Interview with aerial stunt coordinator for Top Gun: Maverick! Kevin LaRosa II is the Aerial Coordinator & Camera Pilot for Top Gun: Maverick. He’s one of Hollywood’s most sought-after pilot and aerial coordinators, licensed to fly a variety of aircraft ranging from helicopters and airplanes to Learjets and more. He’s known for his work on major...
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Chuck (host) (00:33):
Hello. Thanks so much for joining me today. I'm thrilled. Introduce my special guest Kevin LAA, Jr. Kevin is one of Hollywood's most sought after pilot and area coordinators licensed to fly a variety of aircraft ranging from helicopters and airplanes to L jets and more. He's known for his work on major blockbusters, including Ironman, the Avengers and transformers five. Kevin is an accomplished ATP rated pilot in a multitude of fixed wing and rotorcraft and works heavily in the motion picture and television industries, worldwide coordinating and directing film sequences in the air and on the ground. Kevin joins me today to discuss his career and his latest work, which can be seen in Paramount's top gun Maverick.
Chuck (host) (01:44):
Kevin, again, thank you so much for joining me. Really appreciate it.
Kevin LaRosa II (01:47):
Thanks for having me, Chuck.
Chuck (host) (01:48):
Well, sure. You, you know, you've been all over the news lately. For some reason, it seems like everywhere. I turn Kevin LAA, Kevin LAA, Kevin, I wonder why that is
Kevin LaRosa II (01:57):
Little movie called top gun Maverick. You may heard of it.
Chuck (host) (02:01):
<Laugh> yes, I have it. I love it. I I've seen it twice. Saw it twice in the first week. My wife and I just love it. It's just an amazing movie and I think it's so cool that you're part of it, but I tell you what I really wanna talk about is just how your career began, this, this incredible career. You know, you're an aerial coordinator helicopter stunt, pilot, jet, stunt pilot, numerous certifications on all types of aircraft. I heard through the grapevine that you grew up in an aviation family, and you got an early start, you know, with your dad taking a movie shoots. Can you tell me more about just how your passion for flying began?
Kevin LaRosa II (02:37):
Absolutely. proud to say I was a third generation aviator in my family and second generation aerial coordinator in stunt pilot, which is a pretty rare profession. And you can imagine growing up as a little boy in that house, you think your dad is really cool when you go watch him on film sets, flying helicopters and Warbirds and airplanes. And he became, you know, not just a father figure to me, but my idol and my hero and somebody that I wanted to grow up and, and be just like him. And the very cool thing I like telling people is from a very young age, I knew what I wanted to do for a living. And I was unwavered. I mean, the only thing that ever came close to getting in the way of the career I wanted was the original top gun. I wore that movie out. I've seen it a hundred times and, you know, there was almost, almost a, a Kevin LaRose, a junior Naval aviator, or at least I would've attempted. But but I stayed the course with the career that I've always wanted to do and followed in my father's footsteps. And I was exposed from a very young age to so many different facets of aviation, so many different types of aircraft and so many great people in the aviation industry. I feel like today I'm where I belong.
Chuck (host) (03:50):
See, I think it's amazing. And you know, I, I had a friend of mine in high school when I was impressed by him, cuz by the time he was 16, he became a pilot. But next to you, he <laugh>, it's nowhere near cause by the time you're 18, you were commercially rated helicopter pilot. I, I just think that's incredible. So when did you first site start flying? Huey's what drew you to that?
Kevin LaRosa II (04:08):
Well, Huey's were widely used in the movie business and, and they still are not as much as they used to be, but they were the mainstay and, and when Huey became available to civilians early on in the, the eighties and nineties, that was sort of the helicopter of choice used for military movies. My dad was big time into flying. Huey's he's one of the best Huey pilots I've ever seen on movie sets. And I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and get to ferry these helicopters around the country with them. And and it's just a cool machine. It's got a lot of nostalgia and history behind it. Nothing sounds better when you fly 'em they're like a big truck. They just got a bunch of power. They're one of my favorite helicopters ever.
Chuck (host) (04:46):
Oh they they're incredible. I'll tell you one thing too is, you know, being a pilot is one thing and you certainly excelled at that, but how do you transition to being that error coordinator for being the camera pilot? How did that happen?
