Chad Randall, the Stunt Coordinator on Act of Valor, was kind enough to give ActionFest.com an exclusive phone interview which covered the film itself, as well as some in-depth discussion of his career in the stunt business! We are going to bring you the second half of the interview first (it makes sense) and then in the next piece you will get to know Chad and the stunt world a little better! So this half of the interview is going to give readers an exclusive look inside Act of Valor’s stunt coordination, so read on to find out more!
Ed Travis: I hear lots of stunt people joking about how directors always want something they have “never seen before”, “something new”. What was the goal for Act of Valor? Did you have a goal to bring something totally unique to the screen?
Chad Randall: Well, not to be repetitive, but Hollywood (and most directors) have that tendancy to put an extra flare on things. Bigger car scenes, bigger fights, bigger action. It gets a little overwhelming and blown out of proportion. But with Act of Valor the Navy worked closely with us. It is hard to portray these guys in their true light and what they are all about. So it was down to a bullet hit. If you get shot in the head, or arm, or leg; how would you really react to that? The boys would step in and show exactly what would really go down. We would reshoot things if a body position didn’t look right to them. So we stuck true to reality based action. The scenarios were about threats that are really out there in the world. Everything that we filmed is truly what would happen, down to cars smashing through barricades. We actually reshot things because they looked too BIG. We would downplay the action if it felt too much. Bringing believable action to the screen, again, is my passion. And that was the attention to detail we had on Act of Valor. What we did was believable to the “brass” and to the SEALS. They were involved in portraying the Navy, so they were involved with the final cut. Scott Waugh said that when he was editing he would have one of the boys come look it over and say “that didn’t work, we have got to do that again”. And hopefully the audience will experience what this is really like without actually being there. We strapped cameras on our guys and sent them on missions. It puts the audience there and they’ll get a perspective on who these guys are and what they are all about. But seriously, everything we did was real. We didn’t use pads or cables or Hollywood flare. And I think that came across.
Look, 9 times out of 10, when Hollywood forces an embellishment on an action scene, it ruins the scene. “Aw, why did they put that in there?” [Both laugh] With this project this is the closest you will see to real live action. Hopefully it will come across that way and there will be a good response. It was a unique experience. You are tempted to add some extra fire or throttle, but we went with believable every time.
ET: So the plot of the film itself is a combination of actual missions that have happened? Did they take real missions and combine them into the film’s story? Is that accurate?
CR: The film is real threats in the world today and based on some true events that actually happened. There are actual ops that did go down that were put into scenarios for this project. So it was kind of like putting the real SEALS out on training missions for situations and threats that are very real. It is really a training operation where we followed the guys around and put them on camera and filmed their mission. This is what they really do. They train with these types of missions. So we put a story behind it and encorporated real threats from around the world. It is reality based and there is nothing fake about it.
ET: Another behind the scenes video I saw online somewhere suggested you used live ammo on set. What was the decision making process behind that and how did you create the safety needed to do something like that?
CR: Again, the Navy was involved. And without them you couldn’t do that. It was a closed set, with the Navy, on a base. Complete lock down. It was all the real guys involved. This is how they train. They shoot live ammo at targets. They do live ammo pratice missions. So we basically got out there and got behind these guys doing their business. It is an impressive display of teamwork and efficiency. You can feel the weapons and feel the bullets whizzing by when you watch the film. I don’t think that has ever been put on film before beyond documentaries. The Navy said, you guys can put your cameras here, this is where we are going to be. Don’t go outside these boundaries, and rock and roll! They set the perimeter and we documented as best we could.
ET: Aaron Norris, our ActionFest co-founder, was excited to find out that the Act of Valor directors (Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh) were stunt men themselves. He actually wrote up a piece about it that we have posted on our site. He touched on the fact that stunt professionals tend to be stifled in the film industry. The system seems to want to keep them in their place and not let them rise above their current jobs to become directors in their own right. So what are your thoughts on that? How was working with directors who were stunt men? And how did their past career affect their filmmaking style?
CR: Scott Waugh and I grew up together. Our fathers were friends. The best people to film action are the people that know action and are a part of that world. So as far as action directors? The stunt coordinator who has been there and moved up the line and above the line? I think there is nobody better for that position than somebody who knows how to get action on film. This film puts the audience in the action because he knows where to put the camera. Lots of directors have all the money and all the cameras but they don’t know how to document the action. Or it happens on the editing floor where they realize there are pieces missing. So in my mind there is nothing better than an action director who was previously a stunt man. Buddy Joe Hooker is, in my opinion, one of the best 2nd Unit Directors in the business. Like Aaron Norris said, a lot of times stunt men are kept at bay and kept from breaking in to the world of directors. So I’m excited that Scott has been able to do this, and I think he nailed it.
You are only as good as the people you work with. So if you get some MTV music video director and put him on set with a $200 million action film, it is not going to come out right. You need to have someone who has been there. And a lot of those guys rely on the stunt coordinator to bring the action to the table. They get the credit and the stunt coordinator is left behind.
We have always worked that way. And that is why I respect the Navy SEALS so much. What they do has always been shrouded in secrecy and they don’t want it to get out. But it is important for the world to know what these guys do. And not to put stunt people in the same league as the Navy SEALS, but I relate with these guys because stunt men don’t really always need the credit. Let Tom Cruise get up there and say he was on the building. We know who did the action and we are good with it. But it also hasn’t helped our careers to move up the line.
ET: Well, back to you, what projects are coming up for you?
CR: Well, we are doing something called A Hard Act To Follow. It is about what it was like growing up in and around the stunt business. Its about where we came from, what we are all about, and bringing some respect to our department and our people. We are doing it to pay homage to our people. I am trying to represent our industry. And I even have a guy writing the life story of my father. So it is a book that I hope to turn in to a documentary. It is a ways off but I’m gathering footage and interviews.
I also have a couple of jobs with Buddy Joe Hooker coming up and looking forward to rocking with Scott Waugh on his next project.
ET: Thanks so much for your time, man.
CR: Thank you!
There you have the first installment of this exclusive interview! The first half of the interview, all about Chad and Stunts Unlimited, will be coming soon.
Don’t miss Act of Valor in theaters this weekend, starting Feb. 24th!