The Rhythm of a Fight

We’re shooting a cool music video, and there’s a fight scene smack dab in the middle. The scene calls for the lead actress to beat up two guys – me and another stunt guy.

I get there a little early, and get a quick low-down from the director as to what he’s envisioning for the scene. While they start shooting, the other stunt guy arrives. We introduce ourselves, trade our backgrounds (karate/aikido/krav maga for me, jeet kune do/kali/escrima for him, we’d even worked together unknowingly on Dark Knight Rising), and then start putting the fight scene together.

We both know that the we’d have to adjust to whatever the lead actress is comfortable doing. I talk to her briefly, and she’s a dancer, and has a little stage combat training. The fight scene is pretty short, and someone with good body control should be able to pick it up with a little practice and do just fine.

He’s obviously put a little thought into a few sequences he’d like, and same for me. We work on them – making sure we understand what the moves were – and here’s the important thing – from both sides – meaning both as attacker and defender. It has to be that way, because we have to first teach each other the sequence, and then switch so that we can practice the role he’ll play when we match up with the lead actress.

After we get it down, we start walking the lead actress through it. Here, our previous practice to learn both sides of the fight pays off. One of us can mirror for her, and the other can play the appropriate role for when we’ll shoot. She picks it up, we make tweaks and adjustments along the way, it’s all good. Then the director takes a look at what we’ve got, a few more tweaks, and then we’re ready to shoot.

The shoot itself goes fairly smoothly – we know what we were doing. As they’re doing some pickups, I chat with the producer. She asks, “Is it hard to put together a fight scene like that?”

I say, “Well, you watched us do it.” I go on to explain that there’s a rhythm to a fight scene. There’s a particular vocabulary – of kicks and punches, movements and shifts – like a dance. Just like a director would put a shot together – taking into account everything from the space to the lighting to the actors, a fight choreographer puts a fight together the same way. It’s a pleasure to show what we can do.


Stunt Movies – Jackie Chan: My Stunts and Hooper

Aaron from stunt class recommended that I see a couple of movies about stunts: Jackie Chan: My Stunts and Hooper. I did – and I have to say, great recommendations!

Jackie Chan: My Stunts is a behind-the-scenes look at Jackie Chan’s stunts. Jackie Chan directed and produced it himself, and takes us through the process and preparation for his stunt-driven movies. His stunt team (like Jackie himself) is amazing – they’re dedicated, skilled, extremely well-trained, and willing to put their bodies on the line extreme stunts. Jackie explains some of his famous stunts from his movies from the 1980s through the late 1990s (this DVD was released in 2001) – including from Police Story, Rush Hour, and Who Am I?. It’s inspiring, amazing, and scary all at once.

Hooper is a film by Burt Reynolds as a homage to stuntmen. I didn’t know that Burt himself started out int eh movies as a stuntman! It’s basically a whole movie about stuntman hanging out on sets, having fun, and doing crazy stunts. As campy as it sometimes is, this movie is really heartwarming in the best sense of the word. Required viewing for any stuntman (wanna-be or otherwise).


Stunt School Day 15 – Burn Baby Burn

Today is the last day!  It’s also burn day.  I was up first – starting with all the prep.  We’re doing an arm burn first.  Long-sleeved nomex shirt and pants, then towels soaked in flame-retardant gel (“goo”) on the arm.  100% cotton clothing (synthetics would melt and stick to your arm – not good) – jeans, cotton shirt, jean jacket.  Then more goo on the head, face, neck, and hands.  Rubber cement was the accelerant. Hold your breath, and light it up.  You can feel the heat from the arm burn, but it’s fairly small.  When you’re done (or if you feel any heat), kneel down on the fire blanket.  Safety team all around, ready to put you out – fire extinguisher, and if needed – damp towels and a hose for any hot spots.

Then we did a bigger burn – from back of the right leg, up the back, and over to the left arm.  More goo and towels on the leg, back, and arm.  This would one is a lot bigger – you can see the flames with your peripheral vision, and you need to keep your head down, because the flames are coming up your back.  You should not back up, because then the flames will wrap around your neck and face.  It really does burn up pretty high!

It’s the prep that takes the longest.  After we got through everyone, we did a few high falls.  I worked mostly on my headers off the first platform, and did a few suicides off the second platform.

And then we were done!  Three weeks of hard work, bruises, aches and pains – but it was worth it.  I learned a lot, had a lot of fun, and pushed myself pretty hard.  Now I can take what I’ve absorbed, keep training, and see where to go from here.  First I need to take a week or so to let my body recover.  Now that I got this out of my system, I’ll refrain from doing anything else crazy… at least for a week or two.


Stunt School Day 14 – High Falls, Air Ram, and Car Hits

Today we started on high falls – we did a few off the 1st platform, then moved up to the 2nd platform.  I did suicides and headers off the second platform.  I was over-rotating a bit on the header – fixed that by reaching out more.

Then we moved onto the air ram.  The air ram is an air-pressure catapult that flings you in the air when you step on the plate.  I was a bit nervous, since it can be dangerous if you hit it wrong.  But it felt fine, and I got a bunch of decent rides in, doing headers.  Bob eventually increased the air pressure for me a few pounds, so that I get more air.  That – plus his advice to reach up more, and to step on the plate more authoritatively, helped a lot.

We finished up with car hits.  We padded up, and Bob drove his stunt car down at a fairly slow speed.  We would then time it right and barrel roll over the hood onto the mats on the other side.  The first few times, I was way too late in going for it – the car was practically stopped.  The few runs were better.

We cleaned up, and prepped for fire burns tomorrow!