He is known for his work on Deliver Us from Evil (2014), Captain America: Civil War (2016) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – District Voices (2014).
Umar stopped by The Action Elite to talk about his career and Stunt Fighting Concept.
First of all can you tell us about yourself and your martial arts background?
My name is Umar Khan and I’m an actor, stunt performer and fight choreographer and most recently assigned as a 2nd unit director and stunt coordinator. I was born in Pakistan, but me and my family moved to Sweden when I was 2 years old.
When I was around 7 years old, I saw my first martial arts film, “Kickboxer” with Jean-Claude Van Damme, at that time I was playing different sports like handball, basketball, badminton and soccer, I was also into swimming and used to compete. I had no idea what Martial arts was but I instantly knew when I saw the movie that Martial arts was something that I wanted to do.
My main goal was to become an actor who did all of his own stunts and since that time I’ve dedicated my life to it. I started off like any kid by mimicking the fight scenes from the different action movies I saw. Later on, I developed an interest for fight choreography so I started to choreograph my own fight scenes with my friends. During my years in elementary school I used to borrow the school’s camcorder to shoot my own “fight movies”. I remember that I was already a perfectionist at that age, I used to handpick my co-stars (based on their height, look and skills), do location scouting, direct, choreograph and act in the films I made.
One day the janitor in my school saw one of the “fight movies” that I made and he asked if I trained any Martial arts and I said “I only watch martial arts movies and mimic what they do”, especially my child hood hero, Jean-Claude Van Damme, little did I know that the janitor was a black belt in Taekwondo and he asked if I wanted to train with him and learn Taekwondo, so I started to train with him after school.
Later on he moved to a different school so I became without a trainer, I was always very fascinated with the acrobatic parts of martial arts especially the Chinese arts and Chinese culture in general, I wanted to learn Wu Shu but unfortunately there weren’t any real Wu Shu gyms in Stockholm, so I thought to myself with the vivid imagination that I had at that time, if I start gymnastics and learn kickboxing (which was common over there), I could “teach” myself Wu Shu. So I started training kickboxing and it just so happened that I was assigned to be a timekeeper at one of Sweden’s most decorated Martial arts competitions, “All Style Open”.
While I was at the competition I noticed some flyers stating “Do you want to buy Kung Fu clothes” and me being very into that whole Chinese culture thing, the first thing I did when I got back home was to call that number to buy the clothes. The first thing I heard the person on the other line say was “Do you want to learn Kung Fu?” and I immediately got a big smile and said yes very much, so he told me to come meet him the next day. I remember a Chinese man sitting in black coat, really distinguished looking, I knew there was something amazing about him, his name was Yu Yan-Kai (http://hkmdb.com/db/people/view.mhtml?id=65277&display_set=eng) and he was an actor in major eastern martial arts movies, he had recently moved to Sweden with his newly wed wife, who was Swedish.
Most people who are familiar with Jet Li movies have probably seen him, he was in Tai Chi Master, directed by the legendary Yuen Woo-Ping, Fong Sai Yuk, directed by Corey Yuen and in Blade Of Fury, directed by the famous Sammo Hung to mention a few. So I started to train with him after school every day, training with him was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve done as far as training goes, I remember everything from hitting gravel in a barrel to handstand on fingers, to jumping over obstacles, very traditional type of Kung Fu training and perfect for movies!
After training with Yu Yan Kai for some time, I started to develop an interest for various styles of Martial arts, I was very hungry to learn more and having a diversity in my arsenal, so I started training with different specialists in multiple Martial arts like Capoeira, Escrima, Boxing, Wing Chun, Muay Thai and Submission Wrestling. Having many years of training and a broad range of knowledge in various arts I automatically developed an urge to create my own techniques and moves for the cinematic style since that was my big passion.
What it is that attracts you to the action genre?
Personally, coming from a background influenced by action films since a very young age and having trained many different arts of combat as well as participating in various extreme sports, I see action making as a way of expressing myself through my experience and imagination. It has always been a huge interest of mine to test myself and develop my body to be able to do things most people couldn’t do or dared to do. Pushing the limits and exploring what the human body was really capable of, with the creation of action I can share my interest. To be able to tell a story visually with the creative mindset and imagination that we all have within is a very powerful thing, that’s how I see action and movie making in general.
