This is the transcript for this episode of Navigating Hollywood.
Allen Wolf (00:03):
Welcome to the Navigating Hollywood Podcast. My name is Allen Wolf, and I’m a filmmaker and author. Navigating Hollywood encourages and equips entertainment professionals to live relationally and spiritually holistic lives. If you work in entertainment, visit navigatinghollywood.org to discover how you can get involved. Today we are joined by stunt coordinator and performer Jeremy Fry. Jeremy has worked on many incredible films, including The Dark Knight movies, Captain America, National Treasure, Indiana Jones, Free Guy, Tenet, Ford Versus Ferrari, John Wick, and many, many others.
He has also been featured in dozens of television series as well, including Wanda Vision, Big Little Lies, True Detective, NCIS and many others. He has won multiple awards for his stunt work, including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Black Panther, a nomination for Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Baby Driver, and he won the Taurus World Stunt Award, which I’m told is the equivalent to an Oscar in the stunt world for The Bourne Ultimatum, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest, and Baby Driver. Welcome, Jeremy.
Jeremy Fry (01:21):
Allen Wolf (01:21):
Great to have you. I forgot to mention that you have also won numerous awards for your duck carvings.
Jeremy Fry (01:31):
The reason that’s on there is because if you go on IMDB, which is the internet movie database, every time I go there I look up people, but I always kind of glance at it. It’s kind of interesting. There’s a little bio there and with some people, they’ll put down their accolades and where they come from, and most of them are super impressive, collegiate national titles, Olympic game participations and medals. I’m like, oh my gosh, I can’t touch any of that stuff. So I’m like, well, I should put something. And I thought, you know what? I have won a bunch of awards for carving wooden ducks from when I was back in middle school when we lived in Kansas and that’s what you did.
Allen Wolf (02:09):
So that was from your middle school years.
Jeremy Fry (02:12):
And elementary I think. Actually elementary school. It was elementary school.
Allen Wolf (02:16):
Oh, that is hilarious. You’ve worked on so many movies. What have been some of your favorite experiences in movies you’ve worked on?
Jeremy Fry (02:25):
The whole reason I got into stunts was I made a list of all the things I like to do, and the job I came up with that would let me do them was stunts. I decided to pursue stunts because I thought it would be super cool. It has delivered on that promise. So most of the jobs I’ve done, I’ve really, really enjoyed. I would say Baby Driver was my favorite job. Overall it was a great experience. I got to coordinate second unit, I got to double the main driver. We had a lot of freedom to test new ideas, and so we got to do some really fun stuff. The crew that I worked with, the [inaudible 00:02:59] director’s the best in the world and good friend of mine. It was just a great overall experience.
Allen Wolf (03:03):
Now, do directors ever ask you to do things that you realize, yeah, that’s impossible. We can’t do that. Or that stunt is going to come across as completely unrealistic, it’s just physically impossible.
Jeremy Fry (03:16):
Oh, all the time.
Allen Wolf (03:18):
Jeremy Fry (03:19):
Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Allen Wolf (03:20):
And why is that? Are they just not realizing how physics works?
Jeremy Fry (03:24):
I mean, I get asked to do things that are super unsafe, so the answer is always no. But let’s come up with something that will give you what you want or at least effects similarly what you want, but is safe.
Allen Wolf (03:34):
Can you give me an example of what that would be? Like someone would ask you just something that’s unsafe.
Jeremy Fry (03:37):
Can the actor drive the car in here and skid up to this other actor? I’m like, no. Now my stunt double, they can, or we can move the camera so we don’t see what’s in front of them, and then the actor can come in. If they blow their mark, they’re not going to hit anyone. So there’s always ways around it, whether they like the options or not, it’s kind of up to them. But you usually can find something that oftentimes is even better than what they want. But yes, you get asked for things that are unsafe. You get asked for things that are impossible.
Allen Wolf (04:06):
It is interesting to think of when a new movie comes out with stunts that they just can’t do the same stunts we saw in the previous movie. They do have to find a one-upmanship to what they did previously. So I can see how that can be very challenging to come in and do something brand new, different, challenging, something that people haven’t seen before. It just goes on and on.
Jeremy Fry (04:31):
But the caveat with that is without fail it’s, oh, we don’t have any money, especially car stuff. The car stuff is expensive and time-consuming, and so they want bigger. They want never before seen awesome stunts. Oh, we have no money and no rehearsal [inaudible 00:04:46] and one car that doesn’t work. Sometimes we can deliver. There’s been times when we’ve been able to pull that one off. And then other times I’m like, guys, that’s the impossible task right there.
