By Douglas J. Guth | Photo by Gery Petrof
“It was a big setup, costing a lot of money and one shot to do it,” Fike, who has been part of 100 film and TV projects during a 30-year career as a stunt coordinator, performer, stunt driver, fight choreographer, and pyrotechnics coordinator, says. “It’s not something you can mess up.”
Fike is well pleased with his silver-screen immortalization, especially as that fiery scene was actually shot in downtown Cleveland, serving as just one example of a region-wide cinematic renaissance that has made Northeast Ohio a destination for film crews.
Fike, 60, has put his own stamp on the region’s filmic upswing through Stunt Predators USA, which provides experienced personnel and services for the death-defying stunts seen in feature films. Fike himself has worked on Northeast Ohio productions of varying scale and cost, including “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Draft Day,” “Take Shelter,” and “Welcome to Collinwood.” Over the years he has slammed cars into trees, jumped off moving trains, and had his body engulfed in flames.
In “Draft Day,” the Madison, Ohio, native arranged a fire extinguisher scene with stars Jennifer Garner, Kevin Costner, and Dennis Leary that took hours to coordinate but appeared only briefly in the finished product.
“The best stunts are invisible,” Fike says. “We (at Stunt Predators) have a motto: We take the risks, and you take the credit.”
Harnessing this hard-working, selfless attitude, Fike has been busy building an infrastructure of stunt performer talent that he believes can help make Northeast Ohio an even more powerful magnet for future movie projects.
A former U.S. Army Special Operations member with a black belt in karate, judo, and jujitsu, Fike teaches martial arts classes out of a studio in Madison, often pulling new stunt team members from the best of his student ranks.
The longtime stuntman also shares his professional insights with students participating in a Film Crew Tech Training course at Cuyahoga Community College. Fike’s portion of the class concentrates on stunts and special effects, teaching participants how to safely throw a punch, handle a prop firearm, and what protective gear to wear. Rigorous classroom work is mixed with movie clips played on a large screen in Tri-C’s Black Box Studio.
Tri-C developed the course with the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, a team-up that bodes well for future economic development in film and other media production in Cleveland, Fike says.
“What we need to do is provide productions with a solid foundation of crew,” he says. “The more depth we have in this area, the more movies will come this way.”
Jillian Cole is a Fike protégé who began her professional stunt performer career at age 16 by crashing through a glass door in the film “True Nature.” Cole, 24, has since leapt from a moving vehicle and worked as a stunt double for Katie Holmes. If the Madison native has learned anything over her eight years in the industry, it’s to be ready for anything.
“There’s always going to be risk, but our team is always prepared,” Cole says.
Much of movie making is waiting; it’s not uncommon for a stunt performer to be on set for eight hours before getting the call to rehearse with a stunt coordinator and finally shoot a scene. As Cole has performed in seven movies filmed in Ohio, the opportunity to fulfill a dream within the boundaries of her home state makes the downtime a bit easier to bear.
“It’s great to see this area getting more and more projects,” she says.
Fike expects that trend to continue thanks to the individuals and organizations dedicated to creating a regional workforce able to handle film shoots ranging from zero-budget indies to big-time Hollywood blockbusters. Grassroots efforts are bolstered by a statewide tax incentive program that covers up to 25 percent of film and TV production costs.
Fike’s career is proof that success in the industry can be obtained without making a move to the West Coast, he notes. Due to tax incentives and other perks, film production has shifted to locations in New York, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, and yes, Northeast Ohio.
“You don’t have to be from L.A. to make it in this industry,” Fike says. “You can be plenty successful right around the corner.”
For more information: stuntpredatorsusa.com
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