Kevin LaRosa II (04:58):
I love that you asked that question and for any aspiring pilots or anybody in any profession, I feel like this, this story has a little merit to it. I'll be brief, but basically as a young aviator, I was going out on film sets with my dad, doing what I love, you know, feeling like I was in the right place. And my dad, you know, pulled me aside one day and told a 17 year old who knows everything in the world, exactly what I didn't want to hear. And that is I needed to leave the business. I needed to go become my own aviator, my own person, my own businessman, and figure things out for myself because I would never be trusted in this great industry if I was just a junior or I was just a son, didn't matter if I had the same name or not.
Kevin LaRosa II (05:33):
And that was hard to hear, but it's the exact advice I took from somebody that I trusted. And it's the advice that I think made me successful today. And I had to do a lot of other jobs that I absolutely loved. I flew traffic watch se C. I was in LA, I flew news helicopters. I flew charter jets. I flew cargo charter. I did, you know, helicopter medical stuff. I did a little bit of everything. And I always kept a foot in the door with the film business on my vacation days or off days or sick days. I was always on set still when I was doing those other jobs in a supportive role to my father. And it, then I got to a point in life. I was 26 years old at about 5,500 hours of lots of different platforms. And I felt personally ready. You just know in life when it's time to take that leap of faith and go back to the career you've always wanted. And that's what I did and had I not followed that great advice. I wouldn't be here where I'm today. And we all heard that advice when you're trying to obtain something in life, a goal or a dream there's never a straight line, it's a curvy or zigzag path. I definitely took that path and I ended up right where I wanna be.
Chuck (host) (06:36):
See, I think that's incredible. Your dedication shines through cuz I mean the blockbuster movies that you've been a part of three, all three Ironman movies, fantastic movies, Spider-Man homecoming, Godzilla, Jumanji, welcome to the jungle, even the Christmas Chronicles and space force <laugh> but of course now you're all over the news for, you know, top gun Maverick, how how's it feel right now?
Kevin LaRosa II (06:57):
This is incredible. I'm doing the career I love, which is mixing aviation and filmmaking. There's nothing better than watching the reaction of movie goers and the general public and how they look at this movie because that's what we feel. And I feel like any of my cast and crew members that I got to share the making of this movie with, we all feel that we just wanna make this great product and entertain. So how does it feel? It feels incredible. I've been waking up every day, pinching myself, thanking, you know, everybody that I was able to be a part of this historic movie. And I love the reaction of the world and nothing feels better than that.
Chuck (host) (07:32):
Oh, it is a, it is a great reaction. I I'm definitely part of that too. So I have to ask you again, you know, what was it like to work with Tom cruise and the rest of the cast for this amazing movie?
Kevin LaRosa II (07:42):
Well, Tom's one of my favorite actors, but aside from that, he's just a very motivating individual. And I always tell people one, one of the things I think he does really good is motivating teaching and helping those around him, be on the same page and assisting them and helping make a great product or a great film. And for me in the aviation side on top gun, Maverick, Tom was extremely involved being an aviator. He is a love for aviation himself, but he's absolutely ingrained in aviation. And he was a massive part of the team and driving force for making sure that everything we shot on top gun was inland, real practical stunts. He was sort of the driving force behind that. And of course Joseph Kazinski you know, our director on the movie was also right there behind there, making sure everything was real and authentic, but Tom is a, is a great individual. He's extremely focused. And I find that he motivates me to just be a better person every time I'm hanging out with him.
Chuck (host) (08:38):
Wow. I think that's fascinating too. And I was also fascinating too, just the rest of the cast too. I mean, a lot of them came in and they have to go through this amazing training. None of 'em watched out, you know, all of 'em were dedicated and, and I, I guess that led me to kind of, you know, as an era coordinator and such a fascinating movie I think it's okay to give maybe a little spoilers. Now. I was wondering, is there any particular tough stunt that you coordinated for this movie that was particularly challenging for you?