Allen Wolf (04:56):
And does that ever happen on a movie like John Wick?
Jeremy Fry (05:00):
I mean, it could happen on any movie. Of course, everyone wants that stuff. I don’t know. I wasn’t involved as a coordinator, so I don’t know if they explicitly said we want never before seen. But the second John Wick, Darren directed second unit on that, and we were talking, and I had told him probably a year before, I said, “Hey, I saw this thing in an animated movie and I was watching it and this car was doing it’s thing and it hit this embankment and went sideways and landed up on this thing and took off. That was cool.” So I made a mental note and I told my buddy, I’m like, “We’ve got to do that.”
And so then I get out. So John Wick, we’re out there and he brings me out. I go to set and he’s walking me through what we’re going to be doing over the next two weeks. And we were in this warehouse and the warehouse was sunk down about three feet below the level of the parking lot outside. So there was a ramp to get from the inside of this massive warehouse to get out. He said, “You’re going to come through, you’re going to jump the car off this ramp and you’re going to get out here and drive.” He’s like, “But do you think that you could do that jump drift here?” And I said, “Oh, dude, this is perfect. This is perfect. Yes, let’s do that.” And then I got to thinking, oh man, this is tight. This is not going to be easy because the doorway was 20 feet and the car is 18 feet long. So if I’m sideways, I’ve got a foot on either end. So I’m like, man, what have I signed myself up for?
And I start to realize that as I’m driving over this thing, this ramp, it’s a ramp that’s fine when you’re going five miles an hour, but it’s pretty steep. And if I hit this thing at 35, 40, 45 miles an hour, it’s probably going to wreck the car before I even get out the door. So I start looking around, and I totally believe this is a God thing. The place we were working was a dumpster manufacturer. They made the big metal dumpsters. So I start walking around, they have these big sheets of metal, and I look over and I find a sheet, this stack of eight foot wide and 12 foot long, three 16ths inch thick. So it’s kind of thick, but not super thick. I get in touch with basically the guy who owns the building, and he says, “You can use them just as long as I get them back.” So I go and I talk to him, I’m like, “Hey, can we get two of those sheets and put them over this ramp?” And they do it.
And so I don’t see it until the morning. We’re shooting at night so we get there at six at night, and now they’ve put down these sheets of steel. And so instead of the ramp just looking like this, now the sheets of steel are making it a lot smoother and it’s like a motorcycle jump ramp. And I’m like, oh, that looks good. But I’m thinking, I don’t know if it’s good or not. I’ve never done this before, but no one’s done this before, so I don’t know how it’s supposed to work. So then I said, “Hey, let’s put some oil on it so it’s super slick.” So they poured a bunch of fog juice on it. Because I didn’t want to lose any speed. I want as much speed as possible. And it was so slick, they actually had to rope it off because people were walking on it and slipping.
Anyway, we’re getting ready to do it, and I tell the director, my buddy, I’m like, “Hey, I don’t know if the car’s going to make it.” We had been wrecking the 69 Mustangs all week long. We saved one car for this shot. And I said, “Before we do it with the hero car,” because if it completely explodes when it lands, it’d be a shame if the camera operators miss it, which happens. Some of them are good, some are bad, but sometimes you just don’t know what to expect. So we grabbed the taxi, one of the taxis. I was thankful just for the chance to get a feel for it before we do it in the real car. We’re going to do it for real. So I go to get in the Mustang and my buddy, the director says, “Hey, Jeremy, come over here real quick.”
So we’re looking at playback, he said, “Look, it just looks like you’re kind of driving out at an angle and it looks okay, but it’s nothing remarkable.” He said, “Look, just come out sideways. Get the car completely sideways so it’s sideways in the air and we can cut out of it. If you don’t land it or whatever, at least we have it in the air sideways. It looks pretty cool.” So I get in the Mustang, the hero Mustang, I back up to number one, and I’m like, okay, I’ve got to get out this door sideways. So they yell action. This is one of those times when I literally have to flip that switch and go, okay, I know I can get hurt. I know this could go wrong, but I know I can do it. It’s possible. So I shut it off. So I take off, I throw the car sideways and I think, oh, this is going to be tight. And I didn’t make it.
The front of the car hit the side of the building and boom, the car spins around in the air and lands. The front of the car is ripped off, it explodes the car. I’m fine, but I hear on the radio, “Are you okay?” I’m like, “Yes, no. Emotionally I’m not okay, but physically I’m fine.” Well, they realize that we did have one other Mustang, but it didn’t have an E-break. I need an E-brake. So for the next couple of hours, I was out in the rain by myself pulling the E-brake out of the wrecked car while everyone else was inside getting the other Mustang ready to go. It was like surgery, like open heart surgery. I finally get the E-brake out. I’m drenched. I have brake fluid running down my arms. And this is one of those times when I felt like my career was over. Like oh my gosh, I completely blown it.
