Robert Chapin Ready for Action

I recently had the great pleasure to see how a sword fight is choreographed and put together, at G5, in Denver on March 17-19.

As the Sword Demo began Saturday evening, my eye was caught by a tall ( reported to be 6'5) blonde man, wearing an open billowing white shirt, black pants, and black long boots, It was Robert Chapin or as everyone fondly calls him Bob. I was instantly drawn in by both his skill
and humor, as he along with F. Braun McAsh demonstrated to all of us what is involved in making all those spectacular sword fights that we see in Highlander.

Although this was the first time Bob had worked with F. Braun, it was hard to tell, they are both consummate professionals, but at the same time, make it look so easy and they are quite funny to boot. (Warming up for a sword demo at G5)

Later that evening I had the pleasure of meeting him in the hotel lounge, and he graciously posed for a picture with Candy and I.

When I arrived home I wrote to Bob thanking him for the photo op and asked if he might be interested in doing an interview for our Newsletter, he delighted me by replying yes!

(Bob posing with Candy & I at G5)

Robert Chapin has an extensive background in Sword/Action Choreography, as well as being an actor. He tells us his "real" job for the past 5 years is as a Computer Graphics artist for Feature Films such as Oscar winner "American Beauty", "Armageddon" and "Con Air"... to mention a few.

 He also teaches at Acting Action, a school for actors to train and learn Film and Stage Combat, action choreography along with a lot of different Martial Arts Forms.

Without much further ado, I hope you all enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed putting it together...

SAPS: At the sword Demo In Denver at G5, it was mentioned this was the first time you worked with F.Braun McAsh, though it didn't seem it. How was your experience working with him?

BOB: First, I should say that I was honored to finally work with Braun. This a man that has worked on the front lines of stage combat and swordplay for many years, which forces you to get very good very quickly. I suspect that Braun's advantage, however, was that he was very good even before he began work on Highlander, having a rich knowledge of history, balanced with practical experience in real combat and historical reenactment.

Braun is unique in his approach to stage combat and putting together a fight scene. He approaches it in a completely real perspective, which seems like it should be obvious, but it can be extremely dangerous if the person
doesn't also have strict rules of safety.

For example, when I choreograph a fight, I try to work at a slow and relaxed pace. Braun, however, comes at you with a speed and energy that would do some serious damage if he didn't have the supreme control that he does. It's quite startling to work with, and a bit exciting, since it is obvious that this is the same energy that comes through in his teaching and choreography.

The other thing I didn't expect from Braun is his humbleness, which is rare in this business. I learned that he taught the knife class at G5 for a couple different reasons. First, because he didn't want to carry a bunch of swords around, and second, because he knew I was teaching a sword class and didn't want to step on any toes. He was also willing to let me lead the demo, even though I am typically Anthony's assistant and I thought it was much more appropriate to have Braun lead. This is why the opening of the sword demo at G5 started out with both of us staring at each other saying
"What do you want to do? I don't know, what do you want to do?"

SAPS: Tell us how you got interested in acting and sword/action Choreography.

BOB: Through music actually. I was on a music scholarship at Miami Dade Community College and played trumpet for 8 years. When it became too much for me (8 hours practice a day) I left the music program. One of my instructors, however, said I could keep my scholarship if I took his "Early Music Consortium," where he was desperately trying to find someone who could play a "zinc" - a renaissance trumpet. I was terrible at it, but I've heard that it's not supposed to sound much better than a cat in heat.

One of our first performances happened to be at a renaissance fair. I remember my costume made me look like a walking green carpet. The fair, however, was a whole new experience, but nothing was as impressive as the Living Chessgame. Here were guys and girls my age doing fantastic choreographed stunts which had the audience cheering like they were at a WWF match. I was hooked. Within three months, my brother and I were directing shows with this group, which still exists today - The Royal Chessmen of Miami, Florida. After almost twenty years, I still quote their logo "Fight Hard, Die Well," and always keep in mind their two rules of stage combat "1 - Don't hurt anyone, and 2 - Don't get hurt."

SAPS: Is there any one person or event that had a role or influence in your making acting/Sword/action choreography your choice of career?