Kevin LaRosa II (09:03):
Yeah, the whole movie, <laugh> the it's still true. The from the very beginning we knew that we had to make a perfect product top gun Maverick needed to obtain cinematic perfection that had never been seen before in order to do that, you need to have an amazing story. You need to have great technology. You need to have the right people willing to go the extra mile. And I feel like we had that. So to answer your question, every single thing we did in the aerial department of top gun Maverick was always pushing the boundaries of creativity and what was possible without compromising safety. But I mean, it was strenuous work to go out there and we would come back with great footage and we would sit there and go, you know, we can make this better. So just a huge drive to Excel, you know, kind of the art of camera movement in the air, which I love doing pushing aircraft to their, to their limits, pushing people to their limits and really coming back with that cinematic perfection and that goal that we see on the big screen.
Chuck (host) (09:59):
It incredibly motivating. I wanna share with you a question I got from, from one of my listeners, his name, Sean he's a aspiring pilot and he just wants to know, you know, when there are, where, when there are two or more planes flying in such close proximity, that happened a lot. How earth do you coordinate that? I mean, one wrong move can be kind of horrible.
Kevin LaRosa II (10:16):
Yeah. And I'm, I'm gonna tip my hat to the Naval aviators that we used on the movie and all of the support people in the United States, Navy and department of defense that we got to work with, but they are absolute professionals and they know that airplane is an extension of their body. They fly it so good. And we flew with plenty of Naval aviators on the movie. It's very humbling to get, to share a piece of airspace with them. But to answer that question, we would go through extensive briefings. Mm-Hmm <affirmative> planned out to the T air speeds, the GS, the bank angles, the location, the lighting extensive briefs. So there was no question. And we would usually walk these maneuvers out with stick models and fly them with our hands first and go through the motions before we got in the aircraft.
Kevin LaRosa II (10:59):
And by the time we get in the air, we're very well briefed, but also we, you know, as a precision pilot or stunt pilot, we strive for excellence in repetition. And we also have a crawl walk, run mentality. If we're gonna go fly through a canyon and close proximity to know the aircraft, we don't just dive in there and pick any canyon. That's been pre scouted. We know every rock, every tree, every turn we've done it, you know, at 300 dots and 300 feet and, and lowered the altitude and increased the speed to a point where we're pushing the boundaries of what we can do safely without compromising safety. So that's, that's sort of the, the mentality we use similar to any precision pilots or airshow pilots or anything we practice, we rehearse and we get it perfect. And then we go nail it
Chuck (host) (11:42):
And the results are amazing. Kevin, let me ask you, this was top gun Maverick, the most difficult film you've ever worked on, if not, yeah.
Kevin LaRosa II (11:49):
By no, by far top gun Maverick sets the bar and creativity in, in the cinematic perfection, we talked about in the technology, just a lot of new technology. I, I created a platform called the Sy jet, which is an existing L 39 Albatros was a readily available. But I stuck the latest and greatest shot over camera, give on the front of this thing, which allowed Claudia Miranda or DP to put this camera package in there. And that jet allowed me to film these dog fighting sequences and these canyon sequences that really get the viewer up close and personal to the vapor and, and the GS and the afterburners. So it was new tech that we never had before and allows me to fly the pants off this airplane and not worry about the gile and the gimble gets to just be stabilized. And then the brave soul, which I always love mentioning that sits in the ejection seat behind me. That's the aerial DP director of photography for the air and that gentleman with two of them on the movie, David Noll, Michael Fitzmaurice, they're incredible. They're the ones operating the camera for the, the helicopter, the jet that I'm flying. Great guys. And they're the ones that make the shots happen. My job is to put 'em in the right place and coordinate them once I get in there, those guys make the shot happen.
Chuck (host) (13:01):
Okay. And you've all, but you've also started as a camera pilot, maybe not necessarily for top Maverick, but for others. I was gonna say as a camera pilot, are there any particular scenes that you're, that particular mean a lot to you in, in the top of Maverick or one of the other movies?
Kevin LaRosa II (13:13):
Yeah. I mean, for people that have seen the movie or not seen the movie, I always say it feels like the final sequence, which if you watch the movie, that's the one where my palms get sweaty and I'm on the edge of I seat, even though I've seen the movie seven times now, but when I shot that or I got to fly in that sequence, that final sequence in the movie, it was just as the adrenaline I got from that. It was just as exhilarating being there real time as it is on the big screen, that is some of the most extreme terrain I've ever flown of extreme conditions I've ever flown in. And some of the most extreme maneuvering that we've ever flown camera systems in ever. So that final sequence of top gun Maverick, what you see on that screen is very real. We're really out there doing those things. And trust me, we were all pinching ourselves going, I can't believe we're doing this. This is insane, but it's also crazy and beautiful. And I love what we did
Chuck (host) (14:03):
Crazy and beautiful is great. We just jar. I remember going out at the theater and I just told my wife, I said, I couldn't get over the, the final scenes, which just incredible. I loved it. You kind of answered this a little bit in the beginning of moment. I wanna go back to it. You know, we have some inspiring pilots that are obviously listening and watching this right now. What advice would you give them?
