Following his recent Emmy nomination for his work on The Book of Boba Fett, Nerds & Beyond had a chance to chat with Stunt Coordinator JJ Dashnaw about his work on the Star Wars series.
The Book of Boba Fett finds legendary bounty hunter Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and mercenary Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen) navigating the galaxy’s underworld when they return to the sands of Tatooine to stake their claim on the territory once ruled by Jabba the Hutt and his crime syndicate.
Dashnaw has been the film industry for many years, starting off at a young age, and he has worked as both a Stunt Performer and Stunt Coordinator. Some of Dashnaw’s most recent work can be found in titles such as We Can Be Heroes, Lucy in the Sky, The Highwaymen, and The Equalizer 2.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.
Nerds & Beyond: Could you tell me how you became involved with working on The Book of Boba Fett?
JJ Dashnaw: I started with Robert Rodriguez early on in my career. I’ve been with him since Spy Kids 2. So I actually was in Florida on vacation with family when he called me to ask me if I wanted to go do this with him, and obviously I was beyond excited and just ready for the challenge. The whole process of the creativity of it and the prep that went into it were just a blast. It was cool working with Robert so early on to become part of that creative process.
Nerds & Beyond: For those that may not be familiar with what all your job as a stunt coordinator entails outside of the job title itself, can you walk us through some of the main responsibilities of your position throughout the production process on this show?
Dashnaw: First and foremost, my job is to keep everybody safe, and I’m very serious. Second is to create what the writers, director, and producers are trying to tell. I feel a lot of people in my industry will try to make their own movie. I’m always there to make the director and creators’ movie come to life for them the best way that me and my team can do.
Nerds & Beyond: As someone who prefers to craft hard-hitting stunts without CGI or augmentation, can you explain your approach to your work on The Book of Boba Fett and give an example of some of the key moments of practical stunt coordination that occurred on the show?
Dashnaw: Yeah, absolutely. I am a huge fan of real stunts and for the audience be able to believe that it’s real. So you see wire work, or you see guys flying through the air, we use the technology of air rams (that are old school and don’t get used that much). But it’s actually you hitting something in flying through the air and falling like a person would. So I always try to attack things thinking, “What looks the most real?” and also, “What makes the shot look the best?”
Any time you see a person do a fall or hit the ground, it’s real. It’s not fake. And that’s why I’m lucky most of my friends are willing to do that with me. I like to hop in there and do it as well, just so everyone doesn’t think I’m just making them pay their bodies up. And it’s also why I got into this, because I love performing. And I love just being a behind-the-scenes stunt guy that’s not in the spotlight.
Nerds & Beyond: In comparison to other projects that you’ve worked on, what was it like filming with the Volume soundstage technology as a backdrop?
Dashnaw: Yeah, it was a trip for sure. It’s actually quite amazing. You hear about it, but until you see it in person, see what it’s capable of … it really is next level. For someone who’s been in the industry since eight-years-old, it’s fun to see things that you think you’ve seen it all, and this by far is the gnarliest technology I’ve seen. The amount of screens that go into it, and the team that puts it together and makes it look so amazing, is pretty awesome to see firsthand.
Nerds & Beyond: Does it have any effect on how you stunt coordinate?
Dashnaw: It definitely does. There’s limitations for space, I would say. When we do want to do wire work, there’s video screens 360° all around us, so we have to pull certain panels out, which are only about 12 x 12. So it’s really precise rigging. Stunt action is definitely a challenge in the Volume. But luckily, there’s a really good team that I have, and also the grip department and the Volume people all working together, that we are able to achieve it.
Nerds & Beyond: In addition to working as a stunt coordinator on the series, you also served as a double for Temuera Morrison’s Boba Fett when he was in full armor. Was it exciting to suit up and be on the other side of the camera in the role of such an iconic Star Wars character?
Dashnaw: Yes, it definitely was. It was an honor. And also, with anything, it’s probably a little scary just because you want to make sure that you know you’re doing the character justice. We tried to keep it as true as we could, and it definitely was fun, and I was happy with the way that all this stuff turned out.
