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At face value, films like those in the UNDERWORLD series are
all about the glitz, the intrigue, the makeup, the leather, the latex…and the
corsets. But behind all of the glamour inherent in these films—the latest of
which, UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, topped the U.S. box office this weekend with an
estimated $25.4 million—is the fighting. The power. The physicality. The subtle
yet impressive chess game that boxers call “The Sweet Science.”
And while the focus of the films is the beautiful and lethal
Kate Beckinsale (and her corsets!), it all begs the question, “Who taught this
diminutive lady—an actress, a mother, a poet—how to kick ass?” The answer: Brad
Martin. Stunt coordinator and 2nd-unit director on the first two UNDERWORLD
films as well as the latest sequel (and quite literally a ton of other
high-profile films), Martin is the Yoda to Beckinsale’s Luke Skywalker, the
Mickey Goldmill to her Rocky Balboa. During Fango’s visit to the AWAKENING set
one cold and rainy day, we had a chance to talk with Martin about the new film,
designing fighting styles for specific characters and where he stands on the
seemingly ever-present CGI-vs.-practical-FX debate.
FANGORIA: You’re almost at the end of filming; is there one memory
that is the most telling about this experience?
BRAD MARTIN: Well, we haven’t shot the final fight yet, but
the opening battle we did with Selene before she gets jettisoned into the
future was quite memorable. It was a great sequence where we see Selene at her
finest. We get to see her take out humans for the first time, and witness the
true nature of what she’s all about.
FANG: When it comes to the fighting, are you using an
amalgam of different styles?
MARTIN: I like to call it “Hollywood-do.” It’s whatever
looks good for the movie. We take something from everything. Selene definitely
has a specific fighting style; there are a certain amount of things that don’t
work for her. Kung fu does not work with Kate, and neither does wushu. There
may be a bit of Aikido…
FANG: Or Krav Maga…“tight” stuff, basically.
MARTIN: Like THE BOURNE IDENTITY style, but in a more anime
FANG: Like jeet kune do?
MARTIN: No. We have her “trap” once in a while like in jeet
kune do, but it has been a more straightforward, raw fighting style with a very
brutal twist to it. For instance, there’s been a lot of neck-breaking, a lot of
arm-breaking, a lot of nerve destruction and that kind of stuff.
FANG: This is the first UNDERWORLD in 3D; have you made a
lot of changes in your approach from the series’ previous movies?
MARTIN: Well, the action is generally the same. What we’ve
found out with 3D is that it’s not necessarily great to be very “cutty,” with
quick edits. So we’re trying to keep the movements a lot longer, the shots
longer. I still think there are times, though, that we need to edit quickly to
make the action itself look good. There’s only so much we can do with wirework
and big action moves. Sometimes you have to break it down to a fine, specific
amount of time, but for the most part, it’s going to generally be the same.
FANG: How are you taking advantage of the 3D cameras with
your action setpieces?
MARTIN: I definitely had to take a quick study on the whole
process and how it all needs to work. It’s quite a bit different compared to
2D. There are foreground differences; in 2D, you can usually stack something in
the foreground when you don’t want to see something, but in 3D that may be a
bad thing. If you’re trying to block something, you don’t want to focus on it,
and in 3D, you’ll always focus on what’s in the foreground. So you have to take
out things like that. There’s this thing that occurs when you’re panning across
an action, or following the player in the action, called “ghosting.” You might
get a ghost image, since in 3D, you’re shooting with two different cameras at
the same time. If it’s not extremely fast, like medium-speed, that’s a very bad
thing. So there are many times when we have to choreograph the action and the
shots so as not to get that effect. That takes out a few tools I like to use.
FANG: Are you having to slow the fighters’ actions down?
MARTIN: Never. You can’t do that. The minute you start
slowing things down is when it looks bad. In terms of 3D, we only shoot at 24
frames a second at regular speed, and in post, as much as I can get in there,
I’ll ramp it up to 22 frames, which makes it look just a little bit edgier.
That being the intention when I shoot it, I’m not too worried about it, knowing
we’re going to do that in post. But you can’t shoot at 22.
FANG: How much wirework are you using? Is it mostly being
used for controlled falls?
MARTIN: With the wirework, we have Kate dropping off
buildings, like we do in every UNDERWORLD. We have people getting thrown all
over the place, which is also wirework. It’s basically throws and falls.
FANG: So it’s not Yuen Wu-Ping-style stuff?
MARTIN: It’s the same idea. I mean, all wirework kind of
originated with Wu-Ping and all of the Hong Kong guys, right? It’s just that
we’re taking it to a new level.
FANG: So it’s more based on reality?
