TV

Philip Silvera On Designing Stunts For ‘Daredevil,’ ‘Deadpool,’ And ‘It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’

You might not know Philip Silvera by name, but you’ve seen the stunt performances and action sequences he’s designed dozens of times in the last decade. From Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: The Dark World, to the more recent Deadpool film and both seasons of the highly successful Netflix series Daredevil, the former professional martial arts competitor-turned-stunt coordinator’s mark is everywhere these days.

So despite having one of the busiest schedules in the business, Silvera took the time to chat with us about his work on Daredevil‘s second season, which will be available to stream on Friday at 3:01 a.m. ET. The new season represents a significant body of work for the stunt man, who also served as the second unit director on the project. So as soon as our phone call began, he was quick to ask us what our favorite fight sequences were.

I assume you had a hand in everything.

Yeah, I designed the entire series. I was the stunt and fight coordinator, as well as the second unit director.

This was your first official second unit directing gig. How’d it go?

Oh it was great! It felt good to work with some of the guys from last year, like James McMillan, who was our second unit director of photography both this year and last year. I had fun collaborating with him again. Plus it was great to talk shop with Douglas Petrie and Marco Ramirez, our showrunners this season. It was a really great feeling, and it came together very well. We were able to highlight the action a little differently this year, and in a different way. I hope the fans like it.

Is second unit directing something you’ve always wanted to do?

It’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to do. Part of our process, when you design the action on the show, and it’s grueling for the stunt team… We do what we call a “previz,” and that previz is almost like shooting an entire scene before going into production with the entire crew. We’ll go to the location, we’ll test all the gags and then we’ll shoot it from beginning to end like we would on the day of. That then becomes the template for our conversations with producers, directors, Marvel and Netflix, and then we’ll make any changes to shots. That’s how we’re able to get such feature film-like action done on this TV time frame. It’s all the prep we’re doing for every episode and every sequence we do, as opposed to just coming in on the day of and winging the shots and trying to figure it out then. We did that the first season and that template worked great.

I’ve been doing that template for a while. It was a big factor for how we did things on Deadpool, and for this season of Daredevil is was helpful to previz what I would later direct with the second unit. You know, there have been coordinators over the years for whom this has become their model. Coordinators who started the trend like Chad Stahelski, for whose work the previz was literally what was shot on the day. It’s just a constantly evolving way for us to do things.

How early on in the process do you get involved?

TV and film are very different. In film, we’ll do that for months ahead of time before we even get into pre-production, and we’ll keep working all the way up to production. There will always be two or three big action sequences that we’ll work on nonstop. With Daredevil, it’s like doing a 13-hour movie where we’re constantly doing that every week. I’ll get a script and then I’ll go over things with my assistant stunt coordinator, Eric Linden and my assistant fight coordinator, Roberto Gutierrez, and we’ll conceptualize everything. Then we’ll train the doubles and other stunt performers, block it, and maybe even that same day we’ll start previzing it immediately. But we’re constantly doing that rotation, sometimes seven days a week. Daredevil is a very stunt-heavy show, and we’re constantly working. Every department works hard on this show because they want to do their best for a show that’s very special to everyone. But it’s definitely a taxing show, especially for the doubles who worked nonstop around the clock — Chris Brewster, Lauren Kim, Linden since he was also the Punisher’s stunt double. They were always being worked, and God bless them. They made it through a season, and it was tough at times, but they did a great job.

Was work for the second season more intense than the first?

We didn’t want to up the action just for the sake of upping the action. What I will say is the story has gotten more evolved, and they’re great stories, so we’re just trying to keep up with the stories right now. [Laughs.] Doug and Marco and all the writers had a great sense of where the character was evolving to, and that just led to more interactions with other characters and the world getting bigger. And with the world getting bigger, obviously they were… You’ve seen the trailers, we have the Hand, Punisher, Elektra, returning characters like Stick. There’s all those elements coming into it so there’s always something going on. The show’s story just got bigger, and we just have to keep up with it.

Most of your work has been on film and television adaptations of comic book superheroes. Was that by choice, or is that where most of the work is these days?

You know, some of it might have been by choice. Maybe this is what I’ve always wanted to do since I was a kid. I was always a big fan of the comic books. Always a fan of martial arts and always a fan of stunts in film. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I put it out there to the universe and that’s what I got back. But a lot of those are projects that I’ve done with Tim Miller over the years. Motion capture commercials for the Batman video games, the motion capture cinematics for Star Wars and so on — they’ve all been pieces by Tim. We’ve grown together doing these superhero shows for quite some time. He’s the director of Deadpool, as you know…

You worked with Miller on the “leaked” test footage, right?

Correct! [Laughs.] We did that test footage together. Joe Ross, who was our head rigger for this season of Daredevil, was a part of that too. Gutierrez, Linden… we were all a part of that test footage about five years ago. We shot that separately from Ryan Reynolds for some of the sequences, and I actually got in the motion capture suit and did some of the fighting as well.

Do you still do as much stunt work as you used to, or is it mostly coordinating and directing these days?

