Filming the Fight Rehearsal

This is a fight scene from the movie Serenity, as the fight director designed it.

The stunt woman’s name is Bridget Riley. Chad Stahelski was the stunt coordinator.

The Value of a Fight Director

One thing you notice about this clip that is different from demo reels of most stunt teams is this: editing. A martial artist wants to show off the height of their kicks, their flexibility, their accuracy with a partner, and they set up a camera to best show off their assets for a series of moves. A fight director knows how to use the camera to tell the story as well as capture the correct angles for the strikes. Most martial artists and fencers have no idea how to frame a shot, what camera moves accomplish, or why film is different from a live performance.

Filming Rehearsal

You’ll also note that this is a recording of rehearsals. From the cuts, you know that this wasn’t one long take, but the camera was repositioned for each sequence. In this way, the stunt coordinator can show the director what angles would be best, and how he would direct the scene. The director may disagree, make suggestions or cuts, but at least he can decide before the day of the shoot where the camera should be angled, and where it should move.

Recording your rehearsals the way they will be filmed (in shorter sequences, with the camera moving in an appropriate way) will allow the performers to see where they need to change their particular moves. Shooting on digital and playing back on a large monitor immediately allows the rehearsal to continue with little interruption. Does that kick need to be higher to sell? Does that punch need to be extended? Seeing the recording immediately tells the performer how to improve in a much better way than verbal notes.

Be A Director

Plan your shots. Plan the fight in general shape, then start deciding on moments that you want to show, and decide how to show them. Shooting a “master” with a still camera at a long distance will help you remember the shape of the fight, but should NEVER be used for actual footage.

Once you know each shot, drill them one at a time. You think the Serenity team ever performed that fight from top to bottom? I wasn’t there, but I can pretty much guarantee they didn’t. First of all, look at all the wire work. If they didn’t have people flying the way they did, the fight would be entirely different. Take the cuts as a blessing. A cut allows you to optimize a sequence of one to ten moves in isolation. So isolate them.


Deal with feedback from the director or the DP before the shoot days. I’ve seen too many arguments on the set. If you film the rehearsal with the angles you think are best, you don’t have to let the director imagine what it will be like.

And if the DP has a way that he thinks will improve it, you can try it in rehearsal rather than having a fight with all your performers waiting around in costume.

A Note to Producers
If your production has a fight scene, it will suck unless you do the following steps:

  1. Hire a fight choreographer or a stunt coordinator who has fight experience. Do not hire a martial artist or fencing master to design the fight. They can perform it, but they don’t know angles or storytelling.
  2. Allow time and rehearsal space for the fight to be designed and rehearsed before filming.


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