"I feel like I live in fantasy world a lot of times, and to me, it's amazing" David Elson, Stunt Performer, Spider-Man, Teen Wolf
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ABOUT DAVID ELSON:
Thwip! David Elson started out as a competitive free-runner and basically 'fell' into doing stunt work. Doubling and performing stunts on TV shows like The Unit and Teen Wolf eventually led David to try on the Spidey suit for Amazing Spider-Man and has continued to help create the iconic superhero with the stunt team and coordinators on Spider-Man Homecoming and Avengers Infinity War. Though David reveals that it's not hard to bring the webhead to life when Tom Holland actually IS Spider-Man!
Jeff: David, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today, and I actually mentioned you to this just off pod, but you are the first stunt man officially that I've been able to talk to on this show, so you are in rare air.
David Elson: Oh, thanks for having me. It's exciting. I've never done a podcast or anything of the sort.
Jeff: Well, excellent. Basically, I really just want to get to the core of what you are, who you are, what makes you tick. I really want to go all the way back because stunt man, or stunt person, is ... We all know, growing up, especially our age group or even a little bit older, Hollywood became this entity. They started pulling the curtain back on it, and people realized that it wasn't just these magical movies on screen.
Jeff: It was a cadre of people making these things happen. Stunt people became, especially back with the old westerns and stuff, they became as well-known as the stars of the deal. It's always curious to me is how someone would want to pursue that field. Did you actually want to do that, or did you fall into becoming a stunt person? Pun intended.
David Elson: No, I decided to. I guess the whole story starts with ... it's hard to say where it starts. When I was a younger kid, I did some like rec gymnastics, and so I guess that's kind of like what originally interested me. I never do anything about stunts back then or anything like that. I did after a bit, and then I dropped out of it, and then when I was in late high school I became friends with this one kid who did martial arts. He was like self-taught martial arts. His name was Kevin Nee. We're still actually really good friends.
David Elson: I always wanted to learn martial arts, and he always wanted to learn how to flip around. I could do like cartwheels and round-offs and crap. We just started training together, and just started fighting each other, and picked up sticks and learned how to sword fight, and started sword fighting each other. I started kind of playing with the coming back to flipping around, and actually getting into it. I'd say like the end of high school, I started really getting into it. I kind of put the martial arts aside, and got really into what we call tricking.
David Elson: This was like pre YouTube. It was back when there was these websites. One of them was [inaudible 00:02:36] and people could upload videos and stuff to it. My buddy, Kevin, and I started watching this guy, Jujimufu. He was like one of our inspired people, and he was this dude with like just long hair, and his friend, I think his name was like Anton, just did tricking, and it was like martial arts combined with flips, so we started trying to learn that and mimicking that, trying to figure out how to flip around, and there's a bunch of other people that we would watch.
David Elson: Like I said the martial arts completely fell off. I got obsessed with just like the flipping around, which took me to college, and I was going to college, but I wasn't actually going to college. All I cared about at this point was just learning to flip. I made some friends, and I'd go flip with them. I'd actually go visit my buddy. I was going to Kent State at the time when he was going to Oberlin College. I would drive out to Oberlin, and go visit him, and we'd flip around over there.
David Elson: I just got obsessed, and it eventually elevated to the point where I was literally training about eight hours a day, and not doing anything else. That's all I ate, breathed, and slept was just training. That's all I cared about, all I wanted to do. Most of it was in the back yard, and then eventually I found out about gyms, gymnastics gyms, would have an open gym where anybody could come in and flip around, and so I started going there. I remember the first time we went on a spring floor. Just like, "Oh my God.'
David Elson: If you don't know what that is, a spring floor is basically that. It's like this big, carpeted mat with springs underneath it. That's what they'd use in gymnastics to tumble on. It just make you fly. I was flipping outside on the hard ground, and then you take it to a spring floor, and all of a sudden you're flying. I just really, really got into that, and then I got to the point where I said, this is where I made the decision, I guess. I'm spending all day training. It's all I care about. I'm not going to school. I don't care about school, so what can I do with this?
David Elson: I started looking for options. One was try to get a ride at Hawaii, I think it was like Hawaii State College, for cheerleading because if you could just do a tumbling pass that I get to, I was told at least you can get a ride there. I could start my college career over, but go do it in Hawaii. Another was trying to join Cirque du Soleil, and then somehow I stumbled across stunts. I found, I don't know who it was, I found a few stunt reels of people, like their demo reels. One was Reuben Langdon. He's still out here.
David Elson: I think he does like some coordinating now. He did some Jackie Chan stuff. I found his stunt reel, and then I don't know who it was, but I found some other stunt reels of people, and I remember just watching them, and be like, "I could do that. I could do that better than they can do that. Wow, maybe that's what I want to do."
David Elson: I just decided that stunts was the way to go, and saved up some money, and moved to LA.
Jeff: Wow. At any point when you're learning to flip, and you're doing all this training in gymnastics, it seems to me one of your tracks would be looking at competition. Did you ever do any type of competition, or any of that kind of stuff?
David Elson: There wasn't back then. I guess once I moved to LA, to get into stunts, I actually kind of pulled away from stunts. Have you ever heard of freerunning Parkour?
David Elson: I didn't call it that, that's what I was doing, but when I moved to LA, I got into freerunning Parkour, and got obsessed with that, and kind of forgot about stunts, and I ended up joining this group, this team out here called Tempest. They were one of the biggest teams in the US, and it was like amazing to be able to join them. I started competing with them. I actually competed internationally at a few competitions. I competed in Vienna, Austria, and Helsingborg, Sweden in the Red Bull Art of Motion competitions.
