When Joe Russo (of the Russo brothers fame) was looking for just the right person to direct his action thriller extractionhe chose a non-traditional choice: Sam Hargrave, a stunt co-ordinator eager to direct.
Admittedly, it’s not the first time a stunt coordinator has made the switch to behind the camera. Chad Stahelski, director of the John Wick franchise, was a former stunt choreographer who collaborated with Keanu Reeves on the matrix movies. Hargrave’s stunt work can be seen in Avengers: Endgame and Captain America: Civil Warfor example, as well as The hunger Games franchise and Atomic Blonde† And like Stahelski, he brought that stuntman’s sensibility to the challenge of directing the action-packed extraction†
“For me, action is a way to tell a story in a dynamic way,” says Hargrave. “And if you can’t see what’s happening, if you can’t experience it like the characters do, you’re missing a lot of the impact of the moment.”
In the film, Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth) is a black market mercenary employed to rescue the kidnapped son, Ovi (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), from an international crime boss. What should have been a relatively easy extraction quickly goes sideways and Rake and Ovi must fight their way through swarms of heavily armed opponents to get to safety.
One scene in particular presented a challenge, given Hargrave’s tight budget, time and resource constraints. It takes place at the end of the film’s first act, when Rake has successfully rescued Ovi from his captors in Dhaka and is about to take the boy to safety, according to the original extraction plan. But then a new player enters the scene: Saju (Randeep Hooda), a top assistant to Ovi’s imprisoned father, who tries to get Ovi back from Rake to avoid paying for the job. It is a crucial turning point in the film.
The scene spans 15-20 pages into the script, and it’s all non-stop action, with gunfights, hand-to-hand combat, wire work, and high-speed chases through Dhaka’s busy side streets. Normally a director would film each part of the sequence over and over, from different camera angles, to get all the necessary coverage, but Hargrave didn’t have that luxury.
So he chose to make it look like “oner” – industry slang for a long continuous action sequence with no cuts – except in this case Hargrave stitched together 36 segments to make the final sequence as seamless as possible. Not only did the strategy pay off in terms of saving resources, but it also ramps up the adrenaline by putting the audience right in the middle of the action as the rescue mission goes sideways.
As we learned when we sat down with Hargrave, that decision came with its own challenges. Each individual segment had to be filmed so that it ended where the next segment began, and maintaining continuity (whether it’s clothing, special effects makeup for various wounds, or Hemsworth’s sweaty shirts) proved particularly complicated.
Hargrave was unable to import his usual range of prop pistols into India, which has strict gun control laws, so all those scenes were shot with rubber guns, with extra effects added in post-production. All stunt cars required special configurations depending on shooting needs, and Hargrave eventually designed a compact, configurable camera system half the weight of the usual full-lens camera package, allowing him to film from the center of the action. Somehow it all came together in the end, and the result is a high-octane, beautifully choreographed sequence designed to captivate viewers.
We hope you all enjoy the latest series of war stories. The next set of videos will focus on Alan Wake, Robert the Bruce, and an expanded version of one of our most popular war stories. Stay tuned for more episodes coming soon.
List image by Ars Video