‘Bikeriders’ Stunt Coordinator Tells You the Pads You Need to Ride


This post is by [NR] admin from No Film School

Freddie Poole is a stunt coordinator and second unit director with over 27 years of experience in television and film. He started, as you’ll see, on Walker, Texas Ranger, and has doubled for Sylvester Stallone for the last 12 years. His work on Tulsa King even earned him an Emmy nod for Outstanding Stunt Coordination.

Most recently, Freddie served as the stunt coordinator and second unit director of The Bikeriders, starring Austin Butler and Tom Hardy. The film, directed by Jeff Nichols, follows the inception of a motorcycle club called the Vandals in the 1960s.

The movie features real vintage bikes, as well as some rough characters who get into some too-be-anticipated brawls here and there. And Poole was there for it all, making sure the action was safe. We spoke with him over Zoom about the project and got some important safety advice from the expert.

Enjoy!



THE BIKERIDERS – Official Trailer 2 [HD] – Only In Theaters June 21

www.youtube.com

Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: You’ve been stunt-performing for over 25 years. I would love to know how you got into that world.

Poole: I started a long time ago. Yeah, like you said, 25-plus years ago. I have a martial arts background, and I knew I wanted to be involved in television, film. I just didn’t really have any direction. I thought, well, let’s maybe try acting. And quickly found out that was not for me. The whole audition process and everything wasn’t my thing.

But I did meet a director from the television show, Walker, Texas Ranger, which was filming in my own backyard. I’m from Dallas, Texas, so I had just casually asked who their casting director was. Because, again, I was very green. I really didn’t have any knowledge of the industry. He said, “Why?” And I said, “Well, I’d like to send my information in.” And then he actually said, “Well, bring it to me.”

He knew my background. So it was just right place, right time. I had a skillset that they needed, and I ended up starting on Walker, and I worked for them, for the Norris family, which I’m very close with, for seven seasons on the show.

NFS: There are some very key brawl scenes in The Bikeriders, but you’re also working with these vintage motorcycles. What are the safety challenges of filming with those motorcycles?

Poole: There were quite a few challenges. One, I mean, those bikes have a mind of their own. They don’t like cold, they don’t like heat, they don’t like to sit still and idle. Sometimes we wondered if they even liked to be ridden. So just being the vintage bikes with challenges, even just starting them. They don’t start like a modern-day bike. A lot of them are kickstart bikes. So there’s a safety risk in just knowing how to do that properly. If you don’t know how to start a bike, that’s a kickstart. You can end up injuring yourself really easily. So just things like that.

The braking systems are different. The throttle systems are different. The shifting mechanisms are different. So if you don’t have that kind of knowledge and experience, it can be quite a challenge.

Fortunately, the actors that we did put on motorcycles had some basic knowledge of riding motorcycles, so that helped. And then we were able to bring them in and get them trained. And then our motorcycle coordinator, who was also my stunt co-coordinator, he went out to Los Angeles and worked with Austin Butler quite early. Early, early on, to help get him acclimated to the bikes.

Jeff Nichols and Freddie Poole behind the scenes of The Bikeriders\u200b
Jeff Nichols and Freddie Poole behind the scenes of ‘The Bikeriders’Courtesy of Focus Features

NFS: A lot of them as you said were actually on the bikes for shooting. So how did you work with them in those sequences?

Poole: Well, fortunately, I mentioned my co-coordinator, Jeff Millburn. He did a really great job of managing that aspect and making sure that we had all of our guys trained properly prior to shooting. And then once we did start shooting, there’s basically formations that we have to get into, so to speak.

We placed our actors in certain positions and then surrounded them with stunt guys that were on the motorcycles. So a lot of the guys that you see riding are stunt performers. Those are the guys with the experience.

And early on during prep, I sat with Jeff Nichols and talked through this, and I said, “It’d be ideal as we fill out this roster of Vandals, the guys at the club, the Vandals—it’d be ideal to use stunt performers, stunt actors. That way, we can get the shots we need with them on the bikes. Plus, we know that there’s a safety aspect that we are able to cover with the stunt performers.”

NFS: The fight sequences come at very key moments in the story. How do you coordinate those fights to support the story?

Poole: So the main thing is to, one, understand story. And what I mean by that is style. What are we trying to achieve here? Well, the certain look that we were going after were raw, gritty, violent type of action or choreography, I should say. So it’s much different than say something that’s very stylistic with very stylized moves like martial arts or things like that. These are brawls, they’re violent, and we have to take out the technique while still throwing technique, if that makes any sense. That’s a bigger challenge.

When I have a martial arts film, I can hire two guys that are good martial artists and good on-camera screen fighters, and they work their magic. But when I go to these guys and say, look, this isn’t as clean as, say, one of those types of movies, we have to make it look raw, but it still has to sell.

So it’s a challenge. But fortunately, we had some good rehearsal time with our cast. We had plenty of time during prep to shoot what we call a pre-vis. So I’ll bring the entire stunt team in and stunt doubles, and we’ll lay out all the action that’ll take place in that particular scene, and we’ll shoot it and edit it and then present it. And this pre-vis is shot after initial meetings with the director. That way I understand where his mind is at and what he’s looking for and what main story beats are. We’re trying to tell through our action, our choreography.


Freddie Poole behind the scenes of The BikeridersCourtesy of Focus Features

NFS: I particularly love the picnic fight where Austin Butler just runs in and knocks a guy out. I was also going to ask about the stairway scene, because that is such a limited space, and it is a very emotional beat for those characters. Was there any unique challenge with that space?

Poole: Well, initially, that was supposed to take place up higher up on the stairs in the landing area. We had talked about throwing a guy down the stairs in our initial discussions, but then once we went and did our location scout, we saw we were very limited with our space.