David Elson: That was kind of in the early stages. There have been a couple of competitions in freerunning. It was kind of still the first ones. That was the start of something like this being something that you can actually compete and [inaudible 00:06:49].
Jeff: Wow. Can you explain to me a little bit about what a freerunning or Parkour competition entails? Are you scored on just looking the coolest?
David Elson: No. I know it's involved a lot. I've completely fallen out of the freerunning scene. The little bit I do know about it has changed a lot. Back then, it was, I forget all the categories, but there was a handful of different categories, and so you got judged off of how smooth you were, so just not stumbling and to connecting everything, how unique the moves you were doing, how well you executed them, the difficulty of the moves, and I feel like there was another category, but I can't remember.
David Elson: There'd be like three or four judges that were freerunners themselves or [inaudible 00:07:36]. Damien Walters was there once. He's like a stuntman, tumbler, just God of all that stuff. They all judge all these things. Make their score card, like combine them.
Jeff: Is it like a course, a skateboarding course that is usually created on the street there, or are you just in urban areas? I've seen so much of Parkour where people are just jumping over buildings, and stuff like that. Is it a line like that in just an urban area or is it a course that's created for this competition?
David Elson: Back then what it was, they took a natural environment, like when we were in Helsingborg, it was really cool. It was actually some good friends of mine hosted it. They found this really cool castle thing. It was just this really cool landscape. It had a lot of stuff to it to begin with, and then they built some scaffolding and just stuff like that to add on to it. You're just kind of free for all. You would get there a few days early, and you'd go and you'd kind of practice and figure out what you want to do, and then I think we had a time limit then. It was like a couple minutes or maybe a few minutes, and you can you just go as little as you want, or as long as you want up to that time limit.
Jeff: That's so crazy. Does footage of any of that exist?
David Elson: Yeah, actually stuff on YouTube, and one, I think it was the Helsingborg one, Red Bull sent all the athletes their footage. It was actually pretty neat. I want to say there was like 10,000 people there. It was just a sea of people, and a huge loudspeaker system, and you choose a song that you want to do your whole course to.
David Elson: They film it and put it up on a big screen. I've got a little bit of footage and some old reels of mine.
Jeff: That's so cool. You're doing that. You're obviously having a good time doing that, but like you said, you moved to LA, and you start to fall into this. Do you remember your first time on a set as a stunt person?
David Elson: I'm trying to think. Yeah, I'm pretty sure it was ... I guess it's a hard one to say. There's union and then there's non-union. Some people are part of SAG, the Screen Actor's Guild, and everybody does non-union stuff before they become union, and it's just smaller projects and student films and stuff like that. I did a handful of those things, but when I think back on them, I don't even think of them as being real, so to me [crosstalk 00:10:08].
Jeff: Like practice?
David Elson: Yeah.
David Elson: My first read day on set was working for this coordinator Troy Brown on a show, The Unit.
Jeff: Oh yeah.
David Elson: It was my first gig, and a friend of mine hooked me up with it. It was doing this whole [inaudible 00:10:24] thing, doubled with some guy. It was towards the end of the show before they canceled it. Yeah, my friend, who got me on the show, was also working that day, and kind of like helping me, guided me. Hey, go do this, and go do that. It's definitely nerve-racking, but fun. It's cool when you're on-set and you're doing a pretty decent spot like that, you just feel awesome.
Jeff: Yeah. Is it intimidating at all though because I mean as a freerunner, especially doing competitions, like you say, you show up early, you kind of figure out your line, and it's all on you. Now, you've got stunt coordinators. You've got cameras rolling. You've got all this kind of stuff. Does that get intimidating, at least at the beginning?
David Elson: It can be. I've been doing it a while, and I don't really remember back then if I was like super intimidated or not. I'm sure I was. It can be. You get used to it though.
Jeff: Something like on The Unit, you were saying you're basically hired because they know you can do Parkour and freerunning, and they've got this stunt where a character is going to be doing that. They're basically plugging you in for something like that. Do you have to do a lot of prep before that? Is it like a full day of ... For something just as small as that. Is it a full day of shooting? Is that multiple days? Do you have to like shadow the set beforehand, or ...?
David Elson: It varies. Like on that show, I did like two or three episodes of it I think. The first episode that I did, there was a decent amount to it. The friend [inaudible 00:12:06], his name is Victor. I think Victor helped Troy kind of like put stuff together because he was already working. As far as I go, I just showed up on the day. I think I talked to Troy, and he told me a little bit about some of the stuff like, "Hey, I need you to jump across a gap this big, blah, blah, blah. Victor says you're fine. Are you fine just to make sure?"
David Elson: For me there was no prep. I think it was like two or three days of shooting, and it was just show up, throw a bunch of stuff on, and there it is. Go.
Jeff: So cool.
David Elson: There's more to it than that. I mean we do like set stuff up. It's not just like ... He doesn't have me just have me for like ...
David Elson: There weren't like days of prep or anything like that, for that.
Jeff: I know you've done a lot of TV and movies. I want to touch a little bit on different things in your career and see if you remember because again, you've worked for so long, and done so many of these things, I'm sure a lot of it blends together, and it's like, "Wait a minute, I jumped off of that once?" I'm always curious because it's something again on The Unit. You're plugging in a position that that character needs to do. He needs to do this freerunning sequence, so you're doing that, but I've also notice that you've done stunt work on television where you've done multiple episodes of a show, basically doubling the same character.
