I’m making action filmmaking tutorials now for indie action filmmakers, martial artists, and stuntmen and stuntwomen, a series I’m calling “Indie Action Essentials”. The first skill I’m tackling is the Hong Kong spin, or the “HK”. The video includes all the steps plus what padding I recommend when doing the stunt on hard surfaces.
If you have any requests for tutorials you’d like, comment below or at the video’s YouTube page. I’m always listening!
Someone asked me what I look for in a stunt people when casting for our films. I gave him more than an ear-full, which may have been unwarranted but made me realize it could make an interesting post, because the answers weren’t as broad as some would think.
- Not Telegraphing
If I’m doing a kick to the head, and his block comes up too early (usually because he’s just drilled the moves of the fight into a choreographed move set, like a kata) then the audience sees my kick coming too soon. So he’s telegraphed my kick, and I look slower. Telegraphing a move itself means making it obvious to the audience that a move (i.e. a kick) is coming. If a telegraphed kick manages to hit me, then I’m slower than the audience. Subconsciously they’ll think they’re better, and they’re technically right. Not good. Study pro boxing matches for good examples of how professionals avoid telegraphing their moves.
- Move Speed
I say “Move Speed” because 20 weak punches thrown rapidly in the span of 8 seconds looks worse than 10 fast, crisp moves thrown in the same time period. Martial artists of any caliber often have a problem doing a move at 100% speed on camera and they end up slowing down to “sparring” speed. I have no idea why this is, but it’s annoying and I avoid stunt guys who have that issue. If they can do 10 crisp moves at 100% speed, then it’s just a matter of muscle memory to get that up to 20 moves. This requires less effort than trying to teach them how to do their moves better. I leave that part to martial art instructors, which I am not.
- Bone Density
Because they will bruise after we clash limbs at the same spot 60 times.
When a stuntman is “waiting” in the middle of a fight, a number of annoying things sometimes happen.
Glare– Stuntman opens his eyes wide and puts his chin out while he waits for hit to connect, signaling to the audience that a hit is coming and reducing the impact. His mouth might make an “o” shape too.
Flaily Arms – Stuntman moves his arms wildly like windmills. It cheapens the movement on camera, since no meaningful sound could be derived from flaily arms. The problem with this is that stuntmen look at their own flaily arms and think they’ve done a great job at keeping the action moving, but a director sees it as cheapening the value of the fight as a whole. The problem can be alleviated with choreography that fills more space, but I take the view that stunt guys are better off just reducing their movement.
Twitching – Stuntman is ready to block a move too soon, but instead of telegraphing, stuntman raises his arms to blocking position rapidly multiple times until the attack comes. Same result as flaily arms but more linear (fills fight with less flow-y nonsense and more jittery nonsense, if that makes sense…).
- Kicking the Block
Stuntman can kick a block at 100% power without blasting through it and breaking the actor’s arm or, if the actor fails to block at all, his head. Martial artists are taught to punch past the block, or chop past the board. That’s all good for breaking wood and bones. Not good for film.
- Contact Line Accuracy
The contact line is the spot you have to hit so it looks like you smacked the actor, without actually smacking him. Draw a line from the camera lens to the actor’s face, and extend to infinity past his face. Pretend that line is a super-tight bungee cord and hit it accordingly. Wide angle lenses will make it harder to hit the line, but your move will be faster. If the camera is constantly moving and the contact line changes, keep imagining the line moving around so you don’t miss it at the end of a long shot. Hit the line and don’t slip too far past it.
- Adaptive Muscle Memory (AMM)
This one’s critical. AMM is the ability to quickly modify what you’ve learned your entire life, adapt it for the camera, and work it into a fast series of moves. Most people can’t remember a series of 20 moves, let alone 1 very new & weird thing in that series. It requires the kind of muscle memory that is able to flush itself dry within one minute and remember an entirely new move like it’s something you’ve known your entire life, while still remembering everything else in the choreography. After practicing the choreography, the move stops feeling weird and become a natural reaction whatever the other person is doing. Within 20 minutes, you’ll forget it entirely so you can “free up parking spots” for the next moves.
You’d think dancers would be better at this, but I’ve noticed no correlation. My cursory understanding is that dancing is more like flow. Fighting is reaction. While dancers do react to music or other dancers, it’s a slow reaction that builds on itself and targets a different part of the brain. Fight choreography is mostly reaction with 10% flow just to make sure the next move comes. A fight that flows too much becomes dance and stops being fight, so dancing skills are not very transferable. That’s not to say dancers can’t have this, but the skills don’t overlap much. AMM is just rare.
