How the ‘Bright’ Stunt Team Created Gritty, Realistic Action in a World of Mystical Mayhem

Bright film Netflix, Will Smith
 Courtesy of Netflix / Bright / Matt Kennedy

Netflix’s new movie Bright is ready to show you a world unlike anything you’ve ever seen. But instead of bringing Bright to movie theaters, the kingpin streaming service is bringing the movie straight into your living room.

Bright, starring Will Smith and Joel Edgerton, has all the usual ingredients of a gritty, action-focused cop film—huge explosions, wild car chases, gangsters, and mismatched partners—but it’s completely unique in this way: The film takes place in a world where magic is real, and humans, orcs, elves, and fairies are all living alongside each other.

The genre-bending story follows two LAPD police officers, human Daryl Ward (Smith) and his rookie Orc partner Nick Jakoby (Edgerton), as they go out on what seems like a routine patrol in the city. But when they discover an ancient, powerful, and thought-to-be-lost magic wand, they’re forced to protect a young elf (Lucy Fry) and make sure the weapon doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Given a setting that’s as much Lord of the Rings as it is Lethal Weapon, director David Ayer faced a special challenge: making a fantastical landcape feel real. To bring his gritty, realistic style from films like End of Watch, Training Day, and Suicide Squad to the world of Bright, Ayer enlisted stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo to handle the action.

Alonzo—who has worked on films like Deadpool, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and The Fighter—didn’t just oversee the stunt work. (He estimates that 90% of those stunts were done by the actors themselves, by the way.) Alonzo also designed different fight styles for each character, trained the actors in martial arts, and even directed some of the second unit action scenes.

“In a world where magic exists, basically everyone is like an Olympic athlete,” Alonzo told Men’s Fitness. “Each magical race has different character traits, but everyone has the strength and speed of a Usain Bolt. The Orcs are just bigger, like NFL players, so they don’t move as fast as humans or elves, but are very strong. The elves are more agile, they’re like the elite among these creatures. We had the elves train in Filipino martial arts, Kempo karate, capoeira, and taekwondo; the cops with boxing, Pencak Silat, and Muay Thai, while the Orcs did more of wrestling and Judo.”

The $90 million fantasy-action film is a major bet for Netflix, and one they hope will be a precursor to more big-budget movies in the future.

Alonzo spoke with Men’s Fitness about creating a world of badass action and mystical beings, exploding things around Will Smith, and how they pulled off the biggest stunts in Bright.

Men’s Fitness: What was it like working with a director like David Ayer?

Robert Alonzo: I came into the film a bit late, so I had to jump in headfirst. Working with David was such a blessing. We worked together really well in regards to the story and the action, and how the action interacts with the characters. With all the movies that I work on, I want to make sure that the action isn’t just action for the sake of action—[I wanted to make sure] it all lends itself to the story and the plot and the character arcs. David was very supportive of that, and how we wanted to develop a very specific style of movements in regards to the different species that were in this world.

What was it like working with Will Smith on this project?

It’s was fantastic—you’re working with a seasoned pro. The commitment level from him was off the charts. When you’re working with guys who’ve been in the business for so long like Will, he knows the value of the training, and he knows the value of committing to characters wholeheartedly. The preparation in regards to that is really important. With the schedule that he did have, he’s obviously the lead, so he can only train when the schedule allows for it.

But he came in, and his ability to adapt to situations on the fly was extremely high. He’s just such a positive person and keeps everybody on the set happy. We’re shooting nights all the time, people are tired, and he comes in with such a positive vibe, it makes the movie-making process not as arduous, and [not] as tiresome as it can be. He contributes to really wanting to make greatness, and I think we did that here.

How long did it take to shoot some of the action scenes that you directed?

I was in charge of directing action scenes in the third act and the final sequence. Altogether, it took about three days of main unit coverage with David Ayer, plus four days of the action unit where we executed fight choreography and wire work with the cast, stunt performers, stunt riggers, and the special effects team. This was probably one of the hardest projects I’ve ever had to do, primarily because of working consecutive nights in a row and trying to do as much practical stunt work as we could.

But the joy of working with all the stunt team, with David [Ayer], and with actors like Will, Joel Edgerton, and Noomi Rapace, was a joy. Everyone takes time away from their families for a very long time. They really commit, and everybody from the top all the way to the bottom gave it everything they have. It’s really, really a joy to see the passion involved when you’re making movies, and especially this one.

What were some of the most difficult parts about shooting those big set pieces?

The most difficult part about shooting these big action scenes was executing all the coverage within a short window of time. The action we were doing required lots of planning to make sure we were effective and efficient. There was a lot on our plate between leading the fight choreography with the cast and doubles, doing the prosthetics, getting the wire work set, crashing through walls, water work, then the VFX elements, and special effects. If we had any snags, we wouldn’t be able to make our days. Fortunately, our cast and crew was very well-prepared and we were able to execute a safe and repeatable plan that enabled everyone to put their best foot forward.

How did you go about balancing the classic cop-style action with the more fantastical and magical elements of the film?

We valued the reality of the action, and the gritty nature of action, but it’s all taking place in this fantastical realm. Unlike Deadpool or Suicide Squad, this isn’t a superhero movie, but there are superpowers and magic, so we designed different actions for the characters and how they fight. And boy, there was a lot of fighting in this movie. Will’s character is a human cop, so we worked on how he could move and his physicality. Being a cop and having to fit into the world of criminals that are orcs and elves, it was a very interesting concept to me.

I did a character breakdown for how each of the species relates to the physics we understand today. I really concentrated on training the actors to know their own range, distance, and timing, and we incorporated a lot of martial arts training, too. It brings a much higher element of jeopardy, so they can actually get closer to punch, get closer to kick, get closer to weapons—making it more realistic, but obviously safe for them. There was gun training as well, where the actors would be shooting and firing guns, real live rounds. We also incorporated martial arts and trapping elements, some gymnastic drills, boxing with mitts, and a lot of kicking.

What was the coolest stunt or moment you recall from shooting the film?

It’s very difficult to pick the coolest moment, because each action scene had something to offer that was so unique. But there was a scene at the gas station that had its harrowing moments, and there was another scene where the elves’ fighting abilities were first introduced against the Altamira gang. That was a fun one to work on. Another great moment was when the Altamira gang jumped on Ward and Jakoby’s SUV and Jakoby put the car in reverse and peeled off the gang members with other parked cars. Then there’s the action in the third act when the elves return to attack and kill Ward, Jakoby, and Tikka, and a huge fight breaks out—there was a lot of action and blasting through walls in that scene.

Another part that’s great is when a bunch of guys are jumping on Jakoby’s car, and he uses the vehicle as a weapon. It’s just as Jakoby [the Orc cop] is starting to get his feet wet in regards to what it is to actually be a cop in that realm. He’s a first-timer, the first orc in the academy or in the force. So for him to be on the front line of an investigation or a case, it’s an adrenaline-pumping sequence, to follow his journey and how he shows his resolve in regards to all these wild situations. There are just too many cool moments to choose from.