Blog: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend (Interview)

Blog: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend (Interview)

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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 

From The Vault: Machete – An Interview With Danny Trejo

From The Vault: Machete – An Interview With Danny Trejo

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On the eve of the 17th Feb release of Machete Kills on DVD & Blu-Ray we’ve dug back into the vault and pulled out an interview back from the release of the original Machete movie with it’s star, the one and only Danny Trejo.  

Danny Trejo stars as the titular character in the new grindhouse action release Machet.  Trejo is one of Hollywood’s most recognisable stars, Combat Film sat down with Trejo to talk grindhouse, Hollywood and his time behind bars. 

What was it like to have Jessica Alba as your love interest in Machete?
God, she’s gorgeous. I kissed her and  then all my friends wanted to kiss me. At this age!

How many knives do you carry under that jacket in Machete?
Actually that’s a secret, but there’s between 20 and 40.

Did you have to carry them all?
Well, in the jacket, they were in the jacket. Otherwise, Machete just carries six, I think, and two machetes, six small knives and two machetes.

Did you cut yourself during filming?
No. Thank God.

How many litres of blood did you spill in the movie?
A lot. But the good thing about Robert Rodriguez is that he comes from like a cartoon background, so even the blood is funny. It’s comical and it’s gross all at the same time. I cut three guys’ heads off and people were laughing. They were like, “Go, go, go!” My mum is 83 and she hates violent movies, but she was at my premiere and she loved it. She loved it.

What was the most outrageous and challenging scene to do?
When I was crashing through the window holding onto some guts. When I read the script I was like, “What are you talking about? I don’t understand.” But then I was like, “Okay, that sounds really good.” And now I think the guts really took it, like, “Wow! That’s awesome!” That was fun and that was challenging. 

Do you regret any of your tattoos?
No. I love tattoos. I literally love tattoos. I think body art is great, but some people can rock them, some people can’t. Some people look silly in them, other people, they just fit. You’ve just got to find out. These days I see a lot of girls with ankle tattoos, or something cute, and that’s great. When I was growing up, you never saw a girl with a tattoo. So styles go and styles come, but tattoos are forever, so once you put it on, it’s there. I’ve had this one on my chest since 1965. My tattoo, it’s the most famous tattoo in the world.

It’s in every movie that you’re in, but I never thought it was real.
[Looks outraged] It is. [Shows chest] That was done in prison by a friend of mine called Harry ‘Super Jew’ Ross, and we started it in San Quentin and then I got kicked out of San Quentin and I went to Folsom. It was almost a scene from West Side Story, because I was on the bus in chains being shipped up because of the trouble I had got into, and this was Harry’s first tattoo, so he’s going, “Don’t. Wait. Nobody touch it. I’ll go to Folsom, I’ll go to Folsom.” So about six months later, he showed up and did some more of it. There was a big riot in Folsom and I got sent to Soledad and he got sent to Vacaville, and he came down afterwards from Vacaville and finished it.

How many years did that take?
About three. Maybe two and a half years. But I’ve got a plaque at home that has a picture of it on, which says, “Most Recognisable Tattoo in the World” by International Tattoo magazine.

Is it based on an actual woman?
No, it’s just a picture we drew. A senorita with a hat. You call them “charas”, they used to ride with Pancho Villa, they carried the guns and cook and do all that stuff. But they weren’t servants, they were fighters, so goes Mexican folk-lore.

What do you remember most about prison?
The fact that there are only two kinds of people: there is predator and there is prey. That’s it.

How much worse are prisons these days, compared to when you were on the inside?
Well, I know about California that there are so many more people in prison, so since there are so many more people in prison, they are all over-crowded because of a lot of the ridiculous laws, so a lot more people are going to prison for less and less reason.

 If your boxing career had continued, would you have hit the big time?
It was said that I was pretty good, but boxing is management. A lot of boxing doesn’t have to do with skill, it’s management. And so I think that’s about the best way to say it. I know a lot of great fighters that can’t get good fights.

 Could you have been such a success if you weren’t so scary looking?
(laughs) Well, I could have been Brad Pitt. But I’m not. I knew a long time ago I wasn’t a pretty boy so I was content with being the bad guy because it always seemed like the movie stars were pretty boys: Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Stallone… They’re pretty.

Stallone is pretty?
(laughs) Well… I don’t know.

How much fun is it to play a hard guy all the time?
It’s a job. It’s easy to do. And with a face like mine, I’m not going to be Leonardo DiCaprio (laughs) So I have a certain look. Now, I can be a good bad guy, or I could be a cop if I’m edgy.

