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 "But where's the story" -- Discussion 
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Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2012 1:19 pm
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Post "But where's the story" -- Discussion
This is a pretty big topic and an objection we see often in action filmmaking. Often times you'll hear "But where's the story?" My belief is that.... Sometimes, you just want good action.


Let's take a look at some personal bias. Back in the day my director friend would come to the SP forums and tell me "The moves of the people on that forum are good but theres no story and the cinematography is horrible." I never liked his elitist attitude about film anyway.

But in my early years as a filmmaker I would watch indie fight scenes and think "Wow Im impressed with the choreography but theres no story to it just showing off choreography." My opinion now is 180. I LOVE watching indie fight scenes just to see how they crafted and shot the choreography.

The reason for my change in opinion is this. I can see the potential of a great action movie in those fight scenes and actors. How can you make a good movie with a great story and great action choreography..... If you don't have great action choreography. I see indie fight scenes as practice in the art. Not looking it as a finished product even by the time its done , but a way of showing potential for future projects.

I feel like "Story is what drives the characters, how can we be in the action if we dont care for the characters?" is something we're "supposed" to feel. The same way in a directors commentary they say "we filmed this on a dutch angle to give a sense of unease." And youre thinking ummm well I didnt really that feeling. When the choreography is intense youre drawn in an almost instinctual fashion.

How many times have you gotten excited seeing the action in a movie trailer before you even knew what it was about? How many times have you fast forwarded through a movie just to ge to the fight scenes? I feel like "the story makes us invested in the characters" as more of an excuse for not having great fight scenes like a lot of indie fight scene makers have .

Since moving to LA, where everyones a future action star and does fight scenes, I have much more respect for creative choreography. On the job listings it's "need generic stunt coordinator and generic fight choreographer crime thriller/hit man wannabe/ sci fi babes with guns/etc." thats why when I see a lot of indies fight scenes from LA I love that they're pushing the art form instead of making something basic/generic/done before.

Film Riot says that "watch this film because its most importantly got a great story and build up before the fight scene." Even Jet Li and Jackie mention "when the storys important the viewer feels each punch more." I feel like thats something we've been trained to say. I think Presentation is important. Since fight scenes are a very visual thing. But I no longer find that Story is the priority in action.

It depends on the genre. If its a drama or an epic the story must be well done. If its comedy , it doesnt matter how great the story is if the jokes fall flat. And for action, all the story in the world wont help you if the action is weak.

What are your opinions on the subject?


Mon Aug 04, 2014 9:03 pm
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Joined: Mon Aug 17, 2009 5:11 am
Posts: 184
Post Re: "But where's the story" -- Discussion
I think story is vital. I'll watch some short indie fights and marvel at their skills, but they won't keep my interest for too long.

Even if the plot is simple I still expect a certain level of story telling. It's a cinematic experience that should be telling me the story of a conflict through acting, camera angles, etc. It's very different from a forms demonstration in a competition, which is entertaining in its own way but not a cinematic experience.

Personally, I want to see more fights like Rope-a-Dope, the Bathroom fight in Death Grip, or the bare-knuckle competition in Sherlock Holmes. Scenes that reveal character and progress the plot with the action, rather than just distract.

There are many people out there who can perform complicated choreography, but injecting emotion and story is a different thing, and requires just as much practice as a flying knee.


Sat Aug 16, 2014 7:36 am
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Joined: Mon Jul 13, 2009 10:33 pm
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Post Re: "But where's the story" -- Discussion
another important aspect of fight scenes is personality.

a lot of indie fights seem to bleed together to me because they lack that individual personality to set them apart from the crowd.

Rope A Dope's fight scenes had tons of personality by virtue of the way they progressed. it was truly cathartic to see the Dope get to the point where he could win the fight by seeing his struggle.

Mario vs Waluigi (Mario Warfare) had tons of personality and was choreographed in a way that made perfect use of the space. the strong vs quick fight scene just killed it (and i know because i got to see it screened in front of a live audience). that and the cinematography was excellent.

the TMNT fight from Thousand Pound Stunts incorporated the personalities of the characters into their fighting styles.

where A LOT of online videos fall flat is that they lack charm. even when the stories are good, the characters fall flat. having strong characters can strengthen their fight scenes because combat becomes an extension of their personalities and character development.


Fri Aug 22, 2014 11:13 pm
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Joined: Sun Jul 19, 2009 9:32 pm
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Post Re: "But where's the story" -- Discussion
You have to consider your desired audience. I don't think there's a big audience for pure martial arts without story elements (characterization, humor, drama, or philosophy, etc). That said, there's nothing wrong with catering to a niche audience of choreographers and hardcore martial arts enthusiasts. We all pick the audience we wish to entertain.

For me, because there's a niche thing I like (martial arts), and a pop culture thing I like (video games, comic books, etc), I glorify the niche thing in a package prepared for the bigger pop culture audience. It can be an original idea, in which case you're appealing to the audience that likes the genre but is looking for new original content. (So which audience are you appealing to? Just martial arts fans? Or also action fans, or drama fans, or comedy fans, or a mixture?) If you make a parody or homage, then you're appealing to a pre-existing and organized fanbase.

For me personally story is important on two levels. One, I've always been better as a scholar of martial arts than a practitioner - I see techniques and styles as having a philosophical,historical, emotional, and visual aspect to them that can help flesh out a character. (Like Gunsavior said, speed vs power, or strategy vs numbers, etc.)

Two - it's already been said. A fight with emotional stakes, where you actually care about who wins, is more compelling to most people. Because there's more people who connect with that than who connect with pure choreography. Again, nothing wrong with anyone who stays true to their artistic desire and caters to the smaller audience.

Because of the audience I like to entertain, and because we're shorter on fighters here locally than most of the crews on SP - when I see people post great test fights - my gut reaction is, "oof, I wish I could take that outside of the gym, spend 300 on props and costumes, add 3 lines of dialogue, and make that fight accessible to tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands."
I guess in that way, it's kind of like grappling in UFC - Dana White doesn't like to see stalemates on the ground because it's not interesting to the bigger audience. But if you know BJJ, then you see the intriguing chess match that's being played out. It just depends which audience you get more satisfaction from entertaining.


Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:07 pm
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