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Reel Racing: Stanton Barrett Chats Hollywood Stunt Work, Motorsports Career (Part 2)

Yesterday (April 7), the first part of our interview with NASCAR driver and Hollywood stuntman Stanton Barrett touched on most of his thoughts on racing. Frontstretch also chatted with the dual-industry veteran about his time working on movies, which he has done for more than three decades.

The 48-year-old has more than 210 IMDb credits to his name, a total he estimates is around 300 when commercials and other productions are factored in. Some of the highest-profile titles in that filmography include Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, primarily as a stunt double for James Franco.

Along with Raimi, Barrett has also worked with some of the biggest directors in Hollywood. He worked with with Franco and director Danny Boyle (Sunshine, 28 Days Later) on 127 Hours in 2010; Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for 21 and 22 Jump Street in 2012 and 2014; Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice) on The Master in 2012 as Joaquin Phoenix’s stunt double; Peter Berg on Deepwater Horizon in 2016; and with James Mangold (Identity, Ford v Ferrari, Walk the Line) in 2017 for Logan.

More of our edited February interview with Barrett is below.

Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: Do you have any favorite stories from movies you’ve done or people you’ve worked with, or one in particular that stands out to you?

Barrett: I think some of the funnest times were where I’ve gotten to work with my brother and my dad when we were younger or our first five years, where we did a lot of films together, and my brother’s a director and executive producer.

[…] [It’s] super fun to work with my brother, I can just see his body movements and already know what he’s going to do before he does it. … When you can work with somebody like that, because you have to anticipate so much when you’re doing stunts, and they don’t realize how much acting you do as well – telling the story.

[…] 127 Hours was fun, working with that director [Danny Boyle]. He was brilliant in what he made from the script, his vision. I work with James Franco a lot, and those kinds of shows are fun. All the historic stuff, period pieces, Jurassic Park to Gods and Generals and The Patriot, those are really fun because they’re recreating his – well, Jurassic Park‘s not history, but it is in a way [with] dinosaurs. That’s when we were doing more practical stuff, meeting [make-up and special effects artist] Sam Winston and having the dinosaurs there, and they’re real and the guys in the animatronic suits. When they’re trying to attack you, I mean, it feels like a real dinosaur: [having] their teeth move, their tongues move, their eyes blink and their skin moves, and the mouth’s coming at you. So that that kind of stuff is really fun.

Cheek: One of your most recent movies – and one I saw recently – was Unhinged, so that’s fresh in my mind. What was your involvement with that or what stunts did you help out on?

Barrett: It was nothing super complicated. They’re driving through traffic, so a lot of it’s just setting up traffic patterns and working with actors let them know where cars are; working with the doubles and when the actors are in there versus doubles; and you have a pod car too that’s driving the actors. It’s a pod that sits on top of car and a stunt person drives it. Mike Smith was a coordinator I’ve been around [for] a long time, so I know everybody, and you get in some spots where ‘hey, I’m gonna do a near miss with our hero,’ and they put guys in those spots that they can really trust.

You really got to make it close, but [also] make sure you keep the actor safe. And they put you in those spots to make sure that not only looks good [and] looks close, but they know that you will adjust because there’s a lot of moving parts, and people don’t always do what they’re supposed to actor-wise, stunt-wise. Hugh [Jackman]’s great to work with. I didn’t do any big stunts, but it’s just timing and just knowing the protocol and helping execute that. [It’s also] help[ing] the coordinator and hav[ing] guys that have a lot of experience around, because not everybody does, so you’re trying to put a team together that can work together.

[…] I think we filmed that, I was on that maybe three weeks. We did a lot on Logan, though, that was a lot of fun. And Hugh Jackman, he’s a great guy – he’s actually a pretty good driver too, so it was fun to work with him and he’s all for it. Tom Cruise does a great job, and there’s a lot of cool stuff but I’ve done some really big stunts on some other things.

Cheek: You said a couple years ago that [Ron Howard’s 2013 film] Rush was probably one of the better racing movies you had seen. After the release of Ford v Ferrari in 2019, has your opinion changed at all?

Barrett: They did a good job, I mean, the storytelling was good. I still don’t think anybody’s really captured racing the way it can be captured, and I think part of it [is that] nobody’s gone in there and second-unit directed the action as a real race experience to the degree that I do. [Son of Chuck Norris, racer and stuntman and 2002 NASCAR Winston West Series champion] Eric Norris has some experience in racing, there’s a few guys that do, but I would say I’m the most qualified from a racing aspect in the industry, but it just doesn’t funnel down to us a lot of times.

I would love to do a racing movie; my dad wrote a really good rally racing film, and maybe I’ll be able to put that together one day. But they did a good job. And for the average viewer, it looks really good, great storytelling. I did not get to be on that one, but they did some good things and cool [things]. And I know the director [James Mangold], he’s a great guy, and the second-unit director, but I don’t think anybody’s really captured what you can in racing yet. And there’s not a lot of racing films out there, [you need a] pretty big budget to be able to do a racing film.