You could play an artist or a painter.
An artist? But I wouldn’t get to beat up anybody or shoot anybody (laughs). And I just love action movies. I did a movie called SherryBaby, and at first I hated it, because I was the nice guy. Everyone else got to beat her up, and I didn’t get to sock anybody or shoot anybody. But I have a lot of fun in films, for me that’s what it’s all about. If I’m not enjoying it, I don’t want to do it.

You’ve been in nearly 200 movies. Isn’t it about time you took a sabbatical, laid up on a tropical beach somewhere and wrote your memoirs?
Not really. My life is a vacation. I love what I do. This is my life. My kids are grown, they only call me in emergencies or for money (laughs). I have three dogs and everyone else takes care of them for me. And I don’t golf. Making movies is the most fun.

What about writing your memoirs?
I don’t know. There is a book, it’s called Champion, and it’s about my life-story, and that’s about as far as I want to go. I don’t want to sit down with somebody and start writing. My life is interesting to everybody but me.

You are finally a leading man. Playing Machete, is this the greatest honour of your long and distinguished career?
Yes. Absolutely. This is the greatest honour, thank you. And thank you Robert Rodriguez for bestowing on me being the first Latino action hero. I owe a lot to our predecessors: remember Pedro Gonzalez? He was one of the first Mexican actors in John Wayne movies, but he was the goof. He was the, “Forgive me senor,” guy, the funny guy, and we’ve come a long way since then. I have to thank him, and other Latin actors since then. (Shouts) “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!”

What’s your favourite prison movie – Tom Selleck’s An Innocent Man?
No. No. No. My favourite prison movie is a movie called Animal Factory. That was from a book written by Eddie Bunker. If you want to read the best criminal novel ever written, read Education Of A Felon by Edward Bunker. Great, great, great criminal novel that gets into the mind of a criminal. And Eddie Bunker is the guy that first hired me to be in a movie, he hired me to be in a movie called Runaway Train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. And he was my friend in prison and he was my friend throughout life. He passed away but he was a great, great writer.

How did you get hired that first time?
I showed up on a movie set by accident once. I was a drug counsellor working with kids, and one of the kids I was working with called me up and said, “Hey, I’m having a problem, I think I’m going to use,” and in 1985 cocaine was crazy on sets. I thought he had a regular job, but I turned up and it was a prison movie, and I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever seen – I kept smearing their tattoos, they were all fake tattoos, and I had a whole bunch of real ones. So this guy looks at me and says, “Do you want to be in this movie?” And I said, “What do I have to do?” And he said, “Do you want to be an extra?” “An extra what?” And he said, “Can you act like a convict?” I thought, “I’ve been in every prison in the State of California, I’ll give it a shot.” (laughs)

So I took off my shirt, to put on their blue shirt, and I had the big tattoo on my chest, and people who have been in prison know that it was a prison tattoo. I didn’t get that in a tattoo shop or in the Marines; it’s not about loving my mother, it’s a prison tattoo. So all of a sudden this guy comes over and says, “Hey, you’re Danny Trejo.” I said yeah. He said, “I saw you win the lightweight and welterweight titles up at San Quentin.” I said, “Yeah, you’re Eddie Bunker.” He was the guy that used to write, and I knew him in prison. He said, “What are you doing here?” So I told him I was hanging out with this kid, trying to help him, and he said, “Do you want a job? They need somebody to train one of the actors how to box.”

So you talk about God-shots or divine intervention or whatever. I said, “What’s it pay?” And he said, “$320 a day.” So I asked him how bad he wanted this guy beaten up. I couldn’t believe $320 a day for one fight. I would have chewed Godzilla’s ear off for fifty bucks. So I started training Eric Roberts how to box. The director saw me and he liked the fact I could control Eric – he was young then and didn’t care, but he wanted to learn how to box, so he would do whatever I told him to do. From there, to right now, I have done about 188 movies.

You must have got to a point where you got a pay-cheque bigger than $320.
Wait, let me tell you something. They hired me on a daily, and $320 a day to me means that at the end of the day, you get $320, okay, cool. So I worked for three weeks 16 or 17 hours daily. In the SAG union, that would be time and a half, then double time, and because you worked 16 hours, they are supposed to let you rest 12 hours. What that means is the money you have earned for this day gets put up in front the next day. I don’t know any of this. I’m just counting $320, $320, $320. I was just adding up all the $320s. That was enough for me! But when I got that first cheque, I looked at it and went, “Woah!” I put it in my pocket and didn’t say nothing. I started leaving and Eddie said, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m out of here. They made a big mistake.” I just wanted to go and cash it. They could ask me for the money back later. He was like, “No, no, let’s figure it out. Oh yeah, overtime, yeah. This is right.” I knew nothing. I’d never been on a movie set in my life.

