Stunt Performer Spotlight: Richard Fike

Richard, tell the community about how you got your start in the stunt industry. I unknowingly began my career in stunts in 1986 when I was asked to coordinate the action for an NFL Fantasy Video featuring players from the Cleveland Browns. The project was called “Masters of the Gridiron” and was produced to raise money for United Way. The producers reached out to me because they knew of my martial arts skills and asked me to write the action sequences, then choreograph all the fighting between the Browns players and their on-screen opponents. At that time, I had no experience coordinating action for film but had considerable experience in coordinating action for martial arts demonstrations and training videos. The big difference here was that these were professional football players that absolutely could not be injured, and I was responsible for creating all the action while keeping them safe. Taking charge and getting things done, was never an issue for me because of my experiences in the Army. I faced pressure and responsibility on a daily basis. When in charge of a group of highly motivated professionals and responsible for millions of dollars of equipment, you need to be a confident leader. You must gain the respect and loyalty of your team in order to accomplish your mission. This requires you to plan and rehearse each task over and over again until you get it right Now ten of my warriors are standing outside a Castle in a field surrounded by 10 real life pumped up super heroes with metal swords, spears, and axes in their hands. They looked at us just waiting to be released. We had conducted the appropriate safety brief and rehearsed as much as possible. Then you take a moment and ask yourself, are we doing the right thing here? It’s like turning lose a bunch of over grown kids with toys that can kill you. Looking back, I did everything a coordinator is supposed to do, and at the end of the day we were successful in shooting ten individual fight scenes and several wide master shots in just eight hours without any injuries. When the video was released, I received some exposure for my involvement and shortly afterwards was asked by a local casting agency to work on several other film projects such as “Double Dragon.” I was still a rookie but responsible for wrangling martial artists from the Cleveland area to work as extras, then train them with a focus on set etiquette. Evidently I did a pretty good job because they elevated me to an on-camera police officer with a fight scene and automatic weapon. I got the chance to be bounced around by two stunt legends, Danny Wong and Chad Randall. I felt confident out there and I will never forget Chad telling me that it was nice to find someone who could work out a fight scene on the spot, and could keep it real with no injuries. That was all the motivation I needed to work even harder. I appreciated the support the stunt crew gave me, and to this day I share their advice with other stunt professionals who work with me. Shortly after Masters and Dragon, I began to seriously consider a career in stunts. At that time I was employed by the U.S. Department of Defense in Cleveland and for the most part had established my career; however, I began to work more and more as an extra and soon as a principal on several other projects eventually deciding that this was the path for me. Being from Ohio you can imagine how hard it was to learn the stunt business, but eventually Ohio passed some great tax incentives for film and television and soon we became a destination for Producers. I worked many projects in a non-union status until I finally earned my SAG card in 1999. I learned all I could from anyone willing to talk with me. One project lead to another and 21 years later I am still here coordinating or performing stunts for film and television. So, that’s how it began for me. What has been the biggest highlight of your career? While being hired by RA Rondell for the “Avengers” is high on my list, the first project that I coordinated was in 1999 for a film called “A Better Way to Die,” which has to be my biggest highlight because it was my first SAG project. It was written, produced and featured Ohio native Scott Wiper who gave me my first break as a coordinator. We met and he asked me some tough questions, then we went out for some stunt driving where I aggressively convinced (that’s another story) Mr. Wiper to bring me on board. Well he trusted me, and once again I was placed in a position that could end my career very quickly if I screwed up. I soon was in charge of my first action packed feature. I hired all local martial artists who trained with me, and together we earned our SAG cards on this one. A major win for all of us. Tell about the formation of the Stunt Predators. I had already established a successful martial arts career and dojo in North East Ohio, and was successful in coordinating my first feature film. Soon I was being contacted by local producers to coordinate their project, so the next logical step for me was to use my dojo as my base of operations for our stunt training. As a result, together with many of my students and fellow martial artists from across Ohio I formed Stunt Predators USA & SFX. While there was so much more to learn, I felt confident that we could perform at the level Hollywood demanded and stunt coordinators expected. I also felt that with the Ohio film incentive being established, eventually there would be a need for Ohio based stunt professionals. I am extremely happy with the growth of our stunt crew and very proud of the performances we have delivered to date. I also am very fortunate to have several talented and motivated stuntmen who have been with me for over twenty years and have worked either as my assistant or have stepped in for me and coordinated projects on their own. I put my faith in my team and we all work well together. I try to operate our group the same way I operated in the Army, as a military team – not necessarily displaying the “tough guy” image, but more like a precision team of experts with high standards. We focus on the training and improving our individual skills while seeking out as much expertise as possible for advice. All we ask is to give us the chance to show you what we can offer. The SFX part of Stunt Predators represents our explosives, pyrotechnics and weapons department that I am licensed in. Stunt Predators motto is “We Take the Risks – You Take the Credit”. What would you say are your strong points as a stunt performer and stunt coordinator? As a stunt performer I enjoy every facet of the stunt business and have managed to develop a certain level of proficiency in most of the expected skill sets needed to work in this industry. This definitely helps me to be a better stunt coordinator. If I have to choose my strong points I would say I excel at stunt fighting, choreography, high falls and stunt driving. I have