Park City stuntman nominated for Emmy for work on ‘Westworld’
Park City’s Doug Coleman nomnated for an Emmy
Being a professional stuntman and stunt coordinator is dangerous, and Park City’s Doug Coleman, a nominee for a 2018 Emmy Award for his work on “Westworld,” knows this firsthand.
In 1996, while doubling for Vincent Perez in “The Crow: City of Angels,” Coleman suffered multiple serious injuries in a 23-story fall that nearly ended his career. He was performing a stunt in a harness meant to simulate a fall before braking, called a descender.
“It was the night before Halloween, ” Coleman said. “The time came for me to fall and I’m falling and falling, and the I realize I’m not slowing down.”
The descender’s brake failed, and so 20 feet before impact, the technician working the descender slammed on a secondary break.
“The stop folded me in half backwards,” Coleman said. “My heels hit the back of my head. I crushed a line of vertebrae and tore ligaments and tendons from those vertebrae, tore a nerve out of my spinal cord and stretched my aorta and bruised my heart.”
On top of that, Coleman’s spinal cord went into shock and he lost feeling in his lower body for seven minutes.
“I was in the hospital for a week and doctors wanted to put two titanium rods in my vertebrae and I said ‘no’ to the surgery,” he said. “I wanted to heal on my own.”
A month to the day of the accident, Coleman, sporting a torso cast, was on a plane heading to New York to work on the film “The Devil’s Own,” starring Harrison Ford.
“If I would have said ‘yes’ to the surgery, I may not have been able to continue to do what I love,” he said. “It would have restricted my movements.”
Last week, Coleman, who is now 65, was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Drama Series, Limited Series Or Movie for his work on the HBO science fiction series “Westworld,” for which he also serves as the director of second unit photography.
“There were 72 entries for stunt coordinating, and five of us made it,” Coleman said. “I’m very proud of that.”
The other nominees for the award include Christopher Place for “Blindspot,” Rowley Irlam for “Game of Thrones,” Thom Williams for “Marvel’s The Punisher” and Cort L. Hessler II for “The Blacklist.”
This is Coleman’s first Emmy nomination.
“I mostly do feature films and rarely do TV, other than when I was doing stunts for ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ or ‘The A-Team’ back in the day,” he said. “So this is very exciting.”
Coleman worked on the second season of “Westworld” and shot 10 episodes in southern Utah and Los Angeles. His daughter, Whitney, is a stuntwoman and doubles for Evan Rachel Wood, who plays the character of Dolores, in the first season.
“I got a call from HBO and was asked if I wanted to come to L.A. for an interview,” he said. “I was reluctant, because I didn’t know the material. But I interviewed and saw a couple of episodes.”
Coleman analyzed the stunts during those screenings.
“I saw where things could be improved in the action sequences, so I jumped on it,” he said. “I’m happy I did it.”
An Emmy nominee’s origins
Coleman’s road to film began when he was a boy living in Ogden.
“I was a mountain climber, and I skydived and river rafted,” he said. “I was also the Utah State Champion trampolinist in 1973.”
While the physical requirements for those activities trained Coleman’s body for his career, he found a an unconventional way into film.
“When I was 14, a buddy and I hitchhiked and hopped trains to Los Angeles, with a goal to visit 20th Century Fox Studios,” he said. “We went to the front gate and asked the security guard if we could get in. He told us to beat it.”
Not taking no for an answer, the friends walked down a side street, climbed a wrought iron gate and snuck into the studio.
“We climbed up to the perms (permanent walkways above soundstages) and watched the filmmaking process,” Coleman said. “I feel in love with that. From that point on, I knew what I was going to be doing.”
After trying to make a living in film in Utah, Coleman ventured back to Hollywood.
“I snuck onto the set of the TV show ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ and ended up doing the last three seasons of that show jumping the General Lee and crashing cars,” he said. “After that I went and did ‘The A-Team’ and had Mr. T throw me over fences.”
Coleman became a second unit director, responsible for filming action sequences and anything not involving the films’ principals, 28 years ago on the set of Lyman Dayton’s film “Dream Machine,” starring Corey Haim.
