action choreography

luckycollectionexpert  asked:

Hi, I am big fan of MMFR now and find your writings very interesting. I am very confused why at the final battle Max and Furiosa not used any gun to self protected at all. Max do have some round at the beginning and then looking for bullets to refill. Seems very strange as he does not plan ahead at all (?) Or maybe I miss something?

Eh, I was originally gonna be flip and say “because ripping someone’s face off with a harpoon is way more badass” but then you got me thinking about guns in Fury Road. If I wander a bit far afield from what you were originally asking, hopefully it’s to interesting places.

For a movie that’s almost constant action, guns don’t play as big a role in the combat of Fury Road as you might think. In the world of the Citadel and its allies, Before-time pistols and rifles are kind of an elite weapon. Warlords and Imperators have them, but War Boys and Polecats mostly don’t. They have car-mounted machine guns and harpoon launchers, and all kinds of DIY weapons, some of which fire projectiles, but they mostly rely on throwing shit with their bare hands. (Given this, the fact that Furiosa has not just one or two but something like nine guns in her rig should tell you something about her status.)

Fury Road is also not one of those movies where the heroes have magically regenerating ammunition–in fact, being low on ammunition is a major plot point. So it’s possible that when Max is hunting around for more ammo after shooting at Slit, there just isn’t any left in that caliber. But more generally, if you don’t have infinite bullets you’re going to use your guns when they’ll be most effective.

When thinking about self-defense, remember that this is Fury Road, so no one fights alone. Furiosa is used to fighting with a team. So for the first part of the battle, when she’s driving, her self-defense is actually other people. She does plan ahead for that part of the battle, by stationing her kinswomen–who all happen to be really good shots–all over the rig, and on a moving bike that can weave around and pick people off. 

Even though Furiosa is also a good shot, she’s already using her strongest weapon in this situation, which is a giant fast murder truck that she’s really good at driving.

In general, Max and Furiosa use guns and other projectile weapons when their targets are at range. Furiosa uses an explosive crossbow bolt on the Polecat who kills Keeper, and Max (rather rudely) uses the ramrod from one of the other Vuvalini’s rifles to shoot Chainsaw Polecat before he can attack Furiosa.

But the final battle, more than any of the other action sequences, involves a lot of boarding of vehicles and a lot of hand-to-hand fighting. Except for Babyface McStabby, who has some kind of crossbow, most of the Polecats have melee weapons. None of them seem to have guns.

If a Polecat is swinging some weaponized garden equipment at you, it may be more effective to whack them with the heavy metal boltcutters that are already in your hand than to take the time to draw a gun, even if you have one. One of the things that makes the fights in Fury Road exciting is that anything can become a weapon, and in hand-to-hand combat an everyday object may prove more useful than a gun.

You may ask why Furiosa doesn’t take a gun with her to the Gigahorse. Maybe she thinks there are enough weapons on board that she’ll be able to figure something out. Maybe she doesn’t really have much of a plan at that point other than to stay alive long enough to fuck some shit up. She says “I’ll get him out of our way.” There are many potential ways to do that, although because of action movie conventions we know she is probably going to end up killing him. I think at that point it’s clear that she’s ready to die. So self-defense in that moment isn’t really about her long-term survival, but about living long enough to finish the mission. Similarly, Max launching himself at Rictus is more about him distracting Rictus from Furiosa than Max necessarily winning the fight.

Regarding “thinking ahead” more generally, one of the other things that’s great about the action sequences in Fury Road, and all the Mad Max movies, is how much unintended consequences and pure dumb luck come into play. To pick just one small example: Furiosa brakes to stop this Polecat from attacking Max:

But that means Babyface Polecat is able to hang on to the Rig and come back to stab her…

…which he probably wouldn’t have been able to do if Toast had been in her seat on that side of the Rig and/or Keeper hadn’t been dying.

Fury Road is full of examples like this, and this sense of chaos and unpredictability is part of George Miller’s style of action. Here’s a really good short video that goes into this idea some more:

From a character perspective, what this means is that characters can make an elaborate plan (how long did Furiosa spend planning every aspect of this escape?) and things will probably go sideways and they’ll have to think on their feet anyway. The race back to the Citadel wasn’t part of Furiosa’s original plan at all–24 hours earlier she was going to the Green Place, expecting never to see the Citadel again.

What makes Max and Furiosa great warriors and survivors is their ability to improvise, react quickly and not panic, fight with what’s around them, and make shit up as they go along just well enough to stay alive.

Innovating Scenes or Characters in Action Films

So I just got out of watching Kingsman: The Secret Service and I was reminded of a problem in Hollywood that I’ve had for a long time and I’m going to say it now:

Action films fucking SUCK.

Remember the days of like Transporter? Where the name “Jason Statham” could get you in theaters just like that (imagine I just snapped my fingers)? Nowadays, you see that Statham has a new film and you sort of roll your eyes because Parker looks so incredibly…average.

The Hollywood scene has saturated the action film market and action films along the veins of Transporter that would have ordinarily bombarded the market, just wind up going straight to DVD or on Netflix. SERIOUSLY, go to the action section in Netflix and you will see a TON of action films released in the past 5 years that you’ve NEVER heard of before with famous actors.

So when filmmakers or actors/actresses receive critical appraise or wide positive response, it’s usually because they’re pushing not just the boundaries of Hollywood filmmaking of shitty shakycam and editing, but also the boundaries of choreography.

This is a list of examples of people who have excelled the traditional Hollywood style action scenes. Mind you, this is not a list about action heroes or heroines but only those who have really showcased some crazy innovative work. We’re also keeping this to Hollywood productions as opposed to international hits like The Raid. Since there’s a lot of examples I’ll try to keep descriptions brief (unless I’m super passionate about a particular example).

1. Antje Traue as Faora Ul in Man of Steel (2013)

Many people have mixed feelings towards Man of Steel. But regardless of whatever side of the coin they’re on, everyone walked out of that theater talking about the scene where Faora took on the military soldiers. It’s perhaps the most talked about scene in the film, and a lot of Superman fans or comic book fans in general talk about how this was the scene where they FINALLY nailed not just Kryptonian/Superman’s powers, but the problem with super strength and speed in general (the problem being, how do you make a fight entertaining when someone can move really fast and beat everyone with one punch). The answer? Faora’s fight scene. Yes, in a film about Superman, neither he nor the main villain is attributed to having the coolest scene. She’s evil, wants to kill all humans–but man it’s hard to not like her in that sequence. And it’s quite tragic that her scenes are better CGI than the very obviously fake Superman and Zodd.

2. Emily Blunt as Rita Vrataski in Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

You’ve probably seen Edge of Tomorrow aka Live Die Repeat aka All You Need Is Kill on every “2014’s most underrated movies” list. And you best believe those lists are right because aside from the film being a truly awesome piece of sci-fi action (I call it the Starcraft film we always wanted), Emily Blunt shines as the war hero Rita Vrataski. During the extended montage sequence of the looping battles she endures, there are quite some incredible action sequences, specifically one of her lunging at an alien with her giant sword. Though the focus is Tom Cruise’s character and his evolution, he just goes around shooting things while she LUNGES AT ALIENS WITH A SWORD.