But what’s really unique about that scene is the emotion that was carried throughout it. So it becomes less about the choreography and more about the emotion. I remember watching Jodie Comer and Tom Hardy in that scene. I was like, “Wow.” We all were just mesmerized by their performances.

But working in that limited space, we had to redesign and rethink the actual choreography. But it actually worked out because I think if we did have a stair fall in that moment, that would’ve just been too much for the emotional aspect of what was going on. So it all worked out. And then it just comes down to choreography again, making sure our performers are safe. We are slamming a guy against the wall, so we want to make sure he’s protected, his back is protected. We remind him just to watch his head. We don’t want his head to smash against that wall.

So those are things like that that we look out for when we compose scenes in tight spaces.

NFS: Was there a reason that you didn’t do the stair fall? Was it just that the stairway was too narrow?

Poole: It was just too narrow. The space and the angles wouldn’t really work for us, it was a very narrow stairwell. So trying to fit a body down those steps would’ve been a little bit of a challenge.

NFS: Is there a scene that was most difficult for you to work on?

Poole: That’s a good question. When you have so many performers that you’re trying to capture, sometimes that can be a challenge, and that’s all due to time. How much time do we have to shoot this scene?

I’ll use the opening scene. Very violent. And we’re trying to figure this one out and go, “Okay, how do we sell this?” Because we really have to use Austin [Butler] in that scene. There’s not really a way to hide him, and the way that they’re covering this shoot, we have to see Austin.

And I said, “Okay, let me think about this. All right, let’s use stunt performers to play the two brothers.”

We went through an audition process. That way, you can run that scene without any breaks, because now you have stunt guys. And if I can get Austin Butler to a point where he’s able to perform and carry on that action and that emotion and the reactions to what’s happening, then I think we can do it.

And Austin is an amazing actor, but he’s also an amazing physical performer. You brought up the brawl when he ran in and punched the guy. He was just so eager and gung-ho to do as much of his own performance and fights as possible, and I’m all for that—especially when the camera is on you, and you’re the face, let’s showcase you.

And he really took to it. He did such a great job that we only needed a double for just one part of that scene opening. When he gets thrown out of the bar out the front door, that’s the only time we utilize the double. The rest of the time, that’s Austin Butler taking all those shots. And he did an amazing job.

I was very proud because I didn’t know what Austin’s physical background was. I knew what Tom Hardy’s was, but I didn’t know what Austin Butler’s was. And to really see him perform physically the way he did, I was very happy at the end of the day.

Freddie Poole behind the scenes of The Bikeriders\u200b
Freddie Poole behind the scenes of The BikeridersCourtesy of Focus Features

NFS: You mentioned things like even just throwing a guy against a wall, and needing to protect their head. Are there any other very basic stunt things that crews should know about before they even attempt something like that?

Poole: Well, we want to try to, again, protect the bodies, our bodies as much as possible. So we pad up. So that is something that when I say that, there’s elbow pads, knee pads, again, depending on what the action calls for. But if you’re hitting the ground numerous times, especially like concrete or hitting walls, you want to cover, protect yourself.

We have these back pads, we call them “gators”—gatorbacks. They come in full gatorbacks. Motorcyclists wear gators going down the road sometimes because they’re built into their motorcycle jackets.

Your stunt bag could be its own suitcase. There are so many different types of protective gear out there and available. But I think every aspiring performer should have the basics. You have a gatorback, you have elbow pads, knee pads, hip pads, tailbone pads.

And these are all made by different companies. Some are gel, some are soft, some are hard. And we just keep a variety of pads on hand, especially now even for actors. I have an actor pad bag that’s just all pads specifically for actors, and that way, we’re covered on the day whenever we shoot so that I can make sure everyone is comfortable and safe.

So even something as simple as just dropping to a knee, we will put a knee pad on an actor just to keep them comfortable. Something as simple as that.

We definitely try to keep ourselves as protected as possible, because you have to remember, we’re not just doing one take. A lot of times, we do multiple takes, and you’re hitting the ground over and over. It’s easy two, three times, but then when you start getting into 10, 12 takes, into the teens. I mean, I’ve done 15 to 20 takes one hit several times throughout my career, so it starts to add up. So we definitely want to try to protect ourselves.

NFS: Do you have any advice for someone who might want to get into stunts today?

Poole: There are so many different outlets out there, as far as training goes. So having some kind of background is ideal. So if someone has a martial arts background or a gymnastics background, gymnasts translate into stunts quite easily simply because they have so much awareness of what’s going on around them physically. There’s air awareness and physical awareness of where their bodies are, where their bodies are in space. Martial artists—the same thing.

There are guys that are racecar drivers and motocross guys that transition. A lot of our bike riders, they’re ex-moto guys, so a lot of that experience really helps.

But in today’s world, there are so many avenues in which to gain knowledge and train. You pick your path, so to speak, and I could go on and on as far as different skill sets, because I started out as a martial arts guy. Over the years, you learn it’s a never-ending process of learning.

You learn how to drive cars and crash cars. And I don’t mean drive like we do on the street. Yeah, we all have driver’s licenses, but a little bit different when you’re on a set. So stuff like that, there are so many resources out there.

NFS: Is there anything else you wanted to add about your work on this project?

Poole: I just really enjoyed it. Jeff Nichols did a great job putting together an amazing cast. I love the story. I love the fact that it’s a period piece. Every aspect of this I think was just really authentic, and that’s something I give Jeff Nichols a lot of credit for. From the costumes, to the hair and makeup, to, the motorcycles and cars—just being authentic to the period. I think Jeff really did just an amazing job of capturing that.

And, again, the overall experience was great for me because I really enjoyed being around that cast. I really enjoyed the crew. It was an amazing crew, and we had a great four months up in Cincinnati.