Jeff: I was looking on your IMDb Scandals one that I think you were in, if you remember that show. That was one that you were in like a handful of episodes, and then Teen Wolf as well you were on a ton of different episodes on there, kind of shadowing, and helping to create these characters because at the end of the day it is such a symbiotic relationship between, again, the cadre of people that goes involve to make the magic that we all get to enjoy either on the small screen or the big screen.
Jeff: When you're on something like where you're in multiple episodes, and you're kind of shadowing these character, becoming this character, is that much more prep because you not only are ... It's not, "Okay, jump over these buildings, and we're plugging you in." It's like you have to now be the character that's also there being portrayed by someone else. Is that like a whole added level of a stunt person's job?
David Elson: It definitely is. What you're talking about would be like a day player versus a serious player or just somebody that's on a runaway show.
David Elson: Like Scandal, for instance, I think I just worked like a day or two on one episode, and then I had multiple credits because I think they flashed back to footage. On Scandal, I was just a day player. On Teen Wolf, I doubled the lead character Tyler Posey.
David Elson: I did that show for five or six years, I think, and the first season of it, I started on Season Two. It was shooting in Atlanta, and so the stunt coordinator had them bring me out to Atlanta, and then I was just in Atlanta that five months working on the show, doubling him. I ended up playing the bad guy, and doubling a bunch of other people, so with that, that was very different than day playing in the experience of The Unit, and it's more of what you're saying, like then synchronize it was Gary Sterns, also a good friend of mine now. Him and I would kind of like collaborate together and put together how the characters fight, and just put up a field of the characters.
David Elson: I was doubling Scott, and so we had to like figure out how does Scott fight? What sort of fighter is Scott? If he gets hit, what happens to him? If he hits someone, what happens to them? We just figure that sort of stuff out, along with you collaborate the actor too, so Tyler Posey was the actor. I still know him. We became good friends. It's always a big collaboration of, "Hey, this is your character. It's not me. I'm doubling you. I'm going to help portray the feel that you want, but this is your character," so you have to work with the actor, and you have to figure out what they want, what they're creating, and then you create alongside them.
Jeff: That's so interesting to me because it then becomes this collaborative character where it's not just in Tyler's head anymore. It's like he gets to work closely with you, and you guys get to really ... Like you were saying, it must be to the point where there were instances where you were like, "Well Tyler, how would you take a punch in this situation?" Or maybe, "What would you look like after the punch landed?" You'd have to kind of manipulate it that way. It adds so much more depth to the magic of storytelling I think, which it really says a lot for what your role is on set.
Jeff: You're able to allow anyone, that you're working that closely with, to add layers to their performance, and you as well, so it just becomes that much more in-depth, right?
David Elson: Yeah, and the goal should be Tyler and I should work together to make Scott McCall one character. Obviously, Tyler's going to have a lot more to do with that, but I did my job right, if you watch that show, and you think that Tyler did that. Really, you think that Scott, the character, really did that.
Jeff: Yeah. That is the testament to awesome people out there is you do it right, and you never know you were there, kind of thing. I always look back, one of my favorite movie franchises of all time is Indiana Jones. Some of the greatest stunt work ever done, and it is a testament to that because as a kid, when I watched those movies, it was like, "Harrison Ford is amazing. He drags himself under a car, and how the hell does he do all this crap?" It's just like because they had such a great team on that, and had everybody working together that you never noticed. You never know if Harrison's really doing it or not, or if it's his double. It's great.
David Elson: Actually, I know his double. I worked with him on one of the Spiderman movies. He was the second unit director. His name is Vic Armstrong. He's a [inaudible 00:18:20] guy, and his brother, Andy Armstrong, who kind of started my career, coordinates, and they both actually like pop back and forth between one coordinates and one second unit directs, the other second unit directs, and the other one coordinates. Andy was coordinating Spiderman and Vic was second unit directing. I remember stopping him a bit about Indiana Jones stuff.
Jeff: Oh, that must have been awesome. That's got to be awesome working on a project, and let's jump into a little Spiderman now that you mentioned it. It must be awesome working on a project where your second unit director can speak the language of stunts, right?
David Elson: It makes a big, big difference. I wish I could like go back and relive Amazing Spiderman. That was my first big show. I had done The Unit and a couple of other little episodes of stuff here and there, and then that just fell in my lap, and that started my career. There's a lot of stuff that I look back on now, and didn't realize then, but I realize now, and one of them would be this, just like Vic Armstrong and having someone like that as the second unit director, just second unit was so easy and so smooth on that show. It's not always that easy, and it's not always that smooth.
David Elson: Usually second unit is a lot of stunts, and if you don't have a stunt savvy second unit director, it could be difficult because you're trying to advocate the stuff, and they don't necessarily even know how to shoot action. They don't necessarily really know about it. Vic does, and Vic did, and it was just go, go, go, go, and we just banged stuff out. It was amazing to watch Vic work. I remember appreciating this back then even.
David Elson: He knew exactly what he wanted. He knew exactly what it should look like. He knew exactly how to portray it to you, and he shot stuff, and as he shot it, he had an editor on set, editing that stuff together, and then he would like decently through the scene, sit there and look at the monitor, and watch it, and sometimes he even had some minor effects already added into it, and just be able to go, "Oh cool. I missed that," and go back and pick up that shot really quick and move on.