3. Sharni Vinson as Erin in You’re Next (2011/2013)

I feel like I’m getting more obscure but things will pick up, I promise. But this is a very crucial addition to the list as Sharni Vinson stars in You’re Next, a horror thriller film that’s not really a horror thriller film. DO NOT READ FURTHER, PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD.

Instead, the film takes the typical “home invasion” thriller genre and turns it on its head. Instead of a woman scared and constantly cowering in fear, Erin surprisingly, and very easily fights off and kills the many intruders. The innovation is not so much in the choreography here but in the execution of the idea. There are a few horror films where they have the protagonists “fight back” but never this way.

4. Zoe Saldana in Literally Everything

This one is interesting, because Zoe has not exactly starred in any innovative choreography, or innovative storytelling for action. In fact, Zoe’s fight scenes tend to be “very Hollywood” and the plot of her films range from “stale” to “alright this is entertaining enough” and yet she’s on this list because she’s probably the only lady doing this. The action film genre has long been a boy’s club and while some women have done a few action films, Zoe Saldana is probably the only woman who is a genuine action star known for her action fight work, and is very famous for it. Colombiana didn’t do much to help her career since the film itself was not a cult or critical hit. It just sort of came and went. But with the massive success of Guardians of the Galaxy (despite having few action scenes even though she’s one of the most dangerous assassins) hopefully this will pave the path for more Saldana-led action films.

5. Most of the main cast in Sucker Punch (2011)

First off, this film was absolutely terrible. The ratings for it skirt around 20 ~ 30% and rightfully so. Sucker Punch was a terrible film but it was visually stunning and the action choreography was out of this world cool. 

In fact, this film was directed by Zack Snyder, who also directed Man of Steel, which means he was responsible for that awesome Faora fight mentioned earlier. So Sucker Punch is a terrible film, so why is it here? Because it’s probably got some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in cinema to date. My favorite is the train robot scene. If you watch closely, there is not a single cut. Obviously, filmmakers cheat thanks to CGI, but from a narrative and viewer standpoint, there is not a single cut, making this a long one shot, which is PRETTY god damn cool. The entire film is like this, with cool innovative, non-Hollwood esque choreography, and a lot of stylized work. Honestly, it was probably just one long sizzle reel to get Man of Steel.

6. Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass (2010)

You, or someone you knew, did not shut up about this fucking film when it first came out. Rightfully so. Director Matthew Vaughn’s work in Kick-Ass was amazing, making even Nicolas Cage seem really cool again even though he was wearing a knock-off Batman mask. But it’s star? Hit Girl. The foul mouthed little child concept, and the unbelievable speed, precision and hyper violent brutality of her fighting style…this character made this film a rousing success and by itself launched Chloe Grace Moretz’s career. The action choreography in this film has still been unmatched until very recently…

7. Keanu Reeves as John Wick in John Wick (2014)

Keanu hasn’t really had a big hit since the Matrix films. That was until John Wick came along. Now I’m not saying it launched him back into that same A-List celebrity status, but he had produced a lot of flops since the Matrix, 47 Ronin being a notable recent failure, but John Wick was accepted and beloved by many. Why? The action.

John Wick pushed the innovation on action to a whole new level: Precision, tight, and clean. People lost their minds watching this film because of its use of gun-fu/gunkata, a form of gunplay that is so artfully and masterfully used that it is compared to that kungfu or japanese swordsmanship. The shots were unbelievably clean, no shakycam, and you knew what the hell was going on. It ditched the Hollywood premise of a massive shootout and instead, nearly 99% of all shots fired by John hit or killed his target. Up until now if you haven’t yet understood what I mean by “innovative action sequences” watch the infamous “nightclub scene” that sums up the brutality and precision of his skills throughout the entire film and how it separates itself from “Hollywood shootouts”. By the way? KEANU REEVES IS FUCKING FIFTY. AND HE DID A MAJORITY OF THAT PHYSICAL STUNT WORK HIMSELF.

8. Colin Firth as Galahad in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

Church scene. That is all. (*Fun fact: They did the entire scene in ONE take. No camera or CGI tricks.)

9. Sofia Boutella as Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

I’ll be brief about Kingsman since the film is incredibly fresh and new and I want people to actually go and experience this at the cinemas: Gazelle is the “right hand”/“lieutenant” character of the main villain of the film (Samuel L Jackson). Similar to Faora, Gazelle left a big impression on viewers as she is a killer with two prosthetic (metal I think?) legs that also can bring out a long sharp thing that pretty much turns her legs into dual swords. And she is fucking GRACEFUL with her murder. Because her weapon of choice involves her feet, there’s a lot of fancy footwork and gymnast/ballet like movement to her fight choreography. Of course, Matthew Vaughn from Kick-Ass was also behind this film and is responsible for her and Colin Firth’s Galahad’s amazing fight sequences. I really want to talk more about her but she is absolutely amazing and if you ever want to see a woman kick some real ass, this film is right on the money.

10. Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow in All Marvel Films She’s In

Since her appearance in Iron Man 2, Scarlett Johansson has been wow'ing us as Black Widow with her acrobatics, truly assassin like take downs. Marvel has always pushed the envelope on its action sequences, and Winter Soldier definitely stepped it up for Cap and Widow. Though she had considerably less fight scenes since it is CAP’s film. But anyone who’s seen her fight will tell you, she definitely brings something new and fresh to the table when it comes to hand to hand combat and she could really pave the way for studios to entrust more women with high octane action films, as opposed to just young adult dystopian future action films like The Hunger Games. If only Marvel would consider doing that solo or Hawkeye teamup film…

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So what was the point of this whole list? Well, honestly, you have to watch all these films and these scenes (in the context of the films) to truly appreciate and understand what I’m trying to get at. These actors, directors and unnamed stunt coordinators are doing something truly different with the genre of the action film and I think we really need to be pursuing this route as filmmakers.

I really think those who managed to get through this long ass post should truly go check out Kingsman: The Secret Service as it is not just an homage to fun spy films but also a great look into what could be the very next step in high octane action fight scenes. 

Rurouni Kenshin Fight Sequence Analysis: Choreography

                                           Elements of Cinema

The most popular elements that passionate fans and dissenters of the RurouKen film trilogy all seem to agree on is that the action scenes are awesome. Dissenters usually say, “just watch it for the action.” This always struck me as a strange thing to say. I think it’s because it was always intended to be a slide against the film, as though to say, “The only thing the films did well was the action,” similar to how some might say, “Watch Transformers for the special effects.” 

This actually got me thinking, though. What makes a fight scene? If we broke down a fight scene to its cinematic elements, if we peek behind the curtains, what composes the fight scenes that everyone, including dissenters, would argue is this film trilogy’s strongest element? And to it’s fans, what makes it better than its competition? What did Team Otomo just get right?