Kevin LaRosa II (14:23):
I would give them the same great advice. So I've gotten a lot of good advice, but I'll give them a couple key ones that I love in the aviation industry. Aviation is about learning and we're never done learning and I can't emphasize that enough. And we go through phases where we get ratings, or we get certified in cool aircraft. We feel like we're at the top of the world. And, and that's great to feel that way, but as long as we understand that we're never done learning. We're always gonna make bad landings. We're always gonna make mistakes. We're gonna do things. What I call never again, moments. So you do something in your aviation career and go, yep. I should never let that happen again, cuz that was stupid or dangerous or whatever. Yeah. You have to listen to those moments and never really never do them again.
Kevin LaRosa II (15:03):
But just be prepared to continue learning because the day you shut down learning from anybody a colleague, a competitor, whatever is the day you're gonna hurt yourself, hurt somebody else or, or become unprofessional. So continue learning for your entire career. And also another great piece of advice. My dad gave me is you're gonna learn from a lot of different people. You're gonna fly with a lot of different people. And it's our job to take little things from all these instructors and all these other pilots that we fly with that we like. And we put that into our daily routine of aviation and we're also going to pick up lots of things we don't like. And those are the things we stay away from and all those things make you your own aviator. And the last piece of advice I'll give. And this one I truly love, you know, there's pilots and then there's aviators.
Kevin LaRosa II (15:46):
Really they're both professionals, but an aviator to me in the truest sense means somebody that's connected with their aircraft book. Smart is great. Know your limitations, know the numbers, that's all fantastic. But really when you fly an aircraft, come one with it, listen to it. Every it's always talking to you. That's what I was taught. Every little bump, every little sound is if you're in tune with your aircraft, it doesn't matter how many different aircraft you fly. You need to let that aircraft be an extension of your mind and body and, and that's an aviator. So those are, those are things I like passing on
Chuck (host) (16:17):
Kevin. That is great advice. I appreciate you sharing that with our audience. Let me one last question. What is next for you? What's coming up?
Kevin LaRosa II (16:25):
I just did another incredible aviation movie. This is a great year for aviation. I think this movie's called devotion and this is a black label media Sony production. It's a feature film, it'll be in theaters and I was able to join Glen Powell again as another aviator in this movie. So Glen's one of the leads along with Jonathan majors. And what's special about devotion is it's one another Navy movie. But this is a period movie Korean war era, which is a very kind of untold story, but it's a very heroic story and the movie's based on true events. So there's a book by Adam makos written about it in our incredible director jdllard and our director of photography, Eric measurement did a beautiful job telling the story and shooting the story. It's a little different than top gun Maverick. It's more personal. And following the lives of these Naval aviators as they progress through an interesting time in society. But what's great about it for those aviation fans, lots of real flying, lots of real stunts. And we kind of brought the top gun vibe as far as how we shot it. So I think it'd be cool.
Chuck (host) (17:26):
Wow. Cannot wait till devotion comes out. Kevin, I just wanna congratulate you on an amazing career. Thank you for keeping everyone safe and giving us such great entertainment. Appreciate you taking the time to join us today. Thank you so much, Kevin.
Kevin LaRosa II (17:38):
My pleasure. Thanks Chuck.
Chuck (host) (17:44):
I really enjoy my conversation with Kevin and I'm loving the aerial stunts in top gun Maverick guaranteed. The movie highly suggested. Go see it. If you'd like to learn more about Kevin, just go his website at https://kevinlarosa.com . I wanna thank Kevin for joining me today. I wanna thank you for joining me as well. If you do me a small favor and like this episode or share it with a friend, we'd certainly appreciate it. Thanks so much for joining me. We'll see you next time. God bless.