Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter opens with quite a bang. The first few minutes of the Disney+ show’s premiere follow Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson as he embarks on a dangerous, high-stakes military rescue mission, which quickly transforms into an intense and spectacular action set-piece.
The opening sequence sees Sam engaging in mid-air fights, weaving through labyrinthine canyons, and flying into (and out of) already airborne helicopters. It’s a piece of action filmmaking that calls to mind the similarly effective opening stealth mission in Captain America: The Winter Soldier — and not just because Georges St-Pierre’s Batroc the Leaper appears in both of these scenes.
Ahead, the episode’s director, Kari Skogland, speaks with Inverse about making the premiere’s jaw-dropping action sequence, and the death-defying stunt work that brought it to life.
Directing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier Premiere
Falcon and Winter Soldier director Kari Skogland always knew it was going to be important to nail the premiere’s opening sequence, and for her, that meant a lot of research. But Skogland didn’t just look at the most obvious available references while planning the scene.
“I was in the writer’s room with the writers of the show when that sequence was being dreamed up, and as that was happening I was already trying to figure out how to do it. I immediately started researching a lot of web videos of people jumping out of airplanes,” Skogland tells Inverse. “Obviously, there are go-to resources to see people jumping out of C-130s and things like that, but what I was really interested in was the athletes who put cameras all over their bodies and jump out in squirrel suits or parachutes.”
Studying tape can only get you so far, of course, so Skogland took things a step further: “We did a lot of research, and of course, we had a team that went up and jumped out of a plane in those squirrel suits, too.”
The result: a scene that not only thrills the uaidnce, but actively put them in Sam’s shoes (or wings, rather) and make them feel what he does when he’s soaring through the air.
“What I really wanted to capture was the experiential quality that kind of flight gives you,” she says. “We tried to capture that so that you feel like you’re with Sam — because the other thing about that sequence was that it had to be a way for us to see him like we’ve never seen the Falcon before.”
Writing The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The sequence is a massive action set-piece, and it feels even larger considering The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s status as a TV series. But it turns out to be the direct result of a mandate that Marvel and Kevin Feige had early on about the Disney+ show.
“This has to feel like a movie,” The Falcon and the Winter Soldier head writer Malcolm Spellman tells Inverse. “If you’re talking about storytelling and spectacle as separate things, movie storytelling almost always has compressed time and is urgent, and there is a pulse that comes with that. So Kevin wanted every episode to feel like a movie, as far as the storytelling in each.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean The Falcon and the Winter Soldier writers ignored the opportunities provided by the show’s weekly, episodic TV format.
“The thing that’s great about serialized storytelling — meaning over many episodes — is that you get to pace things differently,” says Spellman. “So a love story in a movie, or 2 characters bonding in a movie, is going to be very, very different than a love story over 6 episodes or 2 characters bonding over 6 episodes.”
Marvel’s storytelling mandate meant The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s creative team had to make sure the series delivered the same kind of urgent storytelling and thrilling spectacle present in the studio’s films on both a week-to-week basis and as a whole. If it sounds challenging, that’s because it was.
“We had to put ourselves, creatively, in a place where each week when people tune in to the show, they get the feeling that happens with movie storytelling where each episode feels like its own contained story, but we also simultaneously tried to craft a satisfying serialized story,” reveals Spellman. “We spent weeks dealing with just the storytelling mechanisms of the show. I hope we achieved that balance because it was definitely a goal.”
The Inverse Analysis — Like all great action scenes, the premiere’s opening rescue mission manages to tell its own complete story and simultaneously helps set up Sam’s overall journey in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The sequence sees Sam stepping out of the sidekick role and completing a mission on his own, only to struggle to take on the Captain America mantle throughout the rest of the episode.
That’s an internal conflict that Sam will, no doubt, continue to grapple with over the course of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s coming episodes, but the sequence makes it very clear just how capable Sam is of being the hero Steve Rogers believed he could be. It also tells viewers exactly the kind of ride they’re in store for with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier — one that both thrills them and forever redefines how they see Sam Wilson.
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