Set Visit: The Expendables 3 - Part Two: Witnessing the birth of action badassery
The next stop on our Expendables tour was a visit with stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, who has worked as a stunt coordinator and/or fight choreographer on such films as HAYWIRE, GET THE GRINGO, BULLET TO THE HEAD, DJANGO UNCHAINED, MACHETE KILLS, and DIVERGENT, amongst countless others. Perry is not only a veteran paratrooper, but also a master of various styles of martial arts, making him a guy you can certainly trust to handle some action movie stunt work.
We entered a training room, fitted with mats and training gear. Perry was very energetic and excited about the film. He's one of those guys that you wish you could borrow even a fraction of his energy just to get through the day. He's five-hour energy in human form. Perry discussed the extensive pre-vis they went through to prepare the action sequences and we gathered around his laptop, while he pulled some of them up to show us. He played a number of the sequences, narrating them throughout with the passion of a sports commentator, making them all the more fun to watch.
“This is the biggest action movie I’ve ever worked on.” – J.J. Perry
And they WERE fun to watch. Perry’s team assembled some absolutely insane action sequences for the film, which are beautifully crafted pieces of action ballet. Each pre-vis was created with stunt actors who acted out the entire sequence and it was as cool as seeing the real thing on screen. He showed a sequence for Rhonda Rousey’s character that had her dispatching a lot of bad guys with devastating ease (including a classic armbar move that she is so well known for), then a sequence for boxer-turned-actor Victor Ortiz that had some crazy gunplay with an M4 and M203 grenade launcher, and finally a sequence for Antonio Banderas’ character that had a lot of pistol gunplay, reminiscent of his DESPERADO antics. All in all, the sequences were truly imaginative and rousing, showing A LOT more energy than the brute force battles of the last two films.
“Statham saw the pre-vis ‘cause I already know what he likes and he was like “perfect mate, that’s what we’re doing.” But, Wesley came in and he – we “Blade-esqued” his fight a bit, but he’s done so many films he had his own opinion and we made him some changes and for the better. I want them to take it and make it theirs. We’re constantly looking for that, because that’s their character. I’m not “Doc” in the movie, I’m the fight coordinator and the stunt coordinator. I’m gonna lay out a framework and create a scenario, but he’s gonna come in and put his flavor on it and that’s what we’re looking for.” – J.J. Perry
After that, Perry decided to put us through a little action boot camp, which consisted of a few CQB (Close Quarters Battle) techniques with rubber rifles (called “rubber ducky’s” in the military). While this may have been foreign to my other journo’s on the visit, this was very familiar territory for me, as I not only have used these techniques in real-world combat, but also trained them. After a few drills, Perry asked if I had done it before, to which I revealed my former paratrooper roots. We did a few Airborne high fives and nods of respect, which is common when running into fellow vets, especially from the Infantry community. After a few dry runs of having everyone learn how to hold and move with a weapon the stunt visit came to a close. It was cool to make the vet connection with Perry and, If anything, it was just cool to see a fellow vet doing his thing in Hollywood. His comparison of the prior films to the third one was my biggest takeaway, though;
“You take the first film and second film and fold them together and pour hot sauce on it.”
Our next step on the tour was the one we had all been anticipating, which was meeting the cast of THE EXPENDABLES 3. However, I’m saving that for part three of this little exposé. The very last stop of this journey was a return to the soundstage to check out the weapons of the film. Being a prior military guy and lover of metallic boomsticks this excited me greatly. I was curious to see what they were gearing these guys up with and if there was anything new they’d be adding to the arsenal. We trampled through the soundstage where THE EXPENDABLES had been filming earlier, which essentially looked like a blown-up, bullet-riddled structure with debris, smoke, dirt, and grime scattered about; essentially, your average third world war-torn building. Once through the set, we went to the outlying area where the set armorer had all the goodies laid out, as if we were buying some black market hardware in a back alley, LORD OF WAR style.
The Set Armorer invited us to pick up any of the weapons on display and would tell us which one belonged to which Expendable. We all wanted to know which one was Stallone’s first and foremost and he pointed to a modded-out M4. I picked up Stallone’s M4 and cleared the weapon, did a functions check, and made that weird face you make when inspecting something familiar to you, scrunching up my mouth in an approving frown, nodding up and down. My fellow journo's looked at me as if I was doing something I shouldn't and I was satisfied to have my "Ron Swanson" moment. I heard a voice behind me say, “This guy is drooling right now, aren’t you?” I turned around and it was J.J. Perry, the stunt coordinator, who gave me a nod and pat on the shoulder. We then picked up the pistols and inspected them. Stallone’s Kimber .45 was the most impressive, emblazoned with The Expendables familiar raven logo. I really wanted to tuck it in my pants and bring it home, but Bulgarian customs probably would’ve jailed me and god knows what my journey would’ve become after that.
I asked the armorer if the film would feature any new weapons, such as the XM25, which is a pretty badass air burst grenade launcher. Sadly, he said that they had attempted to get one for the film, but couldn’t get it into the country. It’s only a matter of time before we see one on film, which will be about as cool as seeing Terry Crews’ automatic shotgun in the first Expendables film. The rest of the weaponry was impressive enough, featuring all manner of pistols and rifles, including the M4, M203 (grenade launcher), Steyr AUG, and more.
We wrapped up our time on set and loaded into a van to head back to the hotel. It was another surreal drive back, as it is for any foreigner outside their usual stomping grounds, and reflecting back on the visit I was left with the impression that this next entry would be at least on par with the last two, if not a significant improvement with director Patrick Hughes infusing some much-needed “new blood” creativity to the mix. It’s impossible to predict the final outcome from a set visit, but I certainly felt that I’d seen something really cool. Now, I just had to figure out how to get the custom .45 in my pocket back to the states…
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