spent many years of my life in traditional martial arts, close quarter combat training to include the use of modern and primitive weapons. I grew up in a racing family starting with go carts, mini bikes, dirt bikes and midget racers. I received advanced training in high speed, defensive and offensive driving skills while serving in the military special operations world. Our training came from multiple sources as well as NASCAR. As a coordinator, I am good at breaking down the action in scripts and working within a budget. I’ve been told that I am good time manager, organizer and leader. I like taking charge and getting the job done. I work hard to keep things safe on set, while placing my focus on preparation and providing options for the Director. What are the strongest qualities of Team Stunt Predators? The strongest qualities of Team Stunt Predators is the diversity of its members and the different skill sets we bring to the table. I don’t recruit stunt performers nor do I run a stunt school. My team trains on a monthly basis. I like to bring in other coordinators who I have worked with to not only share their tips and advice with my group, but they also get a chance to see who we are. Some of these legends include J.J. Perry, Garrett Warren, Simon Rhee, Stuart Wilson and Johnny Martin. People hear about us and some reach out with an interest in stunts. It takes considerable persistence to reach me but if a person is serious and has a great attitude, I usually allow them to sit in on our training. Based on what I/we observe I allow them to return and train with us. Being part of my group is simple; work hard, be on time, think safety and commit to self-improvement. Like the military, mission success means confidence in self, confidence in my equipment and confidence in the team. Aside from being an incredible group of stunt performers, what other services does the team provide? Stunt Predators is capable of providing professional services in many areas. In addition to the expected stunt skills, we are often asked to provide “Proof of Concept” action sequences and editing for Directors. We have experienced riggers with equipment, a full service stunt vehicle prep department, process trailers, licensed heavy equipment operators with CDLs, world record fire burn experts; we hold state and federal license in explosives, pyrotechnics and weapons, licensed drone operators, water-craft and water safety teams, action training for actors, consulting for martial arts, military and police tactics and equipment rentals (mini tramps, mat/crash pads etc.). We also focus on injury prevention and wellness holding certifications in Covid Compliance protocols and Concussion Identification and response. What is the greatest lesson you have learned over the years as a stunt coordinator? Safety, Safety, Safety must be the number one priority on set. Selling the shot for the director is priority number two. My philosophy has always been to be one step ahead of everyone else – to be 100% ready for the next shot 100% of the time, and if that means spending extra hours on your own time to get it right, then do it. This will not only increase the safety environment, but will save time and money which will make the Producers very happy. My crew understands this philosophy and they willing jump in without questions or complaints. They know I will fight for them at all levels, and I know they have my back. Every day on set I expect frequent changes in the action, so I always plan options for the Director. Very often you are asked to increase the action or make a change at the last minute. Having options allows you to satisfy most Directors requests; sometimes you have to take heat by saying no. NEVER be pressured into action that has not been properly planned and rehearsed. That’s why they hire you – they expect you to make those hard calls. Don’t be afraid to step up and make the right call when it comes to safety. You will not only gain the confidence of the cast and crew, you will reinforce the need for safety with your stunt crew. Most importantly, the safety protocols you enforce today may save somebody’s life tomorrow. What are the greatest qualities you seek out in a stunt performer? Proper attitude, motivation and athletic skills are priority. With these qualities, you can mold anyone into a quality stunt performer. I want a calculated risk taker, but not a risk taker for the sake of risk alone. Coordinators want their crew to know their limitations and are not afraid to say I need help or I am not ready for this stunt. I look for a team player who listens and takes direction well. What advice would you give up and coming stunt performers? Be pro-active. Learn as much as you can about the stunt world before you start approaching a stunt coordinator for work. If you’re already involved in stunts, have your stunt bag packed which should include an updated head shot and resume in an 8x10 yellow envelope. Be patient and don’t expect acceptance immediately. Know that this is one of the most difficult jobs you will ever apply for. The good news is, if you possess the right attitude and are willing to work hard, you have a good chance of becoming a stunt professional. The stunt community is a small community and word gets around quickly. Take advantage of every opportunity to promote yourself, but be smart and don’t be obnoxious. Speak little and listen a lot. I learned the hard way. I made my share of mistakes believe me. Fortunately when I screwed up, I had a few coordinators who took the time to talk some sense into me and to give me advice that kept me on the right path. For those wanting to work, go out and find it. One way is to get listed with Stunt Players Directory & Stunt Hustle which will put your face and skills out there for the stunt community to see. Don’t just wait around for a phone call, go out and find where the next project is filming and ask to see the stunt coordinator. Anything else you’d like to tell the community about? I am excited and honored that Stunt Predators was chosen to be the first stunt group featured with your organization. We always welcome any advice from the stunt professionals on how we can improve. Located in the Midwest, we are willing to travel anywhere, anytime and are confident that we can meet your expectations. Always remember where you started, be a loyal team member and make an effort to return the favor. I am thankful for all the coordinators who gave me the opportunity to be part of the best job in the world. I will always be grateful to J.J. Perry, Simon Rhee, Chris Carnel, RA Rondell, Chuck Picerni, Kurt Bryant, Andy Dylan, Chris Barnes, Clayton Barber, Larnell Stovall, Eric Norris, Mark Vanselow, Stuart Wilson, Mike Massa, Gary Powell and many more who took a chance on me. Stunt Predators USA: https://stuntpredatorsusa.com Stunt Players Directory: https://www.stuntplayers.com/player/richard-fike/

Stunt Performer Spotlight: Richard Fike