How To Shoot A Fight Scene

Action films make up some of the biggest blockbuster movie hits of all time. It’s no doubt that many filmmakers have been inspired by some fight sequences and desire to shoot their own. Because fight scenes are notoriously difficult and beginning filmmakers may not know where to start, we put together a tutorial that teaches you the basics of shooting a fight scene.

The main thing to keep in mind when shooting your fight scene is that your actors will not be making contact during their strikes. That is not necessary when shooting from the proper perspective. These techniques will place your actors fully out of reach of each other, but to the camera, their hits are making brutal contact.

For example: if you place your actors face to face, fully at arms length away from each other, but frame an over the shoulder medium shot, the visual distance between them is collapsed. From this position, one actor can safely perform a strike maneuver while the opposing actor sells the strike. In reality, the actors will never come in to contact.

Now that we’ve already established a perspective from which you will be framing a majority of your strikes, we need to ensure that your actors are playing to their strengths of every angle. Draw an imaginary vertical line in the center of the area wear the strike will occur. This is your axis. Once you’re framed up, have your actors slowly rehearse the strike and make sure that whatever limb they are using entirely crosses that imaginary axis. This will allow the intensity of the strike to carry effectively into the camera view and help sell the hit.

Unless you’re dealing with professional stunt men and women who have been executing complicated fight sequences for years, you’re most likely going to have to help sell the intensity with the both the speed and power of your actors strike. To do this, we’re going to allow the camera to serve as a catalyst to the strike. When your actor takes a particularly vicious blow, allow the camera to perform a controlled jerk in tandem with the strike. Most audiences have been desensitized to harsh camera movement, having grown up primarily watching television, which tends to stick to locked off or otherwise smooth shots. Because of this, the use of jarring handheld movements will help unnerve your audience to the violence.  It will also visually sell the speed of each hit, while concealing the lack of contact. Obviously you want to keep this movement as controlled as possible. Too much camera movement will undersell the hit and cause the audience to lose the action.

You already understand the perspective with which your actors will be utilizing to sell their strikes safely, but you also need to think of the angle your camera will be placed. Extreme high, low, and dutch (canted) angels tend to give the fight a very stylized big movie feeling. Level angles tend to give your audience a more real-world, brutal feel.

So you have your fight scene shot. Now you have to put it together! Editing is extremely crucial in action sequences. One easy and very effective technique is to cut your shots on the strike. When Actor A swings at Actor B, keep the shot on Actor A until the very moment the strike connects. Cut to Actor B to see the hit land. When you cut on the strike it takes the audience’s eyes a quick second to catch up with what just happened, effectively selling the shot without giving them time to analyze how close or far apart the talent was to each other.

Keep in mind that these are just basic visual guidelines and every scene is likely to have it’s only twist in conjunction with the style of the fight. Always remember to practice these scenes safely and with a professional on hand to over see your actors.

If you have any questions about our “How To Shoot A Fight Scene” tutorial, please ask us in the comments below.