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Chad Stahelski Breaks Down 'John Wick: Chapter 4' Fight Scenes

Chad Stahelski, director of the John Wick franchise, discusses everything about the intense fight sequences from 'John Wick 4,' from creating "movable mazes" for the Arc de Triomphe car chase scene, the intricate details inspired by the painter Caravaggio for the Dragon Breath scene and so much more. John Wick: Chapter 4 is available now on Digital and 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD & On Demand from Lionsgate

Released on 06/15/2023


In John Wick, we treat him like Odysseus.

He just wants to get home.

We keep throwing obstacles in his way.

So we took the third act in John Wick: Chapter 4

and we kind of broke it into three set pieces.

John Wick is trying to make it across Paris

to get to Sacré-Cœur.

We start with a vehicular chase,

and then what we consider the apartment top shot.

And then our final piece goes into the staircase,

which we go full Sisyphus.

We're big into Greek mythology in John Wick.

[tense music]



Hi, I'm Chad Stahelski.

I'm the director of the John Wick franchise.

Today we're gonna be talking about some of the fight

and action sequences from John Wick: Chapter 4.

Just a little heads up, might be a few spoilers.

[car engines roar]

This scene is what we call the Arc de Triomphe

car chase scene.

Whenever we're designing action

or especially fight sequences or martial art choreography,

you'll always hear the choreographers

or the action directors talk about the maze.

Rather than an open field where we have a gun fight

or a martial art fight,

we try to find interesting set pieces.

We wanted a movable maze,

and my idea was always to how do we get the walls

or the actual maze part of it to move?


We'll just make a movable set piece.

And that's how we wanted to search out

the world's busiest and craziest roundabout,

which we found out in Paris is the Arc de Triomphe.

[car engines roar]

So John Wick stolen a 1971 Barracuda, a cool muscle car.

We spent about five months teaching Keanu how to drift

and do the car stunts,

including a reverse 180 or 360,

what we call an in out, and a 540 drift.

So he's actually spinning the tires

and drifting around these guys one-handed

as he's firing a gun,

which not a lot of cast members can do.

So in order to show off all the great cool stuff

that Mr. Reeves did and spend all his time doing it,

we wanted to see him doing it.

So a trick we had done in John Wick 2

was knock one of the doors off.

So we did one better on this.

We took both doors off.

So no matter what side the camera was on,

we saw that it's really Keanu Reeves driving, number one.

Number two, even as John Wick,

you get to see him put his body language into it.

So that helped accentuate the driving sequence.

[car engine roars]

So what you don't see

is when we have the a hundred stunt drivers,

Keanu has a little buffer on him.

He's got our best drivers going right on his lanes.

So there's seven lanes of traffic throughout this sequence

on the big runway that we had used.

Each of these are zoned off with a series of colored cones.

So the stunt drivers all know which lanes to go in.

They stay in the black cone lane,

they stay in the red cone lane, the yellow cone lane,

and the hero lane is the blue lane.

That's what Keanu goes in.

If you looked at the top shot of a circle,

they'd all be centrific circles in here.

Keanu would always know to be in this circle,

as the oncoming drivers know to be in their color circle

going the opposite direction.

That's how we do it.

And then in visual effects, we wipe out the cones

so you think he's actually weaving in and out of traffic.

Keanu's driving about 55 to 60 miles an hour

when he is going in his traffic right now.

[car engines roar]

What's tracking him, fair enough,

is either a camera vehicle

or we have one of the best drone companies in the world,

XM2, that's falling him at street level with a small drone.

So we can stay at traffic level and go over and around above

without risking anybody or any camera crews being hurt.

It took about five months to plan out the whole sequence.

And surprisingly enough,

we shot the entire sequence in seven days.

[upbeat music] [gunshots]

The shot we're talking about now

is what we call the top shot or the top down shot.

A lot of times, you'll see a top down shot

in action sequences of the fight scenes,

and usually it's because, you know,

we're trying to hide a double

or we're trying to hide something.

But in John Wick, because we have Keanu Reeves

and he's so well trained to do it,

what we wanna do what we consider a candy cane

or a corkscrew shot.

So we actually have the camera

on a four point flying system,

and what we've done

is we've made four big posts outside this set,

which we can move the camera just like a joystick.

And then the camera's meant to slowly come up

on its rotating head so you know it's can reeves down here,

and the camera kind of does a little candy cane

or a corkscrew up, and that's how we keep tracking with him.

Why a lot of people don't do top shots

is because when you're looking down, all you see is floor

and top of walls that we have to go through.

So we took a lot of care in designing the floors.

You'll see carpets, you'll see rugs,

you'll see blood splatters, you'll see paper,

you'll see all different things

that make the floor interesting.

