FBI: MOST WANTED's Ken Girotti on the Show's 'Grounded' Stunt Approach - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

FBI: MOST WANTED’s Ken Girotti on the Show’s ‘Grounded’ Stunt Approach

August 22, 2023 by  

FBI Most Wanted stunts interview

“These Walls” – The witness Remy and Kristen are visiting in prison is put in danger when a riot breaks out, leaving the staff and visitors held hostage by two murderous gangs, on the CBS Original series FBI: MOST WANTED, Tuesday, May 9 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Pictured: Dylan McDermott as Supervisory Special Agent Remy Scott. Photo: Mark Schafer/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s rare for network shows—especially dramas—to get Emmy attention in modern times, but one place where they can shine is the stunt category.

In the case of FBI: MOST WANTED, showrunner David Hudgins previously shared with Give Me My Remote that the writers specifically tried to highlight that element of the series.

“It was really fun last season to write towards the action and the stunt sequences, because I knew they could pull them off,” he said. “I mean, we literally had boats, we had explosions. So the action part of that was something [where] we really flexed that muscle.”

With the CBS drama up for Outstanding Stunt Coordination For A Drama Series, Limited Or Anthology Series Or Movie (for stunt coordinator Declan Mulvey) and Outstanding Stunt Performance (for Chad Hessler) in this year’s Emmy race (the winners are tentatively set to be announced in January), FBI: MOST WANTED directing producer Ken Girotti shares how he and the directors helped facilitate the show’s biggest season yet.

David mentioned they were able to gear some of the writing towards stunts this year. What was your mindset from the directing side?
We just want to make them real. The stunts always have to serve the story. And we’re not a superhero show or anything like that; we try to steep it into reality. So they have to be grounded. They have to look real and they just can’t look too terribly stunty, although sometimes they might. It can’t look like a gimmick.

What was the most “effortless” stunt you were able to help pull off that people might not realize was a stunt?
There was the prison riot episode, which was basically two-and-a-half acts of fighting, which was a tough one. And the fact that Declan didn’t get a lot of time to rehearse in advance, but he did. He had the best fight guys he could get in New York working on that. 

When it comes down to involving any of the principal cast and that stuff, it’s tough to get the principal cast freed up. And so, in order to rehearse it properly, he has to do it with the stunt guys, but it becomes very, very difficult to get the principal cast to sort of do any kind of rehearsal in that sort of situation [because they’re filming other things]. Whenever possible, we invite our cast to participate. We make it really simple for them. And we think it just heightens reality.

You mentioned the short turnaround time in production. What is the collaboration process you have with the stunt team given so many things—including locations—can be up in the air until very close to filming?
Well, it’s obviously very complex and very intimate, for lack of a better word. We flipped an ambulance…and we went back to the location a few times—we had it sketched out on a storyboard, we knew what we’re going to do, we had special effects, and were building a rig that could do it, we were ordering extra cameras, we were getting police to cordon off the back alley area, we had locations working on it, props, it was a big deal because we had to strip the interior of the ambulance of stuff. And this is the kind of stunt that can’t get rehearsed. We were set to shoot it on a Monday. We had committed everything to a single location—and we did not get the full location sign off until the Thursday [before]. 

Declan is amazing. We get one take at this stuff. And every single department involved—the art department, props, special effects; we use a little wee bit of visual effects, but because our turnaround time is so short, we don’t get to lean on visual effects. We have to do things, more often than not, practically. We don’t have the time of a streaming show, where they got all kinds of time to stick stuff in a computer and clean it up. We’ve got to make it work in one take and we got to make it real.

On the flip side, because you’re a network show and you do have nine months of working together with the same team, what kind of familiarity and ease does that breed to know what you can pull off in a condensed schedule?
I think, yeah, as the trust builds over the course of the season, you’re willing to take a bigger bite of what you think he can do. And I think that’s a testament to Declan. I mean, he really changed the culture this year. Super collaborative. And as much as the writers give us a general idea of what they want it to be, we’re the ones—and Declan, to the largest [degree], and the director, of course—that have to [put it into action]. So it always changes in its execution. And sometimes a great deal it changes. But we’re still servicing the same moment, or the same plot point, or the same character bit with the stunt. 

