Featuring the occasional splash of footage from Santa Barbara comes Stunt Sport, the world’s first comprehensive look at the athletic intersection of parkour, break dancing, and tricking subcultures. These are the twisting, turning, leaping, launching, and spinning people behind the acrobatic stunts (think the Matrix) that have become so popular in action flicks coming out Hollywood these days. The movies follows the trials and tribulations of three young men, including parkour heavyweight King David (trust me, just look this dude up on YouTube), Santa Barbara’s Sammy Styles, and UCSB alum Travis Wong, as they work to make a living in this emerging and body beating line of work.
The Independent chatted with one of the film’s directors, Samuel McKaig (also from Santa Barbara), last week about the making of Stunt Sport and the underground world that it helps shine a light on.
Could you define breaking, tricking, and parkour and maybe give an example of each where the average person might have encountered them before?
As individual movements, tricking, breaking, and parkour can be seen in almost every film, commercial, video game, or TV-show that features acrobatic stunts.
Tricking: Full name is Martial Arts Tricking. A mix between martial arts and stunts emphasizing kicks and rotational flips. The flips and martial arts in films like Green Hornet, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The main bad guy called Rinzler in Disney’s new Tron: Legacy is a tricking athlete named Anis who trains at White Lotus (a Los Angeles-area gym featured in the film).
Parkour: Also known as free-running. The act of overcoming obstacles as quickly, efficiently, and creatively as possible using one’s own body. Basically the act of getting from point A to Point B as quickly as possible using only your body. Parkour is becoming much like skateboarding was in the ’90s where after school all the kids go and do it. It’s not about jumping off roofs. Much like the other disciplines its about learning to over come obstacles using your body and mind. You can see it in most “on foot” Hollywood chase scenes such as the opening sequence in the James Bond film Casino Royale and Cop Out with Bruce Willis.
Breaking: Slang term for going crazy or “Breaking Point,” also called B-boying or breakdancing by the media. It’s the feeling people get when they hear music and can no longer contain themselves so they go crazy and jump on the floor and move in a unique way. It’s a form of acrobatic expression to music with a focus on flips and spins, and a primary focus on originality, showmanship, and difficulty. The basic goal is who can do the craziest/coolest move. You can see it in every dance-film with high-flying acrobats such as Step Up 3D, You Got Served, and Honey. These films are always about Hip-Hop dancers, which use breakers to add the “Wow” factor to their dancing.
Besides the obvious “wow” factor of watching people do crazy things, what is it that attracted you to this subject matter?
I train and participate with all of these stuntmen and athletes and my brother Ian and I have always made demos, webvideos, and commercials using myself and other stuntmen friends. Ian and I would like to work and direct films that are action and stunt oriented and because of our background in training these disciplines, we have gained a very strong edge over directors and cinematographers who have not worked with stunts on a daily basis. We have been recently asked and are in development on a decent size action film in the UK through a production studio in Europe, which I will be writing and co-directing with Ian.
Why do you think these sports have not necessarily got the broader attention in America that they have in Europe and South America?
Actually they are very popular in the USA and worldwide but I think it is most popular in Asia then Europe then USA. But each of the disciplines have gained a huge amount of participants on every continent. I think it offers kids a free sport with no real rules that limit your creativity, no referees saying you’re out of bounds, and it doesn’t require special tools or equipment. It’s a constructive way for kids to spend their time and gives them the opportunity to push their bodies and minds to its maximum potential. It helps a lot of kids stay away from drugs and gang violence which is a big reason why it is very popular in urban environments. It’s a way to express creativity in our very structured lives.
I noticed the film has some sections filmed here in Santa Barbara. Could you explain that connection? Do we have a parkour/tricking/stunting scene around here?
The directors of the film, Samuel McKaig (me) and Ian McKaig, are fifth generation Santa Barbarans. Travis Wong is a UCSB graduate and is one of the main characters of the film. He is now a very accomplished stuntman in films like Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and GI Joe 2. Sammy Styles is a born and raised Santa Barbara breaker who was recruited by the World Famous L.A. Breakers. There are probably a few hundred local athletes that participate in either of the three disciplines. It is more difficult here because there are no gyms or coaches other than Sammy Styles, who can teach people to get to the top level.
Did you guys witness any injuries while filming?
As crazy as they look, these athletes are very disciplined in their training and do not just throw moves. They break down each movement to a science and train and condition properly to be able to achieve a new jump or new move. So witnessing injuries is very rare and usually only happens when we do something stupid or are not pay attention to our surroundings.
However, during the filming process, Sammy Styles almost died and was sent to Cottage Hospital after over training about 10 hours a day, to the point that his immune system was breaking down. He ended up catching swine flu, passed out from lack of fluids, hit his head on the hospital sink, and stopped breathing for over a minute. He was revived by nursing staff and a couple weeks later flew to Germany, France, and Switzerland to represent the United States in competition.
Last, can just anyone roll up to White Lotus and start learning about this stuff?
Anyone can come and learn from these masters by coming to White Lotus and signing up for their classes. Or you can come to their open gym sessions and train along side them. It’s an amazing place with tons of talented people every night. Travis Wong will now be opening a second gym in L.A. called JAM.
Stunt Sport screens on Saturday, February 2, 4 p.m. at the Metro 4.