So when you got an even bigger cheque, what did you spend it on?
You know what? I was married so a lot of it went to my wife. “How much did I make?” (laughs) But for the first part of my career, I was a single parent. During Runaway Train, I was a single parent. The craft service, they used to have a huge table with salamis and cheese and meat, so I would always make three or four sandwiches and take them home for me and my son the next day. Then one day, some girl comes up and says, “Oh Danny, you have a meal penalty.” And I had four sandwiches, so I was like, “No, no, I’m making these for some of the guys.” I thought she was penalising me for taking too much food, but she said, “No, no, we didn’t feed you within six hours, so you get $100 worth of food.” “Oh okay, so help me make sandwiches!”

How old were you when you first started in movies?
In 1985, I was 38 years old already. I had been a drug counselor ever since I got out of prison. I still work for Western Pacific Rehab. We still detoxify drug addicts and I do a lot of their public relations. People always call me and say, “This guy’s pretty hooked, can you help him?” and I still do that.

What has changed since the 80’s with drugs in Hollywood?
I think the worst thing that has happened since the 80’s is crack cocaine. Crack cocaine and crystal meth. Now the kids are just frying their brains. We’ve managed to push drugs more and more underground, but parents don’t want to talk about it any more. Parents are afraid to ask their kids, “Are you smoking weed?” I ask my daughter every day, “Are you getting loaded?” “No, Dad.” “Okay, cool.”

Smoking weed isn’t going to destroy your life though.
You’re right, it’s not, but it’s against the law. That’s the only problem. I think they should either legalise it and then just leave it alone… these are just my views okay. We have a war on drugs, that means this war on drugs supports the DEA, the FBI, the CIA, all these agencies, so if they legalise drugs – and I’m not advocating legalising drugs but this is a reality – if they legalise drugs, all these guys would be looking for a job. So it’s not only the war against drugs, we’re trying to save our economy.

We take it you don’t vote Republican?
(laughs) You know what? I try to vote what I honestly believe to be the best for people. It’s just the way. So if it’s Republican, Democrat, Independent – if there is an issue that I believe in that is not of my party, or whatever, then I will vote for that. I think that’s the best way I can say that.

Do you still drink alcohol?
No. Stopped drinking in 1968.

Machete being your first real leading role, are you hoping to get more lead roles now?
You know, I love to work. I’m not going to sit around and wait for just lead roles to come around. I will work all the time. If somebody wants me to play a tree, I will play a tree. If they want me to put fruit on it, they can pay me more money. But I just love to work. And I see guys in the gym, not working, waiting around to be the leading man. I’ll be like, “I don’t care, I want to work.” It drives me crazy hanging out.

What role do you get recognised most for?
For kids, and parents, it’s Spy Kids. But people remember me from Desperado, people loved From Dusk Till Dawn and now, just from the trailer, people shout, “Machete!” That’s funny.

You’ve worked with George Clooney, Johnny Depp, Al Pacino, how was that?
I have learned something from all of them, but the man who I think is one of America’s greatest actors is Robert De Niro. I love watching him. And I like the fact that he’s not like… a Johnny Depp. Depp’s just beautiful. But Robert De Niro still looks like Charles Bronson. And I love Charles Bronson. I worked with him a couple of times too.

What do you think the secret of success in Hollywood is?
Me? One of the keys to success is making sure that the people you work with want to work with you again. If you have an attitude, if you’re late, if you don’t feel good, or if you’re like, “I want a chai latte with whipped cream, with soy!” then people start to say, “Oh.” You know what I mean? But if you’re an asset, like on any job, make yourself an asset then people want to work with you again.

Don’t you need a lot of luck?
No. Luck don’t got nothing to do with it. People who are waiting around for luck are the people who aren’t shaking hands and being nice to other people and aren’t being polite. I was on this movie and there were three grips sitting in chairs, and an old lady standing. I was thinking, “What is wrong with this picture?” This old lady was 60, 70 years old, so I went over and said to the grips, “Get up. Get out of here!” I sat her down. I thought she was just an extra, but later, the director came over and said, “Danny, thanks for getting my mum that chair.” I didn’t know it was his mum, I swear to God I didn’t. I just saw an old lady standing and three guys sitting. So maybe those grips don’t want to work again, but I make sure everybody who works with me wants to work with me again. And so far, I have accomplished that.

