Getting the Right Angle


Once we've solved the problem of film speed, we can move on to the problems caused by working in a two-dimensional medium. Since film has only length and width, the way an actor's body is angled toward the camera determines how fast or powerful his strikes or kicks appear. This was another great obstacle to our trained killer, who knew he moved well but couldn't display it on film.

The more you turn toward the camera, so you are punching or kicking directly into the lens, the faster the movement appears, although the shape and motion of your leg or arm becomes increasingly indistinct. Imagine watching some guy punch someone else in the face as opposed to watching him punch you in the face. You'd probably find the latter much faster -- just as the audience does when you punch directly into a wide angle lens. On the other hand, if you punch or kick with your side to the camera, parallel to the lens, your technique appears more powerful -- provided you don't just deliver a punch while the rest of your body stays inert. Sure, you may be able to tear an ox's head off with that one fierce blow, but nobody in the audience can see how you used your internal chi. It just doesn't photograph well.

So extend your shoulder a little with the punch while twisting markedly at the waist, drop a little at the knees while jerking your head away from the opponent to let some hair fly, and let loose a snarl that could wake the dead. Now what you've created is a length-by-width powerful image; and just think, you did it all in about 1/3 of a second! Mighty fierce for a beginner. Should you manage to find angles effective for all your leg, body, arm, and head movements so that each appears in a spectacular way, your audience will think you're better off being in the movies than being left to roam the streets.


When Hits are Misses and Misses are Hits


If by now you think you've got the entire film gig licked, think again; in fact, you've not even reached the halfway mark! You still have to be able to hit your opponent or at least keep up with him. Here distancing, timing, and footwork play a major role. The only difference between this and actual fighting is that your distance from the camera should be kept almost constant (or you go out of focus), your timing must make it appear that the fight was not a set-up, and your footwork must show that you really are in control and know what you're doing. Crowding your opponent will only upset his distancing, timing, and footwork. In other words, it takes two to tango. Either blocks or strikes that come closer than a foot from an opponent's face cause optical confusion. That is, your opponent won't be able to focus his eyes quickly enough to counter effectively. Constant visual chaos very rapidly leads to chaos in choreography. So, keep your distance and try to keep yourself and your opponent in proper alignment with the lens according to the director's instructions.

What about hitting? This is a very tricky area in which minor miscalculation can lead to misery. For punches, keep at least one-half to two inches away from the opponent's body or face unless the direction of your strike parallels the camera lens; in which case, you may either strike his clothing for body shots or pass your fist beyond his head (and in front of the lens) for face shots. For kicks, keep your foot at full extension about six to twelve inches away from your opponent unless he's padded for body shots. Remember, no one has yet figured out a way to pad an open face against an incoming foot! If the lens is set at a very low angle (looking lip at your shoulder) and you have to hit someone in the head, always aim your strike lower than the target. If the lens is at a high angle (looking down at your shoulder), aim your strike higher than the target. If you actually hit your target on the dime, from the angle of the lens you've either overshot or undershot.

Blocks require light contact only. If there's any semblance of clacking bones, you'll soon find both your opponent and yourself getting gun-shy rather quickly.