Jeff Wolfe is a veteran actor, stuntman, director, and second-unit director with over 200 credits. He is an Emmy Award winner for his work on JJ Abrams’ Revolution, a SAG Award Winner, and he won two World Stunt Awards for his work on The Avengers and The Pirates of the Caribbean. After years of 2nd unit work, he has turned his lens toward the director’s chair with a few shorts and episodic work.

Now, he’s directed his first feature film, Mourning Rock.

Mourning Rock is the story of a park ranger, mourning the loss of his son who is also contending with a horrific outbreak that is consuming his small town that only he seems prepared to deal with. The film recently premiered to an enthusiastic crowd at Dances with Films in TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood, CA. Wolfe recently spoke to Immersive via Zoom about his life as a stuntman and filmmaker.

[Note: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity]

How did you come up with the original idea for the story?

A buddy of mine came to me and gave me a three-minute elevator pitch for a new kind of zombie film with a twist. I liked it and ran with it. Then I went to my friend, producer Kevin Matossian, and said, “I have this great idea,” and that’s all. Kevin, who I’d been working with on other projects in the past, was like, “I get it. Let’s do it.” And then the next six years of our lives, we’re trying to get it together to make the movie.

What were some of the big hurdles that you had to overcome?

It was writing the script at first. Lance Ochsner, who was a fabulous writer on other projects, took it, ran with it, and wrote it. I just kept coming back and I just had this certain idea, a voice for it. So, it was a while of going back and forth with him until I finally kind of co-wrote it with him and got kind of what my thought was on the page as well. I mean, he laid out all the bones and then I kind of did the rest. So, it took a few years, really. When we were ready to go Covid hit, then everything was shut down.

It wasn’t until a few years later during the WGA, SAG strikes that my wife and I thought, why don’t we just do this ourselves? So out of our own pockets, as well as some other friends and producers, put the financing together for it. We took advantage of basically the strike that all of these actors that were friends of mine from multiple TV series were not going to be working for a couple of months while there was a strike going on. I was able to pull them in and use them for the film with a SAG interim agreement.

Tell us about the makeup and the coordination of the zombie movements.

Eddie Yang was our production designer and he assembled the team. He was one of the guys who helped design the original Iron Man suit. He’s a phenomenal guy and worked with Stan Winston for years before branching off on his own. He brought us makeup artist Bart Mixon (and his team), who worked on the Guardians of the Galaxy films and lots of great horror films, like The Nightmare on Elm Street films.

Regarding the coordination of, we’re talking about the actual creature coordination and such, so having the background and experience with stunt people that are also contortionists. I just put out a wide net for that because I wanted specific zombie movements. I think there’s something freaky almost about possession about something taking over a body, and that’s the idea for this. I felt like the contortionists combined with the sound would make for cracking and creaking and awkward body movements and some of them to move differently and to move a little faster.

There’s an actual category of contortionist? I hadn’t heard of that before.

It’s in the form for stunt performers, you can check a box that says contortionist and specific people, some do certain things that are kind of edgy, and then others just have these, two of the girls that have those completely upside down backward bends over. It’s when they get up from those positions and do all that the sound helps, but there’s no wire, there’s no assistance in that. They’re just being able to do that themselves. It’s pretty crazy.

How long had the desire been forming to be a director?

I was a stuntman actor for 20 years in movies like Drive, The Pirates of the Caribbean films, Green Lantern, and lots of other movies. About 12 years ago, I initially went behind the camera for JJ Abrams on the pilot for Revolution. The director was Jon Favreau. I had jumped up into fight choreographer and stunt coordinator on that show. I did a previs of the major fight scene at the end of the pilot with Billy Burke fighting against 20 guys.

I shot this whole scene and I brought it to Jon Favreau… I said, “When you shoot this, we can do this, we can do this”. And he said, “I’m not shooting it. You are.” That got me into the DGA, and I did the second unit for John. Since then I now have over 250 credits of the second unit for TV and Film. Now I’ve done this long enough, I want to do this myself.

Did any of those directors have great advice for you?

Absolutely. Jon Favreau always stands out to me because I was so hyped and excited about directing and putting all this stuff together and watching him do certain things. I asked him, “How do you deal with when you want to just get there and have them do this and not put your hands on it yourself?” And he said to me, “Everybody’s job is the most important job to them. So, the reality is you have to allow for that. Your job is important to you, but their job is important. You have to allow that if you want their genius to be part of what they’re doing, whether it’s the DP or the customer or somebody else, giving them the opportunity in the space that they need to get their job done.” As challenging as it is to just not put your hands in there and do it so that the end product can be worth what it’s worth. So, just basically relax.

How did you first get into stunts? Was there a movie or a stunt that you saw?

I came to Hollywood as an actor. I had already 10 years, and 15 years of martial arts. I was teaching martial arts. I wanted to be the next Jean Claude Van Damme. My first job was Bloodsport 2, going to Thailand and being one of the fighters and getting beaten up on that show. Right after I was cast in a Jet Li movie called Once Upon a Time in China and America and then it kickstarted an action career of me getting beat up by major action stars. After a few years of that, I was cast as the double for the bad guy in The Scorpion King. I was the right size and look and I could do swords and fighting. I went on to play the bad guy in lots of films after that.

I built a career out of being six-foot-four, 210 pounds. I wasn’t going to double most actors, but they loved me for playing a bad guy and then getting beat up, like Drive, Green Lantern, all those movies. It was great because I had this acting background in the theater of San Francisco, so I was able to play those parts and do the stunts. They didn’t have to hire two people. So, that was my bread and butter for a long time.

Of any of the stunts that you’ve done, do you have a favorite?

My favorite career part of the stunt portion of my life was the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I did one through four on Pirates. So you can imagine we spent four years everywhere from the Caribbean to The Bahamas to Hawaii, playing all the different characters. You’re a grownup and getting paid to go play Pirate. By the second and third movie, we’re on ships out in the ocean with the pirate soundtrack playing in our ears, knowing what we’re doing now. It was just an amazing time and a great group of people back then.

I think one of my favorite ones that was a very simple stunt, but it’s a favorite because I literally, I’ll go to Ireland and somebody will say, “Hey, are you the guy in Drive?” People love that movie. The elevator scene that I’m in with Ryan Gosling where he smashes my face in it just is a standout thing. It’s kind of fun. That was such an iconic thing. I guess some film schools use that for teaching, that particular scene that he shot with the lighting and all the stuff. They use that for film school.

And when did you first get involved with the Stuntman’s Association?

It’s an invitation-only fraternity. It’s the first and the oldest stunt group since 1961. I was invited in basically around the time of the first Pirates movie. Initially, after a few years, I got on the board and now I’ve served three different terms as president. So, it’s been 20 years now or so that I’ve been involved.

It’s a charitable foundation as well. We put on different things like golf tournaments and legends dinners and things. When we raise money, we actually will then turn around and use that for specific causes, especially for injured stunt people in need of that.

For information regarding release please visit: www.mourningrock.com

Eric Green
Author

Eric Green has over 25 years of professional experience producing creative, marketing, and journalistic content. Born in Flushing, Queens and based in Los Angeles, Green has a catalog of hundreds of articles, stories, photographs, drawings, and more. He is the director of the celebrated 2014 Documentary, Beautiful Noise and the author of the novella Redyn, the graphic novel Bonk and Woof, and the novel, The Lost Year. Currently, he is hard at work on a book chronicling the lives of the greatest Character Actors.