Many of you have seen those spectacular action films
with such stars as Jason Statham, Scott Adkins, Donnie
Yen, Steven Seagal, Jean Claude Van Damme and of
course Bruce Lee. Well what many don’t understand is
all the work that goes into making a great screen fight.
All screen fights are meticulously choreographed and
carefully planned out ahead of time. Then they are put
to film. Anyone can create a screen fight but to create
a great screen fight requires certain skill sets and a lot
of practice, patience and energy. In This article I will
give a brief overview of some of the elements that go
into creating a screen fight. First and foremost Safety
is the most important thing to understand. In all of
the fights I’ve shot in the past 20 years, the last thing
I always yell out “Safety First” prior to the actors and
stunt performers going into action. jason statham
This is so important because an injury in addition to being dangerous, can shut down production and no production equals no movie or tv show. How do we achieve safety? there are numerous things to take into account. For one
thing you have to understand that you can be standing
a foot away from your opponent and throw a strike
and with the right angles it will look like you hit the
Since cameras dont’ really judge the depth of field you
can get away with so much. For instance I read a story
from Enter the Dragon, in the mirrored fight scene.
Bruce was concerned because in that case you literally
had to hit so far in front of the opponent that in real
life it looked ridiculous and was hesitant at first until
he saw the results. When I teach screen fighting and
fight design; my rule of thumb to try to maintain at
least a 6 inch distance between your fist, or foot from
your opponents face. When the camera capturing the
action is in the right place and the opponent reacts at
the right time and he (she) whips his head it will look
like a really violent strike with no one actually getting
hit. That same applies when you are actually striking
the body. There are times when you have to make contact
but you have to position yourself in such a way
that you actually explode with your technique making
contact but when you hit the target it is with about 10
percent of the actual force.
This is achieved by how you throw the technique and how you position you body when you execute the attack. I did a film once where the actor had knocked a stuntman down to theground (which was part of the choreography) and then was supposed to start pummeling him with kicks to the ribs.
The actor was so hesitant and it looked extremely weak. He kept pulling his kicks and it showed on camera. After several takes, I pulled him aside and illustrated how to do it correctly over and over again until he was able to pull his kicks without it appearing to be pulled. Another facet is performing for the camera. This is most challenging with real fighters for a couple reasons. They are generally training to protect their faces and position themselves to execute damage while protecting themselves. In film you have to appear to do this but you need to open up a little to show your face to camera and in most instances you’ll need to not stand directly in front or behind your opponent.
You need to be offset a little in order for the camera to see you. Remember you are performing for the camera which is different than fighting or performing to a live audience. Eye contact at all times is important. You cannot hit or react to a hit if you cannot
see it. Of course there are instances when in the screen
fight you are wounded or hurt with body crouched or on the ground but you still have to find a way
to see your opponent without it seeming like you are looking at him. Core balance and foot work is also important because with these you’ll have no precision.
For instance when you are being pummeled you have to make it appear like you are really losing control while giving your opponent a clear target to hit safely and foot work comes into play when you executing your techniques so you don’t crowd or crash into your opponent. These are just a few of the elements that go into a great screen fight. Remember that even though it appears like a fight, in reality is a choreographed dance using martial arts. Another thing that makes a great screen fight is the appearance of spontaneity. It shouldn’t appear to be choreographed but seem spontaneous and alive. Bruce
lee was that master at broken rhythm and spontaneity.
Just look at the fight in “The Chinese connection” in the Japanese Dojo and the underground
fight in “Enter the Dragon”: amazing execution and spontaneity. When you perform it is highly critical that you distinguish what you know as the performer such as the dialogue and the choreographer and what you know as the character in the piece. If both character and performer both know all the lines and the choreography it look bad and lack reality and spontaneity.
Well I hope this enlightened you a bit and gave you some insight into screen action which truly is “The Art of fighting without Fighting” . See you in the movies.
About the author:
Art Camacho is a world renowned, award winning Feature film Director/Fight choreographer and Black belt martial artist. He has trained under Eric Lee, Samuel Kwok, Richard Bustillo and many, many others. His films include Half past dead; Assassin X, Confessions of a pit fighter and he’s worked with Steven Seagal, Dolph Lundgren, Don Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Olivier Gruner, Richard Norton, Benny Urquidez, Gary Daniels, Armand Assante, Randy Couture, Quentin “Rampage” Jackson, Ice T, Ja Rule, and many others.