Fighting Words From Bunraku's Men of Action

Clayton Barber and Larnell Stovall

In digging to find out some more about the genesis of Bunraku, which has its World Premiere at The Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday September 11th, I tracked down the film's Stunt Coordinator Clayton Barber and Fight Choreographer Larnell Stovall and posed them some questions.

Clayton Barber - Stunt Coordinator:

How did you get involved with Bunraku?

CB: I first got involved by meeting Guy Moshe through a mutual friend, we met at a bar, and we started talking about film; more specifically the films of Jean Pierre Melville, Takeshi Kitano, Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa, and that’s what lead to this thing. He had this script he’d been working on, I read it, and I said wow, great story, it had everything I was looking for- it had a lot of action, and I was an action guy. As our conversations progressed, we would study everything we could, and that’s how my journey began on Bunraku.

Everyone involved from the top down, brought a vision, and I tried to keep the integrity of that that vision, the best I could, and hopefully I did a good job. You do the best you can, and you’ll make some mistakes, but in the end you’ll usually come out okay.

GACKT draws his blade in Bunraku

What was the biggest challenge in
Bunraku, and did it's unique story setting work for or against the stunts?

CB: The biggest challenge was the amount of action in the film, we had over 20 something fights, some small some big, but also within the world that Guy created because he was very specific that each fight would have its own story, the fights have a very certain rhythm. He was keen on trying to find a uniqueness in each fight. Guy was very specific, he wanted them to be very minimalist but impactful. In his philosophy: less is more. Not over gratuitous action for action sake, he wanted make sure the moves had meaning. We watched films like Hidden Fortress, all the Kurosawa movies, Sergio Leone, just to get inspiration for rhythm and tone, and stillness of the frame and I think at the end of the day, we might have pulled it off.

Were any of the actors particularly Gung-ho about doing their own stunts on this film, and do you ultimately have to say "no" to overzealous actors on some occasions?

CB: Always you’re going to have that moment- but 95% of the time, I had all the actors do it. And I requested that of them, because it takes away from the reality of the picture if you use a double. Moves are moves until you put them into a story, so we wanted to train them for the specific moves for our story and allow them to express themselves within that context.

On this movie I was very adamant that Josh Hartnett, GACKT, Woody Harrelson and Kevin McKidd did their own action.

All the actors were very game on trying to do their own stunts as much as possible, and this was a plus in doing the film.

Josh was willing to train even before the movie, GACKT was training in Japan before he took off to Romania. We put them both through hardcore programs before they even got to set. Guy wanted the actors to do most of their own fighting and stunts, just like the classical films we referenced, for example Toshiro Mifune was doing his own stunt work, he had a physicality and Guy wanted that with his principals. A lot of the fight scenes felt like musical numbers; so a lot of it feels like we are on a stage. We'd nitpick segments to try and enhance them, but we still wanted to make sure we dealt with each piece as a whole, so we could film it as a whole.

Part of our method was there was no right or wrong way, just “a” way, and we listened to the actors, to their notes, how they saw the character and really tried to give them lee-way to add to the creative process behind the scenes. But ultimately, every single move, every nuance, came from Guy’s vision. He was very involved in the choreography, which is a rare thing. He would act it out, say this is what I want. That was a blessing, because he brought a very specific vision to the action. The action to Guy was the movie. Guy was a conductor and this was a musical, and the musical numbers were the fights.

If you're in this business, you must have nerves of steel! What type of stunt tends to give you the biggest rush?

CB: Difficult question. It’s hard to pin point a particular stunt. Every stunt is dangerous. All the injuries happen wen you’re doing the really the simple things, take nothing for granted. The biggest things you sweat the most, but they mostly turn out okay, because they are well prepared. Sometimes when you try to make something up on the spot, are rushing, are not planning, and wing it, that’s when you get nipped in the wing. We made it through Bunraku with no major injuries at all. The gods were in our favor and I was happy.

Josh Hartnett sends GACKT flying in Bunraku

Larnell Stovall - Fight Choreographer

LS: On Bunraku you had to tackle an enormous amount of fight scenes-- how do you break it down and keep it creatively fresh?

I remember during the 1st day of rehearsals Clay brought out a sheet of paper, no, make that 3 sheets of paper and they were ALL filled from top to bottom with each fight that needed to be choreographed. Although I did read the script, seeing the actual number of fights (I think 28 overall) in front of me all I could do was laugh hysterically and Clay soon joined in thereafter laughing at the task ahead of us.

I am grateful that Guy Moshe only had a few request every now and then which made me become more confident with what we were doing and in my ability to create fights that line up with the directors vision which is very important to me. This was in early 2008, well before I was known as a fight choreographer due to Undisputed 3 and the MK Rebirth short so it was important that every fight was a crowd pleaser yet remained true to the story being told.

Undisputed 3: Redemption (Larnell Stovall - Fight Choreographer)

To answer your other question though, we had a fantastic team that helped me with the fights also. With the script being so well written it was actually pretty easy to keep the fights feeling fresh due to the settings and styles each character had.

With MMA becoming more and more mainstream, and the audience becoming more and more aware of this, how does it affect the fight choreography - Do you find that mixed martial arts is replacing single style fight disciplines in films?

