Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Trickiest Birds Of Prey Action Scenes Revealed - Exclusive

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) isn't like any superhero movie you've seen before. For one, its bright street-style aesthetic presents a much more colorful take on Gotham City than any others that have graced the big screen. For another, director Cathy Yan and her team of experts tried to do as much as they could practically. There's very little CGI trickery here. For the bulk of Birds of Prey's explosive action scenes, you're seeing real people do real stunts — and in most cases, ones performed by the lead actresses themselves.

Jonathan Eusebio, Birds of Prey's stunt coordinator, estimates that Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Rosie Perez did about 90 percent of their own stunts in the movie. It wasn't easy, either. Each actress endured months of training to learn how to move (and fight) like a superhero, and have called the stunt work the hardest part of making the film.

But Birds of Prey is bigger than just its cast. It also has plenty of practical special effects, which were overseen by Hollywood veteran Mark Hawker. Putting together Birds of Prey's complex action scenes — and, just as importantly, making sure the complicated shoot stayed on schedule — fell under the purview of assistant director Alex Gayner. All in all, it was a real team effort.

In order to celebrate Birds of Prey's recent release on video-on-demand services, Eusebio, Hawker, and Gayner spoke with Looper about what it took to bring Birds of Prey's stunning action scenes to life. Quick takeaway? Yeah, the fights all look great, but making Birds of Prey was just as tricky as it sounds.

Birds of Prey's prison break involved a lot of planning, as well as some compromise

Birds of Prey really clicks in its first big action showcase, which kicks off about 20 minutes into the film (and returns for an encore about half an hour later, thanks to a lengthy flashback sequence). In it, Harley Quinn invades a Gotham City police precinct in order to rescue young Cassandra Cain, who's ended up in custody after swallowing the valuable Bertinelli family diamond.

It's a flashy and wildly creative scene, in which Harley knocks out foes with glitter bombs and rubber bullets. It was also a lot of work. According to Gayner, the sequence took about six days to film, with around a week of rehearsal ahead of time. All that prep was necessary.

"Doing very long shots with specific action and practical special effects, with stunt people flying in the air and hitting the ground, everybody has to really be in sync with every beat of it," Gayner explains. "Otherwise, you find yourself doing take after take after take, and these poor stuntpeople's bodies are just getting beat up every time, so really embracing the rehearsal time... made it a much smoother sequence."

Robbie herself was actually working on the scene for much longer. During the prison break's big climax, Harley takes a baseball bat to the corrupt police officers trying to stop her escape, and Eusebio says Robbie did many of the stunts herself. "That's her twirling that bat, catching that bat. That's not fake," Eusebio says. "We trained her for almost a month or two months just on the bat stuff." Given that Robbie's stunt training lasted for about four months total, that's a significant amount of time.

The prison scene presented a number of challenges for the special effects team, too. Birds of Prey director Cathy Yan really wanted to use colored smoke in the scene, and while it looks great on screen, Hawker notes that it's a highly toxic compound. "When you're only around it for like five or 10 minutes, it's fine," Hawker says. "If it's like a 12-hour thing, it's ridiculous."

Harley's paint and glitter bombs caused some headaches, too. "Way early on, we did lots of camera tests of the glitter bombs. We had paintball bombs, which basically were balloons full of paint that we'd plant onto the stuntees. And then we'd squib them," Hawker says.

It looked great, Hawker says, but it was messy, and there wasn't time in the schedule for all the clean-up. As a result, the visual effects team took Hawker's camera tests and composited them digitally into the final sequence. "We had like a hundred glitter bombs ready to go, and I think we used two or three of them," Hawker laments.

Margot Robbie really was on skates during Birds of Prey's big chase sequence

Later in the film, Harley slips on a pair of roller skates and grabs onto the back of Huntress' motorcycle, careening down the road in pursuit of a convertible and a Rolls Royce filled with Black Mask and his goons. It was one of the trickiest scenes for the Birds of Prey crew to film, especially since Robbie did many of the stunts on her own.

"I would think that fans would be surprised to know that Margot really was on roller skates and did that entire sequence, including the fight," Gayner says. "Putting an actress, especially Margot Robbie, behind the car and roller-skating at night, speeding down the road, a lot of time and conversation and work goes into making sure that nobody gets hurt."

Hawker agrees. "The whole third act was pretty challenging, with the skating, and the motorcycles, and the Mercedes crashing the Rolls Royce," Hawker says. "We did some really cool rigs with stunts on that so that Margot could actually be going down the road at 45 miles an hour on skates. She's supported by wires and stuff that they paint out later to make it look more realistic."