David Elson: With digital nowadays, some of the directors will shoot a ton of stuff because you can shoot as much as you want, and then nix some of it. Vic just went, "I want this from here. This from here. This from here." He knew exactly what he wanted. It's amazing.
Jeff: Wow. Wow, what an experience. That is the Amazing Spiderman movie with Andrew Garfield, and you were doubling Spiderman in that movie.
David Elson: Yep, there were three of us, and so I was there as like the Parker freerunning Spidey double. There's no [crosstalk 00:21:05].
Jeff: [crosstalk 00:21:06].
David Elson: There's another guy who was like the fight and wire guy, and another guy that was the skateboarder. Then, we all kind of mixed, and mingled, and collaborated all.
Jeff: Was that whole other level of an experience, because like you said, you'd been working on TV, you'd been doing that kind of stuff, and now, and this is even before you know obviously working on the even bigger pictures that you have worked on, but Amazing Spiderman is such a giant, those were so giant movies. Was that just mind-boggling being on a set like that?
David Elson: It was insane. It was amazing. I don't even know what to say about it. We had I think it was like three or four months of prep work, which is pretty common nowadays for like a movie like that. We really just spent three or four months just putting stuff together, rehearsing, make revisits. Getting that show was actually kind of a funny story.
Jeff: Do tell.
David Elson: As I said, I worked on The Unit, like a few episodes, and then they canceled the show. Then, I think I worked a day or two on Heroes, and maybe a day or two on Cold Case, I think that was my entire stunt career at that point.
David Elson: I got called into go to kind of a look see fitting sort of thing. I didn't really know what it was, but they were just like, "It's just like this creature thing we want you to come and [inaudible 00:22:29] you for." I go in, and there was like three of us that they were looking at. They were looking at our body types, and just like talking to us, and I had no idea what it was about, except when I got there. They said it had something to do with Spiderman, but I had no idea what it was. I had no idea it was [inaudible 00:22:45] like that.
David Elson: I do my thing, I'm about to leave, and right before I leave, I was just like, "Hey, can I just like show you my reel real quick? I'm brand new and I have to do this extra inning reel." They're like, "Uh, sure." I show them extra inning reel and that was it. When I leave, I didn't think anything of it. Then, a little bit later, I was getting some T-shirts printed up for the team [inaudible 00:23:07]. I'm sitting in the shop talking to the guy, getting T-shirts printed. I get this call. I'm like, "Hello?" They're like, "Yeah, hi, blah, blah, blah. We just want you to know that we're going to book you as a Spiderman double." I was like, "Oh cool," like it's some little commercial, or a little kid's play thing, stuff like that, right?"
David Elson: Like, "Oh no. The double." It's like, "Yeah, the double for your commercial or something, right?" "No, we want to book you as the Spiderman double for the new movie." "Wait, what? Oh, okay." Just then I just like my mind is blown. I remember I walked back into the shop, and it was just like, "I'm going to be Spiderman."
Jeff: That's crazy.
David Elson: It's nuts, so then like on that show, they hired me first, started building the suit to me because it's like a super customized suit. They actually sent me to Canada to Montreal to Cirque du Soleil headquarters where they build the suits and everything. They went through this whole body scan, and they were designing the suit, and all this stuff, and then I actually was part of helping audition actors. That's when they chose Andrew, and then it just went on from there. Three or four months of prep work. From just doing a few episodes of TV to all of a sudden being like an integral part of this huge movie, it was insane.
Jeff: Wow. That's crazy, and then I mean now, you've continued your Spiderman run, and have worked on some of the newer properties. Was it easier to get that job because you had already kind of been in the Spiderman universe at that time?
David Elson: Yeah, it definitely helped. I did the first, Amazing. I wasn't able to do the second one, and then I got hired to do Spiderman Homecoming. That was my first coming back to Spiderman. The way that happened was ... On Teen Wolf, the stunt coordinator from there, Gary Stearns, we got really close, and then there was another coordinator who'd fill in for him, a good friend of his, named Brycen Counts. Brycen and I got really close too.
David Elson: Now, the new Spiderman comes up, and Brycen is assistant coordinator on Spiderman Homecoming, and so he knew me from Teen Wolf. He'd seen me perform a lot. He knew I did Spiderman already, so he put my name kind of at the top of the list for that, and I ended up getting it. There were also three doubles in that one too, so I ended up getting picked for that.
Jeff: That's so amazing. You know, the three of you, plus Tom Holland, are doing your job because you never notice, just like you said. You guys are all working together to create, in my opinion, the best version of Spiderman we've ever seen on screen. I just got to ask, from a fan standpoint, what is it like wearing the Spidey suit? Do you ever ... Are you ever on set, and get that moment where like, "What the hell am I doing right now?"
David Elson: Constantly. It is the coolest thing. Back to Amazing, I remember the first time putting on the finished suit, and I was like at the wardrobe warehouse. I have this little dressing room. There's a mirror in front of me, and I just finished getting the suit on, and I just look up, and you see Spiderman standing there, but then Spiderman's doing what I'm doing, and it's like, "Oh my God. This is amazing."