The truth is, those questions are gateways to more questions; film is different from any medium because film is alive. It’s evolving, moving towards new directions, restructuring old words and phrases to create beauty and meaning in new ways. RuroKen is no different, but if we’re going to understand how these elements congeal together to create the magnificent and electrifying action sequences fans of this series are going to enjoy, we need to understand those elements in their own isolated contexts. There’s a lot to keep track of, and a lot of these posts will overlap with one another since film is collaborative, so always make sure to come back to previous posts to freshen up and see how things come together. 

Also, if we’re going to understand what Rurouni Kenshin does well, we sometimes need to look at how other fight scenes are crafted, sometimes to terrible results, which means we will occasionally be drawing on other fights from other films and TV shows.


The Dancers of Cinema: Choreography and Action Direction

This post MAY contain spoilers for the following: (you’ve been warned guys):

  • Game of Thrones Season 4
  • Rurouni Kensin trilogy
  • Star Wars The Phantom Menace

The most obvious and exciting element of any action sequence is choreography. This doesn’t always apply to just fighting; stunt coordination, chase sequences, and so forth, require very precise positioning between the actors and the camera to capture the intended effect of that sequence. To a choreographer, also known as an Action Director, designing a fight sequence can be more than just exciting violent titilaton; it can be a valuable lens of which to view our characters. 

The Action Director in our case is Kenji Tanigaki. Bringing his flair and experience from working in Hong Kong and Hollywood action films and working with some of the biggest names in action cinema such as Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, Tanigaki-san works closely with Otomo to make sure that everything goes well and ensures the actors are perfectly safe. He is also responsible for making every action in the film cinematic and crisp visually. This can get very elaborate and set up varies between directors, but the end result, if done right, is usually incredible. Even his peers respect Tanigaki’s skill; look at this tweet from Gareth Evans, director of The Raid and The Raid 2. (Warning: Language)

First thing they need to make sure they have right is the casting and action team. The actors typically are the ones that need to do these moves to feel authentic. This isn’t universal and can vary depending on director or production team. This mostly commonly in American or Western productions as these actors are often high profile and the right actor isn’t always the best fighter even with training and 6 months isn’t enough time to make them look good. What’s worse, not training seriously can result in injury, which might interfere with scheduling for other shoots that actor may be doing.

In these sorts of productions, especially those with a tight shooting schedule, they will cast stunt doubles to do the more complex movements that the character might demand but the actors are unable or unwilling to do (Unless you’re Leo DiCaprio and your director is Alejandro Gonzalez Iñnarítu). Here’s an example. This is from Episode 8 of Game of Thrones, “The Mountain & The Viper” (Slight spoilers).

Originally posted by freakyharmony

Here is a set piece clothed with a flurry quick cuts of multiple angles (coverage) of a single piece of choreography done in several takes. We’ll discuss this particular editing style in the Editing section of my series, but the point is, it looks really cool. Pedro Pascal (The actor for Oberyn Martell, this particular character) begins and ends the shot, and it looks as though it were him the entire time until we zoom in. 

Now this isn’t necessarily bad or even terribly distracting if done right. It’s an insurance policy for the actors since fight choreography is extremely exhausting work and training for months on end might not be enough or even an option, especially for the tight shooting schedule found in the production of Game of Thrones. 

This small excerpt took a lot of designing, practice, and rehearsals, not just by the stunt team and the actor/double, but for the crew behind the camera. They probably had to do multiple takes, some with Pedro and some with his double, and edit it rapidly together. They also set up coverage from multiple angles for the editor to have as much footage as possible to assemble an acceptable cut. It’s pretty tiring work just for one seemingly tiny little throwaway and inconsequential piece of choreography.

That being said though, the small bit can show us a lot about the character of Oberyn Martell himself, so it definitely has a place here. Oberyn is pleasing the crowd, showing off his prowess to his audience and THE audience. He’s a bit of a cocky guy so it fits right in with his character in my opinion.

I bring this up to create a negative because this is something Otomo and Tanigaki ACTIVELY avoid. Let me explain.

In Otomo’s action scenes, the emphasis is more on the actors rather than the the movement of the character. His blocking (the arrangement/placement of elements such as characters and objects within the frame) for fight sequences mirror the standard coverage of a conversation with two or three cameras depending on the set piece. Once again, I’ll explain in detail later, but what this is meant to bring up is that his emphasis, as is the emphasis with dialogue scenes between characters, is character.

What I mean is that the camera is usually emphasizing the face of his actors along with their individual movements to show the audience their state of mind and also to show the audience that it’s the actors doing the movements.

 This helps increase immersion, as well as simplifies shooting because the cinematographer (Director of Photography or DP) has a bit more freedom to shoot naturally rather than manufacture angles where we can introduce a stunt double and return to the actor in editing. I refer back to my GOT example. The editing cuts between wide angle and long dolly shots to make sure we can’t see the stunt double’s face as we return to a medium shot before and after the little stunt is done is something Otomo isn’t keen on and neither is Tanigaki.

                     The Men and Women Behind the Moves

A fight sequence is a programmed dance, coordinated moves and visual cues that must be hit for maximum effect but to actually be effective, it needs to seem completely organic and representative of the person fighting. The fighting moves need to come from characters themselves and when done right can illustrate a lot about a character. 

When the choreography comes before the character and feels too rehearsed or unnatural, you can actually distract from the drama of the scene as well as offer no insight visually about the characters fighting. Consider the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. 

This may look cool because its fast, the moves are flashy and elegant, but from this small bit of choreography and the entire fight itself, we can’t really tell anything about these characters. We know one’s evil because of the color of his light saber (we’ll discuss this in another post), but beyond that, we don’t actually know Darth Maul or how brutal he is, other than he’s ready to kill Obi-Wan’s master and does so. Aside from the cool costumes, there is nothing that visually separates these characters from one another in terms of skill or style. 

Compare this with  the first fight sequence of the first live action movie. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about.

Originally posted by suzuyajuzoo

This fight sequence delivered a lot of critical information we needed to know about Kenshin without him having to say a single word. In the opening text of the film, we’re told of the Battousai’s legendary cruelty, but to see it was a different story. His fighting style tells us three crucial things:

  1. He’s fully equipped to fight and overcome multiple opponents at once, emphasizing his use as an asset in the war effort. He’s fast and kills efficiently, stopping neither to torture or gloat. He neutralizes the threat as quickly as possible.
  2. He has high manuverability to get in and out of his opponents space, suggesting master level swordsmanship skills, especially since he is the only character in the entire scene that we’ve seen with this proficiency. 
  3. He economizes his movements, so there is no motion goes to waste signifying he is ruthless and very efficient in killing. Notice how in the gif above he cuts one opponent and it smoothly leads into him facing the next. He is every bit deserving of the legend we’re told in the opening text.  

Originally posted by suzuyajuzoo

The interaction he has with Saito in this scene shows us that they’ve had multiple inconclusive encounters on the field and Saito managed to survive them, subtly signifying to us that Saito is at the very least his equal, which becomes important given what motivates the forthcoming action scene 10 years later where he completely dominates Kenshin and cuts his shoulder with the Sakabatou. 

 This is an example of how fight choreography can go beyond being cool action and can actually be a tool to help tell the story (the second half of this series will be focusing on just that). 