BOB: William Hobbs, Bob Anderson, Braun McAsh, Anthony DeLongis, Dan Inosanto, Dan Speaker, Robert Dawson, the many talented folks I've met through the SAFD, and the old Royal Chessmen gang... There's so many people who can influence your life one way or another, and I'm grateful for all that I've learned. But Sword/Action Choreography It's not really my choice of career. It's always been a fun hobby for me, which is what it should be. There really isn't enough work to go around, especially in LA, and many of the people who take it too seriously have become bitter and fiercely competitive.

I've been focusing more on my acting the last few years. I've been fortunate enough to work with Larry Moss in LA, who has recently come into the spotlight after coaching Hilary Swank in "Boys Don't Cry," Michael Clarke Duncan in "Green Mile," and Helen Hunt in last year's "Good as it Gets."

My real job over the past five years has been as a computer graphics artist for feature films, and I actually have a strong list of credits, including work on American Beauty, Armageddon, Con Air, and others...

SAPS: Do you prefer acting or Sword/action choreography?

BOB: I'm learning to appreciate acting more, but I'm still more comfortable and confident with action.

SAPS: Tell us a little about your classes at the school Acting Action

Acting Action--Film and Stage Combat Workshop

BOB: Acting Action currently meets on Sundays from 1-4pm at the Inosanto Academy, and focuses on all aspects of fight choreography and swordplay for stage and screen.

There are a few other stage combat classes in LA and hundreds of stage combat classes all over the country taught by the SAFD.

I've tried to make Acting Action special, however, by teaching aspects of  stage combat that no one else does. Everyone teaches basic technique, which is essential, but what I think is important is to develop the student's own creativity and unique style.

Very few classes teach choreography, and I think it's important on several levels, but most importantly, it helps the student "own" the technique. And it can be a lot of fun. I compare it to learning how to play the piano. If you try to learn by playing scales all the time, it's very tedious work, and many quit before they begin. You've got to learn to enjoy it first, and only then you'll have the incentive to go back to learning the scales.

A few other unique topics discussed in class are: performance speed, on-camera blocking techniques, and acted aggression. I also invite guest instructors to teach class on occasion, which gives the student a wide range of techniques and styles.

Finally, I create performance opportunities for the students. Last year, Acting Action performed at several live venues which included a Romeo and Juliet Living Chessgame, which toured several of the local renaissance fairs. This year, I am planning on shooting an action series for the internet using students from Acting Action.

SAPS: How did the forming of this school come into play.

BOB: I had been teaching for a long time, but it wasn't until recently that I realized I could make a commitment to a regular class if I had a partner. Anthony DeLongis had started his Acting Action classes in Burbank at Swordplay Studios, but he was looking for a new home. I had just started taking classes at the Inosanto Academy, and Anthony was an old friend and student of Dan Inosanto. I mentioned to Anthony that the academy had offered to let me teach a stage combat class, and the next thing I knew, Anthony and I were partners, and the class has been meeting on Sunday
afternoons for the past two years.

SAPS: Have you worked on any Highlander The Series eps, or Highlander Films, as either an actor, or compiling
action/sword sequences?

BOB: I've had several close calls with actually being on the show. Most recently, I had a second callback for a role in the upcoming film. I tried to get my acting coach to help me on the audition, but apparently he was working with Adrian at the time.

I tried everything to get onto the series. When the local casting director wouldn't give me the time of day (since I wasn't Canadian and not many parts were actually cast in LA), I sent a letter to the show's producer, Ken Gord
at the production office in Vancouver. I spoke to Ken shortly afterwards and he assured me he was going to try and get me on the show. That was the last I heard from them for six months until I was in the middle of coordinating a show for DIC Entertainment. I received a page from a strange area code, and I figured it was a mistake or something. When I
finally got off work around midnight, I checked my messages and it was the Highlander production office saying that one of their guest stars canceled and they needed me to fly out that day.

Note to self - always check your pages.

I was also up for the role of Kanwulf on the Homecoming episode, but lost out to an actor who was actually Scandinavian.

I had also sent a letter and talked to Braun McAsh, and he admits now that he tried to get me on the show for 4 years. Before I had met them personally, Gillian Horvath and many of the other production staff had also seen my headshot.

But I keep telling myself these things happen for a reason. My acting coach would say "Thank God you didn't get the part, you want to be ready for it when it happens."

I'm getting ready.

SAPS: Tell us about one of the funnier experiences in Sword/action choreography you either taught or received.