And if everything isn’t humming along together, and if every department isn’t completely open and honest about what’s going on and fully collaborative, if one piece of that chain breaks down, then not only the success of the stunt is threatened, but the safety of the stunt is threatened. The execution of the stunt is threatened. And that’s a place we’ve never, ever gone, and a place we will never go. We’ve called off a few things that we thought really were a little bit…not necessarily beyond us, but just we didn’t have the time to do it properly. So we pivot, and we only did stuff we thought we could handle, even in the short timeframe.

FBI Most Wanted stunts interview

“The Miseducation of Metcalf 2” – The team jumps into action to find two missing coeds after their roommate Carly Cassidy’s (Colette McDermott) older brother is involved in a homicide that took place in their dorm room. Also, Hana becomes distracted when she meets someone online, on the CBS Original series FBI: MOST WANTED, Tuesday, April 11 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Pictured: Edwin Hodge as Special Agent Ray Cannon. Photo: Mark Schäfer/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What is your collaboration like with the writers in facilitating what is and isn’t feasible, stunt-wise?
There’s a really great collaboration between David Hudgins and I, as the producing director. And I think he understands that he can’t completely pre-describe a stunt sequence when he hasn’t seen a location. But he gives us the information: “Here’s what we need from this dramatically.” And then he hands that to the director and to me and to Declan and to all the other departments. And everybody pitches in and we go, “Okay, what’s the best way to deliver that?” And oftentimes, we like to think that we’ve kind of built on what he wants and actually given them a little bit more than he asked for. 

Sometimes we have to ask them to dial it down, because we just can’t handle it in the timeframe. But when we can, we do go bigger, or go better. We always try to bring it and he trusts us to kind of deliver that.

You also have a history with MOST WANTED star Dylan McDermott from your time together on LAW & ORDER: ORGANIZED CRIME. What does having that kind of familiarity with a performer bring to both directing them and also the collaboration with the stunt team? 
Dylan is such a huge contributor to the ethos and the soul of the show. And when it comes to stunts that are specifically related to him, we definitely get out in front of it; we definitely make sure that he’s aware. I certainly suggest this to the directors, and I suggest it to myself when I direct, that we make him aware of what the plan is, because more often than not, his contribution is sage. He’s a smart guy, he’s been around the block, and he has a solid understanding of who his character is. 

Sometimes he’ll come up with something like, “I really think I should do this here.” And it’s great. “I want to pick up this thing and I want to throw it against the wall, because Remy is really angry.” On another show, it might be like, “Oh, my God, the safety, there’s nails on the board!” But we figure it out on the day; we make it safe. But he’s fantastic. And he’s such a great guy to work with. He’s so smart. He’s all about the work and he’s just such a joy on the set. He’s a funny goof, too, which kind of appeals to my sense of humor.

As a director, when you’re doing a stunt sequence, do you prefer to do it on location or do you prefer to do it on a standing set where you know the ins and outs of every single corner?
That obviously depends on the particular demands of the stunt. When you can control it, it’s obviously better. But it’s amazing what you can do on location, just how much you can control. 

And whether you’re in a standing set where you have all this extra control, or you’re out on a location on a New York street where you have perhaps a little bit less, you never have full control. There’s always an element of risk. 

Declan said, “We all love the movie business.” He said, “We’re all really it’s in our soul and in our bones, and we all express it differently…Ken, you express it with your vision as you direct. Actors express it in a different way with how they emote. Stunt people express it physically.” I love that…they express it with their physicality in a lot of ways. I thought that was an interesting way of putting it.

FBI Most Wanted stunts interview

“Double Fault” – The Fugitive Task Force springs into action to find a famous foreign tennis player after she’s kidnapped from a tennis court in Brooklyn, on the CBS Original series FBI: MOST WANTED, Tuesday, March 14 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network, and available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. Pictured: Dylan McDermott as Supervisory Special Agent Remy Scott. Photo: Mark Schäfer/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What was your favorite stunt you got to direct? 
I would turn that over to Declan and say the work that he did in the car chase episode, where the tennis player got kidnapped—we worked very, very closely on that. We storyboarded as much as we could. And we’re doing a car chase, like a very long car chase, in the streets of New York City. And New York City is a wonderful place to shoot, but it’s also a pain in the butt to shoot there. It’s really challenging. 

And he did four days of second unit, which then had to come perfectly dovetail with the stuff I was doing on the LED stage with the actors in the car. And both of us—and this goes back to Dylan, too—the way Dylan played those scenes on the LED stage, it was seamless. When he’s driving the car, the way he played [it], I thought all of those things came together. That’s the one I’m most proud of, because it was just such a valuable collaboration with Declan and I just think he did yeoman’s work out there for four very challenging days in New York City.