Originally posted by sexe-fitness-problemes

Later in the film, after these two same characters reunite 10 years later and have a duel, Saito brutally overpowers him. In contrast to Kenshin’s manuverability and speed, Takagi-san designed Saito’s moves to utilize his weight as he’s physically taller and stronger than Kenshin. He’s not as fast but his strikes hold an insane degree of power as we see when Kenshin attempts to parry and Saito manages digs the blade into his shoulder. Saito gives Kenshin a significant amount of trouble and this piece of choreography shows us that Kenshin’s skills have greatly diminished from the opening action sequence. He’s rusty, and if he fought Saito for real, he’d likely die. This once again factors in the story as it sets up Jin-e’s plot at the end of the film to draw out Kenshin’s fighting ability through sheer anger by emphasizing the difference between Kenshin’s current skill and that of his former self.

Another example where choreography transcends its role of entertainment and spectacle and becomes a form of visual storytelling is when fighting Gein. Notice how Kenshin seems to be having trouble here, but after Gein begins to aggravate Kenshin, we get this:

We even get subtle foreshadowing as Kenshin cuts his nose. This foreshadows what he’ll do to Jin-e when he gives him a similar wound after Kenshin is slowly beginning to revert back to the mindset of his assassin days. Even if you don’t have subtitles and have never seen RK before, you can grasp what’s happening just from the visuals.

My absolute favorite example of how choreography can be a powerful indicator of characters and their state of mind is the final fight between Kenshin and Shishio. (The video is below, please check it out before reading on).

Let’s talk about this brutal bastard for a moment. This single fight right here lasts about 2 minutes in the film and to the amazement of everyone, it is one of the most brutal fights I’ve ever seen on film (and I watch A LOT of martial arts films). 

We see glimpses of his utter brutality earlier in the second film when we watch the flashback of Shishio at Toba Fushimi. 

This scene actually sets up about as much crucial information about Shishio as it did Kenshin:

  1.  He is ruthless and unrestrained; his moves emphasize the maximum amount of pain and brutality, ensuring suffering in his opponents before they die.
  2. He fights dirty, not being above using human shields and considers life expendable.
  3. He takes sadistic pleasure in humiliating his opponents, as seen when he stomps on an opponents head and presses their faces into the dirt as he brutally impales them.

When Kenshin-gumi finally arrive to challenge Shishio, we see Shishio’s choreography speak volumes about him.

In the small clip I’ve posted below, we can see that Shishio is psychotically brutal. He isn’t graceful or formal, he lacks all the elegance of Kenshin’s fighting style, and he is sadistically toying with his prey like a cat taunting a mouse. He is less interested in slicing Kenshin as in a formal duel and more interested in repeatedly bashing his flaming sword into Kenshin’s face or pummeling him into a pile of red-headed pulp. He makes no effort to dodge Kenshin’s moves. He reacts to the pain they cause, but instead of deterring him, they excite him. He isn’t above pulling dirty moves like slamming Kenshin repeatedly against a wall while chuckling, or biting a chunk out of Kenshin’s neck. He’s designed to be the exact opposite of Kenshin. 

Tanigaki, when planning a scene of this magnitude, needed  to take into account several elements that can impact what the audience needs to know about these characters. How long has Kenshin been fighting? Is he injured? Shishio, is he ready to fight? Is he reluctant, eager? How would Shishio fight? Does he fight with a flowery style like Kenshin? Is he evasive or does he just take hits and overwhelm his opponents? 

These kinds of questions are some that he needs to ask and work out with the director and actors on set to figure out the fight scene and choreography.  It’s not an easy job. After his stunt team performs it and does camera tests to show Otomo as well as be prepared to revise if Otomo and his DP want to place the camera in certain places, the set of moves are then taught to the actors who interpret them in the context of their character, and then perform them in excruciating detail. Just imagine he nightmare he went through filming the four vs one fight scene at the film’s climax. I think that fight scene deserves its own post some day. 

                                     Reality vs Cinematic Realism

As impressive as they may be, the final obstacle a choreographer must deal with is the camera. Some moves may be practical, but they don’t look good on screen. The moves need to test well for the camera, which is why there are cameras present during rehearsals. 

This helps the director and the cinematographer know in advance what the shot is going to look and give feed back to the Action Director to adjust certain moves if they don’t test well or are illegible on screen. That being said, sometimes this means certain moves need to be exaggerated, heavily expanded on, or redone entirely, which may not be in accordance to the real life basis of those techniques. The biggest example of this is actually a fan favorite technique… The Battoujutsu that Kenshin earned his name sake for.

This looks good. In real life though, this stance is incredibly impractical, and to help me illustrate that fact, I present you real life superhuman Iaido master, Isao Machii.

This is the real life Battojutsu stance. Notice how different it looks from Kenshin’s.

Originally posted by silenthill

This is the technique performed:

Originally posted by marshallastr

Why did Otomo and Tanigaki change it? I mean, it doesn’t look to bad right? This all ties in to how Kenji Tanigaki choreographs and speaks to the main element that TeamOtomo emphasizes throughout all of these action sequences: Drama. Drama comes first and in good cinema, drama doesn’t just stem from the writing; it’s also visual. Kenshin’s stance is very exaggerated compared to Machii-san’s because Hiten Mitsurugi was designed for the camera. This may be obvious to some, but remember that the next time we see a film with unrealistic choreography, it might be because it looks better. 

Don’t misunderstand though, Machii-san is extremely impressive, but on film, it doesn’t have the same gravitas or dramatic flair it does in RK. This is because Machii’s battojutsu is designed to actually kill; it’s a practical move with no room for flair.

 Tanigaki probably adjusted the stance because, arguably, it’s not as visually interesting and doesn’t work as well with the camera  because its much too practical and restrained. Otomo envisioned the Battojutsu strikes to carry a lot of narrative weight, and Tanigaki has to interpret that with considerations to the camera. You might think, “well, I thought Machii’s looked cooler.” Sure, you may be right, but it wouldn’t work on camera the same way Tanigaki’s “Sou Ryu Sen” does. How do I know? Because we actually do see Kenshin perform Battojutsu accurately.

Originally posted by pedroam-bang

This is what it would probably look like this in real life, which works for this particular instance. Our reaction is probably like Eiji and Misao’s in the background. But when Battojutsu becomes the point of the whole fight, the finale or the ultimate technique, it can’t look like this. It needs to be dramatic, it needs to be cinematic. Compare with this: 

It’s slow, the stance is heavily exaggerated but the tension rises. The slow moves emphasize this epic moment; because we know there’s going to essentially be an explosion of motion, the slow build up tenses us with anticipation. We know these two are going to go at it, and the exaggerated stance tells the audience visually, even if you have no clue what battojutsu is or looks like in real life, that this is serious and this moment is climactic. 

The choreographer doesn’t just have to adapt the movement of characters to look good on camera, they need to make every move cinematic to fit the tone of the scene. They need to design a move after carefully considering whether or not it looks good on camera. Multiple camera tests are needed in order to ensure they get the look just right and months of planning go in, just to film a tiny little scene like this battojutsu duel. Impressive, huh? 


