doing TV work but it’s a very different time wise. For me They Live was great because, at the end of the day, I create violence for a living. I often kid the guys saying “ all we do is make violence for a living” We not there to help were always there to hurt! I never get called to chorograph a romantic love scene!

Another interesting fact about Jeff Imada is that he, along with such industry luminaries such as Vic Armstrong, Glenn Wilder and David Ellis, serves on the Blue Ribbon committee for the ‘stunt OSCARS’ The Taurus Awards. The Taurus Awards were set as primarily to honour the movie industry’s unsung heroes – the world’s best stunt professionals. Something the OSCAR’S so far have failed to do.

Impact: What are your thoughts on the academies failure to recognise stunt and action performers?

Imada: It’s interesting when you look at the awards. They acknowledge every other department – hair, make up, CGI, technology advancements, shorts but they don’t acknowledge the stunt people, stunt coordinators or the action people and yet it’s an integral part of a lot of these movies. It’s been brought up with the head of the academy and it’s been passed to me , second hand so I’m not sure if it’s absolutely true or not but its been told to me that in conversation the guy said “you guys are not and will not ever be considered for the academy awards”. But everyone else is acknowledged so why not us?

Impact: Was this something you have tried to rectify with your involvement with the Taurus awards?
Imada: Its important to acknowledge people for their accomplishments but the concern is you also don’t want people to take undue risks to get that accomplishment or award. To do it to a high level is great and to be acknowledged for that even better. A second unit director is given a whole unit to shoot and direct, we are involved with the actors… creating scenes that fit in with the characters, hand in hand with telling the story in a physical manor. Your creating something ever time your on set. With the actors. The camera angles. Now it has been said to me that there is an argument to say that we are just management, that we don’t do anything thing creative so why should you be acknowledged. Well if that’s the case why do these same guys ask us how to do this or that or ask us what we should do here or what the character would do or how they would react?

Impact: Do you think this will change?

Imada: I do. In the past we were the silent minority, hired to make the actors look good. Very much in the background/ They didn’t want to acknowledge it was us, the stunt men, because they could say it was all them and the actor would look better because of it but the transition is happening now and the actors are starting to acknowledge the stunt people more, our impact, importance and how we enhance what they do.
Imada has seen the industry change dramatically from when he started back in the early eighties. From the heights and boom of the cheaply made Cannon films of the 80’s through to wire heavy work of the The Matrix and the advent and proliferation of CGI. Most recently the industry has gone full circle, turning back to the more realistic hardcore action of 80’s Hong Kong.

Impact: Ong Bak has taken the action industry in a dramatically different direction., making things more real again. What’s your take on this most recent evolution?
Imada: 
When that film first came I remember watching it think “wow, that’s refreshing!”. Its back to reality based physicality of movement which is what inspired me in the first place… that combination between Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Jaa has an intensity, an acrobatic ability and not having wires involved makes you really appreciate us as a human species and what we can accomplish. It’s just awesome! I met Tony, he’s a really nice, humble guy…

 

And with that my time was very much up. Jeff Imada turned out to be truly one of the easiest and most enjoyable people I have ever interviewed. With a wealth of knowledge gained from his experiences both in front and behind the camera, his twenty plus years working in the industry and over 150 credits to his name I could have spent a whole day with him and still not scratch the surface of his illustrious career. What start started as a press interview, quickly turned into a conversation about films not unlike those I would have with friends I have known for years… although I guess the real difference being that none of them have worked on ‘They Live’!

For more on the Taurus Awards check out www.taurusworldstuntawards.com

Interview by: Phil Hobden

Originally published in Impact Magazine 

Podcast: Ross And Phil Talk… Avengers (Warning This Episode May or May not contain actual discussion on The Avengers) BONUS EPISODE

Podcast: Ross And Phil Talk… Avengers (Warning This Episode May or May not contain actual discussion on The Avengers) BONUS EPISODE

Ross and Phil Talk Movies The Podcasts

On this episode of the podcast we talk about The Walking Dead, even thought we planned fully to talk about the upcoming Avengers film.  Oh well!

Hosted by Award winning filmmaker Ross Boyask and blogger/writer/failed filmamker Phil Hobden.