David Elson: You just look down and you just see the gloves on, and you're like it's just mind-blowing, and then I constantly would have that throughout the movie, just moments of that. Just looking down and be like, "Man, I can't believe this is real." Then, that movie comes out, and you actually see it, and then I'm doing Homecoming, and same thing the first time I get in the Homecoming suit. It's just like, "Oh my God, again." Just constantly moments of that.
Jeff: That's incredible, and I mean it's very well-known from everything that Marvel's put out, is how much they love Tom. How much we all love Tom, and what's it like working with him? He seems like such a ... He seems like Spiderman, for lack of a better way of putting it. He seems like Peter Parker in real life.
David Elson: He is, and bias aside, I agree with you. I think Homecoming was the best Spiderman yet.
Jeff: Yeah, just the look, the feel, everything.
David Elson: So much of that is to Tom's credit. Tom is an amazing human being. He's one of my favorite people, my favorite actors I've ever worked with. He's just such a nice guy. He's insanely talented. He flips around, and if you would come to ... We also had like three months of prep, I think, on that show, and he would come in and train with us, and he's so damned talented. We put in the wires, and he'd be epic in the wires. Him and I would like play add-on. Not even add-on. Stick it. We'd play Stick it. I would do a flip, and if I stuck it without moving, then he's have to stick it before he can move onto the next level. We kept doing that.
David Elson: He was just sitting there right with me. He's so talented, and come from a dancing background, and he's an insanely talented dancer, and just he is Spiderman. Like what you said is absolutely what it is. He is Spiderman, just the way he is, is just phenomenal. Abilities and just everything. He is Spiderman.
Jeff: That's so amazing. I've got to ask too, because okay, we've talked about other stuff like working on The Unit, and even Teen Wolf, which has a little bit of that supernatural in there, but these shows are intrinsically based in the real world, whereas you're doing a lot of things. Like if you're taking a punch, you're taking a punch as a real person kind of thing, in that kind of respect. Spiderman is a superhero, and still based in the real world, but has superpowers, and does things very super, like as a fan of comic books, one of the things I was wondering is how much do you and Tom work together on just, I don't know, posing the character?
Jeff: He doesn't just walk, especially when he has the suit on, you guys just don't walk down the street. You'd look like Spiderman walking down the street, or if you land from the ledge, you obviously have to superhero pose into the ledge. Do you work a lot on all of that kind of stuff to really ...
David Elson: There was working on it. We didn't need to as much on this one because, again, Tom was so physically ... He is Spiderman. I had already done a Spiderman, one of the other doubles, Holland Diaz, he did Spiderman 3 with Tobey, so he had already did Spiderman stuff. One of our lead riggers, the second unit lead rigger, Chris Daniels, was Spiderman in the original 3, like he did everything Spiderman on those, and then our lead rigger also had done Spiderman in like 2 and 3. There was just so much Spiderman to begin with, like the guys running the wires, had been Spiderman, the guys in the wires had been Spiderman, Tom already is Spiderman, so we did work on posing and stuff. It definitely was a thing, but we didn't really need to do a whole lot, just kind of meshed with both of us.
Jeff: Yeah, because you're just surrounded by Spidermen.
David Elson: Yeah.
Jeff: That's the best case scenario.
David Elson: That is cool. We have this really cool picture, Stan Lee came and visited us on [inaudible 00:30:31] one day, and so we got this really, really cool picture of I think it was 10 of us, I think. Everybody who's been Spiderman at some point, including Tom, and then Stan Lee in front, everybody's shooting a web.
David Elson: It was a really cool picture. A really cool experience.
Jeff: What a cool experience. Stan is so sorely missed, but I always say this, it's amazing that we all got to live in the world that he was in. He's one of those rare, magical people that, you know, I pin it to like Jim Henson, or these types of people who created a singular thing that now has really rewired the world. Everyone in the world knows who Spiderman is, and it was just a crazy idea Stan had to sell some books to pay rent.
David Elson: All that stuff, all the Marvel stuff, all this [inaudible 00:31:21] stuff going on, I mean it all comes from him in the end.
Jeff: It really does. It's so amazing. Then, going even farther into that, you're not only doing Spiderman on Homecoming, but then you worked on Infinity War and Endgame too, right?
David Elson: Infinity War, so Holland and I, one of the other doubles, we both kind of did half and half on Infinity War, and then he did Endgame. I don't really know why I have a credit for that, but I'll take it.
Jeff: It might be ... Who knows, maybe we saw stuff from the first movie there. That is literally the biggest movie, I think, ever made in the history of movies period.
David Elson: That's crazy.
Jeff: Was that another level of mind-blowing being on a set like that?
David Elson: I wasn't on that for very long. There wasn't a whole ton of Spidey in it.
Jeff: Right. Right.
David Elson: Him and I did half and half. I was only on it for like a couple of weeks or two and a half weeks or something like that. It was pretty comparable to like Homecoming or any of the other Spiderman movies. In ways a little bit bigger, but it's such a process to it nowadays that it really felt pretty much the same as any other Marvel movie.
David Elson: Again, I wasn't there a lot. I was just there for a couple weeks.
Jeff: Right. Right, but still being part of the franchise as a whole, it's the biggest that's ever been, and just to be a part of it, I mean you can be proud of that. It's amazing.
David Elson: Oh for sure.
Jeff: It's incredible. That brings me to the theme of this show. You know, we're all fueled by the finish line. We all know we're going to die some day, but we want to leave this world a little different before we do. You've been doing that in spades throughout your entire career, working seamlessly with so many amazing actors, and doing your job, like you said, so we never know you're there because you're doing your job so well. What keeps you wanting to do it? What keeps you wanting to be a stunt man, and get out there, and do this stuff?
