BWW Interview: Emmy Nominated Stunt Coordinators Hiro Koda & Jahnel Curfman Talk Cobra Kai
Emmy Nominated Stunt Coordinators Hiro Koda & Jahnel Curfman speak with us about their work on Youtube's original series, Cobra Kai.
When did each of you first get into doing stunts and what made you want to be stunt coordinators?
HK: I knew I wanted to be a stuntman from a young age. I grew up in martial arts and had the opportunity to visit the set of the first LETHAL WEAPON movie. I saw the stuntmen doing a rehearsal and was in awe. I knew at that moment what I wanted to be when I grew up. I made the move into stunt coordinating because I really love the creative process of action design and fight choreography. It was a natural transition after performing for so many years.
JC: My first experience with stunt work was on the first 'Avatar' movie. I was a professional dancer at the time and had been cast as one of Jim Cameron's Motion Capture Artists. Working with the stunt team was an amazing experience and I knew that was the direction I wanted to move my career. Stunt Coordination wasn't something that I had ever considered for myself until the opportunity arose. I enjoy the creative aspect of it and being collaborative with the other departments.
How did the two of you meet?
HK: We met on a Tekken video game commercial that I was coordinating and Jahnel came in as a last-minute replacement for a spot we had to fill. I was really impressed with how quickly she picked up the choreography and her professionalism on set.
JC: After the Tekken commercial we continued to work together. Hiro has been the best mentor, teacher, and business partner I could ever ask for. He is truly one of the best in the biz!
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for Cobra Kai! How did you guys first get involved with that show?
HK: Thank you! I had worked with Bob Wilson, one of the producers, years ago on Birds of Prey. He knew me from our work together on that so, when Cobra Kai first came up, he knew it was right up my alley.
JC: I came on board as a stunt coordinator at the end of the first season. The Season One finale was huge and Hiro needed a second set of hands. We choreographed, rehearsed, and pre-vis'd over 20 fights in 4 days. It was crazy. So when Season 2 rolled around and the show creators increased the amount of action, we just rolled right into it.
What is your process when coming up with the action for scenes?
HK: Once we get a script, we pull the action scenes and start to break them down. We take the more complex sequences and brainstorm all of the creative possibilities even if it includes something that's never really been done before. That's the fun of film and television! It's a world of infinite possibilities. If you can imagine it, there's a way to make it happen.
JC: Once we've broken down the script and have an idea of where we want to take the action, we choreograph the fights, design the wire sequences, driving sequences, etc. Our goal is to make the action Pop on screen in the safest possible manner.
Do you work a lot with the director and/or director of photography when coming up with stunts and choreography to make sure it all works with the camera angles?
HK: We work very close with the Director and DP, making sure that the action is shot properly, as well as, lining up the camera so that hits "sell" from the best possible angle and the action sequences are as dynamic as possible on screen. For bigger sequences, I shoot a pre-visualization that works as a blue print for the best angles and camera moves.
JC: We also work closely with the Director during the creative process leading up to the shoot day. Action sequences should help move the narrative forward and there is a lot of communication with the director to make sure that our visions for the story and character align.
I'm assuming you determine pretty early on in a series which actors can do their own stunts. Is there a certain point you draw the line and bring in a stunt double?
HK & JC: First, it's important to point out the difference between doing Stunts and Actor action. On Cobra Kai, in particular, our cast is extremely talented and capable. They perform quite a bit of their own choreography and even take a hit or fall here and there. But, as talented as our actors are, we always have stunt doubles for them. A couple seasons of training can't replace the years of training and stunt experience that stunt professionals have.
Is there a stunt or fight sequence that stands out to you that you've coordinated for Cobra Kai? Or something that was difficult but ended up being rewarding?
HK: The final fight sequence in the high school took quite a bit of time and thought. Once we had the skeleton of the fight we started to break down where all of the smaller pieces began and where they ended. There were so many smaller fights that made up the school brawl and it took a lot of time to piece together. It was like working each piece into a massive puzzle that came together into a sort of organized chaos! We had to, not only, focus on what was happening in the foreground but also continue the action in the background.
JC: Hiro shoots a previz for every fight on the show and that really helps keep it all organized and on track on the shoot day. We would have loved to have had a week to shoot the school fight but, we crammed it into 3 1/2 days.
HK: With such a limited amount of time, we were very lucky to have the amazing talent of the cast and stunt team and we spent a lot of our prep time on the big One-er in the hallway. We designed the action to my camera moves and wanted to see how long we could take the choreography without cutting and before it completely fell apart. The One-er ended up being 95% cast with a few clever "Texas Switches" using stunt doubles to take the big falls! We were super stoked with how the hallway fight came out. It ran 88 seconds without cutting and we had it within 6 takes! Very proud of the cast and stunt team!
Where do you get inspiration from when coming up with stunts for scenes?
HK: I've always loved Jackie Chan; how he always uses his environment within his fights. Buster Keaton is also a huge inspiration. He was very clever with his use of stunts back in the day. I always have fight choreography floating around in my head so I try and keep it all organized in a reference library that I shoot for use later on.
Is there one person you'd love to collaborate with that you haven't yet?
JC: Kathryn Bigelow. When it comes to directing high action in really good films, she's consistently at the top of the game.
Do you have any advice for aspiring stunt coordinators or performers, like anything you guys wish you knew when you were starting out?
HK: For aspiring Stunt Performers check out "The Stunt Performer's Academy" I teach a Hong Kong Fight Reaction and Wire Work Seminar there. As far as aspiring Stunt Coordinators find yourself a great mentor and get on set with them and learn everything you can on what it takes to be a Stunt Coordinator. People's lives will be in your hands!
JC: Yes! Stunt Performers Academy (stuntperformersacademy.com) in Los Angeles is the most well rounded stunt school out there for aspiring stunt performers. For Stunt Coordinators and Performer's alike, the best piece of advice I can give is to work hard, do projects that you're proud of, and don't be an asshole.
Do either of you have other upcoming projects you could tell us about?
HK: I just wrapped up a Stephen King Series called "The Outsider" for HBO. I am currently finishing Season 3 of Ozark and will be gearing up to start Season 4 of Stranger Things in 2020 after Cobra Kai Season 3.
JC: I finished filming Jumanji: The Next Level a few months ago. I'm back doubling Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse. That's such a great cast. We have a lot of fun. And we just started filming Season 3 of Cobra Kai!
PHOTO COURTESY OF HIRO KODA & JAHNEL CURFMAN