ComicsVerse recently had the exclusive opportunity to speak with New Zealand-based film stuntman and choreographer Tim Wong.

Wong talks about his experience in the film business. Wong has worked on films such as MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, HACKSAW RIDGE, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING, THE HOBBIT TRILOGY, and most recently GHOST IN THE SHELL where he was stunt choreographer.

With such an accomplished career already under his belt, we wanted to take the chance to ask him some of the burning questions. This interview has been edited for clarity.

ComicsVerse: Let’s start off with the basics: what got you into professional stunt work?

It’s a long story, as they usually are. A good friend of mine from school was with a live show stunt group called ‘Stunts Unlimited’ in New Zealand. They were going to put on a demonstration in our hometown for a jubilee of some sort and as part of the show wanted to stage a fight scene. I had done martial arts, and weapons work for quite a few years. He asked me to help him choreograph the fight. Then found that no one was really capable of doing the moves that I choreographed so asked if I wanted to be in it and basically just beat everyone up.

Anyway, the fight went well, and I quite enjoyed the overall experience, so they asked me to join the group. I started learning other aspects of stunt work as I did more shows with them, like high falls, firework, mini-tramp and other aerial work as well as doing more fight stuff. They always promised us the big shows would come but apart from a bit of basic work on a few TV shows nothing came of it. I decided rather than wait around for it; it was probably best to get on with my studies at university.

Tim Wong’s Adventures in Stunt Work

After quite a few years had past and stunt work was a very distant memory, I got a phone call from my friend again. This time he said he was auditioning for the LORD OF THE WINGS stunt team. He said that I should audition too. He told me the pay, said it was 18 months full-time work in Wellington, New Zealand. My friend said that I would start in a few month’s time. Initially, I said no. I felt like I had already chartered a path for my life and it didn’t involve stunt work. And, I didn’t know anything about LORD OF THE RINGS.

As I thought more about it and other friends told me I was crazy to not go for it… I called him back and told him I was in. It seemed like a no-brainer. Plus, I could always go back to my plans if I hated it or it didn’t work out after the 18 months. I was also heavily in debt to the government with a student loan. This was a great way to pay that off if nothing else.

Well, I auditioned and got in, and the rest they say is history. Seventeen years on I’m still in the industry and obviously still find it very challenging and interesting. I found my skill set and training were very suited to stunt work and the film industry. My personality seemed to blend in well with other stunt guys and I found a certain sense of belonging.

ComicsVerse: What’s something about the stunt work you do that audiences might not normally think about?

I think just the sheer amount of man hours and preparation that goes into it. A stunt might only be on screen for 1 second. But, it might have taken weeks and even months to get it to that stage. It’s an evolving process with the director and rehearsals that can involve so many different other departments as well. From Art department to Costume, to Makeup, to the Camera Department. So the support team required to film that 1 second of action is huge. Audiences would never think about that.

ComicsVerse: A double question for you, which do you prefer to do more: the stunts themselves or choreographing them and why?

Tricky question. Currently, I do equally love to do both…it’s like asking which one of your kids do you love more, you know what I mean? I’m sure there will come a stage in my career soon when someone can do it better than me when that time comes then I will be happy just designing and choreographing them.

I’ll have to put my ego aside and say they can do that better than me so easy choice, because at the end of the day what I care most about is what goes screen and makes us all look good.

ComicsVerse: Since you’re surrounded by stunt work so much in your professional life, are you ever able to turn off that critical lens when watching stunts in other movies?

Simple answer: NO. I’ve tried over and over again just to tell myself not to analyze when watching. Try to enjoy the movie, but the truth is, it’s just not possible. Maybe after I’ve watched a film I enjoy a few times then I can just not be critical of it.

ComicsVerse: Given the flashy nature of stunt work, a lot of people might not consider it an art form, do you?

Certainly, its storytelling in a physical form just like dancing, ballet or a stage show is an art form. The stunt coordinators’/fight choreographers’ job is to design and choreograph the stunt sequences to suit the script and the directors’ vision. We transform a few words on a piece of paper into live physical action storytelling.

ComicsVerse: You’ve worked on some pretty critically acclaimed films the past few years. How does it feel being a part of films that get Oscar-level recognition?

It feels amazing of course, and stunts are such a huge part of those films. Bottom line is I want all the projects I work on to do well both critically and financially.

ComicsVerse: Of the films you’ve worked on, which has proved the most challenging for you?

Well, all films have their own unique challenges, and it’s certainly not as glamorous as people think. Of course, some films are harder than others by way of environmental factors or inhibiting sets or costumes. I would still say one sequence in THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS is by far the most challenging of my career.

This was called the Battle of Helm’s Deep and it included shooting under rain towers, in foam creature suits, wearing fiberglass armor, [and being] in a rock quarry for 6 days a week for nearly 3 months at night.

ComicsVerse: How would you characterize your design process when you’re approached to work on a film? Where do you start?

I start with the script and try and get a feel for the tone of the film. If it’s a sequel then I obviously research the other films as well. However, I always want to bring my own approach to it. Add something unique or different that the predecessors didn’t have.

ComicsVerse: Since Ghost in the Shell started as an anime, was it difficult finding ways of making live action fights live up to the animation?

I would say no. I always approach things with a fresh start anyway and [will] not [let myself] be governed by anything. After analyzing GHOST IN THE SHELL, it was apparent even though it was much loved, that we could offer much more in terms of live action.

Firstly, you set the ‘rules of the world’ that are appropriate for the film and let that be your guide. While we always wanted to pay homage to Ghost in the Shell in a few select bits, we [also] always wanted to deliver something fresh and different.

ComicsVerse: Finally, there’s seemingly an onslaught of remakes and adaptations being made these days, what’s one property or character that you’d love to work on?

Tough question…I would love to do a modern take on one Bruce Lee’s classics called THE WAY OF THE DRAGON. Designing the climactic fight in the Coliseum would be a dream come true.

ComicsVerse would like to thank Tim for taking time out of his very busy schedule to grant us this interview. We hope you enjoyed!

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