What would you have done if you hadn’t got into movies?
I would still be a drug counsellor, working with kids, and I am. Everything good that has happened to me has happened as a direct result of helping someone out. So I dedicate my life to helping people. I go to juvenile halls, to high schools, prisons. You look at Hollywood, at the actors that are having problems in their lives, none of them give anything back. They are all very, very selfish, very, very self-centred, very, very egotistical, “What’s in it for me?” Well, nothing is in it for you but problems, until you start giving it back. I don’t mean financially, I mean your time. If you’re an actor you should be talking to kids in juvenile hall and telling them, “Wait, there’s a better way to go. You do this, you get in trouble.” That’s what I do.

Machete Kills is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Download on the 17th Feb 2014.



From The Vault: Channing Tatum Talks Fighting

From The Vault: Channing Tatum Talks Fighting

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STEP UP star Channing Tatum gives up dance shoes but not his fast-moving feet for this action-filled film. Shawn MacArthur (Tatum) finds New York City is an unfriendly place when he moves to the metropolis from a small town, but conman Harvey Boarden (IRON MAN’s Terrence Howard) sees Shawn’s potential to be a great street fighter. Shawn battles big names and brutal brawlers on his way to the top, but he soon realizes the world of New York street fighting may be impossible to escape.  COMBAT FILM caught up with Tatum to find out  about his FIGHTING credentials…

Is it true that you suggested the idea for this film?
I suggested the idea of fighting. Robert Munic brought a great script to us but it was about basketball and I just didn’t want to play basketball. I suck at basketball. While we were filming this movie we did a scene on a basketball court, and I shot and I missed the entire goal. I looked over and said: “Thank god we didn’t do a basketball film.”

(Director) Dito (Montiel) had read the script, and he saw the opportunity to bring two characters to the screen that we haven’t seen in commercial films for awhile – like Midnight Cowboy with Ratso and Joe Buck.

Could you relate to the fighting like this?
I’m from the south, Alabama and I’ve been an athlete playing football so I’ve been in my fair share of scrapes. Look I’m not a fighter at all. I would probably run more these days, but I do like watching fighting like Strike Force though.

But this is like fighting to the death
This could get really bad. There is an understanding with fighters – I don’t want to kill you. I just want to win, but in street fighting it could go all the way, so that’s what is really scary nowadays. People don’t know when to stop.

How real is that whole underground fighting world?
It’s very real. I don’t think it’s as glamorous as it’s portrayed. So many people are betting. You can get all of this information online.  There’s Felony Fights on YouTube. There is a lot of underground type of fighting going on and some of it is not safe, it’s pretty brutal.  But it’s absolutely fascinating.

You are physical actor, and coming from acting, was it hard to be accepted as a serious actor?
It was a very hard. I came from the modeling world and I would go to movie castings and they would say they don’t want any past models. You know I won the lottery. My parents had great genes. It’s not a big hurdle because it probably works more for you then against you by leaps and bounds. I’m very happy to be working.

Did you do much stunt work in Fighting?
Yeah, in Fighting there’s not a frame that I’m not in.  That was very important to me. I wasn’t going to do the movie unless I could actually do those physical scenes – fighting, dancing, flipping, anything physical, I can do that. In my mind I could probably do that better than the stunt.

Did you get hurt?
Yeah I busted my nose up a little bit. I had bruises everywhere by the end of it.

You have two huge movies, GI Joe and Public Enemies coming out. Your name is around Hollywood, on billboards and on magazine covers. You’re the next Hollywood ‘big thing’…how does that feel?
It’s a bit of a bubble right now, it hasn’t popped. I don’t know exactly. Every once in a while I’ll feel it like if I’m walking through an airport and there’s a (laughs) a high school field trip or something, then that can get a little crazy.

You seem very grounded – is that from your family?
 I’m from the south, from a little town in Alabama. My family are just good normal people. My family and friends keep me grounded

 Have you ever been so angry in your own life that you’ve just hit someone?
(Laughs) I’ve been in my fair share of scrapes, but I’m not a fighter. I’m not a tough guy at all. I walk away from fights now.


FIGHTING
is available on Streaming, DVD & BluRay.

 

From The Vault: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend

From The Vault: Jeff Imada – Stunt Legend

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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