Allen Wolf (09:39):
Jeremy Fry (09:40):
So we pull it out, we get it in, we test it. It works. So I run and find Darren there at lunch. I’m like, “We got it in. The car works.” He’s like, “Great.” First shot after lunch, I go, oh, no, now I’ve got to do it again. I just need you to get out the door. Just get out the door. Don’t worry about what happens. Just get out the door. Of course, no problem. So we back it up, I take off, we do one. It lands. It won’t really go into reverse anymore, but it’s still driving, it’s still running, and it’s okay. So we back up, we do it again. He’s like [inaudible 00:10:09]. We do it again. He’s like, “Go faster, do it again.” We do it four times and they aren’t looking great. We do it a fifth time, and I can tell they’re like, all right, we’re moving on.
Allen Wolf (10:19):
Jeremy Fry (10:20):
Oh my gosh. All that work. We didn’t get it. So I pull it back in. I’m pulling out the thing, my belt all by myself. I don’t want to see anyone. I feel like Eeyore. They go, “Hey, did you see playback?” I hear Darren call me on the radio. I’m like, “No, I didn’t, but I’m okay.” He’s like, “No, no, you need to come over to Veto Village and watch playback.” I’m like, “All right.” I know it looks bad. I can tell by everyone’s tone. I walk over and it’s electric. Everyone’s gathered around the monitors and I come over like, oh, come here, come here. They part ways, and I get up to the monitor. The shot was awesome. Everything just landed perfectly. The cameras were perfect. The car looked awesome. It was a group effort. It was one of those moments. I’m like, oh, this feels so good. That was one of those times when it feels like you could not get any better.
Allen Wolf (11:04):
I’ll include the video of that shot with the video version of this podcast that those of you listening, you can go to our website navigatinghollywood.org, and in the show notes, you can also see the link to watch what Jeremy just told us about. How do you deal with fear when you’re doing stunts? Or if you do have fear, is that a sign that the stunt might not be set up in the right way?
Jeremy Fry (11:56):
As far as the fear goes, I’m always thinking of what could go wrong. I’m trying to think of worst case scenarios, what could happen so that I can have a contingency. I go, oh, when I take off, if the car kind of loses traction and it slides this way, it’s going to put me off my line. So I need to anticipate that so I can try to avoid it. And then I also need to anticipate it so that if it does happen, I have a backup plan. Do I abort? Do I just stop? We cut the shot and we reset, we go again. I use that to help me as an indication and help me process what could go wrong.
But honestly, there’s a lot of stuff where I go, okay, I know that we have all the safety stuff in place. I know that this gag has been done before, or a version has been done before. I know that people smarter than me have signed off on it and said that they think it’s okay. So at some point, it’s as if there’s a switch. It’s as close to an actual literal switch on my body, but I literally have to say, okay, I’m done thinking about that. I’m afraid of it, but it’s off. So it’s there, but I really have to consciously go, I’m choosing to ignore that voice in my head right now.
Allen Wolf (12:59):
How did you become so skilled as a stunt driver?
Jeremy Fry (13:02):
Well, I’m always learning. I’m still trying to get better. There might be maybe three or four shots I’ve done in my career that I’m like, oh, that’s pretty good. I’m pretty happy with that. I wouldn’t change it. But all the rest I look at it and I go [inaudible 00:13:15]. There’s a stunt driving school in LA. I ended up by the grace of God at what I think was the best one. They’re all good, don’t get me wrong. But I ended up at one that I think was the best, and I was there for 12 years.
I mean, I was there for 12 years continuously, but as my career advanced and I would get more and more calls, I’d miss more and more classes until it got to the point where it just wasn’t making a lot of sense. But I would still go out quite often. We would have a class usually twice a month. Watching someone trying to figure out what they did wrong, I think that was super valuable for me because not many people have spent that much time with cars doing stunt driving, like 90s, 180s, reverse 180s. Racing, yes, a lot of racers, a lot of drifters, but the actual stunt driving, it’s not as common for people to spend much time around them.
Allen Wolf (14:01):
Now, stunt coordinators have long campaigned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to include stunts in the Oscars. Why do you think there isn’t more recognition for what you do?
