Dave Lea grew up in North London and now rubs shoulders with the stars in Hollywood, that famous district in LA. Dave is a stunt and fight coordinator, actor, stuntman and a dance teacher. He has appeared in films like Get Carter, Tango and Cash where he fights Sylvester Stallone. He’s also been floored by Jean Claude Van Damme in a leotard, also the cowboy played by Will Smith in Wild Wild West and been gunned down by Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 3, but who wouldn’t let that happen? The movies that perhaps capture most imaginations are the Batman and Batman Returns, Dave stunt/fight doubles for Michael Keaton in both.
Now imagine Dave Lea sits in a small Knightsbridge café with Christmas music in the background after a weekend seminar; and he’s already planning what fight scene he could do with the tools he has around him.
“Hey I want to add a bit of flamboyance in here. Maybe a punch from one style, a kick from another. All that stuff I learnt in one piece of choreography, story, script, character, it will be exciting and dynamic. There are so many elements, it can be overwhelming. What if I wanted to do a fight in there and include those stairs and that table. You can’t do a spinning whip kick in there, it’s up close you gotta go close contact, elbows knees, head butts. You gotta be able to co-ordinate it and set up cameras for that, sometimes four different cameras with guys, it’s huge. You can just pick a bottle up and hit someone over the head or you can do it with a little panache!”
Luckily for some in November 2011 Dave Lea came back to London to show some of what he has learnt since he got to LA. We know Hollywood is renowned for its celebrities, red carpet movies, bright lights and millions of dollars. So how did he get there?
“I guess I was ready, I had trained for years in several martial arts. I started on Eastenders after a nine month straight acting role, I just felt the need to kick things over, smash things up on set! From there I found my way into a Batman movie as a motorbike rider. I saw the action playing a biker guy on the street, I wanted to be involved so I worked out at every opportunity, someone told the producer about me and my skills, at that time they were looking for a real time fighter – that’s how I came to wear the Batman suit. The producer liked what he saw invited me to Los Angeles and that is also how I got onto Tango and Cash. Thanks Phil! I thrive on action roles.”
Why return to the UK, what did you want to achieve?
“I have done a couple of stunt seminars before and was hungry to do them again, I wanted to do a couple of seminars in the UK to share knowledge and my experiences in Hollywood. This should appeal to martial artists interested in the action movie genre.
“For the London seminar it was important to get some choreography on camera, show the guys what they had done that weekend. I had to determine where each person was at and work with that. I only need to see a couple of good moves in the audition to know what I am working with. I saw the kata’s and the kicks. I think some were humbled by the experience, not many realised how much goes into making the movies, until they got stuck in. It is important to recognise that the camera doesn’t just recognise kata’s in a brutal fight scene, it sees everything. I tried to help the attendees to use everything they have and they were happy to give everything back”
How are martial arts helpful in the stunt movie industry?
“Martial arts helps due to the discipline and movements involved, but think of self defence, street fighting and a movie punch, I can tell you they are all hugely different. Hit a boxer he’ll jab you in the face, choreograph a fight in a movie with Brad Pitt, you gotta be something different. If you wanna be a fire-fighter you got to respect the fire and understand it, if you want to be a culinary chef, don’t go into fast food restaurants. My advice to aspiring actors in this business or stunt people is, make sure your credentials are correct, be honest, be ready.”
Luke Scott attended the London seminar, he started martial arts at the age of six in Lau Gar Kung Fu and now practices and competes worldwide in Wushu and sport Karate Forms. He said:
“Although martial arts play a part in stunt fighting, they are completely different concepts and it is an art in itself. The most important thing I learnt was how important the camera is. That’s the primary consideration for a stunt fight, you have to be accurate and powerful and get the distance right to sell the fight – along with timing your facial expression and body posture to react to the other fighters as well! It was a whole new way of thinking for someone who is used to just worrying about how well he’s doing the technique.”