                                               Final Thoughts

All in all, Rurouni Kenshin’s choreography and stunt team all work day and night to build an aspect of the visual language of this film. Their choreography spellbinds us, shows us insight to their characters, as well as sets up different tone, and whether we laugh:

Originally posted by takeruandcaterpillars

or cheer:

Originally posted by lynxyz

They are masters of controlling what we see and how we feel about it and if done right can create truly memorable drama without being tied down by dialogue. I have no doubt in my mind Kenji Tanigaki and his team are a large part of why this worked as they took what we loved from the manga and brought it to life with a wonderful stunt team and actors and we should applaud their efforts. 

These are some of the most exciting action sequences to make it to the screen, up there with Bruce Lee films, Ip Man, and the Raid movies. Great action, great drama, and great story telling; that’s what this is all about folks. And this is where I leave you to go work on the next installment; See ya guys!

                                             SPECIAL THANKS 

  • To everyone for reading
  • HYRK for giving me an avenue to write about this wonderful series. 
  • To the people who let me borrow their gifs. I know many of you worked so hard on them and they’re really helpful. 

DISCLAIMER ABOUT GIFS: A lot of the graphics I used are crowd-sourced. I got them from Tumblr’s auto-find system they implemented or on google. If you see a gif without proper credit and its yours and you’d like some credit, please contact me and I’ll designate everyone to your blog as well as give you a credit in this section of the post. 

writing action: good news/bad news

With examples from Fury Road, natch.

There are a lot of things that go into creating a compelling action scene. One of the most basic principles is something that doesn’t really have an agreed-upon name, but I’m going to borrow a term from one of my writing teachers and call it Good News/Bad News. It’s a shorthand term for the reversals of fortune that make an action sequence exciting, the alternating moments of “FUCK YEAH!!” and “OH SHIT!!” that take us on an emotional rollercoaster during a fight or a chase or a battle.

I could use any of the action sequences in Fury Road to demonstrate how this works, but the fight between Max and Furiosa is a nice clean and simple (for this movie) example.

Let’s say we’re rooting for Furiosa in this fight. It starts with Bad News: strange dude rolls up threatening them with a shotgun.

Furiosa decides to attack, tackles him and gets the gun away from him in one move. Good news!

But the gun doesn’t fire. Bad news!

But she can still use it as a club. Good news!

But Max gets his shit together, grabs her throat and flips them, trying to pin her. Bad news!

But Angharad pulls Max away using the chain. Good news!

But he takes the gun with him. Bad news!

But Dag’s on point with the bolt-cutters. Good news!

And so on and so on; you get the idea by this point.

Most action sequences rely on this dynamic to some extent. The rhythm might be more “good news-bad news-bad news-BAD NEWS!!!” if our protagonists are in a jam, but the reversals of fortune are what keep things interesting.

Tweaking the ratio of good news to bad news creates different effects. Too much good news can make your hero seem invulnerable or like the fight is too easy for them, but a streak of good news after a long run of bad news can create a powerful breath of relief and euphoria at things finally working out for our protagonist. (Think of the War Rig’s engine revving up again at a particularly bleak moment in the final chase.)

Create a really long string of mostly bad news and you have a horror movie. But a scene or sequence that’s nothing but bad news can have diminished returns, or make it feel like your protagonist is passive or doesn’t have any agency. 

(I could write a whole other post about how to create a sense of agency for a character who’s in a situation where they can’t physically fight back. For now I’ll just say that someone struggling to turn the situation to their advantage in whatever way they can, even if they end up losing, feels a lot different for the audience than someone just suffering an endless string of blows from their opponent.)

One of the things that makes the action in Fury Road so fantastic is the truly blistering pace of reversals of fortune the movie achieves. In the fight between Max and Furiosa, almost every move is a reversal of who’s on top–metaphorically and often literally. The fight is only two minutes long from start to finish, but it feels like a major set piece because almost every move in the fight is a new beat in the emotional story the action is telling us.

The unrelenting speed with which all the action sequences in Fury Road flip between good news and bad news is part of what makes them feel so exciting, and also so genuinely dangerous, because we’re made to feel like we’re one move away from disaster at all times.


Based off the graphic novel, The Coldest City, Academy Award winner Charlize Theron leads us in the female John Wick, Atomic Blonde. Directed by the co-director of the first John Wick, David Leitch, it is bound to have intense and unbroken phenomenal action choreography. The trailer even has a 30-some second unbroken sequence, reminiscent of The Raid. If a Furiosa Wick doesn’t appeal you enough, how about if I add James McAvoy, Sofia Boutella, and John Goodman… How about now? Espionage action thriller, set in Cold War divided Germany, with a terrific action director and a great cast. I would not even be upset if it’s connected to the John Wick universe.


Woo! A good while back, I directed a short intro video to an original IP developed at Powerhouse Animation called Seis Manos. Along with directing the short, I designed the characters and handled a chunk of the key animation and action choreography. It was a lot of fun to work on and I’m glad I get to share it finally!

Atomic Blonde is Fucking Brilliant

With or without the lesbian scene.

- If you love action film especially with arse kicking female lead, you should go see it.

- Delphine ain’t a queer bait, y’all. I like the cuddling scene between Lorraine and Delphine more than their love scene. Points to the dialogue in the cuddling scene too.

- Lorraine’s growth/change can be seen both in her action and dialogue. [hint 1: the scene Lorrain is looking across the Berlin wall. hint 2: the dialogue in the cuddling scene and so on.]

- Lorraine has tears in her eyes when she mentions Delphine’s death during a scene near the end.
Yes, I know an LGBTQ+ and cute as fuck character dies. But Delphine’s role was gender flipped, y’all. This character is originally male. Plus, in the beginning of the film, Lorraine’s male bae is the first character to die. I’m gay af but I don’t think we should snub this film because Delphine is dead.

- The action choreography in this film is insane! There is a continual action scene in a building and it goes on for 10 or 15 minutes without cut. At All. Fucking brilliant.

Truth be told, I went to watch it because of Charlize and David Leitch, the director but I fell in love with Sofia Boutella’s and James McAvoy’s performance too (I’ve always loved McAvoy) and I love the plot twist as well.


Delphine is the reason Lorraine has changed for the better

The scene in B Story when Lorraine has a gun at Delphine’s head, it shows that Delphine cares about Lorraine’s male bae who gets killed when she doesn’t even know that Lorraine and the poor bastard had been in a relationship. Delphine dies trying to help Lorraine without even knowing that Lorraine is actually Satchel.

Tom Hiddleston shares the best advice for surviving a bar fight

Tom Hiddleston says he has never been in a major bar brawl. That’s not surprising for the gentleman Brit.

In Kong, we meet Hiddleston’s rugged character James Conrad in a seedy bar, and Conrad quickly dispatches foes with deft use of a pool cue.

Hiddleston, who trained with former members of Britain’s Special Air Service and a retired Navy SEAL for the film, was told by a tough, British ex-paratrooper: “If you get into a bar fight, the best thing to do is to pretend you don’t know what you’re doing and run, get the hell out of there,” says Hiddleston. “That’s what he said. You don’t want to get yourself in trouble.”