The action scenes are far more intense than the dramatic or comedic scenes and can affect someone’s senses instantly whether it inspires them or moves them in a positive way. Action movies engage the audience in a different way that directly affect the brain and body in ways they may not be able to detect without that trigger, the reason being is because many films transmit ideas through emotion rather than intellect, they can neutralize the instinct to suppress feelings and trigger emotional release by eliciting emotions, watching action movies or movies in general can open doors that otherwise might never have been opened. One of the reasons is because the heartrate is going up while adrenaline is pumping caused by the excitement, if the action scene is done well, it will put a mark in the audience memory. This way they will instantly feel a bond with what you are trying to depict in the scene.
Tell us about Stunt Fighting Concept; how did the idea come about?
I came up with the name back in 2003, when I was in Sweden. I always wanted to form my own Stunt team but Sweden isn’t really a big place for action films. When I got to the States in 2013, I was mostly concentrating on the acting aspect and had put the idea of a Stunt team on the side for a wile. In 2014 I got to choreograph a short fight scene in the TV mini-series “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – District Voices”, while choreographing that fight scene the idea of creating my own Stunt team came back and so I formed my own team, Stunt Fighting Concept – Umar Khan Stunt Team.
The idea behind Stunt Fighting Concept is to display a blend of artistic and raw fight designs showcasing the beauty of combat to ultimately produce a stunningly and visually appealing experience for the audience. As displayed in this Pre-viz (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26nB8FJrTiM), the content is Hong Kong style of action with highly advanced innovative moves from various martial arts, especially MMA and Lucha Libre, captured almost to the likes of a video game. We want involve the audience for a closer look and feel for the action so we are using an innovative type of camera technology to capture the action in its essence.
How do you think it will change the way movies fights are done?
People have always tried to revolutionize the capturing of action for years, first person POV type of filming as depicted in the movie, “Gamer” and 3D, which was an evolution in filmmaking because you could bring the audience closer to what was going on, to feel the action and to literally feel yourself falling when the characters took their jumps and leaps. However, watching these type of movies can cause dizziness, headaches and nausea, that’s because the depth factor, you had to create two different views of the same object, and get one view into your right eye and one into your left eye to create a sense of depth.
We believe that our concept will revolutionize how filmmakers capture movie fights and overall action scenes in the future. The reason being is that this system freely captures the fights and action in a video game style look by utilizing the DP as a part of the movement within the scene along with the performers and having a second camera operator moving the camera through a monitor for a more up-close and detailed view of the action, this way it won’t leave a single part of the move out for the audience to feel, you get the best of both worlds, the sense of POV along with the interactive part of 3D which is feeling like you are a part of the action. It’s a pretty advanced technology that we are happy to bring to the big screen soon.
From your own experience how important do you think previz is to a film?
I think a Pre-viz is a very important part of a pre-production for a project, you will be able to transcend your creativeness and artistic view to the director or producers, to see if that’s something they would want to use in the actual project. Explaining something orally doesn’t have the same effect as it can easily be misunderstood, there’s always going to be a confusion because we all think differently and are going to base it off of our own experiences and knowledge around that area, so showcasing something visually is definitely the ideal to see if someone is interested in your depiction of the scene.
What upcoming projects do you have in the pipeline?
At the moment me and my team are rehearsing for a Previsualization for the upcoming American remake of the martial arts film, “The Raid”. I’m also in Pre-production stage for another project that is going to be shot here in U.S. and Nepal later this year, an action thriller called, “The Man From Kathmandu” (Clear Mirror Pictures), which I’m both action directing and starring in.
Last year, I was requested to choreograph/direct two Pre-vizes for Tom Delmar, a renowned British Action Director making his directorial debut. We shot the Pre-vizes with our technology and he was really impressed by them, so he put me in charge as the Second Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator on his upcoming features, “Killing The Seeds” and “The Masters Legacy”. It will be my debut as a Second Unit Director/Stunt Coordinator on a feature film so I’m super excited about that and deeply honored to have been given such a high position.
How is this new technology going to work on your future projects?
Since the technology is a part of our concept we will try to utilize it in every action scene that makes sense to use it. We don’t want to overdo it because it then loses its effect. Using the system in an effective way and at the right moment for each scene is a creative task itself and requires an eye for action. We believe that having traditional static shots in an action scene are essential as well as, our system is there to provide an up-close feeling for the audience, so highlighting only certain parts of the action will create the effect that we are looking to achieve.