MARTIN: My technique, and what I like to do with Selene and
the wirework we do in the UNDERWORLD movies, is that I try to keep things on a
more realistic level. I don’t like the floatiness. There are certain things
that Wu-Ping and his brother, Yuen Cheung-Yan, do that are “floaty’ in the Hong
Kong wirework world. I wanted to make things more realistic, like, “What if
this really happened?” Make it more dynamic and more impactful—that’s the goal.
FANG: What are your key action setpieces? Are there a few
big ones, or a lot of little ones?
MARTIN: I’d say there are actually three big setpieces. The
first was the stairwell I was telling you about, when Kate is fighting in her
prime. The second one involves the coven, where we built this medieval
underground set beneath a waterfall, which is where all the vampires live. The
Lycans have tracked them down, found out where they live and come down into
this underground lair, which is quite cool. The last setpiece is going to be
down in Coal Harbour, and is basically a parking structure for the Antigen
corporation, which is where we are right now. There’s another section where
we’re supposed to be in the medical facility, and a big fight down in this very
cool-looking garage. Those are the big sets. The coven is probably the biggest
set we constructed, but because of budgetary reasons, we could only build so
FANG: Beckinsale has experience doing these kinds of movies;
are Michael Ealy and other newcomers to the series doing action, or do you have
other people you’re working with who have done it before?
MARTIN: Michael’s not doing too much. I don’t know how aware
you are of the story, but there is an “über-Lycan,” this 12-foot-tall werewolf,
and it’s a complete CG creature, so we obviously don’t have to train it to do
FANG: But you have to have actors interacting with it,
MARTIN: Mainly, it’s just Kate and a bunch of my stunt guys
doing that interaction. [Co-star] Theo James does a little bit. Theo is very
talented in his own right. He doesn’t have to do too much in this movie. We did
a little with him in the coven, where he has a CG whip and takes out a couple
of werewolves, which is pretty cool, but since everything was digital, he
didn’t actually have to spin it around.
FANG: How are you choreographing the Lycans in general?
MARTIN: I have a very specific view, as I do with Selene’s
style, of what I think the Lycans can do, what we can do with them and things
we shouldn’t do with them. Since they’re more animal than human, there’s
grabbing, which we do a little bit of, and throwing, which again, we do a
little bit of, but that’s almost the extent of the human motions. Everything
else is slashing and biting and thrusting.
FANG: It seems that their posture is more open.
MARTIN: It’s more open, and they’re lower in a crouching
position—more like a football linebacker, with a lower center of gravity.
Sometimes I feel a bit limited as to what we can do based on their style, but
once in a while, we’re able to find some money to do something quite cool with
the CG werewolves. Unfortunately, the guys in the suits can only do so much.
FANG: What percentage would you say is CGI vs. practical FX?
MARTIN: The first UNDERWORLD was founded on doing everything
practically. I had a wire team, much like Yuen Wu-Ping. With Len Wiseman, the
director of the first two and a producer on this one, we kind of founded
everything on trying to do things for real. That was very cool. The second one
held out, and most of the time was practical. In the third movie, which I
wasn’t a part of, there was a lot of CGI. In AWAKENING, it’s quite a bit more
CGI than I would have hoped, but there’s only so much you can do with a 12-foot
werewolf and some of the shots we want. So sometimes I find it a saving grace,
even though it wasn’t the tone of what we wanted to do; it helps sometimes,
most definitely, and the CGI is getting so much better nowadays. It’s not
necessarily a bad thing.
FANG: Do you have some of the same creature performers as
you did on the other movies?
MARTIN: Brian Steele, our lead werewolf on the first three
UNDERWORLDs, wasn’t able to make this one, but Richard Cetrone, my stunt werewolf
on the first two, is back to be the “hero werewolf” in this one. So, yeah…we
have the same werewolf guy.
FANG: Is this one of these productions that happened very
suddenly, or did you have a lot of preproduction time?
MARTIN: Actually, all of the UNDERWORLD movies have been
great for me as far as prep. They’ve given me ample time to do what I needed to
do to make the action right, and these are among the few movies I do where the
action is a character in itself. So it really needs that attention to make it
right, and I was given that. I was given 10 weeks of prep on the first one, and
I think I had eight weeks on the second one and 10 again on this one. We had a
lot of time to do it right. Unfortunately, the script wasn’t completely
finished when we started filming, so there are some things we’re playing
catch-up on right now for the ending, but we’re in a good spot.
FANG: What about locations? On the second movie there was a
lot more done on a soundstage, but when you’re working on a location like this,
how do you rehearse and get ready?
MARTIN: It is difficult. They did give us our own little
stage at the studio where we were able to rehearse, and given the specs of the
location, we planned all of our stunt rigs to those. So we were able to
basically use on our stage the exact same rig that we were going to have on
location, and rehearse that way.
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