And how would Hiddleston handle himself in a situation where someone has cut in front of him at the bar? These kinds of things do happen in Britain and can escalate.

“I’d say very politely, ‘Excuse, I’ve been waiting X amount of time,’ ” says Hiddleston. “Usually people are pretty good about that. That’s kind of social protocol. You don’t break that rule. People are like, ‘Okay, you go ahead.’”

Speaking to USA TODAY for an upcoming profile for the Kong: Skull Island (opening March 10), Hiddleston says he is loving the idea of stepping out front and truly flexing his action-star muscles next to the giant beast in the title.

Hiddleston, 36, has shown some chops as demigod Loki in the Marvel films, but for Kong, he’s going full-action.

“Action has always been a part of me. In the Marvel films, it’s hidden in the playfulness and mischief of that character,” says Hiddleston. “But actually, there’s several one-to-ones with Captain America and Thor where the action requires choreography. But (Kong) puts all of that center stage.”

“It’s like, this is the guy you want on the ground in a jungle,” Hiddleston adds of his Conrad. “It’s lovely to be a hero.”

anonymous asked:

Would you say working on a show (whether it's your own or someone else's) is more fun or stressful? Also what are the most fun parts and what are the most stressful?

Depends on the show. Also, stress doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not fun. If something is stressful and rewarding, I would call that fun. However, if something is stressful and I’m getting nothing out of it, I try to get out of there. I only have one life to live, then I die and there’s probably nothing after that, so I want to make sure that I’m not living terribly.

I liked working on Regular Show. It was just the right amount of stress : reward ratio. The most fun parts for me are writing the dialogue. Especially if you’re with a partner, because then it’s just the two of you rattling off a script together and figuring out what makes you laugh and how best to get from point A to point B. You’re basically hanging out and laughing. That’s kind of the definition of fun.

I also often had a good time drawing action sequences, but those were very very tiring to do. Action choreography takes a lot of brain power.

Worst part is when the story structure isn’t exactly figured out and it has be redone a bunch of times. Usually that happens if the point of view/the message behind the story wasn’t totally figured out yet. This can happen when there wasn’t enough time or people didn’t realize it needed more work, so it goes to script and then gets boarded. This means that after you’ve written something and drawn it, it’s up on the wall, and now everyone is giving completely different interpretations of what this story is supposed to be.

That shouldn’t happen, by the time it gets to board stage, root issues like that should’ve been figured out and everyone should know every who/where/when/why/how of the story. This means you end up redrawing, from scratch, significant sections of the board. Then pitching again, then sometimes redoing it from scratch again and again and again. I have entire episodes of things that just don’t exist, even though they were made, but the story changed so much that it’s something else entirely now (but just similar enough that the old version of the episode can’t be used).

I would say overall I like doing the job. If the show goes forward with a clear point of view, it’ll be a relatively smooth experience that will make everyone who works on the show’s jobs much easier and more rewarding. If not, everyone suffers from top to bottom. It’s all about consistency in leadership I think.
Marvel Teases First 'Black Panther' Footage
Marvel screened a sizzle reel and rough cuts of the film at an event on Monday.

In a sequence that also features Boseman getting in on the action choreography, Martin Freeman (playing Everett Ross, who first appeared in Captain America: Civil War) and Andy Serkis (who made his debut as Ulysses Klaue in Avengers: Age of Ultron) trade one-liners. (“Well, you brought quite the entourage, do you have a mixtape coming out?” “Oh yeah, I’ll actually send you link.”) 

Marvel’s Black Panther doesn’t arrive in theaters until February 2018, but the studio unveiled the film’s first footage at a special open house at the company’s Los Angeles offices on Monday night.

IMPORTANT: The footage has not been released yet, but there’s a good chance that Martin will be feature in the first teaser/trailer.


Video game challenge: 2/7 sceneries | Uncharted 4: A thief’s end

“In amongst its frantic combat, slick parkour, and outrageous action choreography, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End achieves something wonderful: maturity. This is less a breezy lad’s tale revelling in fortune and glory and more a story about the lads when they’re all grown up, bolstered by an equally developed graphics engine and career-high performances from its cast. A surprisingly assured set of multiplayer modes ices the cake.” - IGN

anonymous asked:

I'm already seeing a couple comments of "the choreography is still kinda meh" and I'm like "???". This was some of the best action and choreography they've had post-Monty.

Those comments are always going to be there and it’s such a waste of time to even pay attention to them. Rooster Teeth will never be able to match Monty’s creativity - that’s what made him so special. But this was a stellar job of animating and fight choreography and the RT animation team should be applauded. 

john wick is one of the best action movie series’ ever imo. just saw chapter two and holyyyyy shittttttt was that amazing. the actors in it. flawless. keanu, ruby, common - fucking amazing! the music. the action. the cinematography. the choreography! incredible. it was getting 5 stars every where i looked and i was like damn fr? john wick was awesome but sequels usually bomb? but BRUH it doesn’t deserve 5 stars it deserves 10.

anonymous asked:

I haven't seen SU and im genuinely curious as to why you dislike it?? Could u explain why?? (Hope this doesn't come off as argumentative, I know u get a lot of shit from a-holes on this site)

i have an entire blog dedicated to the show’s problems if you wanna check it out. Also fun fact, i was the original su critical blog bc i was sick of losing 50 followers for complaining about su.

But if you want to make it brief: it does almost everything wrong and really fell apart after its first 2 seasons. Bad lessons, too much focus on less interesting characters, really bad writing, the show constantly sticking to the status quo, poor action scenes and choreography, bad comedy, boring plots, tension being lost because everything goes back to normal at the end of the episode (god the Wanted arc was infuriating), anti blackness, lesbophobia, unprofessionalism from the writers, aaaaaaaaaaand i don’t get why we never got to learn centipeetle’s name

Samurai Jack Review


This review contains spoilers. They will be highlighted in bold letters for readers convenience. If you have not seen this show yet or have yet to catch up on it, particularly the finale, skip over the bold lettered sections and come back to read them when you have.

My friends, the long awaited conclusion to the story of the Samurai who gotta get back, back to the past, has come to a close. The series concluded last weekend and much like the series as a whole, it did not disappoint. It had all of the heart, all the goofy humor, all the well choreographed action, all the calculated artistry and color that makes this series so great. But let’s take a step back a bit and take a look at the entire series, all 5 seasons, and see how the show holds up with all the sums of it’s parts. Before we do so, however, I feel obliged to claim minor bragging rights.

I CALLED THE ENDING!! … . sort of. Those who follow my blog know that before saturday came around I made a post predicting how the series would end (you can read the whole thing here: but in a nutshell, I predicted that Jack would give up, find allies with everybody in the lands he liberated, they would all go on all out war against Aku, Jack would have a showdown against corrupted Ashi, Ashi would liberate herself from Aku’s control and realize she has all of Aku’s powers including opening time portals, she would fling Jack into the past the moment he was flung into the future by Aku and kill him right there.

