We chat with Stunt Coordinators Hiro Koda & Jahnel Curfman about their Emmy-nominated work on YouTube’s Cobra Kai…
In today’s fast paced streaming market, it’s safe to say that networks are only as good as their upcoming premieres. With new content continuously being expected, it only makes sense for networks to revisit some of the classic series audiences have grown up with in order to fill the roster. Examples being Fuller House, The Connors, Murphy Brown, The X-Files and the upcoming BH90210. Another standout example of this successfully being done is YouTube’s Cobra Kai. The story of Cobra Kai is set 34 years after the original The Karate Kid film and follows Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), who opens the Cobra Kai karate dojo once again, and thus once again begins the rivalry he had with Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio). Daniel is finding it difficult to maintain balance in his life without the guidance of his now-deceased mentor, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita). The show deals with how the two old rivals cope with the struggles they each face.
Just like the original film, the series has become known for its elaborate fight sequences. Most recently the high-school hallway fight scene in the season 2 finale, which literally took up one-third of the episode. Not only are fans and critics taking note of the series, but also TV Academy members. The husband-wife team responsible for these incredible sequences, Hiro Koda and Jahnel Curfman, just received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or Variety Program. In celebration of the nomination and the recent season 3 reveals at Comic Con, we wanted to learn more about the stunt process, so we spoke exclusively with Jahnel and Hiro below.
How did you both get involved with Cobra Kai?
HK: I had worked with Bob Wilson, one of the producers, years ago on Birds of Prey. He knew me from our work together on that so, when Cobra Kai first came up, he knew it was right up my alley.
JC: I came on board as a stunt coordinator at the end of the first season. The season 1 finale was huge and Hiro needed a second set of hands. We choreographed, rehearsed, and pre-vis’d over 20 fights in 4 days. It was crazy. So when season 2 rolled around and the show creators increased the amount of action, we just rolled right into it.
Has there been a scene in season 1 or 2 that didn’t look that complex on screen, but actually took a long time to shoot?
HK: The mall fight from episode 5 was incredibly complex both on paper and in choreographing it. We had 5 Cobra Kai’s and 3 Miyagi Do’s interacting with one another at different times while incorporating certain plot points. The idea was that this fight was where Samantha and Robby get to use their “wheel technique” that Daniel had been teaching them. It took a while to get all of the beats down. But watching the final cut of the fight, you don’t realize all of the pieces that had to fall into place so that it worked perfectly.
JC: Yes, the mall fight was definitely more complex to design and choreograph than it plays out in the final edit on screen.
Congratulations on your Emmy nomination. What do you think impressed voting members the most with season 2?
JC: Thank you! I think the nonstop action from beginning to end is what really got members excited about Cobra Kai’s Emmy submission.
HK: And the variety! This show is mostly martial arts and fighting, and we take pride in being creative with the choreography and fighting styles while still keeping the authenticity of the original Karate Kid.
Jahnel, on Cobra Kai you are the stunt double for Peyton List’s character Tory. On average, how much preparation do you have to do with her for a complex scene?
JC: Actually, very little. Peyton was cast later in the season so, she didn’t have the weeks of prep and training that the rest of the cast did. She came in just days before her first big fight (episode 4 when she fights Miguel in the dojo) and we used every free moment she had to train and drill the choreo. Peyton’s a fast learner though so she rocked it when it came to the shoot day.
Jahnel & Hiro, How is Cobra Kai different from some of the other shows you have worked on?
HK: Cobra Kai is different from any show I’ve ever worked on because of what it means to me on a personal level. The Karate Kid franchise was a huge part of my childhood and had such a significant impact on my own karate training. My father was my Sensei and I really felt a lot of parallels between the relationship I had with my father and Mr. Miyagi and Daniel Larusso’s relationship.
JC: I agree, the history and nostalgia of The Karate Kid and its original characters set Cobra Kai apart from anything I’ve ever worked on. It really is a very special project to be a part of.
What are some of the most important rules you all go by for making the stunts look as real as possible on Cobra Kai?
JC: Our biggest rule is to never throw something on screen just because it looks cool. Part of our job is to help move the narrative along through the action so the stunts have to feel authentic to the story, the scene, and the characters.
HK: Also, making sure that the action is shot properly. We are heavily involved in lining up the camera so that hits “sell” from the best possible angle and the action sequences are as dynamic as possible on screen. We also always make sure to find good stunt doubles. Not only do they need to look like the actor they are doubling, but also have the right style of fighting skills so that the transitions between actor and stunt double are seamless on screen. We really pride ourselves on finding great matches for our actors.
In a previous interview you mentioned the big fight sequence in the high school between multiple students. Can you talk about this? How long did prep take for this scene and how long did it take to shoot?
HK: The final fight sequence in the high school took quite a bit of time and thought. Once we had the skeleton of the fight we started to break down where all of the smaller pieces began and where they ended. There were so many smaller fights that made up the school brawl and it took a lot of time to piece together. It was like working each piece into a massive puzzle that came together into a sort of organized chaos! We had to, not only, focus on what was happening in the foreground but also continue the action in the background.
JC: Hiro shoots a previz for every fight on the show and that really helps keep it all organized and on track on the shoot day. We would have loved to have had a week to shoot the school fight but, we crammed it into 3 1/2 days.
HK: With such a limited amount of time, we were very lucky to have the amazing talent of the cast and stunt team and we spent a lot of our prep time on the big Oner in the hallway. We designed the action to my camera moves and wanted to see how long we could take the choreography without cutting and before it completely fell apart. The Oner ended up being 95% cast with a few clever “Texas Switches” using stunt doubles to take the big falls! We were super stoked with how the hallway fight came out. It ran 88 seconds without cutting and we had it within 6 takes! Very proud of the cast and stunt team!
What is the vibe like on set when Ralph and William fight? Because they have such a history together, from The Karate Kid& The Karate Kid Part II, are their scenes easier to teach because of the comfortability level?
JC: This season we finally got to see Daniel and Johnny exchange blows! There is a lot of nostalgia between these two characters so, we knew their fight had to be something special. Ralph and Billy not only pick up choreography really well but also have great fight chemistry.
HK: The original fight that we choreographed was three times as long as what made it into the final cut. There was a lot of heavy discussion as to whether this was the fight that fans had been waiting for for the last 30 years. Ultimately, the writers and Ralph and Billy decided that it would just be a teaser of what was to come. But, it’s quite entertaining to watch the banter between these two. I remember in the first season, when we see Johnny and Daniel face off on the mat for the first time in 30 years. You could feel the electricity between the two of them. That was a cool moment to be a part of. And it’s been an incredible honor to get to design new battles between these two iconic characters.
YouTube Premium is making Cobra Kai available for free soon. Season 1 episodes will all be released for free on August 29th, while season 2 will release one episode per week starting September 11th.
Cobra Kai season 1 and 2 are currently available to stream on YouTube Premium.