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The Director's Chair Issue #8 – Nov. 29, 2000 (Staging and Shooting a Fight Scene)

Free Monthly Ezine for Film and Television Directors

November 29, 2000          Scene 1 – Take 8

Published once a month.

Publisher: Peter D. Marshall
Email: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com
Web Site: http://www.actioncutprint.com

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1.  Introduction
2.  Action-Cut-Print!
3.  Back Issues of The Director’s Chair
4.  Quote of the Month
5.  Feature Article – Staging and Shooting a Fight Scene
6.  Directing Tip – Balance Your Scenes
7.  The New Media – Online Content Survival: Syndication?
8.  Film Links of Interest – Film Archives
9.  Questions and Answers
10.  Out Takes -” Stupid Criminal Hall of Shame”
11.  Survey Says!
12.  Share This Ezine
13.  Suggestions & Comments
14.  Copyright Information
15.  Subscribe & Unsubscribe Information


Welcome to Issue # 8 of The Director’s Chair (November 29, 2000)

a) Many thanks to all those who participated in the survey I sent
out on November 8. I have started to include some of the comments
with this issue (Question and Answer Section)

NOTE: At the end of this ezine, I am including the same survey
again for new subscribers and those who did not get a chance to
respond. Please take a moment to answer a couple of questions –
especially on what FILM TOPICS you are interested in reading
about for the Feature Article section.

b) The Feature Article this month is the first of several
articles on how to shoot action. Part One is on how to Stage and
Shoot a basic fight scene.

c) In the The New Media section is a very interesting article
from EV (Variety) (www.ev.variety.com) on how internet content
providers can survive and make money. If you are thinking of
producing short films for internet broadcasting, this is a must

d) Calling all Volunteers! If you would like to contribute
articles, tips, links of interest,industry news, interviews,
special event dates or other resources to The Director’s Chair,
please contact me at: mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com


Peter D. Marshall

2. ACTION-CUT-PRINT! –  A Web Site for Film Makers

If you are a Film or TV Director; a working professional who
wants to Direct; a film student who would like to learn more
about Directing; or a “student of film” who just wants to know
more about Film Making from the pros, Action-Cut-Print! is for

Take a moment now to visit
http://www.actioncutprint.com/home.html where you will find over
1000 Online Resources for Film Makers; where you will learn
Directing tips and techniques from the pros and where you will
discover the very best strategies and techniques for promoting
and marketing your own Film and TV Web Site.


To read back issues of The Director’s Chair, visit:


“You’re not to bright. I like that in a man.”
Kathleen Turner to William Hurt in ‘Body Heat’, 1981

5. FEATURE ARTICLE – Staging and Shooting a Fight Scene

Staging and Shooting a Fight Scene

Almost every film today has some sort of obligatory fight scene
between the good guy and the bad guy. In this issue, I will share
some tips on how to stage and shoot a simple fight scene between
two actors.

SCENE: Goodguy enters a dark room and looks around. Badguy steps
out from the shadows behind Goodguy and points a gun at him.
Goodguy stops and raises his hands – he does not turn around.
Badguy walks up to Goodguy and shoves the gun in his back. They
talk. Goodguy turns around quickly and knocks the gun from
Badguy’s hand. They fight it out and after a few punches, Goodguy
wins and walks out the door.

1)  Prep – make sure you have a meeting with the Stunt
Co-ordinator about the fight scene. You should give him as many
details about the fight as you can so he can go away and work out
some moves for you.

2) Shoot the beginning of the scene first -following the
block/light/rehearse/shoot scenario, you block and shoot
everything up to the fight first.

3) Blocking the fight – on the set, the two actors, two stunt
doubles and the Stunt Co-ordinator block out the fight sequence
with everyone watching.  You then discuss the first shot with the
DOP and rehearse that specific shot with the actors and/or
doubles. Once this has been done, the DOP will light the shot
while the Stunt Co-ordinator takes the actors and stunt doubles
off set and practises the fight.

4) Off Set Rehearsal – the Stunt Co-ordinator practices the fight
scene with the actors and the doubles. You should watch this
rehearsal process for specific camera angles and make comments
regarding action and movement.

5) On Set Rehearsal – The Stunt Co-ordinator shows the crew the
fight sequence with the stunt doubles and the actors. He then
sets up the first part of the fight and you rehearse that with
the camera.

