Nowadays, Twitter seems to be the most bustling window into activity among fans interacting with the cast and crew of hit series, Wu Assassins. Now one of the most viewed martial arts action dramas streaming this summer, hopes are high for a second season returning actor Iko Uwais into the mystical fantasy urban millieu of the show’s San Diego, Chinatown setting.
The show has bolstered some hopes and prospects (I know I have mine) – particularly for another season following the conclusion of season one. Either way, it’s a milestone success for everyone involved – specifically stuntman, fight coordinator and choreographer Dan Rizzuto who, along with stunt coordinator Kimani Ray Smith and Indonesia’s own Uwais Team, joined forces in steering the show’s requisite stunt and fight scenery.
I initally crossed paths with Rizzuto on Instagram where he manages social media for his professional stunt fighting and performance community, M1 Fight Design. His work was some of the most impressive I’ve seen in his applications – effectively magnifying many of the most key, talented stunt professionals in Canada – that I began featuring as many available fight clips as I could through the YouTube uploads.
So, it’s pretty rewarding. That he’s credited for contributing with a team on one of the highest-performing shows of the year seems like a prospective move going forward. This, on top of what he’s done and has coming down the pipeline hopefully between now and the next few years should give pause to anyone keenly searching on where to find their next major action entertainment fix.
Not for nothing either, however, as Rizzuto continues planting his feet firmly into his craft to grow and become another leading voice in the sea change of late in the administrative and laboring trends of action design. For Rizzuto, the fact that fight choreography has evolved is ever more clear, and he seems bound to assert that through his work. Because it’s the work that matters, and he delves into this subject aptly, and much more in our e-mail exchange below in this, following my interview with co-star Juju Chan. Enjoy!
Greetings Dan and thank you for taking the time out for these questions, and congratulations on your latest run with Wu Assassins on which I know the reactions have been largely positive, yes?
Thank you for the opportunity! The feedback on Wu has been truly amazing. The world seems to be loving the action sequences and all of the fights. We are all still receiving many messages and positive comments online and grateful for them all.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the first season in full yet, but having worked on it and being an insider, would there be a difference if I were to ask you what your thoughts were on season one?
I have watched it fully, yes. It’s always amazing to sit down and watch it from an outsider’s perspective. It’s completely different when you’re on set daily, as your attention is focused on so many aspects of the shooting process you don’t really get to inhale it as a full scene. For me when working on a series, one of the things I wait to see is the editing.
Unlike in Asia, in North America we don’t get to partake in the editing process. The industry is still behind in that area. Which is hard for me because I design fights based on a certain editing style, and with the editor not being on set and almost always not understanding action, it’s something that can make or break the scene.My overall thoughts are that I’m happy with the way it turned out. I think the VFX need a lot of work, but the action turned out really high level for a TV series.
You started out in the late 90s as a stunt performer, correct? Tell us about your career progression.
My career path has truly been one wild ride. From fighting professionally under UFC legend Frank Shamrock, bodyguarding celebrities, becoming a stunt performer, stunt coordinator, fight coordinator, second unit director, and now having co-written and directed my first feature film. It’s been an amazing journey and, in many ways, I feel like I’m just getting started. Now that I’ve broken into directing my next film will be an action film starring some of the stars, I’ve worked with in the past.
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@nilo_stunts & @meganhui nailing today’s choreo beat. A variation of palisut (inside and outside series). Brilliant. We spend very little time on these beats. It helps prep the mind for immediate response when being rushed on set. #stunts #actiondesign #kali #fma #silat #jkd
And you have your own stunt training unit nowadays called M1 Fight Design which I familiarized myself with on Instagram. Talk about M1, what it means and how that translates for you and your craft in pre-vizzing and fight choreography.
M1 is kind of a dream come true for me. I’ve been training in the Martial Arts since I was a kid, and have always wanted to showcase high level action in all the projects I’m hired on. But working a lot in the TV world, I was finding that we don’t have nearly enough time to showcase the kind of action you see on feature films.