David Elson: To me, I love being creative, and you get to be really creative with this. I love being physical, and you obviously have to be very physical. It's such a different lifestyle. I feel like I live in fantasy world a lot of times, and to me, it's amazing to be able to have a great career, make great money, and be creative as often as I want to, and be physical throughout it, and it's really cool. You get to experience a lot. I love experiencing the world. I think everybody should. I've traveled all over the world through the movie industry.
David Elson: I've been able to go to places that you don't normally go to, like a shot on Zoolander 2, we shot in Rome, so I was in Rome for three months, and we got to just go to really cool places, and one of the places was Caracalla Baths, which was the bath house that led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. It took over the Caracalla Baths. You could just go places in Caracalla Baths where you can't normally go. It's just cool to be able to just experience the world, and experience it at such a high level.
Jeff: Yeah. Oh, that's so cool. Very inspiring. I've got to ask, what did you do in Zoolander 2?
David Elson: That was one of my favorite movies because we shot in Rome for about three months, worked for probably about half the time, so I had a month and a half of just running around Rome exploring. I doubled Justin Bieber.
Jeff: Oh my God, really?
David Elson: I find hilarious, the whole opening scene of Zoolander 2 is Justin Bieber doing this whole freerunning scent, and so that's 100% me, except for the very end where Justin Bieber falls into frame.
Jeff: Falls into frame, yeah.
David Elson: Then, since I was already out there, they just kept me out there, and I actually doubled Owen Wilson [inaudible 00:35:17] stuff.
Jeff: That's so much fun.
David Elson: Yeah, it was a blast.
Jeff: Does it ever happen where you're working on something, and your job shifts? I'm sure it wasn't the case here, but you mentioned you were out there to double Justin, and then you end up doubling Owen. You probably knew that going into it that you were going to be doubling those, right, or did that shift while you were on set?
David Elson: It shifted for the most part. I got brought out for Justin's stuff, but the production wanted to hire locals because it's just more financially better for them. That's terrible grammar, but it's better financially better for them, and so the stunt coordinator had to really fight to get me out there to double Justin, which he absolutely needed me, or somebody, out there to do it. I think he was kind of pitching that I could also double Owen while out there for just like the Justin stuff, and then that wasn't officially a thing, and it just kind of evolved into it, and then he asked me, he's like, "Hey, do you want to stay here?" I'm like, "Hell yeah I want to stay here. We're shooting in Rome. This is awesome."
David Elson: It's like, "All right, I'm going to try to keep getting you to stay here, and try to double Owen." Eventually, it just instantly became, "Okay, well Justin's stuff is done, so you're just going to double Owen now."
Jeff: That's cool. Does that happen a lot on sets where because you're a stunt guy, and you have a, as Liam Neeson would put it, a specific set of skills, that you can utilize for all different things, does your job kind of morph on set a lot where directors or stunt coordinators would be like, "Hey, wait a minute, I think you might be able to do this, or double this, or do that kind of thing."
David Elson: It can, like the Zoolander example, I think is more of a rarity. A main actor like that, you pretty much normally already have that figured out. The time where it could happen would be like if you're doing prep work, so the movie hasn't started shooting yet, and so I might be there as ... There's ND stunts, nondescript stunts, so it's just some bad guy gets shot and killed, or a bunch of bad guys are getting beat up, anything like that. They would ND some people.
David Elson: Sometimes when we're doing prep work, they'll be like a handful of ND stunt people. There'll be like the doubles, and a handful of ND stunt people just to kind of work stuff out, and figure it out, and so sometimes you wouldn't have one of your main doubles figured out yet, and you would end up choosing from those ND stunt people like that. That happens, but typically for the main actors, those are pretty much already figured out. Smaller stuff happens a lot. There's just like a small character that pops in. They'll just be like, "Ah, you. You're going to double him."
Jeff: Bad guy number four is going to get shot in the corner over there. You get over there and get shot for me, kind of thing, right?
David Elson: Yeah. That sort of stuff will happen a lot.
Jeff: Have you died a lot?
David Elson: Yeah, not as much as others. People seem to like fall into one way or the other a lot. I end up doubling a lot, and so I've had a career full of that, and I know a lot of other people have a career just be ND. I've got some good friends that they just have a great bad guy look, so rather than doubling all the time, they're just playing ND all the time, and they've just died thousands of times. I've died quite a bit, but not as much as a lot of other people.
Jeff: Do you like it? It's got to be fun, right, to like die on screen?
David Elson: Yeah, it's kind of hilarious. One thing is once you die, and the scene's still shooting, sometimes you're just laying there dead, and I've definitely countless times just fell asleep being dead.
Jeff: That's great. Hey, get to sleep on the job. That's pretty cool.
David Elson: Yeah, it's great.
Jeff: Oh man, that's funny. Another thing I'm always curious about with stunt guys is being Spiderman, I'm sure, especially because you were saying you have to be fitted for that suit, I'm sure that's a very comfortable thing to work in because it's all one piece, and you're working in it, but that's not always the case when you're doing that kind of stuff. Have you had any instances where you've had to either double somebody or play a character that has a very restrictive type thing for the stunt that you're going to do?
David Elson: Usually.
Jeff: Oh really?
