Making of Sport Action | Choreography & Direction Notes
Forewords: Welcome to the breakdown of the Demo-reel where you can take a peek behind the curtains; the reasons and thought processes behind the 6 pieces. This is the part 2 of the 6 article series. If this is the first article you are reading, do check out the other genres by clicking on the links at the end of my article.
Second Genre: Sport Action | Peps Goh Fight Design
Screen Time Duration: 3 mins 05 secs
Shoot Duration: 4 hours 30 mins
Shoot Date: 27th December 2019
Director of Photography (D.O.P): Shian Wen
Gaffer: Li Shao Ming
Stunt Assistant: Tiffany Yong
Makeup Artist: Nhurul Hidayah (Yaya)
Cast: Peps Goh & Kasimir Poh Cieslak
Music Composer: John Paul Balthasar Kwan
Location: Spartans Boxing Club Joo Chiat
Choreography Notes for Sport Action Genre:
The intent of this sequence was to try and create a choreography that balances the dichotomy of having a realistic design faithful to what may actually happen in a ring sport, while at the same time trying to achieve a sequence that moves through a progressive pacing and escalation that would tell a story and do it in a way that is visually exciting and uncommon.
The thing about a real fighting sport is that often times it can either be repetitive or completely random in the shifting of advantage. And groundwork can become stale and super locked down for an extended amount of time. And neither TV nor films would want to waste precious screen time.
But if you were to stray too far from reality, it pulls people out of the immersion. The average audience these days are much more educated about fighting sports even if they do not practice them, with thanks to the popularising of UFC and One FC and other similar competitive fighting arenas.
So we must approach the design with a measure of genuity. Because of how educated the typical viewer has become, they would also be easily bored if your choreography does not contain interesting and unique ideas that surprises them.
This choreography is built on 3 main segments. It begins from a position of extreme advantage on one side, a tight spear and take down leading into ground and pound. In realistic competitive situations it is generally a messy affair. I wanted to be able to visually represent that messiness and chaos, which I feel we did well.
The way we did it was safe for both performers making it a viable technique for actors as well. I tried to go a step further in having a few open guard leg checks placed deliberately and the guard pass to happen in a way that is clear to the audience and readable by even the uninitiated in martial arts.
A choreo has to be readable and if it isn’t designed in a way that the camera can register it, then it is as good as non-existent. This is a difficult balance for this genre especially, to keep it messy and realistic, but at crucial reversals of power for those movements to be read. It was a good challenge for me and I hope it worked for you as an audience when you first watched it.
Next we progress into a 50/50 stand up where there is an almost equal back and forth exchange. This is the most common situation of any kind of choreography, and it’s very easy to get lazy and recycle old ideas. What I attempted to do here to keep it fresh and new, was to utilize the ring ropes that we have which is unique to this genre, and do what boxers call a rope-a-dope.
What that is, it’s when a fighter leans back against the ropes and uses its stretch function to enhance his ability to slip/lean and duck from a barrage and deliver counters from unusual angles or timing. I don’t recall seeing this used in any movies yet i think, at least it isn’t common.
Finally into a ground game sequence. Ground work designs have 2 main challenges, one, it has to be locked enough to represent reality, and for the wrestling to have strong strategic intent. Realistically, fighters don’t just let go when they get a firm lock. Yet the sequence needs to be fluid enough to add that cinematic flair and entertainment value.
Hence, a common mistake I see is when the characters let go of each other and move into another position simply because the scene required them to not be locked in a boring position for too long a duration. Another pitfall that is easy to fall into would be to have the tides be in 1 direction where A locks B and locks and locks, and then it shifts to B pushing and B winning and B winning, in a very dead rhythm.
So the difficulty is in having the fighters speak the language of grappling fluently back and forth like a conversation, and each one is a thinking fighter, seeing the opponent’s goal, cutting it off and giving his own statement, and having that countered. Seeing their attempts thwarted by each other creating the sense of energy and suspense as to who would get there faster or smarter.
Those 3 segments are in my opinion, essential elements that make a good competitive ring fight scene, and the challenge was that I needed to show each of those elements sufficiently and as effectively in as little time as possible as I needed to keep this entire piece in a palatable length for a demo reel.
Admittedly a big inspiration for this scene is the 2011 movie Warrior by Gavin O’Connor starring Joel Edgarton and Tom Hardy. It was one of the only movies where I cried while watching a fight scene. They took what a lesser production would have turned into a typical action scene and made it an emotional storytelling masterpiece.
