'Arrow' stunt coordinator breaks down Arrow vs. Deathstroke fight
Leading up to the June 20 deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com is featuring interviews with some of the people whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 10.
When The CW decided to take on a comic book show with Arrow, we never imagined that the stunts would be even half as good as they’ve ended up being. And no fight was more impressive than the long-awaited battle between Arrow and Deathstroke in the season 2 finale. Entertainment Weekly has named it one of the year’s 50 Best TV scenes.
Cutting back and forth between present day and Oliver’s time on the island, this fight added a layer of complexity that we’d never seen on the show before. And that complexity came from a lot of hard work. We chatted with stunt coordinator JJ Makaro to talk about how they created this fight (and what he wants to do next season) below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long did it take your team to prepare the Arrow vs. Deathstroke fight?
JJ MAKARO: It was a work in progress for about two episodes. We had actually intended on doing something like that in the episode before the final and for the amount of time that we had to tell the story for that episode, it ended up shifting to the final episode for other reasons as well. And then I’m not sure who came up with the idea – I’m sure there’s four of us at least who want to take credit for it – but somebody said something along the lines of we thought it’d be really cool to do both fights at the same time and have somebody get punched and the person would end up landing in the other time zone. We thought that would be really cool, because originally it was planned that you’d see the one fight and then you’d see the other fight, and they weren’t layered right on top of each other. But as soon as whoever said that said that, everybody clicked and ran with it and got really excited about it.
I feel like that makes your job more complicated.
Doing something like that is very scary. It sounds like a simple idea, but we have many times tried to do something where we’re playing flashbacks and what was going on in present day at the same time, and it just ended up getting confusing, so it made it way more difficult for us this time. We started with our normal process, which is [fight coordinator] James [Bamford] got together with the stunt performers and started mapping out the ideas for the fight. As he was doing them, we would have conversations with the DP and with the director in terms of how we would make our transitions.
Did you run into any problems along the way?
Part of our original problem came with where we were going to have the fight that took place nowadays. We were really lucky because of the boat, the boat is a very epic set anyway, it’s something we’re really proud of, so we had that. But we didn’t have a really, really good place to do the other half of the fight, so it took us a while to find that. At one point, people were thinking the fight itself is spectacular, so we could do it in a parking lot and it almost ended up being in a parking lot, but the area we were looking in was the sewage treatment plants in Vancouver. We were looking for them because they have all these nice pipes everywhere, and I just really, really wanted it to be someplace that was interesting. As soon as everybody started talking about the parking lot, I went running around the rest of the space trying to find what I call a pipe farm. We found a nice little area that had some on an upper story, but then right beside that was this really beautiful dome. Then when you went up on that dome, it was so spectacular up there, and the DP and the director loved it. James, as soon as he saw it, he started getting inspired on fight pieces for up there, and it all just came together really nicely there. So we spent probably about a week just perculating on the idea but once we actually sat down to doing the work, once we had had our scope of it designed, James went back there with a video camera and the two stunt guys and worked on the one scene up on the dome and in that area and then another day he came over and did the final pieces of what was going on inside the ship itself and then we spent a day brushing that up. So technically it was three days of rehearsal, but prep-wise, it took over a week.
How much of the fight were the actors able to do themselves?
We tend to use the actors as much as we possibly can within the scenes because you want to be part of what’s going on with them, you want to see the faces. We all want to believe that it’s Oliver doing the fight, you know? And the best way to do that is to see Stephen’s [Amell] face. We were in a very [tight] production schedule at that point, and running around doing a lot of stuff, so Stephen didn’t get a lot of time to rehearse, so we were actually pretty tight on, very specific on the pieces as he did them and took the time to work with him on each of the elements of the things that he did, so he ended up doing as much as we could possibly get in there, but he was basically learning it on the fly.
In terms of the actual movement, Arrow vs. Deathstroke was the fight that fans had been waiting for. Was there anything specific you wanted to be sure to incorporate?
