Brothers George and Harry Kirby just want to entertain fans of action on screen. The pair have done this by directing more than a dozen short films where the main focus is on action and, most importantly, fun. While they honed their craft with these films (and built a sizable online fanbase to boot), George Kirby steadily established a name for himself in the Hollywood stunt industry. His most high-profile work (so far) came as the fight coordinator on the 2021 blockbuster VENOM: LET THEIR BE CARNAGE but he has also been a stunt performer on such major films as ROUGE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, JUSTICE LEAGUE, and DOCTOR STRANGE.
It was during the filming of DOCTOR STRANGE that the Kirby brothers first came to the attention of acclaimed British martial artist Scott Adkins. In them, Adkins found filmmakers with not only a strong visual style but ones with a deep understanding of genre action filmmaking. It’s those qualities that led to them directing Adkins’ latest film— ACCIDENT MAN: HITMAN’S HOLIDAY. This sequel to the 2018 adaptation of the cult British comic book, ACCIDENT MAN, has all of the outlandish characters and impeccable stunt work that have proven to be a staple of the Kirby brothers’ creative output. It also, simply put, is one of the best action films of 2022.
I recently had a chance to chat with both George and Harry Kirby about working on the new movie. We discussed filming on location in Malta, working with Adkins and the rest of the film’s immensely talented cast, and much more!
How did you land the job of directing ACCIDENT MAN: HITMAN’S HOLIDAY?
[Harry] – We’ve been doing short films on YouTube for about 10 years now, typically quite geeky stuff, so like X-MEN and DRAGON BALL Z. We’re big anime fans. A little bit of Batman, stuff like that… a few original shorts. We then made a proof of concept for a feature film that we’d written. And we really wanted Scott to be in the film. George worked with Scott on DOCTOR STRANGE as a stuntman. So, we took this proof of concept to Scott and said, “We’d love you to be in the film.” He really enjoyed the proof of concept. Long story short, he basically said, “Look, I don’t really want to play the character you want me to play.”
We said, “No problem.” But then he calls us back two weeks later, and said, “Look, guys, I was really impressed. We’re wondering if you want to come and direct Accident Man 2: Hitman’s Holiday.” So we were like, “Yeah, of course.”
You both have distinct specialties in the film industry– with you (Harry) having more of an effects background and George being a stunt performer. With that in mind, how do you split up directing duties on set?
[George] – When we’re both on set, obviously, we’re in director mode. A lot of time, I’m on camera, specifically for the action. I try and bring my experience from the stunt world with shooting pre-viz and stuff on bigger films. So, I’ll be on camera a lot of the time. When it’s non-action– when it’s dialogue scenes and drama scenes, we’re both there and just working together, bouncing ideas off of each other, working with the actors. It’s kind of 50/50 on the directing side.
[Harry] – We did a lot of “split unit” on this film as well. So, there were times when, because we had so much action to get in a short amount of time, there were days where I was off with one team, shooting one fight. And George was off with another team, shooting another fight. We were able to split it that way and take on different scenes at different times, which helped us meet our short schedule. We had 22 days to shoot the film. So it was quite a tight schedule for a lot of action. We had the advantage of being able to lean on each other when we were working. When one of us was a bit more exhausted or a bit more frazzled that day, the other one would step in more. We can back each other up, which is a nice thing to have.
Definitely. What you were able to accomplish in just 22 days is very impressive.
[Harry] – Thank you. I appreciate that. We really aimed to make the production value as high as we could. George obviously works on some of the visual effects as well, which helps. I supervise some of that. [We were] very lucky that we got to shoot in Malta. That automatically gives us an upper hand because we’ve got cool locations and just cool-looking backdrops. And all of our crew just did an insanely good job. Everyone brought their A-game.
[George] – Especially our DP, Richard Bell, and the camera crew. Richard was able to really make it look quite pretty with the lighting but also make it efficient for us. He was able to give us that 360 lighting, especially for the action scenes where we need to be able to just flip the camera around, shoot this way, shoot that way without having to change all the lighting setups. So that was invaluable really for being able to move quickly and get as much done as we did.
[Harry] – And also having the performers, like Scott and Andy [Long Nguyen], all the guys were very professional and knew what they were doing. They could all do the action themselves. We don’t have to worry about hiding their faces or being able to cut around stuff. We can just crack on with the action and get some nice 360 shots and stuff like that. So yeah, it all made our jobs a bit easier as well.
Malta is not a destination often seen in movies. What was it like shooting there?
[Harry] – Well, first of all, it was beautiful. It was lovely. The people were amazing. We had a lot of Maltese crew on the film, and they all came in and did an amazing job. They mixed really well with the rest of our UK crew and stuff like that– which was great. We had a lot of issues with rain.
[George] – Yeah. Malta is typically a sunny place. They don’t have a massive amount of rain. So when we were there, over the 22 days that we shot, they had the most rain they’d had in 24 years. They had 87% or something like that of their yearly rainfall over a two-week period. So, it was like a bit of a monsoon. There were, literally, cars getting washed down the road and stuff. It was pretty mental. We got actually very lucky for the most part. We got sunny days most of the time. We got rained off one day when it was just like a tropical monsoon. It happens. The odds were, it was going to happen one day. So, I think we got quite lucky, really.
