When he calls ‘action,’ he means it
JASON BOURNE could destroy Indiana Jones if it came down to a fight, according to Dan Bradley, the mastermind behind the action in “The Bourne Ultimatum,” its predecessor “The Bourne Supremacy” and Steven Spielberg’s upcoming fourth installment of “Indiana Jones.”
“There are two actors I’ve worked with who would make top-notch fight guys as actual stuntmen, and that’s Matt Damon and Harrison Ford,” says Bradley, who is officially credited as second unit director and stunt coordinator, but is known in the industry as one of the preeminent action directors working. Despite the real-life actors’ fighting abilities, and even figuring in their age differences, Bradley still thinks Bourne would kill Indy. “ ‘Bourne’ is pretty hard-edged, realistic stuff, and ‘Indy’ is very much cliffhanger, B-movie, old-school action style,” he explained on a recent phone call from the “Indiana Jones” set in Hawaii.
For that matter, Bradley says, Bourne could take James Bond and Spider-Man too. (He speaks from experience, having directed the action on the second and third installments of “Spider-Man,” and he’s about to jump into director Marc Foster’s “Bond 22" in Europe.)
“People are really entertained by a big cartoon, but I don’t think people are as convinced on a visceral or emotional level” by Spider-Man, Bradley explained. “Whereas I think James Bond is more about gadgets. With Bourne, it’s more about his sheer intellect and will. I think the reason Bourne has captured the audience he has is because he’s a thinking man’s action hero.”
With “Bourne Ultimatum,” Bradley delivers three big action sequences, each bound to influence the action-direction canon in some way. First is a chase scene on foot inside the bustling Waterloo train station in London, where Bourne meets up with a reporter (Paddy Considine) who knows his spy agency’s secrets.
It is followed by a breathtaking rooftop chase and brutal fight sequence the crew shot for 14 days in the medina in Tangier, Morocco, during Ramadan. The action is centered on Bourne and Desh (Joey Ansah), a newer black-ops agent, who has an order to kill Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles). In one shot, touted in the movie’s trailer, Bourne leaps down from a rooftop to crash into a picture window. The action was captured by a stuntman who jumped right behind Bourne while carrying a small, lightweight Arriflex 235 film camera.
“I very often hand cameras to stunt people,” Bradley said. “They’re not too freaked out about getting hit or sliding under something while holding a camera. Some of the best shots in ‘Supremacy’ and ‘Ultimatum’ are because the stunt guys were operating.”
If anything differentiates Bradley’s approach to choreographing and shooting action, it is this first-person point of view that he said he gleaned from his days working as a stuntman.
It was the bare-knuckle, six-minute car chase through a Moscow tunnel in “Supremacy” that catapulted Bradley into the limelight, making action directors around the world reconsider how to stage convincing action set pieces.
“I always try to make it very, very real,” he said. “So, I used my own experience as a stuntman. I’ve driven in hundreds of car chases, and I always saw these amazing things that were never captured on film. So my intention was just to go out and shoot my own experience.”
For “Ultimatum,” Damon and the studio asked Bradley to devise a condensed version of his Moscow car chase sequence. But this time, he was given half the screen time and taxed with incorporating the same amount of action while setting it all in Manhattan’s congested streets in the middle of the day. Bradley put Bourne in a small police car and has the amnesiac spy doing skateboard grinds off of cement barriers.
“I think it’s a bit of a gamble to do another big car chase,” Bradley said. “There’s an argument to do it and there’s an argument to do something different. But they wanted a newer car chase. So I am anxiously waiting to see how the audience reacts to this one.”
According to Bradley, the real secret to avoiding action that looks staged in the “Bourne” films is rehearsing a great deal then going for a chaotic and frenetic blend of action. “I tell my camera department that I really want to feel lucky that I got to see the moment,” said Bradley, who, as second unit director, typically runs a second unit camera crew. “I don’t want them putting the cross hairs on the action and panning on the scene perfectly. I would rather feel like it’s going so fast and furiously that it’s really hard to keep in the frame. The hard part is that camera guys train their entire careers not to do that. They train to make it smooth and perfect. I just go in and tell them to ‘F it up more.’ ”