Dave remembers a valuable lesson when he trained with Dan Inosanto in LA:
“For me, I am thankful I wasn’t satisfied with one style, I studied as much as I could I went around the world learning new styles. Dan Inosanto’s students hit me with everything and I had to suck it all up. I realised don’t be restricted. I want to use the best of all styles as well as I can. I want to learn as much as I can to keep adding to the repertoire. It is the same with dancing; I do Viennese Waltz, Salsa, Latin Ballroom and Tango…. I don’t know what the music will be but I am going to dance to it, no restrictions! My advice would be don’t prepare yourself, be ready – that means consistency, keep training. Learn the basics and learn them well, don’t be in a rush to get up there. Be well trained, understand martial arts, the greatest martial artist will be a guy/gal that can snap a hair off ya nose and not hit you, so close to your face your hair blows up and comes down again and you can only guess what that would feel like to hit your face.”
Do you have any favourite moves you like to use?
“Yes a nice low shin to someone’s thigh is strong. I like the snap popping side kick to the kidney, that’s nice. Sometimes a low kick to the knee takes care of business. I love watching all martial arts, I like Pencak Silat, which is physically very exciting I love watching that stuff. Wing Chun kicks are not very flashy, unlike Wushu, but very effective. I enjoyed the Ip Man movies. I am a great admirer of the wing chun power.”
If people were to contact you about your seminars and master classes what can they do now to learn more about the performance industry?
“Be even more ready for the next time I am in the UK, prepare your show reel. I love to be positive but I won’t candy coat anything for ya. Are you gonna be like me, no. But, maybe I can help adjust your frame of mind and teach you about acting and stunt performance. Or maybe I will create something for you to aspire to. It is an exciting adventure. Before the seminar I asked people have you ever been shot, stabbed, run over, or hit with a baseball bat? The camera and audience can read your pain! The question made them think about that and how they might use that emotion in a scene. My seminar took people out of their comfort zone, but they learnt from it and left smiling.
“In the meantime study movies, get on set, ask what lens is that, compare it on the monitors, some people go to film school, some people wing it. Ask yourself what you have learnt since your last happy memorable experience – what have you really learnt and is it enough, maybe not? Ask your mentors questions and keep studying anything can look good if you have nothing substantial to compare it to. I still ask my mentors questions all the time, One being Charlie Picerni, who did all the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard action movies.”
Steve Coleman has studied martial arts for 21 years including Shotokan Karate and Wushu. He has worked as a stuntman and acrobat for TV commercials, music videos and live performances. He attended the London seminar and master class and says Dave is a different man with a camera in his hand:
“My first impression of Dave was “this guy looks serious about business” and I was pleasantly surprised when he threw us in at the deep end. Personal tuition on fight choreography from someone like Dave rarely happens if ever. My creative side was overhauled, my choreography was opened up and I was exposed to new ideas, new methods and alternative approaches to creating fight scenes. You should see Dave in action. His ideas and creativity will change your whole concept. You will learn many new methods and importantly get a feel for working under a stunt coordinator (it is tough!). The approach Dave uses is very hands on and ensures quality and creativity as well as securing the actors safety. I haven’t experienced this level of detail from any stunt coordinator previously.”
What is next for Dave Lea?
“If someone calls me up to book me for a seminar, I’ll try to make it happen. I used to go to martial art seminars with visiting yanks when I grew up in London, so I thought I would do the same, teach what I have learnt. Who knows I may be on location in six months. In January I am shooting a commercial in Vegas. I’ve learnt when it happens it happens. I get excited to come back to the UK for what I do, bit of business, see the family and go back. However, there is something endearing, embracing about LA. You bet yourself a dollar every time there is a blue sky out there. I wouldn’t give it up for anything. The choices we make shape our lives, yet the choices we don’t make can shape our life’s more profoundly.”
To contact Dave Lea http://www.davelea.com/
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