Films Discussed: The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, 24, Lost In Space (2018), Game Of Thrones, Dexter, Ash Vs Evil Dead, Ash V Evil Dead

#RossAndPhil #RossAndPhilTalkMovies #MoviePodcasts #Podcasts

For more on Phil Hobden check out www.philhobden.co.uk
For more on Ross Boyask search @RossBoyask on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook

   

Phil’s 5 Best TV Shows of 2014

Phil’s 5 Best TV Shows of 2014

Quick Review

So 2014 is almost over and it’s that time a year again where everyone reflects back on their best and worst films of the year. This year for the first time I look back on my 5 favourite TV shows of 2014…

TV Show of The Year: The Newsroom
In Brief: Generally unlike by the American HBO audience, Aaron Sorkin’s clever, well crafted and expertly performed TV show went out on a high.  Funny, charming and with a full realised cast, The Newsroom was always one of the best shows on TV.  Thankfully it didn’t drop the ball in it’s final run.

 

2. Game Of Thrones (Spoilers)
In Brief:  That was one hell of a season.  Joffrey died. Tyron killed his dad. The dragons started killing kids and the Battle of the Wall made you realise just how good TV could be.  Throw in the witty dialogue, great characters, spluttering of nudity and more violence than you can bash a stick with and you have one hell of a group breaking TV show.

3. The Flash & Arrow
In Brief: The Flash started well in it’s first season and has gotten better and better week by week.  Arrow started off not so good, but again has found it’s stride and improves ever week.  Whilst DC movies can’t seem to do anything right, DC TV is getting stronger and stronger.  These may not be better than say House Of Cards or True Detective but brain off entertainment doesn’t get better than this.

4. Sons of Anarchy
In Brief: Not it’s greatest season, but again a show that went out on a high, getting stronger and stronger as each episode went along.  It didn’t end well for everyone, as beloved character after beloved character fell, but in the end it served up an excellent story that has greatly elevated the careers of everyone involved.

5. Hannibal
In Brief: The year when Network TV pushed and then broke the boundaries, Hannibal is a show that just shouldn’t work.  But it does.  Oh god does it work. Great cast, great stories and effects that movies would struggle with, Hannibal did everything right and ended in on of the greatest TV episodes of the year.

Bubbling under:
Bates Motel, Orphan Black, Doctor Who, True Detective, Justified, New Girl, Walking Dead, 24 , House Of Cards,

 

Blog: Grosse Point Geek – The Ten Best Shows On TV, DVD & Netflix

Blog: Grosse Point Geek – The Ten Best Shows On TV, DVD & Netflix

A Blog Grosse Point Geek Uncategorized

Grosse Pointe Geek’s pick of the current TV shows  now on Sky, DVD and Netflix.

* * * * * *

24: Live Another Day

Status: Showing now on Sky 1

Genre: Action Adventure

Kiefer Sutherland returns as Jack Bauer, scourge of evil doers and owner of the worlds strongest bladder.

This latest in the long running action series finds him in hot pursuit of a vengeful terrorist hell bent on bombing London back to the stone age. Instead of the usual 24 episodes  – this has been cut down to just 12, and is all the better for it.

To say the least its a drastic improvement on the somewhat disappointing last season and thus far very action packed – in particular the recently aired 7th episode which was relentlessly exciting.  Don’t  miss it.

* * * * * *

Penny Dreadful

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Status: Showing now on Sky Atlantic

Written by John Logan (Gladiator) and produced by Sam Mendes (Skyfall), with a decent cast that includes Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett. Set in 18th century London, the plot features Frankenstein, Dorian Gray and (yet to be confirmed) Dracula. Seems OK so far but is annoyingly taking its time getting anywhere. Plus it seems to be heavily influenced by Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  Certainly worth watching but not as good as it thinks it is..

* * * * * *

Hannibal

Genre: Horror Thriller

Status: Showing now on Sky Living

Season 2 of this excellent series is getting better with every episode. Mads Mikkelssen is superb as Hannibal Lector – not quite as good as Anthony Hopkins but not far off. In addition Lawrence Fishburne gives great support as FBI head honcho Jack Crawford. However less successful is Hugh Dancy as Will Graham who is far too intense . Nevertheless its brilliantly put together, superbly written and features some shocking scenes of body horror and violence. Highly recommended.

