Anyone know some good books on staging fight scenes?

Posted by knuckles 
Anyone know some good books on staging fight scenes?
December 28, 2005 12:18AM
I know there's one coming out by the guy that did the choreography for the Matrix, which is coming out in 2006. Anyone know of any out there now?


Anonymous User
Re: Anyone know some good books on staging fight scenes?
December 28, 2005 01:04AM
There are many good books on staging fight scenes for the theatre. Not sure about film although a google search will bring up something I am sure. Best ideas for fight scenes in film are in the films you watch.

Not a good idea though to stage fight scenes without a pro about. A good stunt coordinator will save you time and money and injury.


Re: Anyone know some good books on staging fight scenes?
December 28, 2005 01:52AM
From a practical standpoint, I'm completely with Michael -- get a stunt co-ordinator. An experienced one who knows how to make fights look real on film, which is very, very different from making fights look real in theatre. On the short film I cut which went to HBO, the fight scene did have a co-ordinator, but it was obvious that he was either not very good or not very hard-working, because the fistfight in the film looked awful. One of the actors was very obviously pulling his punch (staring his target right in the face as he swings, so it looks like he's deliberately working hard to miss, which he is), so we had to chop the scene up and to this day it looks bad.

From the theory front, this book doesn't specialize in martial-arts staging, but has good tidbits on the craft -- John Woo: Interviews. In this book he talks about different approaches towards choreography, how Nicholas Cage can't be shot with as fast a speed as Chow Yun-fat, and so on. When you shoot Jackie Chan, you can't use the Yuen Woo-ping approach or it ruins his whole approach. Just look at The Medallion and The Tuxedo (failures) vs. Drunken Master 2 (successful). So far the only American director I've seen who "gets" the Jackie Chan approach is Brett Ratner. Jet Li, on the other hand, is associated with the Yuen Woo-ping slow-mo crazy approach. I don't like it much -- I think Richard Donner's shooting of Jet Li in Lethal Weapon 4 has yet to be matched by any of Jet Li's other American films.

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior has good choreography, but its use of "repeat action", plus overuse of sped-up footage (just look at the crowds behind the pit fights) drained a lot of the fight sequences of life. The best sequence in that film was really right before he entered the cave where the final confrontation takes place.

I think the best way to figure out how you want to shoot your fight scenes is to shoot tests, figure out how your actors move. Having Jean-Claude Van Damme in the lead is very different from having Jackie Chan, or Bruce Lee. Chang Cheh is a great director to study; Lo Wei is a great reverse example on how *not* to pace fight scenes -- too much staring back and forth, too much dissipation of tension. To use a less sino-centric example, Revenge of the Sith had good fight scenes where you know who's winning and who's losing; Attack of the Clones' final lightsaber duel didn't, so even though it was Yoda in the fight, it was not a good fight scene because the scene had no narrative thrust. Both films pale alongside the Darth Maul scene in The Phantom Menace, where the athleticism and authenticity of Ray Park allowed them to shoot and edit with much less editing trickery.

One thing I see a lot in low-budget fight scenes is that people forget about the fact that when a blow is landed, there's a repellant force which causes your striking limb to recoil slightly. The lack of such a cheat really gives away the fact that the actor *is* swinging at air.

A trick taught me by my first editing mentor: Don't match action perfectly in a fight scene. Take out a few frames of continuity and you'll usually end up with more impact to the cut.

There's my rant...
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