Sunday, June 7, 2009

3 Things You Should Never Do While Doing Movie Fight Work

I just got home after working 6 days in the woods doing martial arts special abilities background work for a movie being shot locally. There is a long list of things you shouldn't do while working on set, but for the martial arts performer, below are a few key ones. This is relevant whether performing as an action actor, stunt performer or special abilities background performer.

1. Mess around with your props. On movie sets, there is often a lot of time between takes and people often have to wait long periods for the next shot. People have a tendency to want to play with the prop weapons they were issued in the meantime. On set, I saw people whacking rocks at other people with their prop swords, striking trees, spinning them dangerously close to other people, etc. This not only infuriates the prop masters (they have to fix any damage the weapons receive), it can also pose dangers to the people around you. And if you get caught doing such things repeatedly, you may be kicked off the set.

2. Perform a fight without checking your space. If you're performing any kind of fight, be sure to check out your surroundings for your own safety and for the safety of others. If you have to put together your own fight sequence, make sure you have the space to safely perform it. Avoid using wide swings if you know you're going to be close to other people. Also, make sure there are no obstacles in your area that might trip you up or hurt you if you fall. In the show I recently worked on, we were often fighting in close quarters with other performers. A number of people were injured from not being aware of their surroundings or by people who weren't careful with their space. Fortunately, none of them were serious.

3. Try to get a stunt upgrade by doing dangerous moves. There are a number of background performers, both special abilities or general, who hope to get into stunts. Some particularly overzealous ones will do risky moves trying to get upgraded to stunts. This is NOT the way to do it. In fact, people who do this often get kicked off set. As a background performer, you are not covered by the production company's insurance if you get injured taking needless risks. You become a potential liability to the production. If you are SAE (special abilties extra) and there may be some risks perceived in what you are performing, talk to an A.D. (assistant director) and/or the production's stunt coordinator to ensure that you have the 'ok' to perform your skill the way you intend. When I was on set recently, I was asked to perform a Judo sequence with a couple of other performers. What we had in mind involved throwing and being thrown to the ground. Since there was some minor risk involved I checked with the A.D. who then checked with the stunt coordination team to make sure it was ok, assuring them that we wouldn't ask for a stunt upgrade for our performance. Happily, we got approval to do the sequence.

There are plenty of other things you shouldn't do, but let me leave you with one piece of advice that covers them all: BE PROFESSIONAL! If you're on set, you're being paid to perform a specific task. Don't go beyond that unless asked to and don't do anything that will interfere with the production. Act professionally and you will be treated professionally.

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