The Baba Yaga’s latest killing spree is bloodier and more badass than anything he’s done before. But how was John Wick’s latest barrage of mayhem actually pulled off on camera?
John Wick: Chapter 4, out now in theaters, reunites star Keanu Reeves with franchise director Chad Stahelski. Together, they deliver a white-knuckle masterpiece as John Wick leaves a trail of bodies from Osaka to Paris.
But two men alone do not make a classic. Filmmaking is a village, and among the other professionals working with Reeves and Stahelski are stunt coordinators Scott Rogers and Stephen Dunlevy, who helped bring the craziest action set-pieces of Chapter 4 to life.
“That day of stunts in my 30-some years is probably one of, if not the most intense I’ve ever been a witness to.”
Rogers and Dunlevy are industry vets whose combined work span 30 years and include films like Mad Max Fury Road, Birds of Prey, Mulan, and The Matrix Resurrections. On a movie like John Wick, they had the daunting task of ensuring every stunt was executed with extreme precision — and most of all, with extreme safety.
“We came up as stunt people. We’ve been hurt. We know what it’s like,” Stephen Dunlevy tells Inverse over Zoom. “As a stunt guy I took pride in a couple bruises. But bruises are one thing. Going in an ambulance is a whole other thing. We want everyone to go home at the end of the day. Everything we designed is from a safety point of view.”
In an interview with Inverse, Rogers and Dunlevy break down three of the biggest stunts in John Wick: Chapter 4. We know what you’re thinking: Only three? It was hard to narrow it down, but based on what we learned from the guys who pulled them off, you won’t watch these scenes the same way again.
Warning: Minor spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 4 ahead.
A View From the Top
One of the most arresting moments happens late in Chapter 4, when John Wick (Reeves) is surrounded by Parisian assassins. Armed with a modified shotgun Dunlevy and Rogers call “Dragon’s Breath” — because it shoots fireballs — John Wick survives waves of bad guys with the camera fixed from a top-down view, resembling a video game. More impressively, these shots last for minutes at a time. Believe it or not, the resemblance to games was intentional.
“I remember Chad showing me a video game with something to that effect,” explains Scott Rogers, with Dunlevy adding it was the 2019 game The Hong Kong Massacre that inspired Stahelski. “My background is in wire work and flying cameras, so that all went into it, as well as the choreography,” says Rogers.
The men worked with a French stunt team led by Laurent Demianoff, who choreographed the action over a week before filming. This happened while the set was being built, which Rogers says was on a stage that was too short for everyone’s liking. Adding to the complexity was that the walls had to be tall — “I think they were 14 foot walls,” Rogers says — in order to pull off the optical effect.
“The stage we built was short, because you got to fly the camera. You have to have certain heights,” says Scott Rogers. “Everything had to be compressed, because the stage wasn’t tall enough. The camera riggers had to come and do their thing, and that all had to happen before the choreography could get started. They were building the set when they started stepping through choreography. Then you start marrying the two [with] the camera work.”
“It was very much like a musical performance.”
The pièce de résistance is found in a “rhythm” the choreographers worked on set. With the action striving to go along with thumping music in the final cut, the stunt actors basically performed the scene like a musical number. “We had a count so everybody knew where they had to be,” Rogers says, “It was very much like a musical performance.”
As if the unusual perspective wasn’t enough, Reeves’ use of the Dragon’s Breath shotgun is a true standout moment that authentically sells the novel angle. “If you’re seeing it horizontal, it doesn’t play the same,” Rogers explains. “Chad is allowing the audience to see things John Wick doesn’t. They’re coming and you’re thinking, ‘He’s never going to get out of this,’ and yet he does. It’s a different storytelling style I don’t think you can pull off any other way.”
Dunlevy says all weapons, including the Dragon’s Breath, are made with safety in mind. “Safety is visual effects,” he jokes, explaining the guns used in the John Wick movies are “plug guns” that don’t fire anything. These are preferred because of the close-quarters style of John Wick’s shootouts. “They cycle like a real weapon,” he says, which helps the actors perform with accurate weight and feel. “We load blank rounds. They’re a very different type of blank load. They’ve got less powder, but the barrel is blocked. Nothing can get out of the barrel at all.”
With the Dragon’s Breath shotgun, the “victims” of the weapon are strapped with igniters that spark (signaling a direct hit), allowing the visual effects team to step in and make the kills look bombastic using digital software. “You’re having to integrate both visual effects and a special effects team,” says Dunlevy.
Getting Steps In
A deceptively simple, but no less impressive stunt is when John Wick makes his way to the top of the iconic Rue Foyatier, a monstrous 222-step stone staircase leading to the Sacré-Cœur only to be kicked 300-style and sent tumbling all the way back down.
Stephen Dunlevy once again brings up the issue of safety, as the job fell on Keanu Reeves’ stunt double Vincent Bouillon to accomplish the feat. “If you’ve ever stood at the bottom of those stairs in France, it just keeps going,” Dunlevy describes.
The coordinators say Bouillon filmed the stunt over “two or three days” and fell a total of “four times.”
Recalls Rogers, “He just was amazing. He knew where he was the entire time. As someone that’s done stunts for so long, you know when someone’s lost. You know when they’re hurt, when they’re scared. This guy was present. After the third take I looked at him and I go, ‘You got another one?’ He goes, yup. That day of stunts in my 30-some years is probably one of, if not the most intense I’ve ever been a witness to.”
There isn’t one but many instances where someone, even John Wick, is thrown right onto a moving car. At the landmark Arc de Triomphe in Paris, John Wick survives yet more attempts at his life and uses the busy Paris traffic to his tactical advantage.
Whether it’s John Wick throwing or being thrown, Dunlevy and Rogers clarify they “cheated a little bit” to make the effect work.
“We always cheat,” Dunlevy jokes, adding that some cars and the ground are lined with padding. “There’s a couple of cars that are padded. The mechanical effects team actually padded [a few] car. You could hit a guy with the car.”
It’s also possible to remove the internal structures of a larger vehicle — for example, a van — that make it pliable to dent a foot deep. Which is exactly what the team did. Says Dunlevy: “There’s a van you can hit the side of. You take out all the structure so it’s actually fairly soft. You’re pulling off tricks like that. You just don’t hit the harder parts, like corners of vehicles.”
“You’re making John Wick. It all has to level up.”
The rest of the Arc de Triomphe scene simply works because of a trick commonly employed by all filmmakers: busying up the frame. At the location, the team secured a legion of drivers who would only drive in the background, while other drivers participate in the action.
“The beauty of that is, when you shoot action with foreground and background, it looks chaotic,” explains Scott Rogers, “We had world-class drivers that you [instruct them] like, ‘Drive here, don’t drive here.’ You have world-class fighters. ‘Fight here, don’t fight here.’ You can [do this] because the talent level is so high, you start mixing. You create the illusion with layering it. You’re upping the danger level, but you’re making that happen at a specific moment.”
Like we said, it takes a village. “It’s relentless,” Rogers says, “You’re making John Wick. It all has to level up.”