What’s the kind of stunt sequence you hope to never direct again?
I think I would say the car chase sequence. [Laughs.] We had the plan all out and Declan did the legwork on the ground. But just from a directing standpoint, I just tried to stand back and make sense of all the pieces that had to come together to make that work in the short timeframe we had. I didn’t sleep for a couple of weeks, and I don’t think Declan did either, really, because there was so much going on. And even when he was shooting, I tried to visit the second unit set and I couldn’t stay there very long; I just had to get home and get some sleep. So that was one I would have liked to have had a little bit more time. I think we pulled it off. That was tough.

It translated on-screen really well, but it makes sense it was a pain to actually figure out.
It’s like when you build something at your house—you renovate your own kitchen and you do it yourself, maybe you and your spouse or whatever and you go, “Yeah. I’m glad I did that. I’m never gonna do it again.”

Absolutely. Is there a stunt you’d like to direct on the show you haven’t had the chance to pull off yet?
I don’t know how to answer that until, I suppose, I come across it. I start from the point of what’s the drama? What’s the character? What’s the story that we need to tell here? 

I don’t know if I could actually describe a stunt that I’d want to do, because, for me, I don’t consider myself really an action guy—even though I’m working on this action show. It really comes from the drama and the story for me. So you know, it was very satisfying that moment after the ambulance flipped to see how Gaines and Remy [had a moment]; she felt about what what had happened, that she didn’t catch the guy…And there’s a sequence where Edwin [Hodge] did all of his own work, I think except for one shot. So it just comes out of the drama.

Looking at what your fellow directors did on the show this season, was there any sequence you had gotten the chance to direct?
Yeah, it might have been Jean de Segonzac[‘s work in “Black Mirror”] because that was such a beautiful job with that weird priest kidnapping episode. He did such an amazing job with a bizarre story. And I think that that show speaks to the soul of what our show is about, because it is about what makes these bad people tick. And the difference we have is we don’t always stay with our cops; we go out with those guys. And the effect that these crimes have on our cops, we see where it germinates and how it grows. And I think that makes it more personal—or, at least apparently more personal stakes in the prosecution of these crimes. I think Jean did an amazing job with that episode.

And there were a couple other ones. Peter Stebbings’ episode with the prison riot was amazing; I’m not sure I would have wanted to direct that one. Like we’re stuck in that one prison. But you know, we’ve had so many great directors this year and I’m so proud of the work that all of them did. Loren Yaconelli. I could list them all.

As a director, in general, do you prefer to do an episode where there’s like 17 different locations or is there an appeal to you in staying in one location and trying to figure out how to shoot in a confined space?
Television is an interesting animal, because so many of your creative decisions are driven by time and by the exigencies of production. So when you’re in a position where you can control everything and you’re in one spot, and you’re not wasting what could be shooting time moving trucks and gear, that’s really attractive. 

On the other hand, the feeling of reality, verisimilitude, when you’re on the road—and we’re a road show—and you’re out there in the world, there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing like being in New York or being in some of the areas around New York that we frequent and shooting for real;  closing down a small town in Rockland County to do a big stunt to blow up the front of a bank or whatever, which we did in seasons gone by. That kind of stuff you can’t replicate in a studio.

Network shows get Emmy nominations at this point. What does MOST WANTED’s acknowledgment in the stunt category mean to you?
Oh, I mean, it’s remarkable. It means a lot. The field within which we’re competing now is so highly competitive. The ask that the writers put on us in production, and for the way Declan delivered it, I think we’re all very proud. He has changed the culture. He understood so deeply what was being demanded of him. And every collaboration was open and delightful with him; every decision that we made, either he made it on his own or we made collectively was deeply considered, even though he’s working against the time crunch that very few shows these days are working against unless you’re a network show. For him to be able to get nominated on the quality of the work that he did, with the other pressures on the outside that don’t exist for a lot of other shows, I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of us for having pulled that off.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about MOST WANTED?   
Oh, it’s a fun show to direct. The stunts are great. We have a wonderful cast. I just hope people keep watching us. We’re one of the few shows still, I think, doing big work on network television: making big stunts, doing big action, and also telling really compelling stories. We’re proud, we have fun, and we like to have a good time. We like to laugh.

FBI: MOST WANTED, Tuesdays, 10/9c, CBS


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