LS: Well MMA does affect how the audience views movies now unless its fantasy/superhero genre/sci-fi etc. It all depends on the script, every action/fight movie does not have to cater to the MMA audience but if its in the script then it has to be respected and brought to life in the safest most entertaining way possible. There is still room for movies like Bunraku that go against the grain when it comes to action/fight scenes, if I am correct there is barely any MMA in it at all maybe a few locks here and there. I hope there is a sequel, can’t wait to see what Guy comes up with next for the world of Bunraku.

What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?

LS: I enjoy the challenge of coming up with unique fights or putting story points in a fight that did not exist in the script (if I have the liberty to do so). In most fights you start not to care who wins due to you don't feel invested in the actual fight. It feels bland or random moves are thrown in there to try and wow the audience or impress your peers. There needs to be a story, a turning point, something where the audience enjoys the ride and there is a payoff, then the fight has value and remains memorable.

How is Mortal Kombat: Rebirth doing now? Looks amazing, any news?

LS: Thanks, Kevin Tancheron did an amazing job with that short. I am honored that I was a part of it (I think its at over 12 million combined hits now) and I hope when its time to do the actual film the fans and non fans will be pleased. Currently there is no news on that right now, I'm sure there's a lot happening behind the scenes but I probably wont become involved with it until its time to create the fights again. Whenever it goes I hope J.J. Perry is available because he was the reason I became involved with MK Rebirth to begin with. He was busy on another project when Kevin contacted him and he recommended me to step in on his behalf.

Questions for both Larnell Stovall and Clayton Barber:

How did you two start working together?

LS: I think Bunraku is our first project where we actually worked together. I knew of Clay because the stunt community is very small in L.A. and most of the martial art stunt guys know each other. If I remember correctly Clay came to the 8711 facility and watched me Choreograph fight scenes for a test shoot on an underground comic book character by the name of "ROMP", shortly thereafter he asked me to read the script for Bunraku. After reading it, I immediately wanted to be a part of it, although I had no idea he would trust me to choreograph this huge undertaking of a movie.

CB: Ditto. (laughs) I concur! That would be the story and I’m sticking by it. Bunraku was our first pro endeavor together. I saw him working in the gym, had been talking Guy for a year before that, and I mentioned we’d need a wonderful fight co-ordinator. What struck me about Larnell is that he had a unique passion, a plethora of film knowledge, and I thought this guy’s got it, and I knew he could compliment what we were doing, and it was a good break for all of us, it made our team full circle.

Josh Hartnett lands a flying punch in Bunraku

What's the most profound career advice you ever heard, or have you come up with your own mantras to succeed in this tough field?

CB: Take any job and every job, because no job is above or below you, it’s just a job and the goal of a stunt man is to work, and you must have gratitude to the little jobs because they are what get you the big jobs.

LS: I have heard many things and received some great advice but at the end of the day I simply say put your trust in God not in man and be prepared for the many challenges you will face in this industry.

I saw on imdb that you both did stunt work in the endlessly hilarious Black Dynamite -- is there any film where we can watch you fight each other?

LS: Yeah that was a great film. Michael Jai White did a great job on that, and I hear there will be a part 2 soon. Oh, you can see Clay and I fight as soon as we get our next film together and have a disagreement.... (laughs) Currently we both are enjoying being behind the scenes and creating opportunities for others to prosper and express their gifts/talents on screen.

CB: (laughs) And I can’t wait for that next film. It was a blessing working with Larnell, we are in the process of trying to open up new avenues, and I hope to keep working with him, keep creating. You’re only as a good as your last job, you’re as good as your team, we have a great team, and hopefully we can keep it going.

Bunraku Screening times:

Saturday, Sept. 11. 11:59pm Ryerson

Tuesday, Sept 14. 10:15pm Scotiabank Theatre 2

Friday, Sept 17. 5:00pm Scotiabank Theatre 2

You can purchase tickets from the official TIFF website.


  1. uhm, the guy sent flying isn't GACKT, he has a very small forehead, whereas the guy on the ground has a very tall and wide one.

  2. So you've seen the movie? That is indeed GACKT fighting Josh Hartnett.

  3. I've watched this movie several times and it had lots of action/fight scenes and a great plot. I say this movie should have been at the box office. It was really great!!!

  4. Oh, you crazy GACKT fans! You have NOT seen the film and certainly not SEVERAL TIMES!

    The film gets its WORLD PREMIERE on Saturday. Nobody aside from the producers/director and associated people have seen the film.

    In fact, the producer is hand delivering the 35mm print tomorrow!


  5. Ahem, *cough, cough* why is the author of that comment automatically a GACKT fan? :/
    ... and unless the laws of physics have miraculously been altered by GACKT's awesomeness (LOL), that is not him lying on the floor. That insane change in the size and shape of his forehead is impossible (have you seen his minuscule forehead?), plus that hand doesn't share similarities with GACKT's either (the shape of his fingers, wrist, forearm and also his knuckles are always battered and swollen from training). I'm not saying that's not his character Yoshi 'cause it certainly looks like his outfit but I've been drawing/painting people, sculpting their faces/bodies and even painting their make-up for years so it's my job to see, analyze, compare and, if needed, modify their features and the dramatic change here is asdfghjkl!"£$%^&* XD
    BTW the film has had public test screenings before the Toronto Festival