BOB: I had a couple requests at G5 for the "chicken story," which is no longer on my website. Although it's not necessarily a sword story, and it has been known to offend people in the past, I include it here with this disclaimer...

You know how movies have that "no animal was harmed in the making of this film" disclaimer at the end of the credits? They lied. Sinbad claimed the lives of at least six chickens, a horse, and a German tourist (although
we weren't directly responsible for the horse or German tourist).

A battle scene was called for in the script which was described as being comical "with chickens flying everywhere". Jim, our very proper English second unit director, took this literally and had a production assistant
find several live chickens.

The battle scene was to take place in Petra on the side of a cliff. Several dozen warriors were hidden in the rocks, poised to attack when Jim gave the command to "throw the chickens"... and the PA whipped three of the suckers at least twenty feet into the sky over the side of the cliff.

And of course, chickens... don't fly.

There was a brief moment, though, when I saw the look on one of the chickens, "hey, look guys, I can fly!" The look was replaced all too quickly by the look of terror as the bird plummeted to the ground with his feathered buddies. The suckers hit the ground like bags of wet cement. The only sound that followed was the sound of pain from everyone hiding behind the rocks "Oooooo", and the sound of intense pain from the chickens "Bawwkkk". (From then on, this was the sound we made whenever anything went wrong on the show "Oh no! The camera fell off the cliff - Bawwkk")

Of course, elaborate fight scenes such as this are rarely shot in one take. Four takes later, two of the birds were dead and the third one was seriously confused. I overheard one of the extras volunteer to put the last bird out of its misery, and the production assistant simply said "No, I think he's got one more left."

After eight takes, we had killed three more chickens for our valiant cause, but the PA kept lobbing dead chickens into the air until Jim said (in a very proper English accent) "Don't throw the chickens anymore, it doesn't look good."

Anthony DeLongis was the one who decided at that point that it didn't look good to have dead chickens laying about with their little feet in the air, so he neatly propped them up using rocks. The birds are obviously dead, but now thanks to Tony, they look like they're just taking a nap. I don't know if posing dead chickens is listed on Tony's resume, but he might want to consider it.

After the incident, we were supposed to shoot a scene which involved some warriors who accidentally ride their horses off the side of a cliff. We never got the rubber horses we ordered, so we were considering using the dead horse and German tourist (which again, were not our fault). We figured we were already responsible for six chickens, the horse and tourist were dead anyway, why not?

We decided against it, but the fact that we considered it should say something about the entire experience...

SAPS: Any current projects you are working on, and if so what?

BOB: As any actor in LA would tell you, there's so much going on that it's hard to keep track of. One of the reasons that I don't get as much done as I'd like to is that I'm constantly being pulled in a dozen directions at the same time. I just unpacked from G5 a couple days ago and now I'm getting ready to do another convention in Kentucky, and Legacy at the end of May.

I just finished two low budget pilots, Privateers (pirates in space) and Kyra (an R-rated Xena internet series). I'm also working on a script to shoot my own internet action series this summer called "The Hunted," which is a cross between "Buffy" and "Highlander."

This is in addition to my day job doing visual effects (currently working on a Chow Yun-Fat film called "Crouching Tiger"), acting classes, Kali classes, and teaching the Acting Action class on the weekends. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

But shows spring up overnight, and jobs come out of nowhere at any time. I was just at a reading for a new series yesterday called "Erikson," which is a Highlander-type series being shot in Iceland this summer.

SAPS: Finally Bob, what are your hopes or goals for the future.

BOB: Like everyone else, I hope to someday live up to whatever my potential is. I'd like to know that everything I've learned hasn't gone to waste - the acting, the action, the music, the directing, the writing, visual effects...

I feel very fortunate that I've found a medium where I can use all of these talents, and I'd like to start a film production company someday, and give something back that might inspire others to live up to their own potential...

Well there you have it, I don't know how he does it, he is one busy man! I would like to give my special thanks to Bob, for his time and his humble, gracious manner in giving me this interview for all of us to enjoy. And next time you are at a Con, and Bob is there be sure to check out the Sword will not be disappointed.

I think I will sign up for some sword classes next time!


(Pics kindly contributed by Ruth aka RMS4AP and Candy aka LVbandc)
Designs by Kath