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The Insane Stunts and Action of 87Eleven

Michael Maher

Explore the explosive stunt work of 87Eleven Action Design, a studio that’s established two of Hollywood’s most in-demand directors.

Top image via 87Eleven

87Eleven Action Design was established by stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, who have risen to the upper ranks of Hollywood action directors after years of working as 2nd unit directors.

Chad Stahelski

The Insane Stunts and Action of 87Eleven: Chad Stahelski
Image via 87Eleven Action Design

Chad Stahelski began earning black belts at a very early age. While studying at the University of Southern California, he discovered the Inosanto Academy of Martial Arts. He rose to be an instructor and soon began competing in mixed martial arts

In the early 1990s, Stahelski was cast as Brandon Lee‘s stunt double in The Crow. His stunt career flourished when he was cast as Keanu Reeves’ double in The Matrix films. It was on the set of The Matrix that Stahelski learned Hong Kong action training from Woo-Ping Yuen. He established himself as a top-tier fight choreographer when he tackled the action blockbuster 300. Stahelski even became an in-demand 2nd Unit Director, especially for his fantastic vehicle stunts.

Building on his success, he co-founded 87Eleven Action Design with fellow stuntman David Leitch.

David Leitch

The Insane Stunts and Action of 87Eleven: David Leitch
Image via iMDB

David Leitch also fell in love with martial arts at a young age, especially when it came to watching Kung Fu Theater late Saturday nights. Leitch began studying martial arts himself by poring over books and magazines and training in his garage. Like Stahelski, Leitch also found the martial arts academy led by Dan Inosanto.

He began his career as Brad Pitt’s stunt double on Fight Club, continuing to serve as his double on films like Troy and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He also doubled as Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum, for which his stunt team won a Screen Actors Guild Award and World Stunt Award.

Leitch would team up with Stahelski when working on The Matrix films and 300. He began doing pre-visualization work for major films, which helped him establish 87Eleven.

87Eleven Action Design

The Insane Stunts and Action of 87Eleven: John Wick
Image via 87Eleven Action Design

87Eleven Action Design has established itself as one of the premier studios for fight choreography and stunt coordination. Since its inception, the team at 87Eleven has worked on hundreds of action scenes and directed 2nd units on films like The Expendables, The Hunger Games, Conan the Barbarian, Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesThe MechanicAnchorman 2, and The Wolverine.

87Eleven is also home to many of the best stunt doubles and choreographers in the business. Choreographer Jeremy Marinas has choreographed fights for films like Captain America: Civil War and Insurgent, while working on shows like Agents of SHIELD.

Their team has included members like Sam Hargrave, who frequently doubles for Chris Evans in Captain America.

Heidi Moneymaker doubled for and trained Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. She also doubled for Michelle Rodriguez in Fast & Furious.

Heidi’s sister Renae Moneymaker has doubled for Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games and X-Men films. Renae also doubled as Taylor Swift in the music video for Bad Blood.

87Eleven became known for their proactive approach. When hearing about films in pre-production, the team would present a fully storyboarded action sequence — and often a full stunt sequence on video.

“We were, like, we want the job. We want to do this movie. Here’s what you could have,” Stahelski said to ABC News. “It was like mini film school.”

One such short was this one they created for a Hawkeye/Black Widow sequence.

With all of these films under their belts, Stahelski and Leitch turned to directing. Together, their directorial debut blew everyone away.

John Wick

The Insane Stunts and Action of 87Eleven: John Wick in action
Image via 87Eleven

As 87Eleven had established itself as an action powerhouse, Keanu Reeves turned to Stahelski and Leitch to work on his next film, John Wick.

They know how to make a movie — When I sent them ‘John Wick,’ I was hoping … that they could bring something unique to it because of their experience, but I was secretly hoping that they would direct it. — Nightline

In this interview, the directing duo talks about creating a world and doing something different than a traditional action film. This film allowed them to make their mark as directors. Stahelski talks about doing something more than just an action movie, and the odd role reversal of going from doubling as Keanu Reeves to directing him.

Keanu Reeves loved everything about working on this film, especially the fact that the directors shot long takes — rather than hiding action behind edits. This meant Reeves had to do many of the stunts himself.

I always want to do as much as I possibly can, because I think action should be tied to a character, and emotion, and to the story. — The Today Show

In this interview with Ask Men, Reeves talks about the task of grabbing a foe, rolling over him, shooting another enemy, and then delivering the final blow — all in one take. He also talks about the fun of stunt driving.

With their experience as 2nd unit action directors, Stahelski and Leitch not only showcased their great physical action skills, but also their skills directing vehicular stunts… vehicle stunts that Keanu Reeves performed himself.

Keanu trained martial arts, guns, and more for several hours a day. John Wick’s stunt coordinator, Darrin Prescott, admits he had never worked with an actor who worked and trained so hard. The fight team also discusses the difficulty of realistic movement and looking good on camera.

This final John Wick behind-the-scenes video from 87Eleven showcases the whole crew at work. It offers a great peek at the actual stunts, camera packages and setups, as well as the directing duo at work.

The directing duo of Stahelski and Lietch is already back to work. Lietch is currently finishing the Cold War film The Coldest Citywhile Stahelski is already working on the much-anticipated sequel, John Wick 2

What are your favorite 87Eleven-designed stunt sequences from the films mentioned in this article? Let us know in the comments below.