But yeah, I still haven’t seen that one that’s super impressive. Maybe I’ll be fortunate to make one or help achieve that goal one day.

Cheek: Talking about stepping into the director’s chair, I watched [Barrett’s 2015 directorial debut] Navy Seals vs. Zombies last night, and it’s a lot of fun. You did some stunt coordination for the movie, but how did you come to be in the director’s chair for that movie?

Barrett: [Producer] Phillip Goldfine – who I’ve coordinated multiple films with prior to that and second-unit directed, I helped significantly on a couple of films – is like, ‘hey, I want you to direct one of our movies sometime.’ And they came to me with Navy Seals and said, ‘hey, do you want to second-unit direct this and help the director? He’s first time and the scope of the film is really big for a low budget.’ And I said, ‘no, I’ve had my days helping people make movies that aren’t competent. So if he doesn’t get approved by the studios, you know what I’ve done, here’s my reels, so you can pitch me.’

He didn’t get approved by the studios. And I said, ‘I don’t like the script. I’ll rewrite the script. That’s okay. Here’s my concept of it,’ to make it more of a realistic potential that could happen and talked to a lot of military guys on actual, factual things [that could happen] using chemical warfare, because they weren’t really [undead] zombies, but they were because chemical warfare that made it happen.

So they liked the ideas and I got approved, and we had a really tight timeline and a very low budget. And we just tackled it and made the movie. So [I’m] talking about directing maybe one or two films again, and in talks for the last couple months. You know, it’s really difficult with COVID right now to do any films. I’m there on productions, but a lot of people are still trying to figure out the dynamics and the risks and how to mitigate those risks with COVID. But we’re back in production. And so that’s kind of how that story happened, and we shot that film really fast.

Cheek: And that film ended up blending with NASCAR, since you drove two Xfinity cars and one truck promoting the movie either on the hood or as an entire wrap. How cool was that?

Barrett: Yeah, it was fun to be able to utilize the racing platform to market the film and get exposure out there for the movie, and it did help with fans. We have a great fan base that are loyal, and it did help us with the sales and people renting and watching on TV and paying on demand and whatnot. So it was kind of fun, because we had a really cool car and a trailer, the film is really good, and the graphics and all that. So it was fun. It was cool to be a part of it, incorporate two careers together to help each other, and also really fun for me to go out on the racetrack, obviously.

Cheek: Do you have anything coming up film-related that you’re really excited for, anything you’re working on that you can tell us about?

Barrett: I know I’ve done some stuff that’s coming out. We did some cool stuff on a, I think it’s Amazon or Netflix, called Invasion. We did a bunch of cool driving stuff on that. So not sure when that was, that’ll probably be another four or five months. You don’t know when they’re coming out, some have quick turnarounds on post and some could take a year or two before they’re released.

Cheek: What has working around COVID – between the restrictions and protocols and all that – been like in the industry?

Barrett: It’s not too bad now that everybody’s kind of got the gist of it. We got to wear masks all the time, [and] when actors are around, they wear shields. And you get tested at least every two days, you get tested twice before you go into any production or wardrobe stuff to make sure you have a negative test. And when you’re filming, it’s generally Monday, Wednesday, Friday [that] you’re doing COVID tests. So I think I’ve had probably 80 COVID tests [laughs] in the last six months. So yeah, they do all the stuff to keep everybody safe, and we’re very careful who we hang out with. And we don’t want anybody getting sick or having any problems, because that’s our life, and that’s our means.

Cheek: Whether you’re the coordinator or the stuntman yourself, what’s the process of approaching a stunt – looking at what it’s supposed to be, risks you’re unwilling to take, how you could alter it or just reinforcing the safety in general?

Barrett: There’s so many different dynamics. Some things, you know you’re gonna get hurt. It’s [just] like how bad are you gonna get hurt, you try to minimize those things. But if you’re riding a street bike into a parked car and you’re flying over and hitting the ground, you really don’t know what the outcome of that is going to be. So you try to prepare everything you can to be safe, but you’re just going for it. [Being] in the air, know[ing] how to hit the car properly, leave the bike properly, all those things. Those are important elements.

[…] A coordinator has a tremendous responsibility to keep the crews safe as well, first AD [assistant director] is as well but it does fall on the coordinator’s shoulders a lot in the end. …You’re collaborating with people, it’s people working together, it’s not really a one-man show, but hire the right guys, work out all the details, there’s so many things to work out for even something simple. If people were on a movie set, they’d be like, ‘man, you guys cover a lot of bases.’ It’s a detail-oriented business, and that’s what it makes it fun.

You really have to pay attention to a lot more than what people think, and being around and that’s your job as a stunt coordinator, you might see things that nobody sees, but that’s your job to notice those things. So just preparing, how you build boxes for high falls to how you set up car stunts, how you make it look right on film, motorcycle stuff, how you near miss people, there’s tons of dynamics so it’s always entertaining, it’s always mind-challenging, even simple things. How’s it look on film, where are the actors going to be and being conscious of where the camera is. So you can move with the camera and the camera sees you’re telling a story too, and there’s a lot that goes into every aspect of capturing a moment on film.

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