Recently I got to speak with Mark Kubr about his work on the film “LA LA Land”. The movie is getting plenty of Oscar buzz and Mark was kind enough to talk about how his stunt work contributed to the film.
How did you get into show business?
As a kid, I was interested in film and photography, but I officially got into the business with the help of a neighbor. While I was bagging groceries in my hometown of San Clemente, a customer (Jean DeWitt, famous for being the voice of Wilma Flintstone) said she thought I would be great in show business. She offered to drive me to LA and introduce me to her agent. The agent took me on and I began working right away. I was 18 years old.
What have been some of your most challenging stunts of your career?
A scene from “Hurricane Anthony” from CSI Miami where I was put on a ratchet to replicate being sucked up into a hurricane. Some stunts are frightening, like running from real explosions, but as far as challenging, nothing is more challenging than fight scenes with A-list actors like I have done with Russell Crowe, Henry Cavill, Robert Downey Jr. or Tobey Maguire because you cannot accidentally hit them!
How have digital effects changed your career?
It really hasn’t changed my career as a stunt actor or coordinator, but practical stunts are still very much needed even in films with heavy CGI. You still need a person to perform the stunt work. New techniques of stunt work have actually been invented from the use of CGI with motion capture. Motion capture technology uses stunt performers to act out the action then, on the computer, artists can create a different looking character. Stunt people are entering into the video game industry through motion capture.
Which stunt in “La La Land” was the hardest to coordinate and why?
The freeway sequence! With my job as stunt coordinator, I am responsible for the safety of everyone, not just the stunt people; that includes the camera operators, wardrobe, dancers, everyone, so you have to have eyes in the back of your head! The most challenging part of the stunt work in “La La Land” was performing the stunts in time with the dancers and the music. Many stunt performers are not used to executing action to a beat, ending on a beat or in time with 100 other performers. In “La La Land”, not only did the stunt and dance performers have to keep in time with the music, but also the camera work moved in time too. In the pool party scene, our stunt performer flips off the roof into the pool and the camera had to fall at the same time. It required over 30 takes. We drilled holes in the bottom of his shoes to let the water out. We talk about how our stunt players have done dangerous work, high falls, full fire burns, weapon work, etc. but closing a car door on the beat with 100 other performers from Mandy Moore’s dance team during the freeway sequence in “La La Land” was the most challenging stunt.
How did your involvement in “La La Land” come about?
A stunt coordinator friend of mine, Charlie Croughwell, suggested I might be a good fit for “La La Land” and he set up the meeting. I was already a fan of Damien Chazelle and our collaborations together with Mandy Moore really clicked.
What goes into setting up a sequence like the opening number?
We rehearsed it for several days in a big long parking lot before, but when we brought it to the freeway there were unforeseen difficulties: the freeway was damp, we had to make sure there was traction where the stunt woman landed her back flip off the car, the bottoms of many performers shoes needed added traction for safety, the bike had to be altered, the car windshields and roofs had to be retrofitted to absorb the impact of the dancers, stunt people, bike, skateboard – all the departments had to work together.
What was it like working with LA traffic?
When you film on a freeway, the production company has to get a permit so that the only people allowed there are the film cast and crew. “La La Land” production got a permit for a section of the freeway for just enough time to set up the scene, equipment and film it. It was a perfectly clear day, by the way, which is rare, and it went perfectly with the song.
How do you keep track of 100 people in a scene that complex and intricate?
You have to have eyes in the back of your head and every single department has to work in harmony with each other. I was always in constant contact with Damien, Mandy, transportation, wardrobe; every department relies heavily of each other’s brilliance.
For the film, did you have a scene you particularly enjoyed coordinating?
The whole freeway sequence is truly the most amazing thing I’ve ever been involved with. Action is one thing, but the music brings action to a higher level.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are excited for?
Yes, I was stunt coordinator of “House of Lies” with creator/showrunner Matthew Carnahan for several years. I am looking forward to working with Matthew again on his new project starting up 2017!