Stunt Coordinator Hiro Koda Discusses Working on ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘Ozark’

Hiro Koda / Stranger Things – Picture: Getty Images – Netflix

What do Stranger Things and Ozark have in common, besides being two of Netflix’s biggest shows? Emmy-winning stunt coordinator Hiro Koda, here’s our exclusive interview with him. 

Between the Stranger Things Season 3 finale stunts at Starcourt Mall or the Ozark Season 3 finale chapel shootout, Hiro is constantly being kept on his action-packed toes when it comes to these fan favorites. Not only is he the stunt coordinator on Stranger Things, but he also served as Second Unit Director on 7 episodes for Season 3.  To learn more about Hiro’s work on both Ozark and Stranger Things, we spoke with him exclusively below.

WoN: What would you say was the most difficult stunt in Season 3 of Stranger Things?

There were several stunt sequences that took quite a bit of prep work in order to pull them off.

The scene where Eleven is dragged by her ankle into the ceiling was particularly challenging. Millie had hurt her knee in a non-work related accident shortly before we started shooting. So we had to design a wire rig that would protect her injured knee but also allow the action to appear violent while she was being yanked into the air by her ankle. We tested several variations of the rig with her stunt double and came up with a configuration that looked violent but also kept our actress safe and protected her injury.

The sequence that took the most precise planning was the T-bone at Starcourt Mall in the finale. The Duffer Brothers, who directed the episode, wanted both cars to land facing an exact direction. Timing, speed, and directional accuracy were crucial to capture the moment of impact.  This was a one-shot deal so we set 5 cameras to shoot from various angles. Most of them were unmanned due to safety.   Another safety measure I took was designing a catcher for the Camaro in the event the crash was a miss. This would have kept the car from crashing into the mall itself.  Tensions were high when I yelled,  “Action!” But thanks to the intricate planning of my stunt and the talented stunt drivers, Stanton Barrett and Keith Adams the crash was executed to perfection and one of the most exciting sequences of the show.

WoN: Was there a stunt on Stranger Things that doesn’t look very complicated on screen, but really was?

The scene where Grigori is searching for Hopper in the mirrored room was challenging.  The room itself was very disorienting so we laid down tape on the floor for the actors, stunt doubles, and camera operators to follow.

WoN: Who from the cast is “all in” when it comes to doing the stunts?

Hopper (David Harbour) was definitely “All In” when it came to the fights. He worked his ass off and it really showed on screen. I was very proud of him, Andrey, and their stunt doubles in the final sequence! David can drive the heck out of that bronco too!

WoN: Last year Millie Bobby Brown posted an Instagram video of herself strapped to a harness going around in circles midair for one of the stunts. How much preparation goes into something like this?

Yes, she had a lot of fun in that one. We did several tests prior to that with her stunt double to work out the action. When we brought Millie in for a rehearsal, she was able to pick up the movements quickly. Safety is very important to me so my team and I test everything prior to letting our actor get in the rigs.

WoN: You have previously talked about Hopper’s big season finale fight. What were the biggest challenges that arose during that sequence?

I directed 2nd unit on that sequence and it was all about making an epic battle between Hopper and Grigori. Aside from the laser which was added later in visual effects, I wanted to capture the beauty of the elaborate set. One of the biggest challenges was that David Harbour was needed on both the main unit and my 2nd unit. He was bouncing back and forth between sets constantly. We had to shoot in chronological order and only had David for half the days planned. Andrey Ivchenko (Grigori) was with us on 2nd unit throughout and never missed a beat working double-time with David and then finishing the day with David’s stunt double.

I am very proud of both David and Andrey for all their hard work and also their stunt doubles, Ken Barefield and Randall Archer, for putting their bodies through one of the toughest, hard-hitting sequences of the season.

WoN: You are also the stunt coordinator on Ozark. What surprised you most about this last season?

The cast and crew on Ozark are just incredible. Season 3 was my first season working on it although, I was already a huge fan of the show myself.  Once I started reading the scripts I realized that at any point a character could be killed off. One of the biggest surprises of this last season was Helen’s death! Ozark is a really dark show and it was exciting to design the action for these characters.

WoN: Do you have any funny stories you can share from the Ozark set?

Nothing specific, but Jason Bateman is a lot of fun to work with and despite the dark plot of the show, he keeps everyone smiling and laughing!

WoN: Do you have a favorite sequence from this last season of Ozark?

The chapel shootout from the finale was my favorite sequence. The Director, Alik Sakharov, told me, “You have 15 seconds to kill everyone!” It took us a full day to shoot and played out in 10 seconds on screen.

WoN: Where Stranger Things uses a lot of CGI, does Ozark use any that we would be surprised to learn about?

Ozark doesn’t use a lot of visual effects, stunt wise. They’ll add gun flashes and enhance the blood but most everything else is done practically.