I was mostly right. Jack’s allies go on all out war? Check. Jack has a showdown with corrupted Ashi? Check. Ashi frees herself from Aku’s control? check. Ashi flings Jack into the past at the moment Aku flung him into the future to kill him? Check. Though my prediction had a FEW miscalculations, which we will get into in a bit, frankly I’m just so proud of myself that I came that close to predicting it spot on.

Okay, now that my bragging is out of the way, let’s tackle each aspect of the show, starting with Story.


One of the major strengths of Samurai Jack is it’s beautifully simple premise summed up nicely by the voice acting legend himself, Mako.

“Long ago in a distant land, I, Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness, unleashed an UNSPEAKABLE EVIL. But a foolish samurai warrior wielding a magic sword stepped forth to oppose me. Before the final blow was struck, I tore open a portal in time and flung him into the future, where my evil is law. Now the fool seeks to return to the past and undo the future that is AKU.”

I’ve said before many times that this premise is brilliant, because it’s so broad in it’s explanation and it’s setting is ripe for storytelling possibilities. The future is a distant mysterious place, and as such you can tell any story you want in it. A bunch of rave kids falling victim to mind controlling music? Go ahead. A strange homage to Alice in Wonderland? Go for it. A hilarious quest to quell the troubles of a flatulent dragon? Yes, even that. But on the flipside you can also tell stories more heavy in drama, culture and lore, and you can really up the emotional weight of the situation Jack is in. It’s a premise that’s practically destined to become a beloved television series, and so it has. 


To compliment this ever broad ever expanding world Tartakovsky has created we have a great likable protagonist who is just as much a curious fish out of water as we the audience are, so it’s very easy for us to project ourselves onto good ol’ Jack. But the best thing about Jack is that he’s motivated: He’s gonna get back to the past even if it takes him over 50 DAMN YEARS. Much like I said in my other and most popular blog post “Why Boyscout Characters are Underrated” It’s more important for a lead to be motivated then relatable, because that’s what ends up driving the story and the drama.

Originally posted by pybun

*side note: ever since this show ended the most wonderful gifs have popped up, and it fills me with glee*

Being the stellar lead Jack is however, many would argue that the best part of this series is Aku, hands down. And I would agree with that. Aku. Is. AWESOME!! Easily one of the most entertaining antagonists in all of animation history. He’s the embodiment of evil and does some truly despicable shit, especially to Jack. So much of this series is just painful to watch because it’s Jack coming SOOO close to defeating Aku but Aku causes him to fall just short. He’s just so gleeful about ruining peoples lives and subjecting them to horrendous sadness and frustration. He is what every great character is tenfold …motivated (because again, motivated > relatable).

Originally posted by spazzdhn

That said, Aku gets to be really goofy in this too, which is a huge part of his charm (arguably the biggest part). He’s just so hammy and joyful about being so evil; I love it.

This show has a whole SLEW of great supporting characters though. The Scotsman is charmingly brash and loud and boastful, but a very loyal friend to Jack (admittedly after a rocky start). Scaramouche is a hilarious villain from the 5th season that relieved me when he came up in the first episode and proved to me that the 5th season hadn’t lost the silly charm of prior seasons. The characters from one shot episodes like the “Jump Good” guy, the British dogs, the rave kids, they’re all delightful and charming. Demongo was a great one time villain. But by far, the best supporting character …3 syllables . .  . SAH … MOO … RHAI

*Side-Note: One of the predictions I made about the finale was that Sah-Moo-Rhai would help in the fight against Aku and prove to be a competent swordsman. I was sadly wrong.*

Now all of these are well and good, but one of the most interesting and integral decisions made in season 5 was the introduction of Ashi to the Samurai lore. She is also very entertaining and, while her character growth isn’t as well developed and paced as say Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, She is still a solid and likable contribution to the shows final season that I welcome with open arms . .. even if many of the fans disagree with me on how things turned out. Yeeeah we should probably address that real quick.

Many people, certainly fans on Tumblr, were very disappointed with the revelation that Jack and Ashi had a romance. They felt it was incredibly forced, they felt a non-platonic relationship between a man and a woman in a show was beyond cliche, and they thought it stripped Ashi of her agency and her being her own character because in the end all she proved to be was a trophy for Jack, the male protagonist of the show, to win. They’ve even gone as far as boasted shit like “GET THIS HETERO-BULLSHIT OUT OF MY SIGHT!” (replace hetero with homo and suddenly it seems like a real asshole thing to say doesn’t it?). I suppose I agree with the sentiment that blossoming relationships between male and female leads in a show is a cliche as old as time. But there’s a reason why it is so … . it’s because heterosexual relationships THEMSELVES are as old as time. Cliches are a product of evident truths that mankind has known about to some degree ever since literature first began. fit and well toned people are attractive, love triangles are just oozing with drama, and capes, while a practically useless accessory, look FUCKING AWESOME. It can be nice to break these stereotypes every once in a while for variety, but it shouldn’t be necessary every time. And an audience that would LIKE to see Jack and Ashi together shouldn’t have to have their little ship ruined because you “can’t stand hetero-bullshit”, (as if the relationship would somehow be more tolerable and less contrived and forced if Ashi was a man and they were a gay couple) because surprise surprise the show creators aren’t just trying to entertain YOU and YOU alone. Just like how Legend of Korra fans shouldn’t be able to ruin Korrasami for you, you shouldn’t shit on anyone for liking Jashi. Whatever happened to “love is love” anyway? As for the point about Ashi being stripped of her agency, 1. She CHOSE to engage in a romantic relationship with Jack. She CHOSE to join his side after being proven wrong. She’s not stripped of agency just because she fucking loves a dude and is just as competent a fighter as him, okay? She even plays a major role in how Jack ends up defeating Aku. 2. She’s not even a prize for Jack in the end anyway, because she ceases to exist after all of that … we’ll get to that in a bit.


Much like the story itself, the design is beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s composition and color choices are BREATHTAKING! Not a single black outline in sight, everything is angular with defined shapes so you can tell which character everyone is even in silhouette, and the scenery  . .OH MY GOODNESS the scenery. The colors compliment each other majestically, whether they need to blend together or create contrast. the imagery is awe-inspired; the show never lost it’s touch in terms of how everything is shown and communicated. This show is the literal definition of “every frame a painting”.

Originally posted by skeletonfumes

The sound and directorial choices of this show are great too. Genndy bases this show heavily on the suspenseful and quiet epics of samurai movies (as you can probably tell) and to an extent westerns. The show really challenges kids to have patience and sit through to the well-worth-it pay off, and it makes for some edge-of-your-seat excitement complimented with spectacular action choreography and animation. This show has some of the most imaginative and dramatic fight scenes ever put in western animation. The first and second episodes of season 5 were perhaps some of the best fighting animation I’ve ever seen in anything EVER.

Originally posted by isohiko

But to be fair the fighting compliments the humor of the show at times too, and I ain’t complainin’

Originally posted by greatestvillianinthegalaxy

Conclusion (+thoughts on the ending):

Overall, this is a very satisfying show that’s praised over and over for all the reasons listed above and rightfully so. Genndy Tartakovsky has created something beautiful and has easily cemented himself as one of the greats of American animation. What else can I say . .  . . OH! how about the ending??

So like I said above in one of the bold lettered spoiler sections of the review, I pretty much predicted what would happen. And setting aside my pride for a moment the ending is only …  .okay. Yes it’s a big climactic fight, yes it’s a good twist and surprisingly it ends on a pretty somber note, so it’s by no means a horrible ending and this turnout makes the most sense all things considered, it just feels a bit rushed is all really. I wish it was twice as long as it ended up being quite frankly but eh, what you gonna do? I WAS surprised by a twist they end up going with about Ashi not being able to be with Jack because she fades from existence after Aku is defeated …right on their wedding day. Fucking OUCH. Jesus, Jack goes through decades of torture in the future only to finally get a final fuck you by having to let go of the woman of his dreams? That’s just cruel man. For a while when she remained in the past I was thinking “wait . . shouldn’t she fade from existence by now? how is she still here? and now they’re getting married? are they seriously going with this ending? I mean it doesn’t make a lot of sense but–” and then she falls over in her wedding dress and I was like “OHHH FUCK YOU! THAT IS NOT COOL! THAT IS JUST MEAN! GIVE THIS DUDE A BREAK!” Needless to say that was the most trolly ending we could have gotten. I can’t help but feel like the non existent Aku is having his last laugh.

But yeah, Samurai Jack … it’s really good. Go watch it. Now. You fools. 

Translation: Potato April 2017 – Hey Say BEST crosstalk

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Writing Tip July 18th

Here’s how to write a damn good fight scene

Fight scenes are the single hardest character interaction to write. Many authors who know their craft in every other respect can’t write a fight scene to save their (or their hero’s) life.

Happily, there are a few devices you can use to ensure you write the kind of fight scene that grips a reader from start to finish. But before we get to those, there’s the cardinal rule of fight scenes.

1. Don’t overwrite

It’s a general rule that you should leave as much to the reader’s imagination as you can, and this is doubly true for action scenes. The choreography of the fight may be exact in your head but you can’t force readers to see the same thing.

Let them know the outline of the fight and they’ll imagine their own visceral fight scene. Counter as it is to a writer’s instincts, ‘they struggled’ paints a far more vivid picture than describing the exact position of each combatant’s arms.

But if you’re not describing what your characters are doing then how do you communicate the action?

2. Pace

Intensifying the pace of your writing can communicate the immediacy and suddenness of conflict. Short, simple sentences keep the reader on their toes. Fights happen quickly and your description needs to match that. In The Princess Bride, William Goldman writes a brilliant sword fight, and perhaps the most enjoyable fight scene ever put on paper:

The cliffs were very close behind him now.
Inigo continued to retreat; the man in black continued advancing.
Then Inigo countered with the Thibault.
And the man in black blocked it.

Each sentence is short, the written equivalent of a sudden move. Every time a new person takes an action in this passage, Goldman starts a new line, making the reader encounter each attack as a sudden, vital event.

Short, to-the-point sentences are a must for any fight scene but pacing works best when it’s combined with perspective.

3. Perspective

It’s difficult to communicate excitement when you describe something objectively. Hovering around the fight describing the actions of both characters sets a limitation on how gripping the experience can be. The key is to thrust the reader into the thick of the action, and to do that they need to experience the fight through a character.

That’s not to say that you have to suddenly adopt the first person. In Gregory McDonald’s Carioca Fletch, the protagonist attempts to get his bearings as he is set upon by unseen assailants. McDonald mimics this experience for the reader by having longer passages between the single sentences of violence:

Instead of looking who had pushed him, Fletch tried to save himself from falling. The edge of the parade route’s pavement shot out from under him.
Someone pushed him again.
He fell to the right, into the parade.
A foot came up from the pavement and kicked him in the face.

The writing, and thus the reader’s experience of events, conforms to Fletch’s experience: the attempt to right himself interrupted by sudden acts of violence. You can also write to match the perspective of the attacker: there’s something especially brutal about a villain methodically taking an opponent apart.

4. Verbs not adverbs

Fight scenes demand brevity and adverbs are the opposite. Instead of ‘Adam hit him hard in the chest, again and again’ use ‘Adam pounded at his chest’.

The occasional adverb might have its place but you want the punch of the sentence to come with the character’s action, not lagging after it.

There are a few exceptions. Variations on ‘She hit him. Hard’ have currency because they’re purposefully simplistic. They embrace guttural simplicity to communicate that same quality in the action, but this trick only works once before you start sounding like a caveman.

5. Sensory information

Description doesn’t work in fight scenes because thought doesn’t play a big part in immediate, physical situations. What there is plenty of is sensory information. The taste of blood, the ringing in their ears, the ache of their injuries. Evan Hunter wrote fantastically brutal fight scenes by stating a simple, basic physical act and then following it up with evocative sensory information:

He pulled him to his feet, almost tearing the collar… He heard the slight rasp of material ripping.

That description, from his short story collection Barking at Butterflies, adds more physicality to the encounter than any physical description could.

Sensory information is also more relatable to readers. Not everyone has been held up by the collar but everyone has heard fabric tear, has tasted their own blood after an accident. You can summon incredibly detailed information through these minor descriptions: the pull needed to tear a collar is something most people can appreciate, so they understand the violence of the grip without ever consciously considering it.

Not everyone has bled copiously (hopefully most haven’t) but describing a character’s clothing as ‘wet with blood’ matches the unexperienced to a physical sensation the reader can recall.

6. Just the results

The opposite of writing a fight scene, but worth the occasional consideration, is to skip the violence entirely. It depends whether you’re trying to provide action or communicate violence, but for the latter this can be incredibly effective.

Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club isn’t about fight scenes or action, but communicates physical violence fantastically:

I asked Tyler what he wanted me to do.
Tyler said, “I want you to hit me as hard as you can.”

At this point a new chapter begins:

Two screens into my demo to Microsoft, I taste blood… My boss doesn’t know the material, but he won’t let me run the demo with a black eye and half my face swollen from the stitches in my cheek.

Here we don’t get any details of the fight, don’t even have it confirmed that a fight took place, and yet the visceral nature of the missing scene is all the more powerful because of it.

You don’t have to skip the fight completely but remember that you can create a powerful sense of what’s happening by referencing the results. While the reader can’t call to mind the exact experience of the fight on the page, fear of injury is something everyone understands.

7. Detail is a dirty word

The key to getting a fight scene right is learning that detail is a dirty word. Television and movies have taught us that the choreography of a fight is the important thing but different mediums call for different tricks.

The Princess Bride sword fight is riddled with fictional fencing maneuvers and yet reading the scene that doesn’t matter. The pace is so non-stop, the skill and commitment of both characters so well written, that the reader imagines every thrust and parry and accepts them as expert.

Write around the physical actions, set the mood and write the sounds, smells, tastes and feel of combat, and your reader will tap into the visual heritage that was formally working against you to picture their own kick-ass fight scenes.

-Robert Wood