Thankfully, Robbie was up for anything, and Eusebio says she's an extremely quick learner. "She has a pretty good innate ability to pick things up," Eusebio says. "We saw that and we just kept adding more and more, and she'd pick it up. We'd watch it and then be like 'Okay, it's too easy for her.' So, we'd make it harder. And then you'd go 'Wow, she picked that up.' Let's make it harder. She would pick it up."

The types of vehicles used in the scene made the shoot more difficult, too. "The convertible crashes into a van," Hawker says. "Well, we had to put a flipper arm in the Mercedes, so, when it impacted the van we actually could slip the back end up. Otherwise, it... wouldn't do anything, wouldn't be cool or anything."

Of course, because the car was a convertible, Hawker's team needed to create a brand new rig for the crash, and had to do so on a tight timeframe. The special effects artists only got to test the rig once, and it didn't go very well. Still, they had to take what they learned, make adjustments, and hope that everything worked out on shoot day.

Thankfully, it did. "We had two cars ready to go, but it worked out so well," Hawker says, with production only using one. "It's good because it made me have to do something different, and now it's probably going to be my standard for flipping cars because it was easy and quick."

Birds of Prey's funhouse fight was a real team effort

Despite the movie's title, the Birds of Prey don't really coalesce until the end of the film, when the women make their stand against Black Mask in an abandoned funhouse. The fight scene that follows is probably the most memorable in the entire movie, thanks to innovative action beats on trampolines and carousels as well as the thrill of seeing the whole team fighting together.

For Eusebio and the stunt team, it was the hardest sequence in the film to put together. He explains, "When everything's moving like that and you're doing long takes and you have multiple girls fighting multiple people, it's not just a challenge for them, it's a challenge for the cameramen, for everybody involved."

In the planning stages, Eusebio went back and forth with the set designers to make sure that the funhouse set had everything the crew needed, which Eusebio describes as a collaborative process" "Cathy will give her idea, what she wants, and then the set design will come and show us, and then we'll get an idea and then they'll take it and they'll add more stuff, and then we look at it and we give more ideas."

The end result was a set that everybody loved. "The funhouse and things like that were a lot of fun for special effects guys, because it's a funhouse," Hawker says. "You can turn tapes and springboards. The slide. All that stuff."

The actresses have to know what they're doing, too. Each of them underwent a rigorous training program while getting ready for Birds of Prey, and while Eusebio says Asian martial arts films like those made by the Shaw Brothers, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, and Bruce Lee are big inspirations for him, he and his team looked to a variety of sources to give each Bird of Prey her own fighting style.

"Huntress, she's an assassin," Eusebio says. "She's fast and thinks on the spot. So very efficient, almost like a John Wick-style assassin. Canary, we try to make her more street-savvy. She uses her legs more than her arms. So, more like a kicking style." 

And then, of course, there's Harley herself. "She's more unpredictable," says Eusebio. "She's kind of acrobatic, not in a gymnastics way but more of a circus-acrobat way. She'll do anything it takes to win, like fighting dirty."

Making Birds of Prey was difficult, but well worth it in the end

In order to create the movie's spectacular chemical plant explosion, for example, production sent a team of fire extinguishers to nearby rooftops, then ignited 300 fireworks over downtown Los Angeles in order to get the lighting right. The bloody execution scene in the Bertinelli living room was filmed in someone's real home, meaning the crew couldn't damage the property. Amazingly, they got the scene in one take. "We were pretty happy," Hawker admits.

Birds of Prey's production is full of stories like that. It was hard work, but you can see the results on-screen. According to Gayner, you have Yan to thank. "She just is a smart director that, knowing this was her first venture into this size of a film, embraced it and collaborated with the people around her," Gayner says. "The more you embrace everybody, it makes you that much better and the film that much better."

Margot Robbie deserves plenty of praise, too. "Stuff that would take a person a year or two years to learn, we have to condense it and try to teach them in four months," Eusebio says, "but she's really game and she actually learns really fast. So it helps a lot when they have a natural ability."

Gayner agrees: "She really puts 1,000 percent into everything she does and is there to work harder than anybody. It creates an environment where everybody is forced to bring their A-game. Margot's commitment to the character and just the overall physicality of the role, I think we're all very proud of it. I'm just proud to be a part of helping that in the film."

Birds of Prey is available on video-on-demand services now.