“Lyman, who was a Utah-based filmmaker, asked me to be involved, because he hadn’t been involved in much action,” Coleman said. “So I ended up setting up all the car chases and shooting them. And that’s how I got my Director’s Guild card and went on from there.”
Coleman’s goal for “Westworld” was to bring a feature film look to the action that makes sense in the scenes.
“It’s about getting into the physical ability of the characters and story point,” he said.
As an example, Coleman brought up his work in Stefano Solima’s recently-released sequel “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” which stars Benicio del Toro as the volatile government agent Alejandro Gillick, a character from 2016’s “Sicario.”
“I was working on a scene where Benicio was going to beat this guy up in a bathroom,” Coleman said. “I was setting up all of this elaborate stuff, and then realized that it wasn’t going to fit what his character would do.”
Coleman, instead, envisioned Alejandro walking in, shooting the man, and walking out.
“I talked with Benicio about this and he said, ‘You’re absolutely right,’” he said.
Coleman also looks at the characteristics of animals to make sure the stunts involving them look authentic, he said.
One of his most in-depth work was the bear fight Leonardo DiCaprio did in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s critically acclaimed 2015 film, “The Revenant.”
“Alejandro came to me and said he wanted me to create the ‘coolest bear fight ever,’” Coleman said.
The studio wanted the stunt coordinator to use Bart, a trained bear owned by Doug Seuss, who lives in Heber.
“The plan was to use the bear and put in inserts of a fake paw, but I’m that guy who likes to bring new things to a shoot,” Coleman said. “So I spent two weeks researching bear attacks. I looked at footage of real bears attacking other animals and people, horrific things that no one really needs to see, because I had to make sure I had all the characteristics of a grizzly bear attack.”
Coleman spent four days working with a stunt performers to choreograph the fight.
“The guy who was going to be the bear was in a blue suit, and we worked it out,” he said. “Then I worked with Leonardo for a day to get him comfortable with the scene.”
The shoot took place in Squamish, British Columbia, just outside of Vancouver.
“One of the difficulties was we were in the middle of nowhere, and I couldn’t bring in a bunch of gear and trusses,” Coleman said. “So I put lines up by flying my drone up into the trees. I had the crew climb up and rig things in the trees.”
After rehearsing for a day, Coleman and DiCaprio shot the scene twice.
“What people see is the second take,” Coleman said. “It’s a five-minute scene, without edits. And I’m very proud of it.”
Throughout his career, Coleman has worked with Martin Scorcese, Robert De Niro, Harrison Ford and Russell Crow, to name a few, but one of the experiences he most enjoyed was working with Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell in Martin McDonagh’s Academy- and Golden Globe-winning drama, “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri.”
“My wife doubled for Frances on that film, and the project sticks out because the actors were so receptive to my ideas,” he said.
One of those ideas was setting Rockwell on fire.
“There was a scene where Frances throws a Molotov cocktail that lights up Sam’s character before he falls out of a window,” Coleman said. “I mentioned in passing that I wanted to light Sam on fire, and he was so reluctant to do this.”
But after talking with Coleman, Rockwell agreed to the stunt.
“When he won the Academy Award for his role, he would bring me up in his interviews as ‘someone who helped me jump over some barriers,’” Coleman said. “That was such a great thing.”
Another memorable project for Coleman was Christopher Nolan’s 2012 superhero epic, “The Dark Knight Rises,” because his wife Eliza, son Chase, and daughter Whitney all played Gotham City police.
“I remember shooting a scene where we were chasing Batman,” Coleman said. “It was such a proud moment for me, because we’re all coming in real hot in different cop cars. My son is in the car in front, my daughter is to my right and my son is to my left and we were all in this shot. We all hit our marks, jumped out of the cars and drew our weapons. That was a great Dad moment.”
Coleman’s new projects include the upcoming Clint Eastwood film “The Mule” and Tom Hanks’ “Greyhound,” both of which will be released next year.
“I love what I do,” Coleman said. “I love living a community like Park City. I love coming home here after working out of state. I will continue to do this until there is nothing left in my tank or until the phone stops ringing.”
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Park City Library director Adriane Herrick Juarez hosts the Library Leadership Podcast that helps and inspires librarians across the country to strengthen their libraries.