The following story will get into spoilers for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum**. Do yourself a favor and turn around now if you haven’t yet seen the film**.
Hard-to-kill hitman John Wick (Keanu Reeves) remains on the run at the start of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. He is declared excommunicado by the organization he used to call “home.” And there’s a bounty on his head, meaning every assassin in the greater New York City area is hunting him down. Wick needs allies… and some of his allies in the sequel are four-legged friends.
Director Chad Stahelski unleashes two ferocious dogs in several fight sequences for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, with Halle Berry commanding her two animals to defend her character, and John from attackers. During an appearance on the ReelBlend podcast, Stahelski explained in great detail the difficulty of shooting with the dogs, and the sheer amount of prep work that goes in to training a dog to attack – and the complications that come from that. He explains:
I would say that when you see an animal in a movie, the animal doesn't know it's a movie. There's no such thing as a movie dog. It's just a dog doing his thing on a set. … There's no half speed with an animal. The animal goes, like, when you tell him, ‘Go get the Frisbee,’ he doesn't get to go, ‘Let's walk one through. Let's rehearse.’ … So when a dog attacks, it's actually trying to injure a person. So now, you have an animal that's gone to a psychological place of fight or flight and survival mode of actually trying to hurt, kill, maim, whatever it is. And another individual wrapped up in protective gear that’s trying not to be maimed or [killed].
How does a filmmaker choreograph complicated long takes involving trained dogs who still are not really able to tell the difference between a fictional film set and a realistic fight? Especially when they are trying to complete the dog attack in the middle of an unbroken tracking shot, with loud gunshots and explosions going off all around them?
According to Chad Stahelski, speaking to the ReelBlend podcast, it requires an immense level of time commitment so that everyone involved with the stunts in the scene – from the actors to the stunt choreographers to the actual camera people – come to set months in advance to train with the dogs and familiarize themselves with the animals. He said:
You have to have all that incorporated into the financials of it -- what you're going to do with the animals after [the movie], and how you train them -- because you don't want the animals to hurt their teeth, hurt their jaws. The stuntmen have to be exceptionally trained, because if they're going to do these gigantic air-out reactions, you don't want your stunt guys to injure the animals. You want them landing on the poor doggy or anything like this. So the skills have to be rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. ….
You [also] can't just isolate, go into one room and train an animal to attack one stunt guy. Who else is on set when you're doing that? All the background players. Guess who’s even closer to the dogs than the stunt men? Cameramen. So who does a dog have to know the most? Camera guys? Most of the time, camera men are only brought on maybe a week, maybe two weeks before the entire movie starts. I have to bring my team on three months before they start just to stand there and let the dogs that used to the smell.
Chad Stahelski goes on to say that a movie like John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum might five different dogs working with 10 different stuntmen, which requires each participant to spend two hours a day with the different dogs just so they know who to attack. As he explains in the interview, even though the stunt involving the dog doesn’t look massive, the amount of time it takes to get the dog to run from Point A to Point B and tackle the right person can take months to get right.
This is one of the many fascinating stories that Chad Stahelski told about the behind-the-scenes on the making of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. You really should give the whole interview a listen, as part of this week’s ReelBlend podcast:
This past weekend, the third John Wick movie finally dethroned Avengers: Endgame as the box office champ of the weekend, though the superhero ensemble adventure has banked more than $2.6 billion at the worldwide market, and can only go up from there. What did you go see this weekend? Did it involve dogs biting crotches? If so, then now you know how complicated those sequences were to pull off.