Making of Dramatic 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 4 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.
Fourth Genre: Dramatic Action | Peps Goh Fight Design
Screen Time Duration: 2 mins 21 secs
Shoot Duration: 5 hours
Shoot Date: 7th November 2019
Director of Photography (D.O.P): Shian Wen
Production Manager & Gaffer: Dexter CJR
Cast: Peps Goh, Shawnrick Hu, Joseph Chai & Tiffany Yong
Music Composer: John Paul Balthasar Kwan
Location: Da Qiao Primary School (now-defunct)
Choreography Notes for Dramatic Action Genre:
This one is a big mishmash of inspirations and influences, and it was originally titled: “Hyper-realistic”. I had the first draft of this choreography in my head for 4 months and continuously rehashed the details over that time. The first daft’s skeleton was inspired by the live-action Ajin adaptation, made by the same team and actor as the Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. One of the signature bit you might be able to recognize would be the knee slides, that I took and pushed as far as I could in the different applications and had a lot of fun with.
Another inspiration of it was the stylism of Kingsman, and this genre was originally meant to be presented with everyone in suits actually (hahahahaha) cliched I know. Not so much their style of action entirely, but instead the style and flavor of performance and poise. I wanted to do something classy with a fight scene instead of growling like animals all the time.
The thing with this one that is different is that with all the other 5 genres, is that unlike the rest that are comprised of choreography that I am confident of being able to impart and coach any actors into executing with a couple of rehearsals, this sequence is built on the backs of movements that are acrobatic or at the very least highly athletic in nature.
So I’ll also go on to explain how I would shoot it if we were shooting these movements with a regular actor and how we can go about making the movements easier to perform safely.
First of all the knee slides, although I was wearing a hard-shell knee-pad beneath the pants for protection, the movement puts a lot of strain on the joint. And the only way to execute it safely is to coordinate your lowering of level while entering the slide at a very particular angle to reduce impact, while micro-adjusting during the slide your spine to knee posture to match acceleration in order to maintain balance and structure.
Without a good amount of body awareness, it is very easy to end up smashing your knee into the ground with excessive impact and hitting the peak friction causing one to “jam-brake” and splat face first. I would recommend a body double for this while shooting from the back view, and then cutting to a closer shot from the front of the actor’s face ending the slide and moving into the next movement. This way the actor only needs to execute a shot 2 feet slide themselves at the end and the slowest part of the slide.
Another movement was the 3 step wall run drop into shoulder roll and immediate ankle grab and slide over. We did that without wire for that one, but if we were coordinating for an actor, it would require a hip-harness with a wire anchored to the left hip, even then it’ll take a certain measure of physicality to pull it off safely. We would have to do the roll in a separate cut and it wouldn’t look as smooth. I would also recommend a body double for this action.
The ankle grab is also a tricky thing especially when lead up from the wall run, it’s done mid-roll and it’s a complete blind grab, we went for several takes and I would try-and-error the angle of my grabbing arm, because it’s impossible to see the spot during that volatile motion while the position of Joseph and our position from each other is also subject to quite a number of variables. Again, I would recommend a body double for this part.
Following that is what the tricking community calls the ‘C-720’. Practitioners of Taekwondo would know it as the ‘540 hook’. It’s not an advanced spinning kick to stunt people by any means, but it would be difficult to expect a beginner to pick it up quickly. Even the fittest and most talented person may take up to 2 months of consistent kicking to learn it from scratch.
HOWEVER. We shot it from 2 different angles, from the front for the take off, and then cutting to an over-shoulder shot to sell the kick contacting the face. In doing that it makes it way easier to coordinate the frontward falling that Joseph did (we call that fall the ‘header’), and it also makes it way easier on the kicker.
In the take-off shot, I executed the 720 twist, without actually kicking my leg out. This way I could launch-off nearer to Joseph without worrying about hitting him on accident. And the next shot I had actually executed an easier kick called the ‘skip-hook’, which is what the end of a ‘C-720’ would look like, this way I can better aim my kick to make sure that it just cuts the line on the correct height, while maintaining a safe distance from Joseph’s face.
With this shooting method, we would actually be able to teach an actor 2 easier movements, that would stitch together in edit to look like the more difficult ‘C-720’, while not needing him or her to be put through 2 months of kick training! And the actor gets to perform this himself!
Next technique is the 180-in-180-out roll. This one could actually be replicated with a big crash-mat and tweaking the angles of obscure it during the jumping entrance, then we cut into the close up shot, putting the actor on a dolly platform and sliding him under the hooking arm like we did, and then cut back out to the roll-out position in which the actor could execute just a regular shoulder roll. If the editor stitches the shot together with good timing, it would sell just like this shot.
Finally we have the ‘Rolling Omaplata’. I modified it such that Shawnrick front-rolls out of it instead, so technically it isn’t an Omaplata at all. It is originally an arm-trap that leads with the person executing it to front roll after looping the arm, forcing the trapped arm to be cranked at an angle, leading to him falling forward and having his arm pinned backwards by the opponent’s thighs.
In my version of it, I lead with an almost Taekkyon-style hook-kick-grab movement trapping the arm downwards (it’s an almost extinct martial art that is the ancestor of modern day TKD). From there I launch a knee into his face, and then looping it around into the original position. I chose to have Shawnrick front roll instead for 2 reasons.
First, it’s way safer as opposed to going face first while having the arm in an actual lock. Second, it also looks much more dynamic, for both characters to turn into the roll, as opposed to one going splat. It’ll look more painful for sure, but that isn’t the goal of this genre. Safer and more dynamic, hence.
We had also cheated the movement a lot with this portion, using cuts to get lazy with not having to do the whole motion in one goal, which while possible would be way harder.
We shot such that Shawnrick didn’t have to take a hard drop onto the ground, and it really depends on your priority. Do you want the bragging rights to do it in 1 long take? And if yes, are your actors hyper-physically competent and willing to eat a certain amount of impact? And the question of, “should you let them do that even if they are willing when there is an easier way out?”
I decided to shoot the easier way out as a sample to demonstrate that it’s possible, because for the purpose of local productions where there are typically very little time to prepare the actors. Hence, it’s always best to do it the efficient way while subjecting the actors to as little danger and risks as possible, at the same them allowing them to do as much of their own stunts as possible as this is important to many of the very passionate actors.
Direction Notes for Dramatic Action Genre:
The final inspiration of this piece came from a fan made live action of My Hero Academia, and we planned the cinematic tone and feel based on it.
One rule that I tried to adhere to in this piece was to have the camera in constant motion, it doesn’t matter if it’s dollying in or out or around, at no point was the frame to see any stop of motion in the background. When you do that, the sense of dynamism is pushed to the maximum, and when paired with good music composition, it gets imbued with this sense of epic-ness.
That’s one of the reasons we switched from the suits and blazers concept into student uniforms. I really fell in love with that fan made adaptation, and thought this would be a fun homage to that. At the same time, another reason is that school settings and uniforms would be a concept that is way more relatable and higher possibility to be used locally, or that least that what we felt.
In this piece with a genre that is in the realm of the ridiculous, I figured there will be a higher suspension of disbelief, and I felt safe to explore the ‘Fake-Bullet-Time’, the part where Shawnrick punched me in slow-mo, and the portion when I knee-d him in the face, were both done in the same way. The performers would slow-mo our own performance, and we will move the camera across the scene really quickly, and further slow-mo it in post.
This creates the illusion of a super slow-mo bullet-time look. It’s sappy and hilarious, and when used in appropriate genres of shows, I think it could be a real comedy value-add to scenes.
And there is a Japanese term called “Sakuga” that is used almost exclusively for Anime, and what it refers to is a scene in which the production pours money into to get just a few seconds of insanely amazing animation during crucial scenes, typically action scenes.
The term has evolved to be used to refer to any scenes where the action is insane and the camera movements goes above and beyond to achieve a surreal but absolutely phenomenal sense of wonder and awe. I had this word in my head throughout the creation of this scene. And I can only hope it came across to you.
All in all we went pretty crazy and had a lot of fun with this piece. I did things here that I usually wouldn’t be allowed to do in professional projects. The concept is really out there, and I really hope I’ll be able to do more of these.
Full Video by Peps Goh Fight Design
The dramatic action genre is part 4 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!