Not at all! I still love to do stunts as much as I possibly can. In season one, I was actually Nobu’s stunt double for his fight scene with Daredevil. Lately I’ve just been behind the camera for the most part, but I still love performing as much as I can, when I can.

Like when you served as Rob McElhenney’s stunt double in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

Yes, for the 100th episode. [Laughs.] I was the fight choreographer for that as well. It was scripted that way, so I got a called from Marc Scizak, the show’s stunt coordinator. They wanted to do a dream sequence fight scene with a bunch of ninjas, and I got the call to come in and double Mac on that one. It was fun. Rob’s a great guy, and it’s a great cast and crew. It was a really fun show to work on.

Did you get to interact with Rob and the rest of the cast?

It was all first unit, because they didn’t have a second unit for that shoot. The episode director, Dan Attias, shot the entire sequence.

Wow, so you got to perform for Danny DeVito and the gang?

Yeah, he was great. Everybody on that show was. It was just such a great show to go visit and work on. Those guys have fun over there.

You said you were a big fan of comics as a kid. Did that specifically inspire you to become a stunt performer?

I definitely think there was an influence there. As a kid, I was running around with a towel around my neck, jumping around like I was a crime fighter. Like I was Batman. I was always very active, and martial arts helped me calm down a little bit, but reading those books and living in that world became something that I always wanted to do. Who doesn’t want to be a superhero? What’s the best way to do things in today’s world? Well, stunts worked out for me.

Stunt work is generally the least recognized or known aspect of filmmaking these days. How does one get into that world?

Everybody comes from a different path. There are guys who are very good at extreme sports. People from an athletic, gymnastic background. People who are martial artists. For me, martial arts was my way in. And once you find a way in, you become well-rounded and learn different things. You start off as a fighter, but then you also learn how to drive cars and do fire burns and ride the wire. You have to learn multiple things to be a stunt performer. You have to be good at many things, but we all have a specialty background. There’s no specific way to get in. Sometimes it just happens and sometimes you have to go after it, but for me martial arts was my way in.

Back in 1997, because I used to compete in the Chinese martial arts circuit, I was approached to do an Off-Broadway show. Then one show would lead to another, and then another, and then I was doing commercials. It was called Once Upon a Time in Chinese America, later called Voice of the Dragon by Fred Ho, who passed away a few years ago. It was a martial arts ballet with fighting, falling, flipping and acting. That was my lead into the business. It was a rare opportunity that I was able to capitalize on and grow with.

Definitely, because you’ve been a part of some of the most popular action films and TV shows this decade. That’s a lot of eyeballs. How does that make you feel?

I love it. I was inspired by many people to do what I’m doing today, and hopefully I’ll inspire somebody else one day to do something they want to do. I’m truly grateful and blessed to be able to do what I’m doing, because I love what I do. It’s the best job in the world. It really is.

You were asked about your favorite Daredevil season two fights at the premiere. However, is there a fight or moment from production that sticks out the most in your memory?

There’s definitely a moment for which I’m glad I got the chance to see and be a part of it, and even direct. In season one, we didn’t get to see Daredevil do his classic dive bomb. I think there’s a glimpse of him doing it in one of the trailers for the second season. I was able to design that sequence and sell our director and the producers on doing it that specific way, or maybe approaching it that way. It was an iconic moment. I want to see those moments as a fan, and I know they do too. I think that’s probably one of those moments when you see him that classic pose, diving. I love that. He’s being a little more of who he is now, and he’s grown into the character more. You see it in Charlie Cox‘s performance, which is just as awesome this season as it was last season. The chemistry between Charlie and Jon Bernthal on camera is amazing. Those two guys are awesome, and I love watching those guys go at it.

They seem like they’re very hands-on with the stunt performance process.

They were both performing stunts. They each want to get in there and do it. Charlie works nonstop on that show. He leads the show, so it’s hard for him to get rehearsal time. When he did, he’d work on sequences with Brewster. Jon’s the same way. Jon would be in a heavy dialogue scene with other actors and as soon as he was done, he’d run off to the side and practice with Linden. A sequence in which he’s fighting around nine guys. Then he’d get right back into character for the next dialogue scene. Those guys are amazing. They’re literally leading men, and great people.

Elodie Yung is the same way. So too is Scott Glenn. He is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and a martial artist. So when he does things, he really wants to understand the character and make sure it’s the right technique of the character. I love that about him. He sees the reality and the practicality of his movement because he’s trained for many years. Seeing that man work as hard as he does is amazing.

So what’s next? Have you managed to take a break yet?

After Daredevil season two, I needed and wanted to take a break. I went from Daredevil season one to Deadpool and back, which was almost two years nonstop. When I finally took the break I was a little shell-shocked, because we do so much every day that when I finally put the brakes on, I thought “I don’t have a meeting to go to? We’re not previzing? We’re not rehearsing? What is going on here?” [Laughs.] I’ve had some time to decompress from it all, but I’m already looking forward to going to the next thing.

The second season of Daredevil premieres Friday, March 18 on Netflix. Until then, here’s a preview.

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