* * * * * *

Bates Motel

Genre: Thriller

Status: Second season just finished on Sky. Season 1 on DVD box set to buy now.

Fairly solid adaptation of Hitchcock’s Psycho. Britain’s Freddie Highmore is very good as Norman, Vera Farmiga is equally impressive  as his slightly weird mother Norma. Thus far its a good watch but i cant see it lasting much beyond a third season as there doesn’t seem to be many more places it can go. Not bad but not really a classic.

* * * * * *

Game Of Thrones

Genre: Fighting fantasy

Status: Season 4 now showing on Sky Atlantic. Seasons 1 – 3 available to buy on DVD.

Took me ages to get into this but was so worth it, as its by far and away the best thing on TV at the moment.

For those not in the know GOT is an adaptation of George RR Martin’s fantasy books that concern a perpetual war for the throne of a fictional Middle Earth type country. Faultless in just about everything – cast, photography, script, characters and story. A must see for dedicated fans of Tolkien, Robert E Howard and just about anything written by Bernard Cornwell. Unmissable.

* * * * * *

Orange is The New Black

Genre: Drama/Comedy

Status: Available on Netflix

Taylor Schilling plays a naive white collar WASP, sentenced to 15 months in a women’s prison for a crime she committed 10 years previously. Sometimes difficult to watch but very funny and extremely clever in its writing. Other cast members include American Pie’s Jason Biggs and Star Trek Voyager’s Kate Mulgrew. Great stuff and well worth getting in to.

* * * * * *

American Horror Story

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Status: Available on Netflix

The first season is a haunted house story, the second takes place in a 1950’s mental hospital. Stars Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto and Evan Peters, who take on different roles in both seasons. Very odd series, uncomfortable to watch and damned icky in parts. Not my favorite but certainly well made and the acting is universally excellent. Very much geared towards fans of Saw and Insidious.

* * * * * *

Sons Of Anarchy

Genre: Action

Status: Available on Netflix and DVD box set

Charlie Hunnam and Ron Perlman play leaders of a criminal motorbike chapter. Now on its 6th season, this started out very well but gradually gets more unbelievable as it goes on. Despite what others would have you believe Hunnam is highly overrated in this and seemingly has only two expressions  – bug eyed mental and overly serious, however Perlman is brilliant and manages to anchor the whole thing. Enjoyable and never less than good value overall, but as it goes on you’ll have to take it with a very large pinch of salt.

* * * * * *

The Walking Dead

Genre: Post apocalyptic Zombie Horror.

Status: Available on dvd box set with season 5 starting in the Autumn on Fox.

Fantastic horror series focusing on a desperate band of humans trying to survive a zombie holocaust. Blood drenched and shocking. Greg Nicotero’s make up effects are fantastic, its seriously exciting, and very well acted. I cannot recommend this one highly enough – outstanding television.

* * * * * *

Boardwalk Empire

Genre: Prohibition era Gangster series.

Status: Final season to be aired asap on Sky Atlantic, other seasons available on DVD.

Produced by Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg. Steve Buscemi is Nucky Thompson – the unofficial crime boss of 1920’s Atlantic City. Violent as all hell with sumptuous production values and a fantastic turn from Buscemi.

A must see for all fans of Goodfellas, The Untouchables and The Godfather.

* * * * * *

Breaking Bad

Genre: Drama/Thriller

Status: Available on Netflix and to buy on DVD.

Rightly seen as the greatest TV series ever made, basically if you haven’t seen this yet then you aint lived.

Bryan Cranston is Walter White, a a mild mannered chemistry teacher, who, after being diagnosed with cancer decides to fund his treatment by becoming a crystal meth dealer. Along the way he ropes in former student Jesse Pinkman played by the superb Aaron Paul. Without exception, every episode is a cracker, the acting (especially the two leads) is the best you will ever see, its highly intelligent, flawlessly written by Vince Gilligan and filled with a wonderfully eclectic mix of supporting characters  -of note, look out for Bob Odenkirk’s hilarious turn as shady lawyer Saul Goodman (“better call Saul!”).