Jeremy Fry (14:14):
What’s important to me is not the trophy. I want to do a good job. I want people to see what I do and know that I’m working, that I work hard, and I believe that God has put me where I am. It’s not because of me. There’s people who are, and I don’t mean this flippantly, there’s people who are way more talented who haven’t had the success that I’ve had, and I believe that God has given me the success. And so I hope that when I work hard, that it gives him glory, that he’s the one who gets the credit for it, so I don’t really need it.
Allen Wolf (14:45):
And you talked about giving God the credit. What has your spiritual journey looked like?
Jeremy Fry (14:50):
I have been a Christian since the fifth grade when my best friend at the time invited me to go to church, and I was a fifth grader, so I didn’t have a whole lot of… I mean, I had some understanding of what was going on, but it made sense. There’s a God and that he’s not a being that has stepped back. He’s still involved in the world. I read the Bible. I’m like, this is what it says, and there is a God, and he cares about me, and I am nothing without him.
Allen Wolf (15:15):
That’s a big thing to realize in fifth grade.
Jeremy Fry (15:19):
I think a lot of people believe that there’s probably a God, a being, the fact that we have a right and wrong. CS Lewis talks about that, and just the idea that we are born knowing that there’s a right and wrong, that kind of implies that there’s a ruler that you have to use to judge what’s right and wrong. How do you know what’s wrong if you don’t know what’s right? And since we all seem to have that sense of moral ability to kind of say you shouldn’t lie, you shouldn’t take what you want just because you want it. I mean, we all kind of know that’s wrong. And because we have that yard stick that kind of indicates that yeah, there is something out there that… You’re like, okay, well there’s something. Well, what is that something?
And then how important is it that… I mean, Jesus, was he real or was he not? Well, yeah, he was real. But is what he said true or not? Well, he seems to say he was God. So either he was a complete lunatic or he was. You kind of go down this path and you start exploring these options. And there’s things that I wrestle with, but I wouldn’t say that… I’ve never had a crisis of faith. I’ve always been like, all right, there’s an explanation for it and I might not like it or it might not make much sense, or I might not even know what the explanation is. And I’m okay with that too.
Allen Wolf (16:21):
You must travel a lot for your work. How do you keep your marriage and family healthy when you have to be gone so often?
Jeremy Fry (16:28):
So when you perform, you come in, you do your thing, you go home. Sometimes it can be a day, sometimes a week. For me, maybe a month or two is the longest I kind of went as a performer. As a coordinator though, you’re going in pre-production, you’re prepping, you’re getting ready, and then you’re there for most of the shoot as well. So the commitment’s a lot longer.
Coupled with that, most productions aren’t in LA anymore. I end up being in Georgia. Boston’s been a big one lately, which is crazy because it’s not exactly a film mecca, but a lot of the projects I’ve found myself on tend to be out there on the East Coast. So we have a two week, I say rule, it’s a guideline, and I try to come home more often than every two weeks. But it’s challenging. You try to do the phone calls, technology’s great, FaceTime, video calling, some friends will do movie night with the family with a FaceTime or with their phone. That can help. I’ve watched some TV shows with my kids, we will queue it up and play at the same time. It’s just trying to maximize the communication.
Allen Wolf (17:31):
Who has been a significant influence in your career?
Jeremy Fry (17:34):
When I decided I wanted to move to LA, I was in Vail, I was a river guide. And so towards the end of the season, I started telling people, they’d ask me, what are you going to do after the summer? And when I decided to go to LA, I would start telling people that. And one lady said, oh, I know someone in LA who does stunts. And it was this guy named Scott Rogers. Strong believer, and it’s been really good knowing him. He’s the first stunt guy I ever met, and he’s hired me on a bunch of stuff and we’re good friends to this day. So he’s great. So I definitely credit a lot of my career just getting started to him.
And then Darren Prescott’s been the number one since then. He’s a second unit director, super good at what he does. He gave me chances when no one else had. When I got in the industry, I thought this would be fun, but the thing I’m going to miss about having a normal job is the camaraderie you have with people you work with. Because I think in this movie business, you’re not going to work with the same people all the time, and that’s really not the case at all. You work with the same people a lot. So it’s been quite a blessing in getting to know him and become really close with him.
Allen Wolf (18:35):
As you look back at your career, what would you do differently?
Jeremy Fry (18:39):
I would take advantage of my downtime, especially on set. And I would, instead of going and talking with people or chit-chatting, which I don’t think is the worst thing, I think the worst thing is when people are on their phones. I think that’s the worst. I would spend more time actively learning what other people are doing. So when I’m on set and I’m doubling someone or doing maybe a wire pole, well, when I’m not rehearsing, I go over it with the riggers. I wish I would’ve spent more time with the riggers rigging, and I did some, but I wish I would’ve done more. I think I left a little meat on the bone with that. There’s more that I could have gotten out of it.
