How the epic final fight scene in ‘The Hunt’ was designed and filmed

Gladys T. Black
  • In “The Hunt,” a group of conservative Americans is kidnapped by a group of wealthy liberal Americans and attacked for sport. The film culminates in a face-off between the characters Athena (Hilary Swank) and Crystal (Betty Gilpin).

  • The fight sequence takes place in a manor and utilizes a kitchen island, a fireplace, and windows as an action set pieces.

  • Director Craig Zobel worked closely with the production designer, stunt coordinators, and special effects team to make sure each part of the sequence got pulled off safely while convincingly turning the house into what is basically a giant weapon.

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Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: Oof. Ouch!

In the climatic fight scene in “The Hunt,” you see a lot of falling on the floor, which should hurt, but what you don’t see is that under a layer of vinyl made to look like real flooring, the floor is actually all foam, according to the director.

To make this elaborate fight scene work, the filmmakers built an entire set with each stunt in mind. A set that was meant to be destroyed. This left the film’s production designer with the tough job of building sets that were tailor-made to fit the needs of a scene without the audience ever noticing.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

In “The Hunt,” a group of conservative Americans is kidnapped by a group of wealthy liberal Americans and attacked for sport. No surprise, the satirical film was met with much controversy.

The film culminates as Crystal, played by Betty Gilpin, faces off against Athena, played by Hilary Swank, who helped organize the hunt near her sprawling manor where the fight takes place. When director Craig Zobel was given the script for “The Hunt,” all it indicated was that the climax would be an epic head to head, so he worked with the stunt coordinators, special effects team, and production designer to choreograph a fight scene that was a standout moment of the movie.

Craig Zobel: We wanted this whole fight to just feel more messy and real, and that drove a lot of the decisions that we were making. The production designer and I, you know, had all these kind of ideas that were built around building this jungle gym of a set.

Narrator: To map out the fight, the stunt coordinators constructed their own version of the home out of cardboard boxes, which stood in for the 60-foot-by-50-foot set. While working with the cardboard model, the stunt team came up with the idea of turning the kitchen island into a stunt piece by having the characters vault across it. While production designer Matthew Munn had already planned to have a kitchen island, he now had to retrofit and redesign it to ensure it was strong and sturdy enough to support this one stunt. To pull off the move successfully, the island was built out of strong wood and painted to look like concrete. Then the top was removed and replaced with a foam pad, similar to how they used foam underneath the vinyl floor covering.

Zobel: Kind of like a kid’s playhouse foam floor for certain parts of it. Narrator: The two characters also fight on top of the kitchen table. Like with the island, they needed something sturdy, but they also wanted something aesthetically pleasing, so the production designer and decorator picked out a rustic-looking table that fit in with the rest of the set. But because they knew it would have to handle a lot, they made sure the solid wood table also had a steel base. Even average household items were chosen and strategically placed so they could be picked up and used as weapons. Like this light fixture, which both looks cool and turned out to be practical.

Athena: That was good.

Narrator: And this food-processor blade, which was Zobel’s idea, because it’s something he has been afraid of his whole life. Almost all the props you see, from cabinets to jars, are breakaway props, which means they’re built to be safely broken.

Zobel: What I learned is, once you’re working with this many breakaway items, you do a lot of practice runs before you break them.

Narrator: The next stunt was perhaps the most difficult one to shoot: moving the fighters from the kitchen to the living room. To make this transition more dynamic, the filmmakers decided they wanted to use this unusual double-sided fireplace, which the production design team would need to build. Zobel saw a double-sided fireplace while location scouting at a real house and thought it would be perfect for a stunt.

The fireplace was built with your standard drywall and concrete, but they laid special propane lines underground that the special effects team could use to increase the height of the flames as the stunt double went through the fireplace. The opening of the fireplace was originally smaller, but after some experimentation, they expanded it so that it was 5 feet wide by 3 feet tall. It’s a dangerous move, so as an extra precaution, they soaked the stunt double’s clothes with a fire retardant. Then, under that, she wore protective CarbonX and fire gel to prevent her skin from burning.

Following this, Athena fires at Crystal with her gun and hits the chimney. For that shot, Munn said the chimney was altered to fit the move. They took a piece out of it, replaced it with hard foam, and then rigged it with squibs for the perfect shotgun effect.

Athena then chases Crystal up the stairs, where they duke it out some more. But Crystal would eventually need to get back downstairs somehow. That’s where these big ropes came in handy. In the manor, they’re meant to be large art pieces, but the team knew they could double as a stunt piece.

For the first part of the stunt, Gilpin’s stunt double was connected to two lines in a Y shape that were attached to her harness. The lines went through pulleys above the set, which were then redirected to a pole station across the room. A stunt rigger made sure the stuntwoman got just the right amount of tension on her lines. Too much tension, and the stunt would look fake. Not enough tension, and she would peel off the rope right away.

For the second part of the stunt, she dangled about eight feet off the ground. At the count of…

Director: Three, two, one.

Narrator: She would be pulled forward. Then, once the rigger heard this sound, [crack] he had to make sure to drop her at just the right speed so she fell directly onto this table. Knowing that she would land on it, this had to be built as a breakaway table, and the legs on the table had to be constructed in such a way that they would break immediately on impact for this stunt.

Meanwhile, because the rope had to collapse, it was held up with specially made breakaway brackets, which you can see here. According to Zobel, they had enough materials to do this fall four times. In the end, he says he got it done in just one or two takes.

While the interior was shot on a soundstage, it still had to match the actual exterior of the house shown on screen, a real house in Louisiana. So one element the production design team had to match with the real house: a hallway with big glass windows. It served as the key part of the set to move the fight from inside the house to this small courtyard. The window turns into an active part of the action at the moment when Crystal tries to throw Athena through it.

On the first try, the window doesn’t break, and then it does on the second try. In reality, the windows were made out of a tempered glass, which they chose specifically for this move. This type of glass is strong enough to not break immediately, but when it does, it breaks into tiny pieces as opposed to sharp shards. The stunt actresses were attached to a rope, which was attached to something stationary known as a dead man, allowing them to bang up against the glass without being pulled through it. Then, for the second attempt, Munn said the special effects team rigged the glass with explosives that were timed to go off at the exact moment the two characters needed to go through the glass. The glass was also retrofitted to allow for this pulley system put together by the stunt team, which would then launch the characters out into the courtyard.

Staging the scene this way gave them an excuse to move the fight outside and then come back around the kitchen for the fight’s conclusion. Their transition from one side of the house to the other via the courtyard was captured in one move by this camera on a track. Zobel, the cast, and crew managed to film the entire sequence over five long 12-hour days at the very end of the shoot. Building the set to support the fight allowed them to shoot everything safely and efficiently, while still looking spontaneous instead of overly choreographed.

While big parts of the set, like windows and the fireplace, were most crucial, even the most unexpected objects and set decoration helped advance the fight, like this expensive bottle of Champagne. Zobel knew he wanted it there for Crystal to grab at the end of the fight as a reward, but what he didn’t know was how perfect the moment where Athena catches it would turn out to be.

Zobel: When we go to shoot that portion of the scene, on the very first take, Hilary kind of dove and did this amazing football catch that I certainly did not anticipate, and I don’t think anybody on set anticipated her really going for it that much. A cheer erupted on set as she caught the Champagne.

Hilary Swank: [laughing] Oh! Oh, my God. The reaction after is funny. It’s like I’m a masochist. [laughing] Come for more.

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