Gritty, Realistic Action Scenes Pay Off in "The Equalizer" (Opens Oct 1)

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To realize the action of Columbia Pictures’ new action-thriller “The Equalizer,” the conversations began between director Antoine Fuqua, Denzel Washington, and Keith Woulard, one of the film’s stunt coordinators. “There’s a tendency in shooting action to shake the camera and move things around – the audience can’t tell what’s happening,” says Fuqua. That’s just what they didn’t want to do. “My goal was to take acting and make it action,” says Fuqua.

Fuqua’s inspiration for the way he would shoot the action scenes with McCall, Denzel’s character, was inspired by his interaction with real-life boxers. “I happen to have a very good friend who’s a great boxer – Sugar Ray Leonard,” he notes. “He’ll tell stories, and you’ll realize how smart a boxer can be. Sometimes they’ll touch you – hey, how you doin’ today? – and that’s their way of checking you out, seeing if you’re in shape, if they think you’re a threat. Or they’re watching you a certain way, to see how you move, how your body language is, what your strengths and weaknesses are. They can pick you apart. McCall is trained that way, too – he notices these things and uses them to his advantage. We had to show that.”

The next step was to slow it down. “When we first did the scene in the bar office, it was quick – really fast. I said, ‘It should be fast, but it should be personal. Let’s slow it down, let’s look at it like it was a scene of dialogue, so I can still see him as a character within all of this movement. How would that be done, where it’s Denzel doing what he does?”

It was also important to Fuqua that the scenes be realistic. “We asked ourselves, Can it really happen? Can you really physically do these things? What happens to a human being who is capable of doing that? And it turns out for most people, ordinary people, it’s not possible – you get into a car accident, your heart beats faster, you panic. For people like McCall, though, it’s just the opposite. Their heart rate slows down. The breathing slows down. Everything around them slows down. Their pupils open up to let in more light. It’s all really happening as they assess a room in seconds. And then, when they have it all figured out, they go into action.”

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For Woulard, as a stunt coordinator, the process began by breaking down the script into its individual set pieces. “We talked to Denzel and Antoine about what they wanted to do,” he says. “In this particular case, Denzel didn’t want to do a lot of martial arts-type of fighting – he wanted straight, street, slick, creative fighting. And Antoine, of course, agreed.” Woulard brought his own experience in the military, including Special Forces, in creating the fights for the film.

For this particular film, it was imperative that the stunt team work closely with Washington and create action that the actor could perform himself. “We set up all of the action facing us. You see Denzel maybe 95% of the time,” Woulard notes. “So, about a month before we started shooting, I started training him – and we trained every day.”

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Training was imperative, as the character is highly trained and an expert. “If you’re holding a knife in a knife fight with the blade sticking out, anybody who knows their stuff will say, ‘OK, you’re going to get the drop on this guy really quick,’” Woulard says. “But if that knife is turned and the blade is running down the palm of his hand, and his holding it like he’s boxing, well, that’s a guy who’s got some experience.”

One thing that sets Robert McCall apart is that he does not use a gun – he uses his environment, whatever is at hand, against his opponents. “There could be an ashtray on the table, a letter opener on the desk,” Woulard continues. “There could be a vase, a fork, a cup, a book. And when he’s fighting in Home Mart, he’s on his home turf – he can gather things up and combine them.”

In that way, the specific action of “The Equalizer” doesn’t end with the stunts – it cuts across all aspects of filmmaking, including photography and production design.

Opening across the Philippines in October 01, “The Equalizer” is distributed by Columbia Pictures, local office of Sony Pictures Releasing International.


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