So we kind of designed the set upside down.

[upbeat music] [gunshots]

When you do art direction looking like this,

you'll have light patterns.

So we use light coming through here

to give all these great little light patterns on the floor.

We've scattered a bunch of debris.

As you can see there are little papers here.

We put a grand piano 'cause it has an interesting shape.

Our step ladder that's slightly tilted off angle

so you can see more of it.

We have our dog run on the piano and attack our guy here.

And every time John Wick shoots somebody,

we put an interesting digital blood pattern around him.

So we make pretty little pictures on the floor.

And you'll see Keanu,

all the patterns that he's doing, he lays on his back.

Sometimes he'll fall to his back like in this frame,

so you can see, oh look, that's Keanu Reeves

shooting a shotgun in a guy's face.

[upbeat music] [gunshots]

We had researched this ammunition called dragon's breath.

What they are is it's like a buck shot

with phosphorus rounds.

When the rounds hit the air, they ignite.

So it's almost a phosphorous type fire.

The whole reason we did the top down shot

is because we have this particular firearm

called the Genesis 12 shotgun

that shoots these rounds of dragon breath.

If you just looked at it down,

it'd be a circular muzzle flash.

From a top down, we see these long muzzle flashes

coming from the bad guys, coming from the good guys.

So basically you're creating a lateral firework sequence.

So we wanted a way to change the lighting scheme,

and at the same time,

have this interesting angle and how to suspend that.

We just thought it was kind of cool,

it was something a little different.

[upbeat music] [gunshots]

So we have our stuntman on fire down here,

and we have our other two coming in from here.

To highlight the muzzle flash here,

we kind of scope the darker room,

a darker room a little highlight.

We kind of put the blues and greens on this side

so the orange really pops in the center.

So we kind of figure out, okay,

what's gonna highlight both the character

so we can keep him separate,

our stunt guys coming in here and here,

that'll come in.

This kind of throws your eye.

So you're going right on the motion path.

So we kind of dim out, but still shape everything.

Dan Laustsen, my cinematographer,

brilliant, brilliant, brilliant shaper of light,

especially with color.

And a big thing with John Wick

is we always call it neon noir.

We try to shape things instead of a grittier grungier look

that a lot of action films use,

we try to shade with color so it actually throws your eye,

but everything feels like a piece of art.

Big inspiration for us was the painter Caravaggio

who really bought out blacks,

and he shaped through black and he let colors really pop.

Not by making the colors pop,

by really intensifying the blacks.

So if you can see here, we kind of always shade,

but you don't lose any detail.

That's a big thing with us.

We just took a movable piece of lighting.

Literally the shotgun is actually lighting

part of the scene for us with muzzle flashes.

So we intentionally leave the set a little bit darker

so that not only do they pop,

but they light the subject that we're hitting.

In this case, our stuntman right here.

So a lot of times in choreography,

especially in John Wick,

you can get the ideas of the sequence.

Kind of like a lot of times that you see

in the only old Hollywood dance films.

You wanna be in the toy store like Singing in the Rain,

you wanna be on the street with the lamp posts in the rain.

Other times, it's a prop.

It's you're spinning a baton, you're Jackie Chan,

you've got a step ladder, you've got plates,

you've got a spear or anything like that.

You know, whether we find a cool car or a cool motorcycle

or a different style or expression of martial arts,

we also do the same thing in firearms.

I was a big cartoon and anime guy growing up.

So when you see Wile E. Coyote or Bugs Bunny

in some of these amazing pieces.

A lot of the cues I take are from silent film.

Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd,

Charlie Chap and all the greats.

So the visually pop of something hitting someone,

it's the old pie in the face gag of the explosive hit.

In John Wick, we try to not be overly expressive

with violence or gore,

but we do want some kind of panache put into it.

So we look for debris.

Sometimes we'll do it with dust hits

or we'll do explosive hits on the furniture.

Just something to give it a visual life to it.

We saw this, we're like, oh, that's great.

I don't have to dismember people.

I can put a visual effect or a lighting effect on it

that gives it a little bit of impact and oomph to it.

So we thought this was a good way of doing it,

and that's how we came up with the idea of taking

something as simple as a type of ammunition

and developing an entire sequence around it

that showcased it in a way

that we really haven't seen before in an action film.

[soft tense music]

12 or nine?


We always joked about with John Wick

about being Sisyphus who was punished by Hades

for cheating death, which seemed very apropos for John Wick.

That he'd always, every day he'd have to push a boulder

to the top of the hill, and every night,

the boulder would roll back down,

and that's how he was supposed to spend

the rest of eternity.

You know, I really recognize the gag

and the process behind that myth from Buster Keaton.

