Hopefully by now you’re following the official Instagram page for actress Jennifer Linch’s feature directing debut, Kung Fu Ghost. Currently in post-production, the project is the latest, empassioned labor of kung fu comedy and cinematic love by Linch, who has also been making the podcasts, and I encourage you to check out her latest chat with Film Reviews From The Basement’s own Jason Hewlett by clicking here.
In the meantime, part two of our Capturing Ghosts interview series now brings actor, stunt performer and coordinator Daniel Ford Beavis into focus. He’s the proud owner of O’Shea’s Irish Pub in the provincial city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada, but when he’s not serving drinks to humble patrons, he’s plying his stunt trade as he has been for up to twenty-three years.
His two latest stunt and screen credits include Kung Fu Ghost (performing this time under stunt coordinator Shane Alexander and action director Jason Truong), and Jesse Quiñones’s MMA sports drama, Cagefighter: Worlds Collide – the latter which is currently on deck for an exclusive FITE.TV premiere in May, and he’s here to discuss both, and much more.
Your career goes a way back with your first gig on a film called Crisis with David Bradley. Tell us about that experience getting into stunts for the first time.
I have a bit of a joke here when people ask me how I got into stunts, I just say, “I just fell into it!”. When I was younger, I was a competitive martial artist in hard style Karate and did a huge amount of point fighting, as I got older I followed in my father’s footsteps and became a skydiver.
I was working as a bouncer in some bars and when I started taking University, I ended up in an acting class. I ending up putting all those things together and training to become a stunt performer, and I got the job as ‘Thug number two’ on Crisis. After my first stunt, I was hooked, and I realized that I needed to know a lot more about stunts than I did, so I went to Seattle and trained with David Boushey at the International Stunt School there.
To date, you’ve had some small acting roles as well. Is it still something you wish to do, or do you feel better suited for stunts given that you’ve also been able to coordinate as well as host workshops and teach to up-and-comers?
I have by BFA in Stage Acting, so I’ll always be an actor. I realized in early life that you are always acting differently depending on your “life” audience – you acted different in front of your parents, acted different with friends, acted different in front of students etc. I still love being in front of a live audience, but I haven’t been in a stage play for a long time. I’ve been a Fight Director with the festival Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan for nearly twenty years now and work with many of the theatres up where I live. I’ve always kept my foot in the door in all aspects of my career and I’m glad I have, as I’m finding it harder to hit the ground over and over again now that I’m a little older! I’d love to keep stunting, acting and teaching for a long time to come.
Have you exhibited or expressed interest in other aspects in film, such as writing and directing?
Absolutely! Back in my university days I wrote a few scripts, but we never really got anything going. I have a little more time these days to follow up on writing and directing and I am hoping to be able to focus on them more.
The Covid situation has got me shooting lots of little videos in my pub and with my kids. I learned how to edit video better and better every day. I have an extensive business background and mixed with my artistic side, I feel that I would be well suited as a producer now that I’m a little older. I’ve always said that stunts are the “backdoor” to directing. Become a stunt player, then stunt coordinator, then second unit director, then director.
You recently wrapped Jennifer Linch’s feature debut on Kung Fu Ghost, and Ms. Linch has had nothing but nice things to say about you. How did this project find its way to you?
Kung Fu Ghost was an interesting path for me. They found Shane Alexander and Jason Truong independently of each other and both are closely connected to me. I taught Shane at a few workshops and I coordinated Jason on one of his first professional stunt jobs. I have always told my students that if they ever need me, even if they think I might be too busy or anything to give me a call, and Shane knew that he’d be super busy performing and trying to coordinate at the same time, and Jason had already been messaging me a little bit for advice on the gig so I suggested to Shane that he bring me in as a low level stunt performer and I’d be there for him if he needed anything and he went for it! I think production was a little hesitant because they didn’t know me in person and hadn’t seen my work but I think I quickly won them over.
I understand you and your team had only had a matter of days for prep and performance on this one, which is never easy given all the pieces and cogs required to assemble good action on film, is it?
The thing that I liked about Kung Fu Ghost over a lot of my recent productions is that I was only coming in as a stunt player. Shane and Jason were dealing with all the stress of matching choreography to the director’s vision, worrying about shot lists, having script meetings, props and other things, and I’m used to being in charge, so it was quite freeing to step back and just worry about my action and watching the stunt team rather than all of the “business” end of the film world.
I also like to think that I helped the other people on the stunt team relax knowing that someone who’s been around for a long time was quietly watching their backs to make sure that nothing was slipping through the cracks and that the action was good and it was safe. They also know that I don’t pretend something was good if it wasn’t. Shane was happy to have someone else’s eyes on the camera while he was performing.
Given your years in the field and applying that experience to Kung Fu Ghost, how would you rate Ms. Linch as a burgeoning feature film actress and director?
Ms. Linch got a quick learning curve about directing and starring in an action film! After our first day of rehearsal, she was excited and ready to rock, but after the fourth day of shooting I think she was starting to realize how tiring shooting fight scenes all day is. She was so wonderful and hard working. She was performing intricate fight scenes against seasoned stunt professionals and holding her own. She definitely has an eye for action and knows what she wants and has an incredible ability to inspire people. She put together a great tight knit crew and pushed us hard and we loved it! I expect big things from her in the future.
Speaking of which, I hear Jennifer is planning another project somewhere down the line. Are you interested in working together again?
