Welcome to Julie’s Diary! Every week during the season, Vampire Diaries showrunner Julie Plec will add an entry to her diary. From answering burning questions to giving behind-the-scenes stories and more, this is a place for fans to hear directly from Plec about the episode they just watched.
Thank God It’s Friday, for many reasons, but most importantly because we got to show off “Postcards From the Edge,” written by Rebecca Sonnenshine and directed by Pascal Verschooris. What better way to ring in the weekend than with a Vampire Fight Club?
Now seems like the appropriate time to talk about stunts. While The Originals has had its fair share of massive fight sequences over the years, on The Vampire Diaries we tend to execute our rabble-rousing on a much smaller scale. But when we started talking about what Julian could have done to turn Mystic Falls into his own personal bacchanalian playground, we loved the idea of a fight club where death is the loser’s outcome.
To execute a stunt sequence like this, you need a stunt choreographer to work with the director to map out the sequence. In this case, that was our stunt coordinator Paul Burke, the coolest Irishman I know (next to The Original’s Declan De Barra, that is). Paul does a couple days of “pre-vis,” where he works with his stunt team in a rehearsal space with wires, stunt pads, and a camera. He cuts together his own version of the sequence, complete with music and sometimes even dialogue. Nothing but love to stunt people, but they’re usually not actors, so these pre-vis videos are always good for a laugh.
Once the director and writers are happy, the AD (assistant director), UPM (unit production manager) and line producer (the “money”) break down the sequence to figure out how much it will cost to shoot and how long it will take. At that point, everyone creative is sent back to the drawing board with tears in their eyes and bitter resentment in their soul as they’re told that what they’ve dreamt up is unproducible on a television schedule. I’m half-kidding. Sometimes it all works out great.
As the details get ironed out, the wardrobe and hair and makeup departments need to be looped in. For every principal actor involved in the sequence, their stunt double needs an exact copy of their wardrobe. If blood is splattering or clothes are getting ripped, wardrobe needs to buy multiple versions of the same outfit. Sometimes the wardrobe department will have to purchase up to 10 multiples of the same clothes. That’s when Damon Salvatore’s signature John Varvatos T-shirts can really start to ding the wallet. Hair and makeup have to be prepared with stunt wigs for matching, multiple blood gags, and wound prosthetics.
The AD works with the director and the DP to map out the best way to light and shoot the sequence. For every stunt scene, in its simplest terms, you shoot a full “stunt master” — a version of the scene that involves no principals. You also shoot a version of the master with your principal actors. Then you shoot a tighter size with a stunt person, and shoot it again with the real actor pantomiming the stunt action. Then you go in and pick up individual shots. If a stunt person is thrown to the ground, you shoot a piece where your actor lands into that same position. If a stunt person gets punched or kicked, you shoot a piece where your actor reacts to that hit. And on and on and on.
It’s logistic-city, and when I watch shows like Arrow and The Flash, I marvel at how much they are able to accomplish on a weekly basis. We could never do that. In fact, I’d like to invite Greg Berlanti to write a follow-up blog explaining how the hell the stunts on his shows are so damn excellent. We could all stand to learn a thing or two from his team.
Tidbits from the stunt set: