Art of Combat

Fight Choreography & Tactical Training
 

Art of Combat
The Cinematic Fight

There is a formula for creating the fight.  It needs to belong to the film and  suspend audience belief.

I can recall so many movies from my childhood, were I loved the fight scenes and thought they looked so real… well, times have changed.  I watch many of them now and wonder how this was ever even acceptable, let alone enjoyable.

Subtext is the heart of any powerful film, and so it is in a fight scene as well.  Without meaning or purpose, without the undefined… it’s just a bunch of kicks, punches, and combinations creating a sloppy and uninteresting disaster.  So many directors or actors rely on camera shake, tight shots, and fast edits to hide the lack of skill or proper choreography.  When the formula is correct, the edits and camera techniques will enhance the beauty, not hide the mistakes.

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Alex Mishun

Gymnast/Diver/Parkour
Alex took on the role of our Ninja for RELENTLESS. His background in gymnastics, diving, and parkour where key in his success, but his ability to adapt and develop, and portray this character is what breathed life into our character.
 

James Bast

Free Runner/Tricking Coach
James is the founder of “Fear None”, and trains martial artists for “Tricking”, which is combining martial arts with acrobatics. His raw style is going to be utilized against Alex’s clean style in RELENTLESS 2.
 

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Parkour
The Urban Ninjas

This new breed of athlete brings a whole new world of insanity to fight scenes, but the secret is to disguise it.

Two amazing parkour and free running experts I’ve had the privilege to work with in film, Alex Mishun and James Bast. The impact their talents bring to my productions is beyond measure. This new breed of athlete brings a heightened level of insanity to the stunt world. Their physical strength, flexibility, balance, endurance, speed, power, and control make for a top level stunt actor. They easily adapt to style and scenarios, and can take on practically any scene I create. Their experience with jumping, falling, heights, climbing, running, and versatile acrobatics are second to none, so they bring an added level of safety to the stunts and fight scenes.

While I come from a martial arts background, it’s been my experience most martial artists make for terrible stunt actors. They’re too restricted by traditional rigid movements, and have no idea how to really fight, not only in the real world, but especially in film. There is an art to “playing to the camera and selling the fight”. So many martial artists in fact, know nothing about fighting, their only exposure to it is through pretend sparring and traditional forms. A fight in real life is nothing like a fight in cinema.

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Creative Chaos

Making the fight belong to the film and character

I may be somewhat biased when it comes to what makes for a good fight scene.  While a fight may contain some amazing techniques, insane acrobatics, and lots and lots and lots of never-ending (to the point where it just becomes stupid) attacks, it still may not contain any emotional value, and physically, the techniques or style simply don’t match the character, scene, or film style. I would rather watch a fight with tons of emotion and simple attacks that belong to the character, than a 30 minute long dance and acrobatic show of pointless and meaningless punches and kicks.

A good example would be (in my opinion) “Luke Skywalker Vs. Darth Vader in the Return of the Jedi” was infinitely better in every way, than the crap we suffered through with “Darth Maul vs. Qui Gon Jinn and Obi Wan”. Since when in the hell did Jedi become acrobats and dancers??? Mark Hammel studied authentic sword fighting for his role. His character fought from rage, hatred, anger, and the mindset of a brother protecting his sister, even if he had to kill his father to keep her safe. With the Darth Maul fights, it was nothing but fancy acrobatics and countless saber spins and twirls… there wasn’t one ounce of emotional content in those fights.  All the fancy moves couldn’t hold a candle to the raw emotion of the original fights. … … “Hello, my name is Nathan, and I’m a Star Wars Geek”.

When I create a fight, I look at the actor and the character they are playing. I look at the scene, the storyline, their world, and the style of the film. What emotion is running through the characters in the scene? What is their driving motivation? Are they used to the fight? Is it out of anger, fear or desperation? Saddistic behavior vs. self-defense? Beyond the emotional aspect of the fight, there are the physical qualities of the actor/character. Is this a reality based fight or a magical/science fiction world where the unbelievable is acceptable?

If the fight doesn’t comply with the illusion the film is selling, the audience won’t accept it and the scene will hold no value. For me, subtext in the fight is equally as important in the subtext of the films storyline.

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Visual FX

Enhance the fight, don’t hide it

Am I the only person who absolutely hates “Shaky Cam”??? While at times this is a trick which actually works well in films, its success is usually based on the skill of the director and editor. For the most part, Shaky Cam is a way to hide the fact no one from the talent to the director knows how to sell a great fight scene, so they have to hide it and disguise it with quick cuts, chaotic tights, and shaky cam to make the fight feel intense. Come on… we can do better than that folks…

Visual FX, when applied properly can certainly enhance the fight scene, but if used poorly, they’ll kill it. There are times when a practical effect (squib, dust, wires, air-ram, pyrotechnics, etc.) is needed vs a visual fx created in post, and vice versa. Certainly the angle of cameras, types of camera movement used, cinematic lighting, and most of all sound fx and music play a major role in the emotional quality of fight scene. Personally, I’m a fan of practical fx whenever possible. CG is great, but I’m into organics rather than processed goods.

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Suspend Belief
Add Subtext

An image without emotion or purpose, has no value.

We’ve all seen those movies… the ones with pretty women, hulky men, awesome fx, and cool camera techniques… but the storyline absolutely sucks. Just because someone wrote a $h1tty script, that doesn’t make them a script writer. Just because someone wants to be famous, doesn’t make them an actor. Just because they love movies, that doesn’t make them a director.

Yeah I know, I sound like a real jerk right now, but this is filmmaking, not hands across america. We’re here as filmmakers to tell a story, to suspend belief, and to entertain. So let’s make a movie worth watching, and create scenes that enhance and drive the story, not steal from it. I am not your friend, I’m here to sell the scene. I have no respect for delicate, arrogant, and selfish egos too stubborn to accept they can’t sell a fight scene or the character they portray. Some people want to be famous, others want to tell a story… guess which ones make for better actors and filmmakers.

If there is no emotional content, if there is no depth to the story, or it lacks the undefined, there will be very little (if any) value to the story.

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Safety is Everything

You think you can fight? Wrong! Stunts and Fights are dangerous… which is why there are professionals! Use them!

Being tough doesn’t make you a stunt actor. Being a martial artist or gymnast doesn’t make you a stunt actor. Fights in film are nothing like fights in real life. A great fight choreographer and stunt actor will sell the fight and play to the camera so every hit appears to land. They’ll make your actors look great, and your production will only benefit from using professionals.

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Extreme Cinematics
Tactical Training
Choreographer

Stunt Actor

Art of Combat is a Division of Nathan Grey Cinematics.

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