Stunt coordinators are responsible for safely bringing to life some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history… Batman fighting Joker, Marty McFly jumping over a car in Back to the Future, Spider Man swinging between buildings, and countless other scenes familiar to our cultural world.
When it comes to superhero movies and shows, well-coordinated stunts can make all the difference in the believability of the world and its superhuman characters. Stunts must be versatile and can range from ‘relatively simple’ hand-to-hand combat to a more technically challenging underwater or aerial sequence. This is especially true for Doom Patrol, an HBO Max series (based on the DC comics) about a group of misfit and disfigured superheroes who fend off odd villains and investigate mysterious events.
I talked with the stunt coordinator for Doom Patrol, Thom Khoury Williams, about his work on the show which has been recently nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. In our interview below, Thom discusses adaptation, CGI, memorable stunts, and more.
Thom Khoury Williams is a two-time EMMY-nominated stunt coordinator, director, and performer with a career spanning 25 years and over 300 professional credits in film, television, and video games. He is also the owner, along with Michelle Ladd, of the stunt coordinating entertainment company RE: Action Stunts.
Some of Thom’s credits include: Marvel’s The Punisher, Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell, Avengers: Endgame, and three seasons of the acclaimed HBO MAX series Doom Patrol. He also has a Taurus World Stunt Award for his stunt driving for the Vegas car chase in Jason Bourne, as well as several nominations and wins in the Screen Actors Guild Awards for various films and television shows.
Andrew Cheek: Could you talk a little about stunt coordination on Doom Patrol and adapting a comic to the screen?
Thom Khoury Williams: Stunt coordinating Doom Patrol is one of those gigs that I’ve prepared for most of my life! I am a lifelong comic book nerd and at one point had over 85 long boxes, so I was made for this!
Our show, while having characteristics of its own, is extremely faithful to the source material and I am so happy to be designing the action and stunts for such an amazing property.
What is the difference between stunt coordination for television or an ongoing series of some kind versus for a movie?
Mainly the scheduling aspect. Television is always a more hectic schedule. So, if you’re working on a feature, you’re going to have way more time to figure everything out and usually redo things. With a TV show, it’s run and gun the whole time. I kind of like the pace, I’ve gotten used to it.
I’ve done primarily TV since I started coordinating. You have to be really adaptable, figure things out on the fly. You’re often shooting one episode while you’re prepping the next one and doing re-shoots on one of the previous ones. So, you could be doing three or four episodes at a time. You have to be hyper-organized and extremely versatile in how you go about delegating and dealing with your people. It helps to have a good team and assistant coordinator, too.
How does planning and execution for a stunt change when CGI special effects are involved?
Well, I have an extensive background directing and stunt coordinating motion capture, so I am pretty well versed in working closely with our visual effects department, and our VFX guru Armen Kevorkian has put together an incredible team for us to collaborate with.
Mainly from my end I have extensive conversations about what they’re going to do, so when I do my stunt previz sequences I incorporate a much cruder version of whatever they’re planning so the spacing and timing works out correctly. It’s all about communication and collaboration.
What are your thoughts on the representation of stuntmen in Hollywood, or more generally in the cultural eye? (For example, in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.)
First of all, Brad Pitt is the friggin’ man for going to bat for us after that movie aired. He spoke about our community and about how we don’t have an Oscar for stunts. He was so supportive and I really appreciate him for that.
As far as the question goes, it’s always entertaining to say the least. Some movies get it pretty damned right, like Once Upon a Time…, or one of my all-time favorites, Hooper. Of course Hollywood is in the game of sensationalism so a lot of stuff is true… but then kinda maxed out for cinematic effect, which is fine with me as long as it entertains people!
Do you have a favorite stunt or story behind a stunt you would like to share?
What?! You want me to name my favorite child?! Ha! Well, I do have a few from Doom Patrol. The Robotman and Crazy Jane vs The Fuchtopians in season one was SO much fun to do, but from season two I’d have to go with our amazingly beautiful underwater sequence from episodes 8 and 9.
It looked gorgeous, and Diane [Guerrero] really trained her ass off to make that sequence what it is. I had her working out for several days with two dive masters before we got in the tank. By the time we started shooting, she was incredibly comfortable taking her regulator out, her mask off and doing her thing underwater just as well as she does up top!
It was really important to me that we see as much of her as possible under there and she absolutely killed it! So proud of her, my entire stunt team, and all of the shooting crew for pulling those scenes off as well as we did.
What types of stunt work do you seek out in terms of genres, projects, meanings, etc.?
At this point in my life, I try really hard to take gigs that are going to be fun and challenging. Ones that are going to help me progress into my career that I hope to have in directing!
My goal is to follow in the footsteps of guys like James Bamford, Sam Hargrave, and of course Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and start directing my own projects. I love the path they’ve paved, and I hope to follow it and make branches of my own soon!
“Even a simple stunt must be done over and over and repeated safely each time so, in my opinion, there is no easy stunt.”
How does stunt coordination relate to other forms of movement-based art, such as choreography in dance or parkour?
I often have to incorporate move sets such as those in my projects. Parkour is very much an “in” style currently and dance is beautiful and timeless and oftentimes stunt people, especially the women, have a dance background. It usually means they have an excellent sense of timing for fight choreography. Dance and parkour also feature prominently in projects utilizing motion capture.
What distinguishes your work? Or, what is your conception of beauty and how you define a “good stunt”?
I love weighty realism. Even when dealing with people that have superhuman abilities, you have to ground it and give it weight, otherwise it’s going to trigger something in the viewers’ brain if it looks floaty and unrealistic.
If I’m filming violence, I want people to be able to feel what they’re seeing in a physical way, feel it in their guts and bones when they see it happening.
Which types of stunts are more physically demanding or difficult in your experience?
All of them. We have an incredibly hard job. It’s a job dominated by elite athletes at the top of their game. Even a simple stunt must be done over and over and repeated safely each time so, in my opinion, there is no easy stunt.
Do you have a dream stunt or something you’ve always wanted to produce?
Produce no, direct yes! I have a movie in my head that I wrote and someday (hopefully soon) I’m going to get that thing sold and direct it. It has some badass fights, battle sequences and a really fun car chase in an area I’ve always wanted to do one in. Stay tuned!
Which departments or people on set does stunt coordination work with the most?
It would depend on the sequence, but on Doom Patrol we have amazing department heads and we all work really well with one another. Of course, I and my team have to be very close with our cast. We spend a LOT of time in the trenches together and have formed some pretty tight bonds with them.
I also have to work very closely with Super Suits, visual effects, special effects props and of course our hair, makeup, and costume departments. And our DPs and camera department are some of the best in the biz, which means a lot to me in making sure we get the shot without having to do it too many times!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
As cliché as it sounds, I’m so honored to be nominated and to represent this amazing show. Everyone from Berlanti, to Warner Bros and HBO Max to Jeremy Carver, Gideon Amir, and all of our bosses have been amazingly supportive and I’m so happy to have spent the last few years with all of them!