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HOW TO Choreograph a Fight Scene

Fight scenes are the crux of action movies & TV shows.  Learn how to build tension, establish spatial relationships between characters, and get some visual POW! by following along to our guide below.

Whether you’re a martial arts expert or a pacifist, it’s easy to create an action-packed fight scene through the magic of cinema. The key? A variety of shots that establish the cinematic space, and quick-paced cuts that imply impact where there is none.

Key concepts & shot types that will make your cinematic choreography shine:

The 180 Degree Rule

180rule_fightsceneThe 180 degree rule establishes where your characters are in relation to one another.The 180-degree rule is a convention of shooting and editing that keeps the camera on one side of the action, giving 180 degrees or a half circle for the camera to travel along the “axis of action”. This helps your audience understand where people and objects in the scene are by maintaining the same left/right relationships between them.

Read this post for a full explanation of this rule and why it matters.

Over the Shoulder shots

Over the Shoulder (OTS) show the action from behind the shoulder of one of the characters. Follow the 180º Rule to determine which shoulder to shoot over.

This type of shot creates tension because we are almost, but not quite, in the character’s point of view. This is the convention for shooting conversations between characters, but depending on what you are shooting from this angle, it can create an almost claustrophobic effect — think horror & action films.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.11.20 AM

POV shots

Point-of-View (POV) shots are filmed from the perspective of one of the characters. They create visual interest by putting the audience into the subject’s perspective, and can give insight into what a character is feeling or experiencing. In the example below, it also makes the Bad Guy look especially tall and intimidating.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.38.05 AM

Good Guy falls down…

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 10.38.31 AM

… and the next shot is his POV from the ground

Ready to try it for yourself? Here’s the template that outlines the different shot types and overall arc for a fight scene:

Add more POW!

Try bringing your #MadeWithClip video onto the desktop with Premiere Pro and teaching yourself to animate explosions in After Effects!

One last tip: if you’re committed to making action films, have your actors take a class in stage fighting and falling to maximize the visual impact while minimizing the physical impact.


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  • By IK - 5:45 AM on May 29, 2015  

    One other thing to remember is when shooting a fight scene the actors should far enough not to reach each other when fighting. If you are making over the shoulder shot and the it’s hard to notice the distance. At the same time the actors can punch with full strength, which looks pretty realistic.

    • By Bronwyn Lewis - 6:06 PM on May 30, 2015  

      Great tip about taking advantage of how the camera perceives distance differently than our eyes do!