Part of this, I was finding because performers weren’t prepared for it. When it comes to fighting many performers think ‘ok’ is good enough. It’s something that has always bothered me. Nowadays with it being so busy many new performers are getting lucky breaks that are not hard earned like us old school performers had to endure. They are being hired because there is a demand and lack of talent. So, in many ways there is a sense of entitlement floating around.
Rather than complain, I decided to do something about it. Hence the birth of M1. M1 is a training academy dedicated to the hardcore performers that care about their craft and want to offer productions the best they can. For TV, this translates to feature film level fights in a TV environment and I honestly believe that Wu Assassins in one of the first TV series to showcase such fighting.
Scoring the action for Wu Assassins, I reckon for you that would be the equivalent of landing on the moon getting to work with Iko Uwais and some of his guys. Talk about working with someone who has influenced the action genre so much in the past decade.
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Without question, it was a truly amazing experience. Iko, and his team are the real deal. I can’t wait for season two! Over the past twenty one years working in this business I have been lucky enough to work with many of my action heroes – Tony Jaa, Wesley Snipes, JCVD, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal, Mark Dacascos, Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins…etc. I feel very lucky to be in the position that I am in. I never take it for granted which is why I’m all about giving back to the community and doing my best to up the level of fighting we see.
Talk about the process of putting some of these fights together with the cast apart from Uwais. Did the actors offer any input?
Wu was a very special show for me. It was the first show I’ve even done where all the actors and actresses wanted to be there. They would all show up for rehearsals and put in the work needed to achieve what we did in season one. When you see other EPK’s that shows put out for promo talking about the stunts and fighting, most of them are all talking out their asses. Lies. Just lies.
I’ve seen actors say they’ve put in four hours a day of training when they would show up, training for fifteen minutes and leave. Then their stunt double would do all the work and the actors would take the credit. Wu was different. We had an amazingly talented, well-versed cast to collaborate with. The fights were built around each character and the performers talents. We truly all put in hours and hours of work and the results speak for themselves. To achieve feature level action on a TV budget and time is remarkable, and from what I’m seeing out there right now, Wu’s fighting is one of the best TV has to offer. I truly love the cast.
You yourself got to do some stunt performance on this one as well, correct? Or am I seeing different?
I didn’t perform on Wu at all, no. I was planning on jumping in there for a couple fights but was to into creating and standing behind the monitor on this one.
What are some of the biggest challenges about putting fight scenes like these together for a series of this caliber?
The answer for this is easy. Time. When working in a TV environment it’s always time and budget. Budget for proper rehearsals, and the time to shoot it on the day. TV is always rushed.
You got to work with JuJu Chan twice now – world class martial artist and a rising star for the genre, from Wu Assassins to the recently-wrapped Jiu Jitsu. Tell us about your experience with her and on these projects.
Well JuJu Chan AND Lewis Tan, I must add. They are legends in the making. JuJu is one of the most hardcore actresses I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. To be honest her and Lesley-Ann Brandt from Lucifer have a lot in common. She wants nothing but the best and will do whatever it takes to achieve it. She cares about the choreography; she cares about the camera placement and movement. She cares how the fight looks and will do it as many times as needed to make it right. She shows up for rehearsals on time and stays until she has it mastered. Her work ethic is second to none.
Examples like Wu Assassins aside, how would you rate the treatment of action scene direction in film and TV these days? We’ve had the John Wick films, we’ve had Deadpool 1 & 2, Atomic Blonde, and so forth. Are we in the clear?
Great question. There is, a shift happening in the world of action filmmaking and it’s heading in the right direction FINALLY. It seems, like the studios are finally seeing the value in having the stunt department run more of the action on shows. Crazy concept, right! The common weave between John Wick, Deadpool 2, and Atomic Blonde is that they were all directed by former stuntmen/coordinators. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, both of which came out of the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts in LA, the same school I come out of. Even fight coordinator Jeff Imada from Bourne Supremacy, Bourne Ultimatum and Furious Seven has come from there.
I can only surmise that the kind of longevity you’ve had – twenty one years you said – doesn’t come without learning the ropes and major lessons along the way. What are some key points you take with you going forward?
