Masks, secret identities, and plenty of action are all part of the HBO Max series Titans. Titans is a slice of the DC Universe with a mix of characters (Nightwing, Superboy, Wonder Girl, Raven, Beast Boy, and Starfire) that are highly skilled or super-powered. Whether it is Nightwing dealing out justice with punches and kicks, or Beast Boy transforming into any number of creatures and defending against a legion of henchmen, someone has to make all that action look good on the screen. For Titans, the one who makes the incredible action look epic is Stunt Coordinator, Brian Ho. I spoke with Ho about the challenges of making one of the best superhero-action series around, and how he found himself in the world of kicking and punching with comic book legends.
The Origin Story
For Brian Ho, the seed was planted long ago that helped shape his future. “Ever since I was a kid I loved action movies and martial arts,” said Ho. “I was born in Hong Kong, and my dad liked a lot of the Hong Kong action, so I would watch all those movies with my dad all the time. I’ve always wanted to do martial arts: Kung Fu, Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, Jeet Kune Do from Bruce Lee. It’s just that I didn’t get a chance, until I was about 10, to study Karate here in Vancouver.”
A black belt in Karate and Wushu, Ho has accumulated knowledge of many other arts while working in film and television over the years, including Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing, Krav Maga, and an assortment of weapons from the spear to kama. Having a lot of technical skills is important, but there is more to it than that, when it comes to breaking into the competitive film and television industry, as Ho tells, “I was in University at the time, and my friend said: Hey, this wushu school has an open house. Do you want to come check it out? I’m like, yeah, cool, I’m looking for a new thing to do… so I went and checked it out and enjoyed it, but half the people there were competitive wushu practitioners, and the other half were like mostly film people, like stunt doubles, actors, actresses, whatnot. So, after a few years of just hanging around them, they asked me if I wanted to come for an audition, and I went and did it and got it, and got the next one. And then it was just kind of right place, right time.
It snowballed into this crazy movie career.” In addition to being a versatile martial artist, Ho had a unique skill that helped get him started. “Back then I was probably one of the first trickers in Canada.
That opened a lot of doors because I could do the flips and the acrobatic kicks and that would get you past the audition stage.”
As the Stunt Coordinator, Ho is the one that makes sure the action looks exciting. It’s no easy task when you have characters with a range of abilities from martial arts expertise to god-like powers akin to mythology. What does Ho do when presented with a group of thugs trying to take down the team of superheroes? First, stick to the facts in the Titans’ universe. “We try to stay true, for one, to the character’s powers and abilities. It’s easy to just gloss over certain things to make things convenient.
We try to keep those things consistent.” Ho breaks down the sequence of events for creating the action on Titans: “The whole process is: read the script, design the fight. We’ll show the director and the producer, and say, “Hey, this is our idea,” yea or ney? We’ll have a discussion about it and then from there, we’ll shoot a pre-viz (visualisation) and deliver that product. And once that’s approved, then we start training the actors.”
While it's always a good idea to have a plan, no matter what you do, and show business is no different, the ability to adjust and adapt is just as important as punching and kicking, as Ho points out, “You got to roll with the punches in this industry. It’s never like: hey this is the plan, and nothing is going to change. Things always change and it’s how you can roll with them and adapt to it that makes the job easier.”
Rolling with the punches includes having a team that can roll with you. Ho describes how he likes to work, “I like to have a very solid team, and everyone on the team is multi-talented. Because, if someone can’t do something, someone can jump in. Let’s say I’m coordinating this episode, but they’re doing pick-up shots for another episode somewhere else. I need another fight coordinator, that I can trust to go take care of that, while I’m doing this. Or someone’s going to location scout with a meeting while we’re shooting. You need to have a solid team where everyone can do multiple positions. And if you have that, then it is very easy to get things done.”
Titans of the Future
What does it take to work in film and television as a stunt person and/or aspiring stunt coordinator? Ho spells it out and shares his experience with others to help move the knowledge forward. “It’s not just the guy who can do the best martial arts, the best flips. It’s, hey, can he also teach his actor? Is he a good teacher? Can he communicate well with people? Is he good on set? Can he cover coordinate for you if you need it? I try to teach some of the guys, the newer guys, stuff like that, because when they move on they will have those extra skills. Because, if they don’t learn now, no one else is going to teach them, right?”
With three action-packed seasons available now, and an exciting fourth season currently in development to be released later in the year, Titans is proving to be one of the DC Universe’s most promising collections of legendary characters on the small screen. What can fans look forward to in season four? “There are new villains this year. In episode one there’s a cool fight. That’ll be a nice season opener.” And what about beyond the new season? “I really hope the audience enjoys this fourth season. We’ve really put a lot of work into it. I’d love to do a fifth, I know my team would.”
Check out season 4 on HBO Max this fall.