Nerds & Beyond: Episode 7 was incredible from start to finish, but the action and fight scenes are really what made it stand out. It looks like there were many moving parts that went into pulling this off so well. Can you tell me a bit about your experience working on this episode in particular (especially how you went about even beginning to plan out and tackle such a big sequence)?
Dashnaw: The end fight scene in that episode, I think we were scheduled to have one or two weeks to shoot it, and it ended up turning into two months just because we did so much stuff. It was fun for me, because I was in the suit, but I also was coordinating. So all my friends would laugh at me, because I’m running around the set giving orders in this Boba Fett suit. It was fun to do, and it was a challenge. As you can see, there was a lot of gags and stunts that were in this episode. There actually was more that we did that just didn’t make [the show] only because it’s a certain amount of time that we’re allowed on TV. It definitely was amazing and awesome. I can’t even express how many different departments were involved just to make this come together. Yeah, I’ll definitely remember it for a while
Nerds & Beyond: An interesting thing about the meat locker scene in episode 5, where Din Djarin makes his introduction on the show, is that while viewers have come to know him as a deadly, skilled bounty hunter, he’s not quite as competent on his feet wielding the Darksaber. Adding in the fact that he had to fight off multiple opponents, it seems that a lot of thought had to be put into finding the right balance for his modified fighting style. Can you talk about putting this scene together?
Dashnaw: It was a fun one. It took a good week to rehearse it and to show it. It was my first time working with the Darksaber, so it was learning the rules of it, and it was just fun to make him as good as he always is but also a challenge, because he’s using this heavy sword that he doesn’t quite know how to yield yet. So we kind of just turned him loose on all these guys. It was kind of just like a bull in a china shop. I was proud of the way that one came together. We got it all done, that was shot in one day. Lateef Crowder is amazing.
Nerds & Beyond: Are there any other behind-the-scenes things from that scene that you can reveal?
Dashnaw: Everything you see is real. Lateef kicking the guy into the stove, that was real. There was no wire. That was my good old buddy Lateef kicking my good buddy Scott Lang into a stove. That was my favorite part of the whole thing, just because that’s real, it’s gnarly, and you can see that it’s real. Yeah, that scene was just fun because it was a bunch of us buddies beating each other up for a full day. And we all went home that night just laughing and telling stories.
Nerds & Beyond: With The Book of Boba Fett, you’re dealing with a lot of characters where the actors are either wearing helmets and armor or have their faces obscured by prosthetics. Did this give you more freedom during action scenes since you freely had the option to rely on doubles without necessarily having to worry about an actor’s face being in the shot?
Dashnaw: It does give us the freedom in that. But the challenge that I found on this show is when you’re wearing these costumes and these big masks, when you’re acting out in your body, you think you’re doing things big enough, but when you’re in this suit, it looks like you’re barely moving. So I would always have to tell people, “You have to overact. You may think you look dumb. You’re doing what you think is right, it looks like you’re just standing there.” So that was the biggest challenge, making everybody believe me in that. And another challenge with it, a lot of those masks, the visibility is next to zero, so we have to make sure that everything’s planned out, everyone knows where they’re going, just to keep everybody safe.
Nerds & Beyond: Throughout your career, what has your work performing as a stunt double taught you in regards to your job as a stunt coordinator?
Dashnaw: It has helped me because I, first and foremost, when I put things together in my head, I think of it how I would do it and how our performer would do it. It enables me to be able to show my performers what I’m asking. There’s a lot of coordinators in this industry that are not performers. So when they’re trying to explain something to you, it doesn’t make sense, because they don’t know how to explain it as a performer. I try to explain everything to everybody as a performer and how I would do things. I do value that in what I’m able to do.
Nerds & Beyond: Is there anything else that you want to add?
Dashnaw: The creators and the producers that put this together, they really think first and foremost about the audience and Lucasfilm and doing it justice. It was really fun to be a part of something and see everybody cares so much about the work that they were doing. You don’t always get to see that part.