6) Shooting – you shoot the first part of the fight and continue
through the process until the fight is done. You then shoot the
ending of the sequence where Goodguy walks out the door.

SHOOTING TIPS – Here are a few tips on shooting a stylistic fight
sequence using the least amount of set-ups. (I will use the 35mm
aspect ratio for reference):

Tip One: shoot two takes of every set-up and just change the
lens size and speed of both cameras for each take. This means
you can shoot each set-up twice (assuming no technical problems)
and give your editor 4 different angles to choose from – without
moving the cameras! This technique is a good way of shooting a
well covered action scene with only a few takes and without
spending a lot of time.

a) use 2 cameras for each shot

b) For Take 1, Camera A can have a 25mm lens (wide) at 24fps.
Camera B can have a 75mm lens (tighter) at 40fps

c) for Take 2, reverse lens size and speeds on each camera. (You
don’t have to move the cameras.) So, Camera A is 75mm at 40fps
while Camera B is 25mm at 24fps

Tip Two: try and shoot from at least three different positions
for your fight using 2 cameras. That could be as simple as two
over-shoulders and a 2 shot. By using the techniques in Tip One,
you will have at least 12 different angles, lens sizes and camera
speeds to choose from!

Tip Three: punches look the best from over-shoulder shots (OS).
Make sure you always shoot “overs ” with your 2 cameras.

Tip Four: If you have two cameras, you should also have two
monitors to watch. For Take 1, you should watch one monitor and
have someone else (DOP, AD, Stunt Co-ord) watch the other
monitor. After you cut, you discuss each shot. If the shot
worked, you switch monitors. This gives you a good look at both
shots since action is, by its nature, very fast and you may miss
something if you try and look at both monitors at the same time.

Tip Five:  slow motion creates an action sequence that has the
qualities of a ballet (re: John Woo). As long as you have the
exposure to shoot slow motion, shoot slo-mo on the set with your
cameras. You can also shoot normal speed on the set and slow down
the shots in the editing room but there is a different quality of
the picture when you do this. (it has a certain “ghosty” look to
it.) I usually have the camera with the longest lens (closer)
shoot slo-mo.

Tip Six:  Once the camera rolls, everyone’s adrenaline pumps up
and a actor may be afraid of hitting the other actor or of
hurting themselves. One way to solve this is to use the
Actor/Double stunt system when shooting a fight. Say you have an
OS shot of Goodguy as he punches Badguy. What you do is shoot the
two actors first then switch Goodguy (he has his back to the
camera) with his stunt double:

a) first: shoot Goodguy-Actor OS as he fights Badguy-Actor Then
switch Goodguy-Actor with Goodguy-Stunt:

b) second: shoot Goodguy-Stunt OS as he fights Badguy-Actor

When your turn around for the reverses, you repeat the process:

a) first: shoot Badguy-Actor OS as he fights Goodguy-Actor Switch
Badguy-Actor with Badguy-Stunt:

b) second: shoot Badguy-Stunt OS as he fights Goodguy-Actor

You can see how this process works by looking at the end fight
scene in “Bird on a Wire” between Mel Gibson and David Carradine
when they were swinging on the ropes in the zoo.  We had each
actor fight each other then we did the switch with the doubles.
This worked very well here because the actors were also attached
to ropes so they had a lot on their minds.

6.  DIRECTING TIP – Learn to Balance your Scenes

Every script will have scenes that are not necessary; scenes that
have nothing going on; or scenes that are only for character
development. But if they haven’t been omitted, (by the producers
or writers) you still have to shoot them. The trick here is to
not spend a lot of time on these scenes – just shoot them fast
and get onto the next one.

7. THE NEW MEDIA – Online Content: Syndication?

As Dot-com business plans fizzle, it looks as if syndication, of
all things, is the way to go. Who new?


1)  Anthology Film Archives

2)  Association of Moving Image Archivists

3)  Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

4)  National Film Preservation Board

5)  UCLA Film and Television Archive


Q & A is where I will post questions you have about directing or
filmmaking in general.  Email your questions to
mailto:pdm@actioncutprint.com  and I will sort them and post the
most interesting ones here along with my answers.  Also, if you
would like to respond to a posted question, email me and I will
include your response in the next issue.