You need to seek your own path; live your legend. The film industry is an amazing business, but it also harbours some of the greediest, back stabbing people you will ever meet. Depending on the level you want to take your career you need to be prepared to deal with some shady characters.
My advice to anyone is, know what you want, create a plan, and let NO ONE derail you. Do not give into fear. Listen and learn more then you speak, because everyone is your friend when you’re not pushing goals above them. But once you want more out of your career be ready for the haters to show their ugly faces.Like most industries it’s easier for people to complain then it is to wake up early and hustle their assess off to make their own dreams come true. So why would they want to see you reach yours…
Recently you got to reacquaint yourself with Joe Carnahan and party down with WarParty Films for Ben Bray’s feature debut with El Chicano in addition to another project coming quite soon. Roll out the red carpet and tell us what lies ahead? How would you describe working with Joe and Frank?
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Movie magic. No rain, to insane rain! @elchicanofilm What a hell of a ride it was working on this feature film, directed by my homie @boxerbray10. He truly knocked it out of the park. @carnojoe @madvandal @frankgrillo1 @adambelgabe @warpartyfilm @m1_fight_design @mitchlee @raulcastillo @castanedawong
Joe and Frank as awesome! They are the real deal. They speak what’s on their mind so you know where everything is at. Those are my kind of people. They are hustling hard and changing the independent production company game.I first worked with Ben and Joe on the A-Team and The Grey as a stunt performer. Ben at that time was stunt coordinating for Joe. Both fantastic experiences. One thing I love about working on a Joe Carnahan film is that in between takes he plays music over a huge speaker! [laughs] It’s amazing and never happens on any other set.
Many years later I was hired on El Chicano, Ben Bray’s feature film directorial debut as the fight coordinator. Joe and Frank were producing it. We all put our hearts and souls into that film for Ben. Production wasn’t easy for Joe, but as always, he makes things happen. After that I was in Atlanta with Joe and Frank for Boss Level. I put together the fights for the show but ultimately wasn’t around for the film of it. I did however just work with Frank on the Jiu Jitsu film that was shot in Cyprus.
Can you confirm if whether or not you and M1 will be involved with those two for a certain reimagining of a particular 2011 hit Indonesian crime thriller?
I’ve spoken with both Joe and Frank about it. Most recently with Frank in Cyprus. I know there is another film happening before the ‘reimagining’ will begin production. It’s too early to say what is happening with that project. Of course, I would jump at the opportunity without question but timing is always an issue. I know we will be hearing if Wu Assassins is getting a season two shortly, but I know that production for it if it happens won’t be till 2020. It’s the one thing I don’t understand about Netflix, is why they wait so long in between seasons. I feel shows lose viewers because of that.
Will you be back with the gang for a second season of Wu Assassins if it goes forward?
If season 2 happens I will for sure be on it. The only thing that would interfere would be timing. Until they announce a season 2 then we won’t know when production would begin so hopefully, I’m not locked on another show at the time!
For a stunt performer looking to pair up with a team like M1 Fight Design, how does one join your group?
Well M1 is a training community rather than a team or a group. Although we’ve been compared to 87 Eleven Action Design – the group that has done most of the action films in the last decade for movies like John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2 and the like – we aren’t a full-fledged group. My focus with M1 right now it to get as many top performers up to speed on the immerging standard needed to be at the top of the fight game in film.
The days of jab, cross, hook, bob & weave, hook to the head are over. If you want to be considered a top stunt performer in this business you need to know how to fight on film on a level that has never been required before. At one-point fight guys were frowned upon in this business, now they are taking over in many ways.
Thank you for sharing a piece of yourself with readers on your life, your career and your prospects. I hope Wu Assassins continues to be a hit, and on that note, are there any thoughts you would like to bookend with as we exit this Q&A?
Just please keep enjoying all the hard work that stunt performers do. They literally put their lives on the line to entertain the masses. It can be a dangerous career path, but we love what we do and are truly grateful for everyone’s support. We would love any and all support by following our social media pages. We are always posting behind the scenes material.Thank you for your time and interest in what we do! Blessings.
- Dan Rizzuto Official Website (Instagram)
- M1 Action Design Official Website (Instagram)
- Official IMDB Page