Jim Vickers

Jim Vickers is one of Hollywood's leading stunt co-ordinators and martial arts experts. He's worked on TV shows including SeaQuest DSV, Alias and Angel as well as movies including Spiderman, Titan A.E and Equilibrium. Darren Rea chatted with him as Equilibrium was about to be released on DVD and Video...

Darren Rea: How did you get involved in the TV and movie industry?

Jim Vickers: I've been a martial artist for more than three decades and I'm a fourth degree black belt in Japanese Gokui and I have black belts in several other styles of martial arts. That's what originally brought me in to film work - I began training actors how to fight for film. That eventually led me into doubling for actors fighting for film.

DR: How much freedom are you given to create the fight sequences?

JV: I'm always given freedom to develop and choreograph the fights and I'm given the parameters, or the geography within, which I need to create the fight within. But as far as the fight itself, I always have freedom to choreograph the fight the way I see it.

DR: Which do you derive the most satisfaction from? Choreographing the fights and watching someone else take the falls, or doing the action yourself?

JV: I also direct the action, so as a second unit director at this stage in my career it is certainly more satisfying for me to create the action and then put it on film. There was a time when being in front of the camera was the goal, but I've moved on to the next stage.

DR: CGI is encroaching further and further into crafted arts within the movie industry - there are certainly not as many model makers around today as there used to be - can you foresee a point in the future where the use of CGI will mean that a stuntman is no longer necessary?

JV: At the moment no. It's very much a marriage of the two. And I believe, to a certain extent, that it always will be because at this stage of CGI it still doesn't look real and I don't believe that CGI will ever take the place of real stunts - not completely.

DR: Equilibrium is about to be released on DVD in the UK. How did you get involved with the project.

JV: I was brought on board by the producer at which point I met with the director, who was also the writer, and we talked at length about the story. He told me what he wanted to do on a martial arts level. He set me the challenge to develop sequences that had not been done before on film. We developed a mindset where we were using weapons, like guns, as extensions of the human body. This is basically the philosophy in the martial arts where weapons, be they throwing stars or swords, are strictly an extension of oneself.

DR: How realistic was the end result? Is it feasible that one man could do all the moves that Preston does in the movie?

JV: That's an interesting question and theoretically if someone was intensely trained, as the clerics were from childhood, to be able to manipulate a weapon so that it was an extension of themselves - in theory I would like to say that it just might be possible.

The idea behind Gun Kata [which is the style of martial arts developed for the movie] was taken from true martial art concepts in that if one could learn the Gun Kata to it's fullest potential defending yourself in any situation could and would be realised. As opposed to traditional weaponry, such as we used in the sword sequences, guns were used in a similar martial arts manner. They were used as extensions of ourselves, which is the concept within the martial arts of all weapons. When learning the use of any weapon within the martial arts, it is taught in the same manner as hand to hand fighting skills. Whether it be a sword, bo staff, escrima sticks, tonfa's or any other weapon they, or it, become extensions of your body and therefore manipulated in the same fluid natural way we would use our hands, elbows, feet, knees, etc. The choreography of all the action was based completely on true concepts of traditional martial arts. The Gun Kata and afterwards the use of that training within the film brought weapons training to a new level which has never been seen before Equilibrium.

The backlash has been that some of our audience truly believes the Gun Kata is a true martial arts form which could be learned when in fact, while the concept is based in traditional martial arts, the Kata itself is fictional.

For me, it is just on that edge of believability. There are groups out there that have begun practising this way and are looking into the possibility of it being real. This is not something that I would promote in training, but I would imagine in theory that with a lifelong training that you could become proficient in the use of any weapon.

DR: I also understand there was no wire work used in the fighting sequences. Was this something that you consciously wanted to avoid?

JV: Yes, absolutely. I am not a big fan of wire work unless the script is trying to go beyond what we perceive as "real". We use wire work in certain aspects of film work to enhance the performance. In movies like The Matrix, X-Men and Spiderman we are trying to suspend reality so the use of wire work in those types of film is understandable. In a film like Equilibrium, we are not trying to suspend reality to that degree.

DR: With movie makers constantly trying to visually impress audiences with never-before-seen stunt work is there much more that can be achieved to keep audiences going "Wow!"?

JV: Certainly now, right at this moment in time, audiences are more aware of a lot of what is going on. It has gone overboard. I think we need to go back a little bit. I don't think audiences are going "Wow!" so much these days. There going: "God! This is a little too much." I think we need to throttle back a little and do more films like, outside of Equilibrium, The Bourne Identity. The fights in that movie were just great - they were very believable. And audiences still walked away and went: "Wow! That guy was amazing."

DR: Are there any stunts that haven't been done yet that you would love to have a go at?

JV: That's a loaded question [laughs]. For the most part my belief is that just about everything has been done. It's the way that you do it and the way that you shoot it that makes it different. There are things out there, and I can speak from my experience on Equilibrium, that we did do some choreography using weapons differently than they have ever been done before on film. And I think that's the challenge.

DR: Are there any stunts that you've seen that you wish you'd been involved with?

JV: Too many. There are different car chases and different fight, explosion and fire sequences in the stunt world. I'd have to go down a list of things like... the car chase in The French Connection - I'd have loved to have been involved with that. It's a multifaceted question. There is no stunt that I wouldn't be involved with. This is what my job description is. I've done ever facet of the stunt business and there's nothing about it which I think should be excluded.

DR: What projects are you working on at the moment? And what of the future?

JV: I'm currently in the middle of three different projects. I'm doing CSI: Miami for CBS, MGM Television's She Spies and Warner Brothers' Wanda at Large. So I'm keeping busy. I'm actually living the dream. I'm a fight choreographer, stunt co-ordinator, second unit director and I'm having fun right now. But somewhere down the road, given the opportunity and the right script I would love to direct first unit. But I will always be involved in the action. I will always be involved with that aspect of the film industry.

DR: Thank you for your time.

With thanks to Sally Young at CBC

Equilibrium is available to buy from Momentum Pictures from 06 October 2003 RRP £17.99 (DVD) and RRP £12.99 (Video)

Buy the DVD for £12.59 by clicking here
Buy the Video for £10.39 by clicking here

For more information on Gun Kata check out this fantastic Equilibrium fansite

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