In this video, Stray Angel Films presents a fight scene tutorial for aspiring action stars out there. It talks about how to effectively sell punches and hits for an audience, how to make a fight realistic and believable on screen, as well as a bit of information on how the camera captures things.
Chris, who narrates the video, says that the main thing to keep in mind when shooting an action scene is that the actors will not be making actual contact with their strikes. It’s hardly ever necessary when using the proper perspective. The techniques here will put the actors fully out of reach of each other, but on camera, they’re making brutal contact.
For example, placing two fighting actors face to face an arm’s length from each other, but with the angle taken over the shoulder, shortens the visual distance between them. From that position, one actor can safely perform a striking maneuver while the other actor reacts as if being struck, but neither actor is really hitting the other. This is the angle from which the majority of the strikes will be taken.
Now, make sure that the actors are playing to the strengths of every angle. Draw an imaginary vertical line in the center of the area that the strike will occur – this is the axis. The actors should rehearse the strike, and whatever limb they’re using to strike should cover that imaginary axis entirely, like a sweeping motion. This assures that the blow is carried effectively in camera view, and helps sell the hit.
Unless the actors are stuntmen who know what they’re doing, directors will often have to work with the actors to sell the intensity of a fight scene. To do this, the camera should serve as a catalyst to the strike. When an actor takes a hit, allow the camera to take an intended jerk, as if reacting to the hit, too. Most audiences have been desensitized to harsh camera movements, so the use of irregular, jarring movements will help unnerve an audience on the violence off a scene, and sell the speed of a blow. Camera movements should be controlled, though, as too much movement will undersell the hit.
Aside from the angle of the hit, the camera angle should also be considered. Extremely high or low angles can give a scene highly stylized, big-movie feels – especially if it’s the “hero shots.” Level angles tend to give the audience a more real-world, brutal perspective.
Now, put everything together. One easy and effective technique is to cut your shots on the strike – when one actor makes the hit, cut directly to the receiving actor to see the blow land. This will take the audience a quick second to process what just happened, selling the shot without giving them time to analyze how it’s being done.
These are just basic guidelines, and every scene will need something added to it. Always remember to practice these scenes safely, and with trained personnel to oversee what happens.