QUESTION#1 -Is it reasonable to play a part as well as direct?
(A.M. of Cleveland, OH)

ANSWER#1 – Not many of us can match the skill level of a Mel
Gibson or a  Kenneth Brannagh. It’s hard enough doing one job let
alone two. My advice would be to separate the two so you can
concentrate on only one job. If you must do both jobs, make sure
you have another person (whom you trust!) that will either watch
your performance as an actor or who has the skills necessary to
direct while you act.

QUESTION#2 – What are your thoughts on collaborative approaches
to directing? (A.M. of Cleveland, OH)

ANSWER #2  – This can be a very creative and rewarding experience
– if you have the right two people together! If you don’t, it
could be the end of a “beautiful friendship.” Also, if two
directors give conflicting notes,  your biggest problem will be
with the actors – they won’t know who to listen to!

I co-directed a play (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf”) with my
wife and we split the duties. I concentrated on the blocking and
action while Kate focused on the performances. The actors
responded beautifully and the process worked out very well!

10.  OUT TAKES – “Stupid Criminal Hall of Shame”

Kentucky: Two men tried to pull the front off a cash machine by
running a chain from the machine to the bumper of their pickup
truck. Instead of pulling the front panel off the machine,
though, they pulled the bumper off their truck. Scared, they left
the scene and drove home. With the chain still attached to the
machine – with their bumper still attached to the chain – and
with their vehicle’s license plate still attached to the bumper.

South Carolina : A man walked into a local police station,
dropped a bag of cocaine on the counter, informed the desk
sergeant that it was substandard cut, and asked that the person
who sold it to him be arrested immediately.

Indiana : A man walked up to a cashier at a grocery store and
demanded all the money in the register. When the cashier handed
him the loot, he fled–leaving his wallet on the counter.

England : A German “tourist,” supposedly on a golf holiday, shows
up at customs with his golf bag. While making idle chatter about
golf, the customs official realizes that the tourist does not
know what a “handicap” is. The customs official asks the tourist
to demonstrate his swing, which he does–backward! A substantial
amount of narcotics was found in the golf bag.

(Location Unknown) : A man went into a drug store, pulled a gun,
announced a robbery, and pulled a Hefty-bag face mask over his
head–and realized that he’d forgotten to cut eye holes in the

(Location Unknown) : A man successfully broke into a bank’s
basement through a street-level window, cutting himself up pretty
badly in the process. He then realized that (1) he could not get
to the money from where he was, (2) he could not climb back out
the window through which he had entered, and (3) he was bleeding
pretty badly. So he located a phone and dialed “911” for help …

Virginia : Two men in a pickup truck went to a new-home site to
steal a refrigerator. Banging up walls, floors, etc., they
snatched a refrigerator from one of the houses, and loaded it
onto the pickup. The truck promptly got stuck in the mud, so
these brain surgeons decided that the refrigerator was too heavy.
Banging up *more* walls, floors, etc., they put the refrigerator
BACK into the house, and returned to the pickup truck, only to
realize that they locked the keys in the truck–so they abandoned

(Location Unknown) : A man walked into a Circle-K (a convenience
store similar to a 7-11), put a $20 bill on the counter and asked
for change. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, the man pulled
a gun and asked for all the cash in the register, which the clerk
promptly provided. The man took the cash from the clerk and
fled– leaving the $20 bill on the counter. The total amount of
cash he got from the drawer? Fifteen dollars.

11.                   SURVEY – 11/08/00

On October 30, I published the 7th issue of The Director’s Chair
and I now feel it’s time to conduct a quick survey about the
content of this ezine. Since this ezine is for you, I would
appreciate it if you could take a few moments to answer a couple
of questions.

Also, please add any comments, suggestions or advice at the end
of the survey.

Thank you.

Peter D. Marshall

To read back issues of The Director’s Chair, visit:

Select REPLY on your email program to answer these questions.

1)  What section of the ezine do you find MOST informative?

2)  What section of the ezine do you find LEAST informative?

3)  What other FILM TOPICS would you like to see in future issues?

4)  Do you have your own Web Site?

5)  Are you interested in Online Promotion and Marketing techniques?

6)  What can I do to improve The Director’s Chair?

7)  Any other COMMENTS?


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