You'll see a lot of his work,

and even a little bit of Harold Lloyd

whenever they do hills,

they're always falling down to get back up

to fall back down and get back up,

seemingly in a never ending cycle of pain and suffering.

So we found the biggest staircase we could in Paris,

which is on the steps of Sacré-Cœur.

There's actually about 302 steps, I believe,

but we use 222 of them.

That's all we could fit into the frame at the time.

We have like the rule of three and John.

So John fights all the way to the top

just to get knocked all the way back down.

And then just when you think it's over,

and he's only got two minutes left,

Caine comes in, offers him a help up,

and that's when we kick into our heroic reveal

of the two partners gonna team up

for the final little let's get to the top of the stairs.

[tense music] [grunting]


We took all the lights and really pumped them out.

We're on an overhead canopy on lighting,

which was almost like being in a sound stage.

Perfect time of year to be there.

We had leaf coverage,

so we could keep all the other lights.

Right above the trees,

we have our little set of lights to give our fill.

We've got a good shape here.

So we have these sides where we can stick our cameras.

I'm also big William Friedkin fan,

so if you go watch The Exorcist and the way they lit that,

that's how we wanted to light the staircase.

A little bit of foreboding there.

So you're always gonna feel our guys coming down,

and you'll feel little background guys coming up

so you always know where our guys are.

So it's a constant up down, left to right kind of vibe.

Sacré-Cœur was a really interesting staircase.

Again, it gave us this really interesting perspective,

much like the top shot of the Arc.

It gave us this tilted vertical sensibility.

So you're either looking down

on either of the lateral sides,

or you're looking up,

which gives you this really nice symmetrical thing

right to the church.

Every time we look up,

you can always get that sense of where he's going.

It gives you a great sense of geography.

When the camera's shaking around

and you never establish the wider shot

of where the character needs or has to go to,

the audience can get lost in it.

And maybe sometimes that's a good thing,

but if you don't feel a sense of purpose,

it's hard to get behind the character.

You never know where he's at.

With the staircase,

once you do that original shot of looking up

and you see John go, Ugh,

you know he's gotta get to the top.

And every step he goes down, you're like,

Oh, come on, you gotta make it,

it gets the audience on the same ride

as the actual character.

[tense music] [grunting]

Of course we use CGI and digital help to help hide things

and make things safer for the stunt team,

but the idea is to create a practical sense.

People have seen cars their whole lives,

so getting hit by one is somewhat relatable.

Everybody's slipped and fallen down before.

So we do a lot of physical stunts.

Meaning we'll throw wick a lot of stairs,

we'll have a lot of hard hits.

Things people can relate to and go, Ooh geez, that's.

We want a visceral reaction for the audience.

And when you see John Wick fall down 200 stairs,

I think most people can kind of relate to,

yeah, that would really suck.

I think totally we did over 72 stair falls

between the the 20 stunt men that were in the sequence.

So every time a guy falls down,

he'll actually fall down the stairs.

The safety guy, You good?

He's like, Yeah, I'm still good.

And he'll run all the way back around

and come down to die again.

And what you don't see behind camera

are these two poor wardrobe people

that are handing them hats on the way by.

So they're changing hats as they go in,

and that's how we keep our stunt team in shape.

We take these baby pieces of foam strips,

and they're just barely put on the stairs

to take the curse off,

and then we digitally smooth them out out.

Don't wanna take anything away from the stunt team,

but we try to do our best

to do every little thing we can to help 'em out.

No stunt men we're injured in this filming of this sequence.

[tense music] [grunting]

Straight to the stairs. Thanks.


We thought the first movie was a finish.

Keanu and I are like, ooh.

Dodged a bullet on that one

'cause the movie was so nutty

about killing 80 people over a puppy.

We finished number two,

and we had the same response like, ooh.

Now we're gonna direct after that weird one.

And the third one, we said this is the final one.

You know, we're good.

We're in Japan and we just finished reading the treatise

on the Samurai code of ethics,

a treatise called Hagakure.

And it was literally the art of the way of dying.

Like how to prepare yourself for death.

And we thought whoa, that's a pretty cool thing.

And we're like, well, we didn't get to do this

on John Wick 3.

You know, I think we can do better.

And we were like, well, the only reason to do it

would be to put a bookend on it.

And we had the idea and thought like,

if we could really get this philosophy,

the ending to grief,

like you can see the references to Dante throughout

about the layers of hell.

Preparing your lead character to die

by doing something good.

Okay, we got it.

So we kind of already knew what we wanted to get out of it.

A little bit of Buster Keaton, a little bit of anime,

a little bit of Samurai films, a little bit of Wuxia films,

a little bit of Wong Kar-wai, [indistinct],

a little Jackie Chan, and there you go.

Starring: Chad Stahelski

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