It was more about making sure that we honored the level of opponent that Deathstroke was. You have a tendency, once you’re doing an action sequence, you’re always thinking about the hero and how the hero pulls it off and where they’re going with it all, but we needed to kind of have an approach where Deathstroke was, in his own way, a hero. From his angle, he needed to look as powerful as he is and not get sucked under into just being a cartoon bad guy, which is funny to say on a cartoon show. We had to really feel that threat. We needed to know that he was Oliver’s equal and that this was that match. We had built up to it for the full season, so it had to be spectacular, and it had to be well balanced between the two of them, which I think is part of the reason why the hopping back and forth in the two timezones works so well because in one portion of it, you had more strength coming from Deathstroke, and Manu got to really put his stamp on things, and then you pop over to another spot, and it’s Stephen’s chance to actually put his heart and soul into it. I think that sort of was where we were trying to go, and trying to keep the balance right till the end so that when the win finally came it was a win for all of us.
How long did the actual filming take?
We filmed it over two days. Because of the different locations, we filmed on the one location on one day, and then we filmed the other location another day. Then after that we had a third day where we brushed everything up once we got going. But we spent one day at the power treatment plant doing that stuff there and then we spent two days in the ship.
Going into it, you were fully aware of the flooding, yes?
Yeah we knew that was coming, and that was one of the things that got us really excited about it. It was a lot of fun. And to have the explosions and making a living studio look like it’s starting to lurch and selling that we’re actually on a boat and not inside a studio, all of that was so much of a thrill to be able to do. When I first read it, I went “How the hell are we going to do this?” The construction department and the special effects guys said, “Oh yeah we can do this, we’ll build a dam all the way around this thing and we’ll flood it up to three feet and we’ll be fine.” Once you get going on something like this, with all the passion from everybody, it’s all just these magnificent gifts that they give us so we can actually play like this. I mean you watch [something] like Titanic, where they took the time to flood it, and you get sucked right in to something like that and you never actually expect to see that in your time let alone do it on a TV show on a TV budget, and these guys were prepared to start doing that for us, and it was like, “Alright, this is so much fun, and what can we do with this now that they’re giving us these toys?” That was where the real thrill of it all was coming from.
Was this your favorite fight of the season?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I was so happy with it. It was everything we had dreamed that it would be. It turned out so perfectly. It is absolutely my favorite fight of the season. My second most favorite fight is a fight between Oliver and Sara and one of the assassins in the mansion, where they just go crazy and they just tear the mansion apart. It’s just so terrific. I really love that fight too. But this is by far my favorite.
Going into season three, is there anything you personally would really love to try?
Our fights are going to get better again because they always do. James, we keep pushing him and we keep giving him stronger challenges. He’s right now in Asia learning some more fight moves, so he’s really moving forward with the fight work. Now that they’ve put us into Asia, hopefully we’ll be able to get in there and have a lot of fun doing those kinds of fights. But the other things that we’re trying to get out is I’ve always wanted to do a parkouring sequence through moving traffic. I’ve seen little bits of it. We dabbled with it in the previous season when we did the huge jump across the alley and then came down the fire escape and hopped on a car, and then we did a little parkour over some moving vehicles, but that’s something I’ve been hoping to do somewhere along the line. I keep watching for the opportunity for it. But of course, it’s as big and complicated as a lot of the things we’ve done already. I’m sure if we do do it, it will be a challenge.
Well Stephen just posted a video doing parkour, so he’s ready.
When the series started, that was very important to us that we have an element of that and that he be involved in it. We sent him to a gymnasium that trained people in parkour, and he took to it like a duck to water. He just loved it so much, and he’s applied himself so well on it. He’s very good at it, and that’s part of the reason why I would like to keep going with it. We actually did a fair amount of, the last time we did it, he actually did a fair amount of the work himself, pretty much all of it. But it is complex to do, so I’m really hoping that we get a chance to try and do it.