Webmaster questions for James Lew
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Please note, the web master of this site does not have information as to how to become a stunt man.
What is the best style of fighting if you were to get into a street fight?
If you have ever had the privilege or misfortune to witness a street fight you probably would have noticed that after all the squaring off and maybe a couple of swinging fists or kicks that the fight quickly escalated to grabbing, choking and maybe some "close in" strikes. I would use a combination of jiujutsu/grappling techniques and add some of the "in fighting" counterattacks of Muay Thai kickboxing such as elbows, knees and head butts.
How do you feel about the teens/kids who say they are influenced by movies or TV shows when they attempt to do stunts or things like backyard wrestling and end up injuring themselves?
I am very concerned about teens/kids who are attempting to perform stunts or backyard wrestling. Having been an adventurous kid myself I realize that there is an attraction to trying something that is daring and that gets the attention of your buddies. But there was always the line that I knew you didnt cross. Imagine if someone wanted to sky dive, ride a bull; drive a racecar or high dive off a cliff without the proper training. What I feel is great about a product such as the "Ultimate Fights" DVD is that we are bringing an awareness of what goes on behind the scenes from the professional coordinators and stuntmans viewpoint. There is a lot of planning, rehearsal and training before a frame of film is shot. And the filming is then shot with the state of the art stunt equipment and controlled environment.
You've done several notable TV appearances as well as a wealth of feature film work - do you like working for the small screen better or for major motion pictures?
I love doing both TV and movies! The fast pace of TV shooting is exciting and the luxury of time and budget on major motion pictures allow for a different creative energy.
Great choreography is not the only factor that makes a memorable fight sequence. The first step for a great fight scene starts with a great script. With a powerful story and characters that we get emotionally behind the fight action can only be elevated. Then it is critical that the fight choreography elevates the story and characters within the same tone of the movie. The director has to capture the action along with his cinematographer in a manner that is both creative and dramatic. Bring in the film editor to give the right flow of cuts. Sound effects and music is also important. There are many other factors that add to and make a fight scene memorable.
How does someone become a stuntman: is there a "stuntman school" or do stuntmen come from different backgrounds and have a death wish?
The stunt business is a very difficult career to break into. There are a tremendous amount of men and women that are either in the business or aspiring to become a stuntman. The stunt jobs available do not come close to matching the supply of out of work stuntmen. If you have a special talent like a world class gymnast or a champion martial artist it could be your calling card. The best approach is the have the proper training. However there arent any official stunt schools. It would be very valuable to put together a dynamic video reel (3 to 5 minutes) of your talents as a stuntman. Do your best to get your tape to a stunt coordinator. I dont believe that stuntman have a "death wish" but rather a "living wish."
What are the main attributes of a stunt man (flexibility, strength, agility, guts, pain threshold etc)?
The one attribute that I observe in successful stuntmen is their mental focus. From this mental focus brings discipline. It is something every successful professional athletic brings to his work.
Are there unwritten rules of stunt work?
The one and only written and unwritten rule is, "Safety first."
What is the stuntman community like (get along, competitive...)?
The stunt business is extremely competitive. The excitement and the financial rewards is very high so there is an abundance of established and aspiring stuntmen all going after a limited amount of jobs.
What I am proud to say is that because of the inherent danger in performing stunts, the stuntman must watch each other"s back and trust their life in each others hand.
You've had your hand in many aspects of films, acting, stunts etc. Any favorite part of the film?
I am a bit of a "ham" and really enjoy performing in front of the camera. However the challenge and creative satisfaction of bringing to life a fight or action scene that started with an idea written in a script is incredible. I find that by learning all the different aspects of film making my knowledge and experience makes me better in the individual parts of the movie business.
Was it very different to be so involved in the production of the 1986 cult classic "Big Trouble in Little China'?
This movie is one of my most rewarding experiences in my career. I was first hired to function as the "Martial Arts Choreographer" on the movie. I became very involved with the creative process during the preproduction. In fact, and the credit goes to the director, John Carpenter gave me the backing and blessing to help and learn from all the different departments. So, I took that ball and ran with it! It was like getting paid to go to film school. I was being asked and giving my input to the set designer, the prop master, costume designer, storyboard artist and even the publicity department. My participation earned me an "Associate Producer" title on the movie.
Is it more difficult to train a 'star' that wants to do their own stunts?
I find it a pleasure to train a star that wants to do his own stunts. It shows me that he is driven to help make the action scene to the best of his ability. The problem comes when I feel that doing a certain stunt might put him in danger of injury or his life. The insurance bond company will not allow the star to do anything that is dangerous.
Have you ever had any major stars be seriously injured while training them for a film?
Have any actors that surprised you as being more physical than they come across?
Charlie Sheen was such a pleasure to work with on "Hot Shots" Part Deux. Charlie does not have the reputation as being an action guy in stunts that is he is the action guy with women. In fact, when we were ready to first shoot the big fight scene and he took off his top, I was very surprised at the peak physical condition he got himself in. He also did everything himself in the fight scene.
Any funny anecdotes you would like to share from a training session?
I am not sure that this is funny but it was certainly memorable. I was hired to be the fight coordinator and physical trainer for a high profile actress on a film. The first day I met her at her fancy hotel room to start our first lesson. She was just coming back from swimming. She excused herself to change into something to work out. I reminded her to wear something loose. Out she came with a comfortable loose pair of shorts and a t-shirt. We started training with some kicks. She was doing great with some high kicks. I decided to sit down in front of her to watch her practice. As she started her kicks I looked up and was given a clear view of her _ _ _ _ _.
Please note, I do not have any means of helping someone become a stuntman. If you are interesting in following this profession please contact some of the film studios.