Yes, I’d love to do another movie with her. Now that I’ve seen how the crew down in San Diego works, I think we could continue to make some great action! I have a broader range of skills so I’ve suggested maybe some car gags, high falls or fire burns next time.
You also did Cagefighter: Worlds Collide last year with Jesse Quiñones, and he’s got nothing but praise for you as well. What was it like to share this set with so many pro-athletes, including Alex [Montagnani] who also stars and choreographs?
Cagefighter was a whirlwind for me! Because of a series of cast/crew changes I was brought in quite late in the game. The first thing that blew me away was Jesse’s encyclopedic knowledge of the MMA world. Jesse would show me the storyboards and say something like, “What I’m looking for here is like at the end of round two, thirty seconds in on the fight between fighter A and Fighter B back in 2009, you know that fight, right?” And I’d say, “Uh, kind of” and run off in the corner to watch the fight to get up to speed. Jesse had a vision for the fights that was way more comprehensive than most directors since he is also a fighter and extremely passionate about the sport.
When I got there, Alex had already set the fights in rehearsal and was ready to go. Alex is incredibly open and supportive to everyone around him and it showed in how he created the fights to match each person. He had the same kind of problem that any choreographer does when you are trying to perform and keep an eye on the camera and was happy to have me as another set of eyes. Alex was performing and Jesse had all the lights, sounds, background etc to worry about so I was there to focus strictly on the action.
One of the big things that I brought to the table was using the camera angles to sell the strikes. With so many pro-fighters involved, they would sometimes forget to open to the camera or to punch off target to help the hit “read” as a hit. We had to make some last minute changes to the fights so they put me in the ring playing the ref so that I could be right there and give them notes while they were performing the action. Like I said, it was a whirlwind but it was an amazing experience to be around so much talent.
As a stunt coordinator and someone who specializes in action, how much input do you normally get to have in terms of cinematography and editing, given these are such key ingredients?
When I first started out we didn’t get as much say, but directors are now getting more and more open to consulting us. You see titles now like Action Coordinator, Fight Specialist or MMA Director in film now rather than just Stunt Coordinator. It used to fall under one banner but now we are all part of a team in many cases. In both the films we are talking about today we were all a part of a team and everyone was open to everyone else’s ideas. Having the freedom to ask if we can do one more take with the camera on a different lens or from a different angle makes my job easier and the best example is either of these films. We aren’t usually around for editing, but a little secret that I’ve done before is to shoot a pre-vis video set to the angles and edits that I would prefer and it might subconsciously influence the editing, but the bottom line for me on that is that I have to trust the editor to do their job just as they trust me to do mine.
I asked Jesse this same question in our interview, and now I wanna pick your brain with it for a bit here as well: Favorite films and influences, any genre and in no certain order. Go!
I grew up in the 80s-90s so I can’t not mention Bloodsport and Kickboxer. Boy did I want to be Van Damme back then! I was blown away again when Seagal’s Above the Law came out, it changed the way I looked at fight choreography, it was so serious and the fighters did blocks and holds and throws. Total Recall was the first movie where I remember thinking specifically about why the fight choreography was a certain way, when Sharon Stone is beating up Arnold, you can see that the action was created to showcase both of their skills. The stunt coordination in Desperado blew me away and hooked me in that stunts weren’t all just about fighting. Of the lesser known movies that helped influence me early on were the Rutger Hauer movies The Blood of Heroes and Blind Fury.
How are you coping with the current pandemic crisis happening lately? Also, apart from the lack of work, what are some of the benefits you’ve been able to share during this downtime?
My pub is currently shut down because of the pandemic so for the first time in 18 years I’m not setting up for the rooftop patio, I’m helping plant the garden and playing in the yard with my two daughters. The biggest benefit for me is that I’ve been able to focus on making a few little shorts on my phone with my kids and I’m practising editing so I can start making some more of my own work. I’m thinking more and more about shifting gears and setting my sights on producing when this is all over. I think I might be starting to convince my kids to get into action/stunts!
What would you say your biggest take away is from your career up to this point?
The bottom line on being a Stunt Coordinator is to make sure that people are safe. You need to be an expert in making sure that the director gets their shots, production gets their day complete and everyone (cast and crew) stays safe. It is okay if you don’t have other skills or if you aren’t as good as you used to me, it is all about knowing how to get the shot and keep people safe. If I needed to coordinate a figure skater getting tackled by a clown, I don’t need to be an expert in clowning or figure skating, I need to be an expert in keeping the performers safe. Always listen to other people, you never know where an idea will come from, so be nice to everyone even if they aren’t nice to you and always use the bathroom when it is available.
With Kung Fu Ghost and Cagefighter in the pipeline, are you eyeing any other projects in the weeks and months ahead depending on how the pandemic plays out?
There are a bunch of ideas out there but until we know what is happening with the pandemic, I won’t have anything lined up. I plan on continuing to publish “fun” videos now while I have the time and we will see what the future brings. I was hoping to teach at the International Stunt School this summer but the future is uncertain.
I’m happy we finally got to exchange a bit here for this Q&A, and I’m thankful for your insight. Do you have any words for our readers as we exit this interview?
The wise words of my mentor, David Boushey: “If you want something bad enough, you’ll get it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Stay focused and don’t let people get you down!”
My words: “It is okay to change your dreams, that doesn’t mean you failed, you just changed paths. Always dream big, don’t aim to be a millionaire, dream to be a billionaire. That way if you only get halfway there you still have 500 million.”
Lead photo source: CBC.ca (used courtesy of Daniel Ford Beavis)