David Elson: I don't know. I can't tell you how many times I've had to work with some bad ones for like you work at a freerunning scene. "Oh man, I'm going to do this, and this, and this, and this," and earlier in your career, you don't [inaudible 00:40:07] as well, now [inaudible 00:40:09] for better, but like I can remember once I was shooting a commercial. [inaudible 00:40:14] stuff, and they're like, "Oh, now you're going to wear this," and they put me in this full suit, and the suit jacket was too small for me. I couldn't lift my arms past here. One of the things I was doing was I was jumping over a roof cap, and doing what we call a cat, like catching the side of the other building, and then climbing up and over.
David Elson: I couldn't get my arms high enough to catch, and so that was an instance where I'd be like, "I'm not wearing this." Wardrobe was kind of fighting with me. I was like, "Okay, well I'm going to cut the sleeves because I'm going to die if I wear this and do what I'm supposed to do." Eventually, they were like, "Oh, I think we have a bigger one. We'll find a bigger one." Usually, it's not what you planned for. You should be smart and be much more like have your own shoes to bring with you, and just like have a variety of shoes because especially if you're going to be doing some [inaudible 00:41:09] or anything, they're probably going to put you in 10 pound like military boots.
David Elson: You're going to have some light military boots that can look like those 10 pound military boots, so you don't go kill yourself, or have some crazy backpacks thrown on you, or even the Spidey suit, the vision is very limiting, so it makes it a lot more difficult. I've gotten pretty used to that at this point, but I remember the beginning it being tough, and like one of the exercises that I would do is when I first got in the suit to perform for the day, you lose your depth perception because you have a hard mask that sits right here to give shape to the face, and so what that does is it sits like this off your face, and so you can't see down.
Jeff: Oh wow.
David Elson: You can't really see. Your peripherals are all pretty badly cut off, so my depth perception would be way off, so I would have an object sitting somewhere, and I'd go to touch it, and at first, I'd go like this and completely miss it. Eventually, I'd touch it, and hone in on it, and hone in my depth perception, and then I'd be okay.
Jeff: Wow. That's so much extra that I never even thought about, but especially from Spiderman, having to basically know that you can perform the stunt you're about to do, but then also relearn being a human being and having to be able to deal with just your field of vision. That's crazy. Has the suit evolved? Let me say, obviously the look has evolved, but like the technology behind the suit, has that evolved from working on Amazing to now with what you've done with the newer Spiderman?
David Elson: I think so. They have different designers for the different ones, and so I don't know if they all just kind of communicate with each other, but they do get the old suits, and they try to like [inaudible 00:42:59] everything, and I like the Homecoming suit the best, and I feel like that was definitely evolution from the Amazing one. Then, I'm trying to remember, the Bosco suits in Far From Home. Far From Home they shot in the UK, so they use this amazing UK [inaudible 00:43:19], Greg Townsley, he's just a freaking God of everything, but I got to do [inaudible 00:43:25] on it, which was real exciting for me. That suit was simpler than Homecoming, which was nice.
Jeff: Yeah. Are they breathable?
David Elson: It definitely [inaudible 00:43:36]. Yeah, actually they are. People always think I'll be like burning up in it, and they're not that bad. I know they're like a spandex something else blend, with a lot of materials, but they're quite breathable. If I'm shooting in Atlanta in the hot sun in the middle of summer, and I'm standing in the sun, it gets hot, but that's just hot in general, but I'm also ... I shot in New York in the Fall standing up on a scissor lift or something like that, I think it was a condor 50 feet in the air, and it was freezing, and it bites right through that suit. It doesn't protect you. It's quite breathable.
Jeff: That's really cool. I've got to ask, I'm not saying you stole one, but do you have a Spidey suit?
David Elson: I wish. I want to have one, but no.
Jeff: I didn't think so.
David Elson: Yeah.
Jeff: I've got to ask too, from your entire career, there's so much amazing stuff you can do, and doubling people, doing all these different stunts, has there been one that stuck out to you that either was incredibly tough to master that you eventually did, or one that you think fondly back on maybe that was like, "Oh man, that was the most fun day on set kind of thing?"
David Elson: Like a day specifically?
Jeff: Yeah, if there was either a specific stunt experience that was either really fun for you to do, or one that was really challenging for you to do?
David Elson: Yeah. I'd say one of my ... There's so many that are right there with each other. One of my favorites, and it's probably in part because it was my first big thing was on Amazing Spiderman. I just thought it was such a cool scene. It's this whole sequence that I did. It was over weeks and weeks, and it started with, I actually remember the movie that well, there was a car thief stealing a car, and so it was played by a stunt guy, by God, I know his name is Keith, Keith Campbell. He's an amazing stunt man. He works on Batman movies. He done stunts forever. He's amazing.
David Elson: Anyways, Keith was the car thief, and Spidey shows up, which was Andrew, and like taps his shoulder, something like that. Keith gets out of the car. I come running. I jump over the car, and do a dash vault, it's a freerunning move, hook my legs around his neck, and like spin around him, and throw him, so he gets thrown. This whole scene happens with Andrew and him shooting him and tying him up, and then a motorcycle cop comes up, stops, also a stunt guy, Steve DeCastro, and so I run, do a side flip over him.
David Elson: As I side flip, I kick the gun from him, [inaudible 00:46:44] and punch him, throw the gun, and more cops show up. I take off. I climbed up over something, and jumped over, and this was the really fun part to me. That was all really fun but the fun part was he runs through traffic, and then there's a semi truck and a pickup truck, like kind of hooks across, runs after the pickup truck, and dive after it, grab the back of the pickup truck, and [inaudible 00:47:12] like sliding on my feet behind the pickup truck.
