FilmInterview

Interview: ‘La La Land’ Stunt Coordinator Mark Kubr Breaks Down That Stunning Opening Sequence

Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

As Whiplash director Damien Chazelle’s new film La La Land hits screens, Emertainment Monthly got the chance to talk with Mark Kubr, the stunt coordinator for the musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Kubr has done stunts on huge movies like the Iron Man trilogy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, plus a lot of television work like on Showtime’s House of Lies or TNT’s Animal Kingdom.

This interview had been edited and condensed from its original form.

Emertainment Monthly: How does being a stunt coordinator differ from being a stunt player, and how did you make that transition in your career?

Mark Kubr: Yes, a stunt coordinator is very different than a stunt player. And, the way I made that transition is… I worked as an actor and a stunt player for many, many years before I even – in fact I gave shows away if they asked me to coordinate because I felt I wasn’t ready. Being around a live set, and the action that takes place, and figuring out how to hire everyone, just a matter of like repetition and a matter of just being engaged and a matter of doing it for a period of a time where you feel safe enough to put other people at risk and in harm’s way, and say “okay, I’m ready to make this transition.” Some people out there do that too fast, and I didn’t want to be one of those people.

So what was the point or experience that made you feel like “okay, I feel like I’m ready for this”?

MK: A couple of people that are showrunners, one in particular, his name is Matthew Carnahan, he’s the showrunner for House of Lies, he gave me a really big break on House of Lies, and then also before that, a couple of stunt coordinators gave me a small unit to get my feet wet, and so, I was cautious enough, and then, after getting my feet wet with a smaller unit, I said “yes, I’m ready to coordinate.”

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La La Land. Photo Credit: Lionsgate.

So let’s talk about La La Land now. People like to talk about the two “pure” forms of cinema being action movies and musicals, how do the stunts for a musical differ from an action movie?

MK: Let’s just break it down, that scene on the freeway, where we were doing a traffic jam – so how do you combine, I mean let’s face it, dancers aren’t actors. I mean I have the utmost respect for dancers now, my goodness, they just… what they can do with the their bodies, oh my god. They’re fine tuned machines. But anyway, that said, I didn’t want to take away from dancers, but Damien wanted to put some action in the dance sequences, so what would make sense? So it’s a traffic jam, cars aren’t going fast, so it’s not going to be… no one’s going to get hit by a car, no one’s going to get rear ended – well, there might be a rear end, but we’re not going to do that. So, you’re in the middle of an LA traffic jam, and it’s sweltering hot, and everyone’s getting out of the car and dancing on top the roofs.

So what can we do? A stunt coordinator is still very much a storyteller, so let’s take Damien’s vision and figure out what we can implement within this dance sequence. So, except for a car, a guy on a skateboard? Takes it out of a car, and gets on the skateboard. How about a parkour guy? Gets out of his car and starts doing flips, doing things in the dance. How about a BMX guy? A bike guy? Takes the bike out of his truck and then he’s in there. How about a gymnast? How about we do some cartwheels and some flips off cars, how about we just take these disciplines and intertwine them with the dance discipline? And it worked. I think it worked beautifully, I don’t want to sound too arrogant, but I’m wondering if that’s the first time it’s ever been done? It came off like – I hope you enjoyed it – it made sense, the action and the storytelling made sense.

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Mark Kubr. Photo Credit: CelebrityImages.org.

Completely, I was very impressed. It sounds like you were involved pretty early in the process, can you walk me through how long you had for preparing and shooting that big freeway number?

MK: Well, we had I think it was like a little over a week, a week and a half for rehearsals, and [this was an] elaborate, massive number, you can’t just go on the freeway and start blocking it off, so we shut down the 105 freeway, a fast-tracked onramp under the 110 for like 3 days. We had to have everything dialed in before we got to the actual day. So we rehearsed a number of different scenes, you know we got the parkour guy, and his look had to be right, then we had the skateboarder, his look had to be right, so I shot on my iPhone a couple different things I thought we could implement by the dancers while they were off rehearsing something else. Damien looked at the footage and in some cases okayed something and didn’t okay another, and then eventually we got to an agreement and we put it inside the number, and that didn’t work, and that worked, and this didn’t, and then dialed it in during that week of rehearsals.

So there’s this one big number, and then, if I’m not wrong, there were a couple other sequences you were involved in in the movie, right?

MK: Yes, there’s another – I lost sleep over this one, and the freeway sequence – there was another number where they’re dancing at night and there’s a guy who dives off into a pool, so he did that 31 times.

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Oh my god.

MK: I know. It was interesting, because the wardrobe – no fault of theirs, I’m not blaming them at all, no one could’ve known we’d do this 31 times. But they had like five or six different tuxedos. So after those tuxedos he’s doing it wet, I mean he did it so many times that we had to drill holes onto the shoes to drain the water. The reason he had to do it so many times is because during the dance number, and there’s a crane with an underwater camera, and the pool jumper had to land in the water at exactly the same moment the camera did, remember the camera follows him through the party, everybody dancing around the pool, and then all of a sudden, he’s dancing up there and then goes into this elaborate dive, and then a couple flips and a twist, and then enters the water. On the 31st time, we got it, and we shot all night long. I mean, him and I drove in together, and we were just celebrating. It was a magical LA moment, anyway.

So what are you working on next?

MK: I just finished up a movie, I was in CHiPs, the new CHiPs, but I just finished a movie called Kook, which is one in the beach area so there’s a lot of stunts in that, there’s surfing and there’s skateboarding and things like that, and then, I believe I’m not at liberty to talk about it, but there’s a big project coming up with the same creator from House of Lies, and that’s Matthew Carnahan, and he just sold a TV show.

La La Land is in select theaters December 9th and in theaters everywhere December 16th. Check out Emertainment Monthly’s review of La La Land here. 

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