I’ve never been a fan of everyone knowing the same moves, and The Stunt People have a wide variety of styles. Fights are more interesting when the audience can see new things, evidenced by audience excitement when a unique fighter enters the MMA circuit. I like when a stunt person has something unique to offer. It gives me as a choreographer something to play with and inspires the rest of the team.
Aside from that, the usual: good martial arts, good falls (if applicable), not injury-prone, able to work 20+ hours, takes direction, can think on the spot, etc.
Whenever I find myself alone at our weekly stunt practice, I make an independent film. Independent in the sense that there’s only one of us makin it. I’m the director, star, and cameraman. And I do all my own stunts, so here’s my tutorial on stunt falls. Careful, don’t go doin’ these at home.
Here’s my other tutorial on flippin and acrobatics and such.
Produced by film-making maestro Johnnie To (The Mission, PTU, Throw Down, Exiled) and directed by Soi Cheang (Dog Bite Dog, Accident), Motorway is an upcoming car-chasing action film about a rookie cop (Shawn Yue) who takes on a veteran escape driver (Guo Xiao-Dong) on a death-defying final showdown on the roads of Hong Kong. Other cast members includes Anthony Wong, Gordon Lam, Barbie Hsu, Josie Ho, and Michelle Ye.
To make the action scenes as real as possible, the production team brought veteran action coordinator Chin Kar-Lok (former member of Sammo Hung’s stunt team) onboard to carefully plot and sync the film’s demanding car chases and car stunts. According to Soi Cheang, the story is similar to other car chasing films (ala The Fast & The Furious) but it will also feature elements found in traditional kung fu as well as Hong Kong gangster films in that an overconfident and low-ranked protagonist is determined to take on a high-ranked and professional antagonist. All these elements integrated into a setting taking place on the roads of Hong Kong! The film will premier in Hong Kong on June 21 followed by a Mainland Chinese release the day after. Check out trailers and more info on the film below.
In my opinion, nothing could match these three scenes – plus Donnie’s fight with Andy On in The Lost Bladesman which I decided not to upload – in terms of creativity:
Action choreography by Donnie Yen
Action choreography by Donnie Yen
Action choreography by Dion Lam
Jackie Chan on location in Paris, France
Jackie Chan was recently featured in an interview while launching his Maotai Wine, and revealed that shooting of Chinese Zodiac – described as his last action-packed film – is about to wrap while a scene involving lots of stunts is to be initiated which will take an amount of two months to shoot and with footage lasting 4 minutes in total on film. That means a HECK LOT of hard work and risks being taken for Jackie’s part! He will also include his trademark outtakes during the end credits. Sounds like someone is ought to make the best of what he has got left in him. Respect to Jackie!
JJ Perry has been all over the stunt industry. From doing stunts as Sub Zero in the Mortal Kombat film to fight choreography in Haywire, his credentials speak for themselves. Here are some interviews where he basically reiterates the Action Kickback Model, that audiences today are smarter about martial arts than just 10 years ago and it’s time to fill the demand.
J.J. on Haywire
How he got into stuntwork
It became less about how how things worked, as far as martial arts go, but more about how they looked. Because in the movies it doesn’t matter how it really works, it only matters how it looks.
We’re working on something called gun-jitsu, which is like jujitsu but with guns. Because I have a feeling that we have so many sergicemen coming home now, and so many stories of what they’ve done in Afghanistan and Iraq will become declassified and will become movies. … Jujitsu has become so prominent now because MMA is so prominant now, that 20 years ago if you slapped a triangle choke on someone they’d go, “Whoa whoa what’s he doing?” But now everyone watches MMA so they’re familiar with it. … Mixing the guns with jujitsu with the MMA is interesting to me now, it’s that close quarters combat (CQC) which is really interesting.
Kinda makes you wonder about all the 80s and early 90s Delta Force style films. Maybe in 10 years America will have another wave of these.
On low-budget filmmaking, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Undisputed 2 and “action as the star” of a film
I’ll try to make these consistent, weekly updates. There’s an enormous amount of good indie action content out there, especially featured at The Stunt People Forum. Enjoy the latest sampling.
Lazy Brown Productions – Round One – Shawn and Manny, with some quick knife fighting.
Jabronie Pictures – Battle Hero Absolute – Jay Huerto dons the superhero garb and fights crime, sentai-style.
Mark Cheng – GI Joe Operation Red Retrieval – Homage to the GI Joe series, with tons of gunplay for GI Joe enthusiasts, as well as some special appearances.
Thousand Pounds Stunt Team – Arkham City Inspired Test – Badass fight with Mickey Facchinello