EDS End of Semester Reflection

My Fall 2012 elective, Entertainment Design Studio, is over.  I’ve finished what was essentially an independent study in Fight Choreography and Filmography, and throwing myself right in to it (literally) has shown me a lot.  Even at the beginning of this semester, I knew that one semester of coursework would provide me no mastery in this field, but I do feel like I have seen a lot and become aware of the processes and considerations that a producer of fight scenes needs to be aware of.

Designing

  • Designing for your actors is essential for them to pull off a convincing performance and stay safe, but you need to know them almost as well as you know yourself.
  • The best fights fit in a larger universe.  What do they characters want other than to hurt each other?  How did they end up in this situation?  Et cetera.  Barring all of that, it’s still possible to design a technique-ly impressive fight.
  • A fight is a physical altercation; pick a location first and incorporate its space.
  • Pacing a fight and creating “phrases” of combat is the same as creating any plot/interest curve.
  • You will run up into many issues:  costuming, lighting, sound effects, etc.  Know they exist, know what your team is capable of doing well, and make clear what you are not.

Performing

  • Because images cannot show depth (except for 3D film now), stacking a strike and its intended target along the line of sight of the camera without the two actually meeting is still the best way to fake “contact.”
  • Stunt performers are actors foremost.  They might get “hit” for 4 frames, but they need to sell that hit for the next 24 frames or so.  Being able to exaggerate a reaction to something that never happened will make or break a fight scene faster than an incorrectly thrown punch.
  • Practice a fight scene like a kata or even better like a dance.  It’s controlled chaos; at every moment, people need to know where they should be and where everyone else should be.  More importantly, they should know when something is wrong and when to stop if their partner misses a beat.
  • Previous combat experience therefore can be a detriment to a fight performer.  Instincts to not give tells or exaggerate, instincts to break the opponents rhythm, and instincts to always keep one’s guard up all work against the aforementioned good practices.
  • Always have a third eye watching a performance, because the performance will eventually have to look good to a camera, and that point brings us to:

Filming

  • There is an intimate relationship between filming and performing a fight scene.  It’s almost impossible to find the best camera angles without being able to constantly move around the constantly moving performers, and vice versa, to perform properly to the camera if it is not there.  Specifically, because strikes and their targets need to stack relative to the camera as mentioned above, all three (attacker, victim, camera) all need to move together to avoid revealing “dead air.”
  • The 180 degree rule holds in shooting a fight scene for the purpose of continuity when editing.  There are however plenty of opportunities to let the action dictate when the 180 degree line will change.
  • In the same shot, film the actions before and after whatever is being showcased.  E.g. recovering from the previous punch, doing the complete backflip kick, and getting ready for the next kick.  You need this to be able to cut on an action to show rapid continuity while editing.

Editing

  • Editing a fight scene and its surprising number of shot angles is a stylistic art itself.  Long master shots to show off the performance.  Rapid close-ups to emphasize the emotional intensity.  When to switch between them and how to emphasize them.  You will have a preference; the editor will have a preference; the director will film to a preference.
  • Speeding up the performance for more impact is subtle and tricky.  Simply speeding up film can feel gimmicky and weird if done for more than fractions of a second or if the performers did not also do certain actions slower.  Removing single frames in places can help at key moments but it is exact and time-consuming.  What I found was best for compressing time was cutting on actions.  Perhaps performer A delivers kicks slowly but if you cut from one shot of A preparing their kick to a different one of B receiving the kick, you can lose that second in between and the audience still fills in the gap.  Note: This can keep the pace of the fight up, but it will not remedy performer A looking slow whenever they are on screen.

And to end on, here are selected bloopers from the semester:

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