 

 
Author: Will Strong 

 

From The Vault: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend

From The Vault: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend

Uncategorized

Question for you…. what do TANGO & CASH, IN HER SHOES & TREMORS all have in common? Well apart from the fact they all feature in my DVD collection (Let me assure you ‘In Her Shoes’ is more down to my fiancé than me!) they also, and more relevantly, feature stunts or fight coordination by Jeff Imada. And whilst Imada may not be a name you instantly recognise, you have certainly seen his work.

Let me quantify that statement. A friend of mine in the States was recently sat watching TV. Uninspired by the latest reality TV show he starts channel hopping. First channel he switches onto – ‘Big Trouble In Little China’, featuring a quick appearance of stunt man, actor and fight coordinator Jeff Imada. Turns over the channel to a Master Card advert which happens to once again feature Jeff Imada. Turns over again Heroes. There he is again – Jeff Imada. Another channel. 24. Jeff Imada. And that was just one advert break. But then again when your resume includes over 150 films and TV shows chances are most days at least something that Imada worked on will be screening.

Jeff Imada was born and raised in Inglewood, California, USA, where he began studying martial arts at the age of fifteen. While in college studying medicine, he started working as a movie “extra” which lead him through to stunt work and eventually some years later fight and stunt coordination. Today Imada is a member of highly regarded US stunt team Stunts Unlimited and one of the most respected men in the industry.

In the past 25 years alone he has worked along side directors as John Carpenter, David Fincher, The Coen Brothers and Tony Scott and choreographed, worked with or appeared alongside Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Brandon Lee, Nicolas Cage, Steven Seagal Clint Eastwood, Stallone, Eddie Murphy… the list goes on. And on.

Impact: When was the defining moment where you diced you wanted to do this for a living… when DO you say I want to throw myself off high buildings for a living?

Imada: Ever since I tripped off that building as a kid… (laughs) I‘ve always loved athletic, things that involved movement, being physical. I started my life studying medical, science and heading into a career in that field through high school and college. But when I was in college and getting closer to graduating a friend off mine sort of got me involved in the movie industry one summer. I got to watch a lot of the stunt guys doing their thing and I though it looked pretty cool to do. I had an interest in the acting which steamed from back to junior and high school doing the stage aspects and on top of that my father and grandfather were photographers so without knowing it I was kind of influenced from the start to get involved in the industry.

Impact: Did you have any specific inspirations growing up?

Imada: Bruce Lee Obviously. But also I grew up with John Wayne movies and in another respect Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly because it’s all movement, movement in a very accomplished manor. I really enjoyed watching those films. A lot of the old Hong Kong movies as well – the Samurai films, Yojimbo, Seventh Samurai were all an influence to me. All of these different films and different styles have been synthesised into bringing out what you see on in my work on the big screen today. I wanted to dig a bit further into Imada’s background. After all he didn’t start his career looking towards movies. After all whilst at t El Camino College and UCLA, he majored in pre-med and minored in music. Neither of which says stunt man or fight coordinator.

Impact: How does your background inform your work?
Imada: I have a music background and so I incorporate music, rhythms & timing in what I do. It’s all utilised for my action pieces. Keeping true with the characters and making sure whatever they do as the character is key. I need to know that I’m not creating something that won’t take the audience out of the experience. Its really important… Any type of action that the characters are doing is, to me, is another way of doing dialogue. So if you want to stray true to the characters, goes hand in hand with verbal dialogue.

Imada nails in for sure. After all how many times have we laughed at Steven Seagal who, with his very grounded fighting style, occasionally ends up jumping off walls and performing kicks men half his age would struggle with. Imada continues…


Imada: There was actually a project with Steven that I was called me about. But this time they wanted Steven to do some wire work. Knowing Steven I asked them ‘Does Steven know that?’.” Imada laughs remembering back to the conversation, “Talking to them some more I wanted to know in what manor the wire work was going to be used. Was it to enhance something or is it to deify gravity because I don’t know if the audience is going to accept that otherwise! And on top of that I don’t even know if Steven WANTED to do that. I understand that the studio thinks it’s cool to do all of that stuff because it’s the trend and all but certain people are known for certain ways of fighting so to take it into a different context when it’s not a fantasy type film… you have to watch that line of believability!