Allen Wolf (19:13):
With how rigorous it can be working in entertainment, how do you stay spiritually healthy?
Jeremy Fry (19:19):
My family and I were actively involved in our local church. My spirituality is a relationship with God, and any kind of relationship you have, you’ve got to put some time into it. I mean, the Bible says pray always. And it doesn’t mean literally walking around chanting. I’ve taught my kids, when we see an ambulance or we hear an ambulance, we pray. And with my kids, I pray out loud now with them and they’ll pray and it’s great. But when I’m not around them, I’m talking to God about it, like, hey, I don’t know what’s going on over there, God, but can you be present over there? Can you heal? Can you guide and direct and comfort the people who are involved? That kind of thing. So that’s a big part of it, it’s just a constant dialogue with God and getting into his word.
And in the Bible, meaning it’s not always easy. And sometimes there’s times I’m closer to my wife than others. There’s times when I feel like I’m closer to God than others. There’s times when I feel like, oh man, all I’m doing is just asking him for things and asking him for help. And so I definitely try to focus on being thankful. That’s one thing that I think I do pretty good is I have a mindset of being thankful. Everything can be gone in a second. And so I try to let God know I’m thankful. Help other people. There’s always ways to serve and help other people, and that’s a big part of it.
Allen Wolf (20:27):
Was there a moment during your career when you felt discouraged and wondered what would happen next?
Jeremy Fry (20:33):
At the very beginning, for the first couple of years, I thought, man, this is rough. And everyone around me is so talented and so good at what they do. I felt so behind the eight-ball. I thought, man, I don’t think this is going to work out. I’m going to keep pushing hard, but man, I don’t know if this is going to work. I’ve had a couple of oopsies, a couple of uh-ohs on set. Stuff has happened where I’m like, oh, this is not good. This is not good. And luckily, my career I think was far enough along that, I mean, I obviously was able to recover from it. There have been challenging times for sure.
Allen Wolf (21:07):
Were there moments where stunts just went terribly wrong?
Jeremy Fry (21:11):
So yeah, I’ve been around things that unfortunately went bad. Some things were going to go bad and then didn’t. One thing that’s been really cool is seeing people put certain things in place and in play in case something goes wrong. And usually it doesn’t go wrong, but when it does and one of those safeguards kicks in, it’s pretty cool to go, oh wow, that worked. That did its job. We avoided a potential issue. And a lot of times people don’t even know it. There’s been several times where I’m like, we almost made the cover of TMZ with that one, but no one even knows it. And everyone’s just kind of laughing and thinking everything was great and they’re moving on. But it’s been good being a performer and seeing that so that now as a coordinator, I can anticipate a lot of that stuff. You want to stay as far away from those as possible. I don’t really see those as successes. We shouldn’t have even been in those situations. When things get added or changed, it almost without fail makes it more challenging.
I was doing this car hit. I’ve got to hit this girl. Okay, no problem. Just drive ahead, hit her. Oh, well, we need you to come around the corner. Okay, that’s fine. I can come around the corner, it’s just a little more difficult. You’ve got to get a lineup. Oh, we have a bunch of lights lighting the set, but now it’s too bright. So now we’ve got to take the lights down. So now it’s dark. We forgot we got to wet it down too. Okay. So now the street’s wet, it’s dark, and now I’m going into a light and I’ve got to come around a corner. And then the last bit that took the cake was that, oh, she’s supposed to be shooting at you, so we’re going to break the windshield. So now I’ve got a broken windshield I’ve got to deal with too. So anyway, it’s like every time they change something, it’s never to make it easier. Every change just makes it more of a challenge. Again, that’s why I like it. But it is nice when they go, oh, how about we’ll just make it easier?
Allen Wolf (22:50):
At the end of your life, what kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?
Jeremy Fry (22:54):
I would hope that any kind of legacy I leave behind would be people, especially my kids, my wife and my family, looking at my life and saying that I served God and that God would be pleased with what I did.
Allen Wolf (23:14):
Well, thank you so much for being my guest, Jeremy. Thanks for sharing about your career and your spiritual journey. Very inspiring. If you work in entertainment, check out the complimentary courses and other resources available at navigatinghollywood.org. Please follow us and leave us a review so others can discover this podcast. You can find our other shows, transcripts, links, and more at navigatinghollywood.org. I look forward to being with you next time.