Interview: Stunt Coordinator Hiro Koda
By Melissa Slaughter
It’s not everyday you get to talk to someone nominated for an Emmy, someone who’s already got an Emmy for Outstanding Stunt Coordination, or someone who was a freaking Power Ranger!
Well, today is that day for me! Hiro Koda got his SAG card when he was just twelve years old and has been working in Hollywood ever since. He’s been a stuntman and stunt coordinator for over twenty-five years, and he’s taken on the mantle of directing as well. After working on Power Rangers for over seven years, Hiro went on to work on huge hits like Serenity, True Blood, Stranger Things 3, and Big Little Lies. He was also the stunt coordinator and a series director for the web series “Supah Ninjas” (starring fellow Hapa Ryan Potter); this is the show that won Hiro his first Emmy.
Now he’s nominated again for his work on “Cobra Kai”, the webseries based of the 1980s classic The Karate Kid film series. Via email, I asked him about his work on Power Rangers, “Cobra Kai,” and his directing career.
What is your mix?
And where did you grow up?
I was born in Birmingham, AL. Raised in Texas, Alabama and California.
Who were your heroes growing up?
I was a huge fan of Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan.
When was the first time you saw yourself represented on screen?
I’ve always put myself on home videos any chance I could get, but my first professional appearance onscreen was a National Hi-C Drink Commercial. I was twelve years old when I got my SAG card and a taste for the entertainment business.
How did you get into doing stunt work?
I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a stuntman at the age of seventeen. I did several Roger Corman films and was given the opportunity to work on the Original Power Rangers TV show.
How did you get involved with the iconic show Power Rangers?
My girlfriend at the time was an actress and landed a guest starring role on Power Rangers. I asked her to take my resume in to the stunt coordinator, and they brought me in to work her episode. There I met the Japanese stunt team “Alpha Stunts” and started training with them every day I could.
Did you have a favorite fight or episode?
I can’t remember which fight or episode it was because there were so many I did during the first seven seasons. Every fight was fun in its own unique way, but the day I was asked to be in the Blue Ranger costume was pretty incredible.
Did you and Dacre [Montgomery, who played the Red Ranger in the 2107 reboot] bond over your Power Rangers connection?
We had several discussions about Power Rangers! It was a great icebreaker for getting into what we were rehearsing for Stranger Things.
Did working on Power Rangers influence your web series “Supah Ninjas”?
Special thanks to Alpha Stunts and Koichi Sakamoto, who was the director/producer on Power Rangers. He was my mentor, inspired me, and taught me what action design is all about, how to execute it in a way that tells a story through action. That’s something I’ve carried with me onto every show I work on, not just “Supah Ninjas.”
What made you decide to move behind the camera as the series director, as well as being the stunt coordinator? (Congrats on that Emmy as well!)
Our first season of twenty-six episodes was loaded with action. I was second unit, directing every episode, including acting scenes that main unit didn’t have time to do. An opportunity came up to direct an episode, and I asked if I could do it, which lead to me directing the first episode of season two, as well as the mid-season episode and finally becoming a series director. It was such an honor to have been given this opportunity on such a fun show!
You are now nominated for the web series “Cobra Kai.” Where you a fan of The Karate Kid series before you started “Cobra Kai?”
Huge fan growing up in the world of martial arts. Karate Kid had was an important part of my childhood. My father was my instructor and is very much Mr. Miyagi. Getting the call to do this show was a dream come true!
What is it like working on shows like Cobra Kai and Stranger Things, that tap into the 1980s nostalgia?
Such an amazing experience, and to be completely back in the 80s is incredible! Walking on the sets brought back so many memories as a kid, especially seeing all the detail put into these sets, props, and costumes, things I haven’t seen since I was a kid. Working with Ralph Macchio and Billy Zabka was such an incredible experience, and being able to train and choreograph for these two iconic characters has been an unbelievable experience.
Any dream projects that you want to pursue in the future?
My ultimate goal is to direct. I enjoy and love my job as a second unit director and action design as a stunt coordinator, but I’m really pushing forward in my career as a director. I recently directed a short film, “Contrato,” that was premiered at the Arizona International Film Festival.
Finally, I think mixed kids have the best food because we have multiple cultures. What is your favorite food?
My favorite food is definitely Japanese food by far.
End of Interview
Melissa has lived in all four time zones in the contiguous United States. A former actor in Seattle, WA, Melissa now resides in NYC as a content creator. She is the producer of the We're Not All Ninjas podcast, which she also hosts with fellow Hapa Mag writer, Alex Chester. Melissa also writes for online blogs Nerdophiles and The Nerds of Color. Find her @NotAllNinjasPod.