Notes on Fight Choreography

As a career martial artist, this one is close to my heart.

The two most important aspects of good fight choreography is 1) the Athletic Quotient (AQ) of your actors; and 2) the amount of time you have to train them.

Recent cultural breakthroughs have enabled truly unique innovations in fight choreography and exposed the American audience to bold new choreography previously limited to Asia.

Regardless of what style you choose, it is critical — and the word is critical — that you schedule enough time to train your actors in the sequence.  The more exotic the fight sequence, the longer it will take.  There are no exceptions.

For actors who fantasize about being in a sexy on-screen superfight, it is vitally important that he or she maintain an above-average physical conditioning.  Not only will you have to throw punches and kicks, you will have to feign impact and injuries repeatedly for every take, and that can be exhausting no matter how good a shape you are in.

Aside from the obvious reasons of health and figure, actors should always be capable of some exertion.   Though such classes as Tai-Bo and kickboxing pale in comparison to the robust styles of Kung Fu and its many variations, these classes will at least get the actor thinking about his or her body, how it moves, lines of energy, dimensions and range of movement.

For the fight choreographer, there can be no compromise.  If you are in charge of fight in a film you must lord of your actors and ensure they arrive at every rehearsal, excuses notwithstanding.   If you are fortunate enough to be a director/fight choreographer, take a long, hard look at your actors’ Athletic Quotient (AQ) and make the call.  Some actors, no matter how talented, pretty or compelling, simply cannot fight.

If you need them in your movie, put them some place their gross lack of dexterity will not hinder your film.  If they are salvageable, work them and work them hard.

Actors who are unable or unwilling to commit to the training of any film should be released and recast.  No excuses.  Your production is too valuable to jeopardize over flakes and indecisive men and women.  Constant tardiness or absences should be rewarded with dismissal.

With regard to training, no amount of coddling will do — hit the ground running.  If your actors do not have a lot of experience but they are capable of the physical actions, you will need patience with them, but don’t cut them any slack.  There is no easy way to get a convincing martial authority on film other than to drill the actor relentlessly until the action is second nature, reflexive and commanding.

A confused, weak and timid fight is not a fight, it’s an embarrassment.

Bottom line:  if your film has a lot of action take your time.  Fight the right people then train them hard.  Put them on a strict diet if necessary.  At a minimum, the actor  should be complimenting their martial arts training with a regular weekly workout at the gym — two to three times a week.

If this is unattainable,  move on to other actors who either already have physical fitness training and enthusiasm for athleticism, or keep searching until you find someone.

Beyond all this, your actors are precious.  Do not endanger them.  If you need something dangerous, obviously you hire a stunt double.   Just make sure the stunt double is approximately the same height, weight, complexion and race as your actor.  Otherwise, it just looks, well, odd.


~ by David Jetre on November 24, 2008.

One Response to “Notes on Fight Choreography”

  1. Great pics, are these stills from your film?

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