Which was one of the things that the director MeWatch drama Muay Thai Girl did with their finale fight scene as well, which I choreographed and coordinated the action design for, and it opened me up to and made me fall in love with this direction in making action. I think that action scenes should contribute to the storytelling and not only function as a spectacle to a piece more commercially marketable. And I chose the genre of sport fighting to explore these ideas.
But I don’t think that I managed to achieve that ideal. In trying to break apart as to why it didn’t completely work, I think a part of it surely is the fact that there is no story and no time for the audience to connect to the characters and understand their motivations. But of course that’s perhaps just an excuse, if you were to look at just the finale fight of the movie Warrior, it still brings moisture to my eye just watching only the 11 minute fight by itself, that’s how phenomenal that scene direction was.
And as for just the design itself, there needs to be a few layers to the progression of the fight in order to build momentum into the kind of effect I wanted to achieve. But at the same time, this is meant to be a short choreography demo reel and hence in the span of designing this I was constantly trying to balance achieving the effect, but at the same time keeping the duration not much longer than 3 minutes, while keeping the elements constantly moving.
And as with every project there will be similar limitations imposed on the design brief. Maybe the fight cannot be too long as well due to episode length, or it could be that there’s not enough time to shoot a longer fight. Or perhaps even the actors are physically or mentally unable to complete a longer fight. Hence this is also a great practice in developing a strong foundation in the ability to streamline and cut down a fight sequence.
Direction Notes for Sport Action Genre:
There are 2 main things we had in mind when we set out to do this genre. On the overarching surface it has to come across as an event coverage type of visual. This means we have mostly shots from outside the ring tele-lensing in trying to catch the action and from the top of the ring as an event crane shot would be like.
Also, there has to be an element of incomplete coverage as the fighters move in volatile and unpredictable ways and the event videographer struggles to cover the fight. That’s the general idea.
And yet we can sometime go too far with this method. Hence we need to pull back and also juggle cinematic tricks, like deliberate slow-motions for the audience to have time to register what is happening. Getting shots from within the ring would typically be impossible in order to get close and personal to the fighters for the audience to be able to feel like they are a part of the action., being viscerally involved in the pain and violence of the fight.
There was 1 shot that I was very adamant in getting was the moment when I back into the corner and am trying to refocus my eye after the concussion sustained from the head rebounding from the mat after a clean downward hit.
The effect I wanted to achieve was to put the audience into my head and using the uncomfortably close proximity and the camera losing focus while following my head bobbing for them to visually experience what a concussion would feel like.
If the camera got too close, it would cast a shadow on my face, so we had limitations in what we could do. Perhaps another thing we could explore would be to use a fish-eye lens instead to enhance the sense of vertigo and further push the dramatic sense of perspective.
As for the style of editing, what I went with was more a function of practicality than a creative choice. During the shooting we did longer extended takes and many angle coverage like an event courage would have, and we had an element of improvisation to the performance of the fight in order to preserve some sense of realistic uncertainty for it to not look too choreographed. From there I’ll go in during post to select and string together the best moments.
Due to it being shot on that method which is the complete opposite of the Dramatic and Heroine Genre where every scene and every shot is as choreographed as the fight itself and the camera would move in unison to the performers.
With this there is a lot of going in to put the pieces together in post and using alternate angles to prevent jump cuts and to hide the mistakes and imperfections during the improvised moments. This becomes a unique flavor in itself when you watch it.
But I must say that this style of shooting is one of the toughest on the post editing process. The editor would need to have a sensitivity to timing and be well-informed in the ins and outs of the choreography.
It would be best to have the choreographer in the editing room if you were to choose this method. I edited this myself so it wasn’t that much of a problem, knowing the entire choreo intimately and where each part that needs to be emphasized is.
But even then the sheer amount of shots and angles you need to block is difficult in and of itself. Yet it is absolutely necessary to make sure you have enough coverage, because you don’t know exactly which angle caught the best performance until you reach the editing room.
There are also quite a number of decisions I have to make in terms of how long to hold the shots and which one to cut back and forth from as familiar to the blocking as I am. And also the method of how to cut around to support the performer’s insufficiency is something that takes time to get proficient with.
I’m not saying not to do this style of directing, with good planning it would lend it a unique feel that is only possible when shot like this, but I’m just giving a heads up that the post is not going to be a total breeze.
Full Video by Peps Goh Fight Design
The sport action genre is part 2 of the 6 genres. Here’s the full video for your viewing.
Menu: 00:12 – Comedy | 01:00 – Sport | 04:05 – Heroine | 05:22 – Dramatic | 07:40 – Oriental | 11:02 – Crime
P.S. Click on the above link to check out each genre’s choreography and direction notes. If you have any thoughts about my choreography works, feel free to leave your comment here or email me!