Impact: What’s you take on the advent of Wire Work in US and mainstream films?
Imada: Don’t get me wrong I can appreciate the Matrix style wire work and special effects but in the right place. For a while the audience was burnt out with this technique– movies, TV it was everywhere… It’s funny but before Matrix I was trying to convince people to do use wire work in scenes and they’d look at me and say “Wires? What? What are you talking about…”. After The Matrix comes out everyone’s asking me” Can you do any of that wire stuff!” There’s an interesting story I was told from Woo Ping from the filming of the movie Sand Pebbles. Loren Janes (legendary stunt and action performer) went to over to Asia to work on the film and, according to Woo Ping, it was HIM that introduced wire stuff and the mini trampoline to them!!! Before Sand Pebbles the Chinese never did that. He showed them a little wire set up with piano wire and also mini tramps… so it’s interesting that all the Hong Kong acrobatics and wire stuff came from him, from that movie. It was the first time they ever did it. He took that to the Hong Kong, which in turn created an industry and only now has come back full circle…

On the subject of Seagal, it wasn’t long before we ended up off topic again as I recalled a conversation with Cage Rage and Pride Fight Commentator Stephen Quadros who once told me a great story about Seagal and how, on meeting people for the first time, has a special trick where he likes to sneakily kick you in the groin. Knowing that Imada and Segal have a history together I just had to pose the question on the validity of the story. 
Imada: Yeah that’s kind of true (Imada shares a sly laugh before continuing) Stevens a funny character… I’ve known him a long time and he’s pretty funny that way. When guys work with him for the first time I tell them when ever your meeting Steven as a stunt guy you need to work out. They always look at me as if to say “Really?” and I just say work out, trust me on this because maybe he’s horsing around but if you put your guard down he’ll nail you and when he does you’ll know it!

Impact: Obviously you seem to have an excellent relationship with John Carpenter, you’ve worked on a quiet a few of his films, what is it about him that keeps you coming back for more?
Imada: He keeps asking me back! Which is nice… I appreciate that! John’s a great guy and I’ve been very fortunate to work with him. I’m a fan as well… in college I remember watching previews of The Thing thinking wow that looks like a cool film. I thought I’d love to meet him one day… so years later meeting John, working with him on Big Trouble In Little China and to play a part in the film was awesome.

Like Imada I have always been a massive fan of Carpenter. Big Trouble In Little China is one of my favourite Carpenter fans. That and They Live. In fact the fight between Keith David and Roddy Piper in They Live is, for me, by far one of the greatest Man-o on Man-o fights I have ever seen. Just so happens that the man who choreographed this was sat right in front of me.

Impact: You choreographed the infamous fight in They Live, which for sure is my favourite fight scene of all time…
Imada: I love that fight. You know that the version you see now has at least another 50 seconds cut from it. At least. Roddy and Keith did a great job. I been fortunate that since Big Trouble John has asked me to coordinate ever one of his project’s but to be involved in They Live was especially great because he called me up and said “Hey Young Man, I’ve got a script for you”, (Laughing) John always calls me young man even though we’re not THAT far apart. He started talking about the old John Wayne films with the big long fights, he wanted to recreate that with two big guys going toe to toe… So I take a look at the script and there was something about the glasses being thrown down and then the page says “The Fight begins”. I turn the page it says “The Fight Continues”. I flip the page again “The Fight Still Continues”. After a few pages it says “The Fight concludes”! John looked at me and says “You know what to do so cerate it for me!” and that was it. “Show me what you got”.

Impact: Did Carpenter want anything specific in the scene?

Imada: He only asked me to include three things, three wrestling moves. A suplex, a closeline and a side walk slam. Other than that I had free reign. So it was a great opportunity to create an amazing scene where two big guys fight for six minutes straight. John allowed me to add the character moments, moments about the glasses, their friendship… to create the whole scene.

Impact: What was Carpenter’s reaction when he saw what you put together?
Imada: John liked what I did, the highs and the lows of the character, the extra dialogue I threw in, the character moments so it made it more believable so at the end when Keith finally puts on the glasses you really buy it.

