‘Bullet Train’ producer Kelly McCormick on building an action empire

Kelly McCormick, producer of Bullet Train and co-founder of 87North, followed the guiding principle of “finding the truth in fiction” when making films, a reaction to earlier documentaries where “it wasn’t uncommon for stories to be twisted around them to make it more entertaining”. So she turned to producing content that packs a different kind of emotional — and physical — punch.

McCormick’s latest film, Bullet Train, directed by her husband and 87North partner David Leitch, sees Brad Pitt as a hit man who finds himself on an increasingly complicated job. Pitt leads an ensemble cast including Sandra Bullock, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Brian Tyree Henry and Bad Bunny in a wild ride that showcases the company’s signature blend of hyper violence and heart.

“I see action as melodrama,” explains McCormick. “It’s about emphasizing the highs higher and the lows deeper, with both physicality and dialogue.”

diversity the producer caught up by phone earlier this month as she sped to the airport with the film’s stars and Leitch after a fan screening in Berlin, Germany. The filmmakers have been in overdrive lately, starting from a location scout in Sydney, Australia on ‘The Fall Guy’ – the upcoming big-screen version of the 1980s TV show starring Ryan Gosling – to begin their world tour for ‘Bullet’ to begin train.”

“I’m definitely the kind of person who likes to work with my head down on the next one, and I’m learning to appreciate the publishing experience,” says McCormick.

While it was an adjustment to everyday life, packaging an idea and preparing it for production, McCormick has embraced the marquee moment for 87North, the dual production company and premier stunt training and design studio, with a brand new workspace in Hollywood.

“I got a DM today from a fan in Paris who just got out of the movie, loved it and had to write me. It was so cute,” she shares. “As a producer, you don’t often get such direct contact.”

McCormick and Leitch’s filmography boasts action hits like Nobody, Atomic Blonde, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Deadpool 2, which have grossed more than $2 billion worldwide. Under 87North’s first-look deal with Universal, Violent Night, a Christmas action thriller starring David Harbor and directed by Tommy Wirkola, and The Fall Guy are up next.

Married since 2014 and professionally linked years before (McCormick previously managed Leitch and fellow stuntman director Chad Stahelski), the couple divide the workload of their projects: Leitch focuses on the creative aspects while McCormick takes care of story development, cast packaging and other big picture elements.

“My brain is wired for story and packaging, but I’m definitely happy to jump in and solve planning or budgeting issues when they arise,” notes McCormick.

She has refined these skills in the course of her career in a “zigzag way”. McCormick was also EVP of Production and Acquisitions at Sierra Affinity, an overseas distribution and financing company, where she packaged and produced Academy Award-winning and nominated films such as Hell or High Water, Whiplash, Nightcrawler, and Manchester the Sea,” as well as 2021 comedy Poms. This merging of work experience, she explains, “has helped me incubate all aspects of producing that can go into what a project needs at a given point in time.”

The projects also benefit from her perspective as a woman.

“I tend to really relate to the female characters,” says McCormick. “There’s just that security or that ability to make sure they’re also being heard and treated in a way that feels really strong and powerful but also emotional.”

She also credits Bullet Train editor Elísabet Ronaldsdóttir, who has worked on nearly every McCormick and Leitch film since John Wick, for teaching her “what women can do [as action filmmakers] and about the sensibilities and how to focus on all the right emotional things that don’t get too sweet and saccharine to feel real for the genre.”

Upcoming 87North films also include Dakar Rally, the life story of Jutta Kleinschmidt, the only woman to win the brutal off-road endurance race at Amblin; and Ruby, a female assassin action film written by Kat Wood for Amazon.

“It has always been a priority for us to nurture and mentor the next generation of filmmakers and stunt people with the goal of recruiting more women and people of color,” notes McCormick. “Action is widely recognized as a white male-centric genre, so making room for people who aren’t historically represented but also love action and want to be part of this business is important to me.”

She adds, “Action is a stronger, more vibrant genre when we’re inclusive.”

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Bullet Train stars Brad Pitt, Joey King, Brian Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, with director David Leitch and producer Kelly McCormick in Paris, France.
Photo by Dominique Charriau/Gett

https://variety.com/2022/film/features/kelly-mccormick-bullet-train-87-north-1235329812/ ‘Bullet Train’ producer Kelly McCormick on building an action empire

Charles Jones

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