John Wick Chapter 3 training

The world expands with just the simplest suggestions. Without explicitly talking about Wick and Sofia’s past, it makes the world bigger. With Wick’s relationship with her and other characters, how much do you guys talk backstory and how much actually needs to be said?

It’s a mantra between Keanu and I, “Less is more, show don’t tell.” You always see a scene in most action movies where there are two cops or somebody’s at the bar and they’re showing you the folder of the assassin. “This guy did this the other day, he killed this many guys.” They talk about it. When you finally see the guy do something it’s like, “That’s the badass he was talking about?” So we try to cut out scenes and rely on subtext. I want you to see John Wick be a badass and no one ever has to say he’s a badass. They just have to go, “Oh, John Wick. Shit. That’s not good.” Or you see Keanu do something and you’re like, “I get it. He’s a badass, you don’t have to tell me.”

Same with backstory. Halle [Berry] can look at John with the anger, the love, and the look and stoicism and still agree to help, and that should tell you there’s something there. I don’t need her to say, “I love you. We were together for five years.” If you’ve gotta say that, you got the wrong cast or you’ve gotta drop the writers. I think Keanu can say a lot with a look, and the audience can see a lot of action. I mean, you’ve seen a lot of action movies, right?

Yup.

You might still get the gist. You see Keanu in the desert, how many walking shots do I have to show you how this ends up? Same thing, I made the decision how I tell the story, not just what the story is. You can have a great story, but if you’re not telling it right, it’s not the same. If you have a great character but the action’s not there you’re not helping the character, it’s not helping the story.

The other thing is, my audience chooses to watch my films and they’re smart, they’re clever, they get it. They get what we’re trying to do, so do you want a movie explaining what you can already surmise? No. Wouldn’t you rather just see these two great actors and characters sit there and really zone each other out and really fill each other out and agree to it? I love that. I love the Leone “Man With No Name” stuff. When you see Pale Rider… go back and watch that and tell me how often Clint Eastwood says anything about his past.

The mystery is more satisfying. It lets your imagination run wild.

Yeah, exactly. And what do you and I talk about forty years late? We’re talking about that character. And why? Because you have your ideas, I have my ideas. People ask where’s this tattoo from? Where’s John from? I drop a lot of hints where he could be from, but nothing I enjoy more than some guys like yourself trying to tell me where he’s from, what his tattoo’s from, what you got out of it. The mystery of it is what makes it fun.

As many moving pieces as you have in an action scene like the one with Wick and Sofia, there’s such a clear sense of point-of-view. How do you accomplish that? You don’t shoot much coverage, do you?

What you see in the movie is exactly what I shot. There are two cameras. We consider both cameras a camera. They’re from different perspectives, but usually, the same lens while differentiating just a little bit to help put the glue together if there’s a big stunt going on. But mostly we shoot one, maybe two cameras at most. I shoot everything like a live performance, just like you’d shoot a theater. You start wide.

Next time you sit in front of a live show, concentrate on what you look at. You see everything with your eyes, but you focus on the center, and as you start to get a sense of things you start following around the character, the performer or the actor that interests you, or what the main theme is. And that’s how I do stage blocking, stage choreography. They want you to take it all in, and at certain moments, to focus on the lead or widen back out your vision and see the whole chorus off.

We treat it very much the same way. So, you talk about perspective, I always try to gain a perspective of either that video game thing where you’re following the guy or the live performance thing where you’re sitting in the middle seat and you’re watching it all. I just hold true to the perspective and let good people do good stuff. It’s really way more technical than that, I’m super simple. I want you to see what I want you to see, and I want you to see everything. There you go.

So editing it wasn’t as difficult as I thought either? 

Not difficult to put things in order or pieces in order. Difficult to find the magic blend of pacing. Pacing is always the thing you hear with editing. “Okay I could have five minutes of great action and I could make that feel like ten minutes of slow action or I could make that feel like two minutes of great action.” Knowing it’s gonna make it out, knowing when to elongate, knowing when to have a little rhythm, because every action movie has that rhythm. If you just go, go, go without a commentary, without a pause, maybe too much inter-cutting between the two characters… Sometimes fast editing slows things down, sometimes vice versa. It’s just that magic effect that editing can add and sometimes that takes a while to play with.

You really let the audience take in the beauty of the choreography, especially in that knife fight. 

I go for beauty. I love dance. My background’s martial art choreography, so obviously I like to see human beings doing the stuff. Your mind when you watch it, I guarantee you didn’t really think John Wick was doing it, you thought Keanu Reeves was doing it and you’re like, “Oh fuck. That’s Keanu Reeves doing it.” Right off the bat, that connects that gap in your mind: Keanu Reeves and John Wick are the same guy. They’re doing it. This is real, because of that.

The second thing is, you want it to be beautiful. You want it to be aesthetic, you want the thrill, you want to gravitate so when you get done, you may not even know why you liked the moves, but you know you loved the fight. The overall effect is achieved then. And the third thing is subversion. You’ve seen a hundred action movies, you’ve seen probably at least thirty or forty knife fights. Have you ever seen an actor miss with a knife?

I don’t think so.

Exactly. You’re a dude. You probably stole mom’s kitchen knife and threw it at a tree in your backyard, right?

Yeah, I tried. Terrible.

How many times did it stick in?

Not once.

Yeah, and that’s not better for even us, and we practice a lot. You start getting distance down, but we figured, would it be funny if John Wick got in a real knife fight? They’re just gonna throw many knives and every third or fourth one sticks. Some bounced off, some froze, and once you hit you kind of go in. We’re treating it like a snowball fight. You hit, you move, you miss, you move, but you throw like crazy. And that’s kind of how we found the concept, a regular knife fight.

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