[Harry] – Overall, it was a lovely place to film. We had a good time.
What was it like helping to put the fights together? You had a great team assembled, like Andy Long Nguyen who at one time was a member of Jackie Chan’s personal stunt team.
[George] – It was actually a very collaborative process. Obviously, we had Andy and had myself, Scott, of course, was also very involved in the choreography. We had Sam Mak and Hung Dante Dong, who did some of the original choreography. We got some things from Tim Man who had done some pre-vis before we came to film, which we picked parts of, little bits here and there. It was very much a collaborative process. Andy was able to really make that [one with Scott] a standout fight. Yeah. It was amazing to work with him, and we definitely learned a lot from him.
[Harry] – He thinks quite similarly to us in the way that we would like to shoot action. George and Andy would often have the same ideas for camera angles.
[George] – Which made it easy to workshop ideas really quickly. Between us, we’d go, “Okay. Yeah, let’s try this. Okay, what about this?” And then you develop very quickly into a really good place. It was great to work with him on that. Yeah. He’s a brilliant actor and martial artist.
Speaking of working with actors, what was it like working with Ray Stevenson here? He’s such a big presence.
[Harry] – Amazing to work with Ray. So, obviously, we’d never worked with Ray before. He is this huge guy in real life. He’s “Big Ray” for a reason. Very established actor. Years of doing amazing work. And I’ve got to admit, I was a little bit nervous to meet Ray and work with him for the first time. But he couldn’t have been more lovely and more welcoming and collaborative with us. He came up with tons of great ideas for the character and things we could do in certain scenes. To be honest, those were some of our easier days really, working with Ray, because we could just sit back and watch him…
[George] – Do his thing.
[Harry] – …Yeah, do his thing. That man knows more than we know about acting at this stage. This guy has been working for years. He was a pleasure, [just] an absolute pleasure to work with. A lovely, friendly guy. And then on screen, suddenly, he’s this menacing, scary guy. So, it was great to see. Especially him bouncing off Scott as well. Him and Scott had some great scenes together.
As you brought up earlier, you had a short shooting schedule. What was the most difficult sequence to film due to that?
[Harry] – I’d say the hardest period of shooting was, essentially, the first week because we shot the third act in the first week. The third act is where a giant chunk of the action happens. It’s 15 minutes straight, essentially, of action sequences. That was a pretty intense week, not just for us, but for everyone, especially Scott because Scott is doing three fights or two fights back-to-back. We’ve had the Siu-Ling fight with Peter Lee Thomas. The Poco fight was pretty crazy. It’s quite Looney Tunes, really. There’s loads of stunts involved with that, so that slows the process down. But at the same time, some of that stuff was the most fun to shoot.
As martial arts fans, watching these guys fight and just geeking out and being like, look at the crazy stuff these guys are able to do. So it’s very much a dual-edged sword of hard work and enjoyment at the same time.
You mentioned Siu-Ling. That character allows such a great performance from Sarah Chang. She almost runs away with the entire movie.
[Harry] – We’ve heard that from a lot of people. It’s tough to find an actor for a character like that because it’s someone who needs to be able to do the martial arts required. And, obviously, Sarah was a wushu champion, so she ticks that box. It was quite an extensive search. But it was one of those things. The first time we talked to Sarah, she gave us a bit of what she wanted the character to be and we were like [this] fits perfectly!
[George] – We’re lucky to have her, really. She really brought that character to life.
[Harry] – Very hardworking as well. She bounced well off Scott, so that was good. We got lucky in that regard all-round. Beau Fowler as Poco just really brought something to that character, as well. All the guys did the same. So, we got very lucky.
As we wrap up, I wanted to ask if you have any filmmaking philosophies and if so, could you share them with me?
[Harry] – I’ll bring the first one up. One thing is pacing, just how important pacing is to us. We’re very inspired by people like Edgar Wright– where there’s no time wasted. There’s no scenes that don’t need to be there. That kind of thing.
We hope you felt like with ACCIDENT MAN 2 that it was never boring. It was never stopping. There was always something happening, something visual. And that also informs how we like to shoot our action.
[George] – Yeah. We don’t like to shoot coverage. We like to really think about every part of the action as telling a story. So every shot is designed. Every shot has a purpose. The action within that is very specific. We’ll shoot a bit of action, at least three moves. And then the next shot is these three moves. We know how it’s going to edit together.
So we pre-vis it– where we’ll go through rehearsal space and we’ll map out all the choreography and the shots so we know exactly what we’re going to do when we get on set. And I think that’s really important to create good action in our opinion, as opposed to the shaky cam coverage style where they just get the actors to run the action loads of times and just cover from different angles and then hope to find that in the edit. But I think if you’re going for purpose for your action, you’ll get something purposeful out.
Samuel Goldwyn Films’ ACCIDENT MAN: HITMAN’S HOLIDAY is in theaters and on VOD now.
Currently residing in Nashville, TN, he also co-hosts the film podcast "Video Culture" (available on all podcast platforms). He can be reached at "WheelsCritic@gmail.com" and on Twitter: @WheelsCritic