How To Shoot A Fight Scene & Practical Muzzle Flash Effects–Film Riot Video Production Tutorials

How To Shoot A Fight Scene & Practical Muzzle Flash Effects–Film Riot Video Production Tutorials

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Fighting should be an easy thing to capture on film, right?  You just get a couple of guys fake punch each other in the face and have them react like a real punch just connected, with heads flying in the opposite direction.  Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that it takes a whole lot more than that, and even in the short time Ryan Connolly and his crew had to shoot Losses, a whole bunch of rehearsal and choreography went into the fight scene before it was even filmed.  Not only that, but Connolly took the time to see what it might look like in-camera before actually shooting.  Looks like taking time to prepare was a smart move on Connolly’s part.

Preparing For A Fight: An Exercise In Not Wasting Valuable Time

In Episode 131, Ryan took these steps to stage the fight before shooting:

  • Casting: One of the first things Connolly mentions about his big fistfight scene in Losses is proper casting.  You need to get people who know how to throw a punch without looking ridiculous in the process.  In this case, Connolly found an MMA fighter to be his brother Josh’s fistfight opponent.  Once he knew he had two actors who could sell the fight, it was time to choreograph and rehearse the scene.
  • Breaking Up the Fight Into Sections: Connolly broke up the fight into five sections.  This made it easier to rehearse and to shoot.  They would go over the first section of the fight, and once they had it down, they moved on to the next part.
  • Keeping The Actors From Hurting Themselves Too Much: Because they would be rehearsing the scene a lot and hitting each other over and over again, Ryan bought forearm guards for his actors so that they wouldn’t hurt each other too much during the rehearsals.  Even with the guards, there was some bruising, but it reduced the overall pain factor.
  • Shooting Test Angles: Ryan was able to see what worked and what didn’t in-camera, and was able to figure out how he would shoot the scene once they got to the location.  He found out that some things might look great right in front of you, but on camera they might look totally different, even terrible.

Tips And Tricks For Shooting And Editing A Fight Scene

Now that Connolly had everything prepared, when it was time to shoot the scene, he followed these guidelines:

  • Choosing the Correct Angle.  If you use the wrong angle for a punch, it’s going to look stupid.  So it’s important you find the angle that looks real.  Connolly says the actor doing the punching should “punch-pass” the side of the face that is closest to the camera, which makes it look like a fist is going through the physical space that it should were it to be real.  This can be used for any part of the body.  Also, zoom in for a long focal length so that objects look closer to each other.
  • Cutting Frames.  At the point of impact, Connolly cuts at least one frame out of the scene to make the punch quicker and look more violent.  Sometimes, he’d cut even more than one frame.  Experimenting with whatever works best in editing is where you’ll find the best amount, but too much will make it obvious.
  • Exaggerating Movements.  Sometimes, real fight choreography looks weak in-camera, so in several instances it’s best to have your actors over-emphasize movements to sell the action.
  • Safety.  Even the smallest of choreography can cause real harm.  Connolly mentions that during this shoot, his brother Josh got slammed into a post a bit too hard.  So when creating the scene in your head, make sure you know every little movement  where people can get hurt and exercise caution.
  • Sound.  Even with everything looking legit, if you don’t have basic things like punch sounds, grunts, clothes moving, and even shoes squealing on the floor while the actors run around, something will seem missing from the overall product.  Connolly gives us comparisons with the right sounds and without.
  • Move the Camera.  Connolly admits this is a love-it/hate-it tip.  Many people don’t like the Paul Greengrass school of fighting as was done in his Bourne films.  Connolly loves it.  What he feels happens with camera movement during a fight scene makes it more exciting and you can cover up some mistakes.

The safety tip leads into Connolly’s description of a very cool, very easy trick he did to make it look like Josh was getting slammed to the ground.  In three different shots, the body-slam was constructed by first shooting up until the point Josh gets grabbed by the neck.  The next shot involves the actual slamming, but with an out-of-frame mattress to break his fall, and shot at a low angle to make it look like he was in the air for the proper amount of time.  Then a shot is taken with Josh actually on the ground, with his opponent completing the slam with not nearly the actual violence.  Cut together, it looks like Josh gets slammed on the ground pretty hard.  Awesome!

Selling The Gun-Play With Muzzle Flashes And Other Effects

For Losses, Connolly put several effects in for muzzle flashes every time a gun was fired so that it looked like an actual light was coming out of the gun and bouncing where an actual light would bounce, if guns actually shot out these kinds of flashes, selling it with a smoke effect and various other touches.  He takes you step-by-step through the many effects he added to the frame in post-production to make this.  Ryan acknowledges the lack of muzzle flash from an actual gun, but basically says, “Who cares?  I want to make it look cool.”  So there you go.

But in Episode 132 there are some neat tricks you can do without shooting a gun that trick the viewer into thinking a gun has been shot:

  • Add Light.  Actually, only two frames.  One is where the gun is actually shot.  That frame will be super-bright.  Then after the gunshot, the brightness is reduced by half in the next frame.  On the subsequent frame, everything is back to normal.  This creates a muzzle flash effect without actually using a muzzle flash.  This is for people who need the bare minimum in selling a gunshot.
  • Don’t Show It.  By having the mere sound of a gunshot, and cutting away, you can make it seem like a gun was fired.  Two examples here include, a cut to black, and a cut to another actor reacting.  By doing this, you don’t fire a gun but you still get the impact.
  • Flash A Lamp Off-Screen Onto An Actor Pretending to Shoot A Gun: While the actor pretends to shoot a gun, an off-camera light flashes onto his body, making it look like a gun is being fired.

Once again, solid tips from Connolly and Film Riot.  More “behind the scenes” to come!


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