David Elson: Then do a different hand spring and flip into the bed of the truck, jump up on the roof of the truck, then it was a wire gag where I jump across to the semi truck, stick to it, climb up the side of it, and then Spidey run, and jumps, and swings off, and then it goes into this whole swinging sequence, and so the jump off and the start of the swing sequence was the wire double, so one of the other doubles [inaudible 00:47:40], so he was doing swinging, and then one of the coolest like ...
David Elson: It doesn't seem like it, but this was one of the most dangerous things I've ever done was we had this really cool rig built where they took a fire truck, and they ripped off the tank, and so it's like a big [inaudible 00:47:57], and then built this like scaffolding sort of a truss, so from the cab of the fire truck, it was the scaffolding went up, all the way back past the end of the fire truck, and then there's like a bit T off the end.
David Elson: At the end of each T was a wire with a handle for me, and in the middle of it was a wire that attaches to me that I'm hanging from. Excuse me. The hand loops wires go back up into a shiv and then back to two guys that are [inaudible 00:48:34] them. Now, this guy on my right arm pulls and I start swinging this way, and he pulls me all the way up, and then he releases, and then the guy on my left arm pulls, and then I swing that way, and so I start swinging back and forth, if that makes sense.
Jeff: Oh yeah, totally.
David Elson: I'm hanging there and I'm swinging back and forth. Now, the fire truck drives through traffic, and so now I'm swinging through traffic, so we got that to work, so then we started manipulating things, and we started taking this wire that I'm hanging from and lowering it and raising it, so now I'd be swinging, and then they'd drop me in, and I'd run off the roof of a car, and then jump and swing out. Do something like that, so now we ended up making it in the film was a semi truck driving ... We did it at us, and then we decided it was a bad idea, and did it with us, so the semi truck driving.
David Elson: The semi truck is in the left lane. My fire truck is in the right lane, so we're driving, swing, swing, swing. I swing right behind it, swing away from it, and then the fire truck pulls forward, and then I swing into the semi truck and choo, choo, choo, got like four or five steps across the side of the semi truck, and then we take off. [crosstalk 00:49:49].
Jeff: That's so cool.
David Elson: It was really fun and really cool. The dangerous thing is if anything was off, I would have just splat into that semi truck, and just smooshed myself.
David Elson: That whole scene together was just so much fun, and so cool, and it just looked so cool, and it's all real. That was the cool thing. It was all real.
Jeff: That's incredible. If memory serves me, I think that sequence or a part of that sequence was actually in the trailer for the movie because that was one of the big pieces of that movie. That's really fun, and I love hearing like your perspective of it too because again, you're doing your job. It looks completely seamless on screen, but never in a million years would I think you're suspended from scaffolding on a fire truck careening down a highway. That's crazy. That's really fun.
Jeff: At the end here I want to know, do you social media at all? Is there a way that people could follow your journey through being a stunt man, and what you do?
David Elson: [inaudible 00:50:58] social media. I do Instagram. I get very on and off. Sometimes I'll post like Spidey pictures, trying to build a following. Sometimes I'll post like some of the cooler picture, and sometimes it's my Husky, or gardening or something like that. It's not super dedicated to stunts, but I do post some stuff.
Jeff: Well, I'll put that in here. It's a little long obviously with links to IMDb so people can keep following you. Finally, the last question, and I'm sure you've gotten this before, if anybody wanted to do what you do, how would you, what would be your advice? Would it be to just kind of do what you love and fall into it like yourself, or do you have advice for someone trying to break into this?
David Elson: I would say first and foremost as fun and amazing that everything is, it's all of that for me. It is a very, very tough career, it can be a very tough career. You're constantly being judged, whether it's on your skills, or even just your look. You're just constantly being judged. You have to be able to put up with a lot. You have to be able to put up with a lot, and you have to just make sure this is what you want. If this is what you want, I think some of the important things are to have a good athletic background, so have a background in gymnastics, or martial arts, or roller blades. There's actually a lot of people that do like roller blading that makes really good backgrounds, or dancing, or anything like that.
David Elson: Having athletic background is really good. If you don't have an athletic background, start an athletic background, just something. Then, I think the main skills, on top of that, you have to be able to do fights, so boxing, or Taekwondo, or Jujitsu or anything like that. Being tough. You just need to be able to get the shit kicked out of you, and you've got to be willing to get your legs flipped out, and just land on your back on concrete. It hurts, but that's what it is. I think those are like the two main points, so if you love that, and you can do that, and this sounds amazing to you, practice that stuff. Get a background just specialty and then pursue it. You have to 100% pursue it. That's a lot of people's mistake is they don't 100% pursue it. In order for it to work, 100% pursue it.
Jeff: That's great advice. It really is, and I'm so happy that you're in the game because you're doing amazing stuff, and I know you're going to be working, probably doing this forever, I hope, and we're just going to keep getting amazing stunts from you on things that haven't even been imagined yet. Movies and television that they aren't even imagined yet. I can't wait. David, I can't thank you enough for taking time and talking with me. This was really eye-opening on your career, and what it's like to do what you do, and I had honestly the most fun talking with you.
David Elson: Okay, it was a blast to be on here. This is a cool experience for me.