Impact: How long did you have to film the fight?
Imada: Not long. Two, two and half days. We had blocked it out and rehearsed it at John’s house in his backyard! The actors did everything themselves. With Roddy we had to tone him down a little because he’s used to doing fights BIG for a live audience so we had to bring him in a bit so it wasn’t so unbelievable. We shot the fight in a parking lot. But the whole place was padded. Which people don’t realise. So if the actors fell down or into something they had a soft landing that wasn’t on concrete. Just made to look like it! It was very subtle so no one has ever picked up on it!

Impact: So was ‘They Live’ the first time a director had turned around to you and said “Here’s five minutes of screen time… fill it”?
Imada: Yeah mostly. Possibly this happened a little more when I was doing TV work but it’s a very different time wise. For me They Live was great because, at the end of the day, I create violence for a living. I often kid the guys saying “ all we do is make violence for a living” We not there to help were always there to hurt! I never get called to chorograph a romantic love scene!

Another interesting fact about Jeff Imada is that he, along with such industry luminaries such as Vic Armstrong, Glenn Wilder and David Ellis, serves on the Blue Ribbon committee for the ‘stunt OSCARS’ The Taurus Awards. The Taurus Awards were set as primarily to honour the movie industry’s unsung heroes – the world’s best stunt professionals. Something the OSCAR’S so far have failed to do.

Impact: What are your thoughts on the academies failure to recognise stunt and action performers?

Imada: It’s interesting when you look at the awards. They acknowledge every other department – hair, make up, CGI, technology advancements, shorts but they don’t acknowledge the stunt people, stunt coordinators or the action people and yet it’s an integral part of a lot of these movies. It’s been brought up with the head of the academy and it’s been passed to me , second hand so I’m not sure if it’s absolutely true or not but its been told to me that in conversation the guy said “you guys are not and will not ever be considered for the academy awards”. But everyone else is acknowledged so why not us?

Impact: Was this something you have tried to rectify with your involvement with the Taurus awards?
Imada: Its important to acknowledge people for their accomplishments but the concern is you also don’t want people to take undue risks to get that accomplishment or award. To do it to a high level is great and to be acknowledged for that even better. A second unit director is given a whole unit to shoot and direct, we are involved with the actors… creating scenes that fit in with the characters, hand in hand with telling the story in a physical manor. Your creating something ever time your on set. With the actors. The camera angles. Now it has been said to me that there is an argument to say that we are just management, that we don’t do anything thing creative so why should you be acknowledged. Well if that’s the case why do these same guys ask us how to do this or that or ask us what we should do here or what the character would do or how they would react?

Impact: Do you think this will change?

Imada: I do. In the past we were the silent minority, hired to make the actors look good. Very much in the background/ They didn’t want to acknowledge it was us, the stunt men, because they could say it was all them and the actor would look better because of it but the transition is happening now and the actors are starting to acknowledge the stunt people more, our impact, importance and how we enhance what they do.
Imada has seen the industry change dramatically from when he started back in the early eighties. From the heights and boom of the cheaply made Cannon films of the 80’s through to wire heavy work of the The Matrix and the advent and proliferation of CGI. Most recently the industry has gone full circle, turning back to the more realistic hardcore action of 80’s Hong Kong.

Impact: Ong Bak has taken the action industry in a dramatically different direction., making things more real again. What’s your take on this most recent evolution?
Imada: 
When that film first came I remember watching it think “wow, that’s refreshing!”. Its back to reality based physicality of movement which is what inspired me in the first place… that combination between Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Jaa has an intensity, an acrobatic ability and not having wires involved makes you really appreciate us as a human species and what we can accomplish. It’s just awesome! I met Tony, he’s a really nice, humble guy…

 

And with that my time was very much up. Jeff Imada turned out to be truly one of the easiest and most enjoyable people I have ever interviewed. With a wealth of knowledge gained from his experiences both in front and behind the camera, his twenty plus years working in the industry and over 150 credits to his name I could have spent a whole day with him and still not scratch the surface of his illustrious career. What start started as a press interview, quickly turned into a conversation about films not unlike those I would have with friends I have known for years… although I guess the real difference being that none of them have worked on ‘They Live’!

For more on the Taurus Awards check out www.taurusworldstuntawards.com

Interview by: Phil Hobden