Every movie has moments of action and intensity. These moments can be physical, emotional, dialog driven or even delivered through camera movement. When Walter White verbally explodes at someone in Breaking Bad, his words are as damaging as a shotgun blast. In the genre of Action Films…commonly used shots include: fights, stunts, car chases or explosions. There are many ways a low budget filmmaker can use editing to enhance and exaggerate these often dangerous and difficult to shoot moments.
Through the magic of film editing…I want to share 3 tips that will help you visually amplify dramatic moments and give them much more impact. Just because you don’t have a big budget doesn’t mean you can’t have convincing and believable effects. Besides…all the big budget films use these 3 tricks as well!
After the amazing response and over 75,000 views the first week for my post “Miniatures and Forced Perspectives”…I wanted to follow it up with more low budget tips on creating realistic effects that don’t require CGI or green screens. This time around it involves editing techniques that have been around for 100+ years. These tips have been in Star Wars, Avatar, James Bond films and almost every Martial Arts movie shot on every continent. Even the Keystone Cops in 1913 used one of these techniques. Enough jibber jabber…let’s get into it.
TIP #1 – CUTTING FRAMES
When shooting a stunt that requires impact: a punch, a collision or a car crash…remove a couple of frames right before the impact to exaggerate and speed up the moment. By cutting out the 2 frames before a punch connects, you accelerate the action and deliver the decisive moment a fraction before the audience was expecting it. It adds a superhuman and extra-powerful feeling to the punch/collision/car crash and makes it appear more violent than it actually is. Those 2 frames removed can make a safe and sterile looking stunt suddenly seem viscerally realistic.
TIP #2 – DIGITAL SNAP ZOOM
To emphasize something in a static camera shot…use your editing software to quickly zoom into the frame to point something out to the audience. This technique can used on a shot of a computer screen, a gun or a face. If utilized at the last possible moment…you can easily blow up an image by 200% and not worry about the resolution. By digitally zooming in you can create additional impetus to drive the edit to the next shot by introducing a sense of urgency at the pivotal moment.
Often times on set, the take will end with a close up or a static frame during a dramatic moment. This technique allows you to utilize that moment…then build onto it and propel directly into the next shot. Stylistically, this is a bold visual decision but when used within a frenetic and chaotic sequence it can really add some excitement when you need it.
TIP #3 – SHOOT AT 22 FRAMES PER SECOND
In 1913, Mack Sennett shot the Keystone Cops at 12 frames per second and played it back at 24 frames per second. This sped up their actions two-fold and made their actions and movements extremely comical. The Keystone Cops ran, drove and prat-falled in every conceivable way much to the delight of the audience. This technique of under-cranking the camera to get faster motion is a staple of action movies. For believable results…shooting at 22 frames per second is a great starting point. For car chases, actors running and fight sequences, 22 frames per second retains a natural and authentic look but adds a palpable boost of energy. Once you get to 20 frames per second or less…you risk a comical or unnatural look to action. That’s not to say it won’t work…as the tone and genre of action films can vary from serious to full out comedy. Many cameras will allow you to dial in the frame rate and capture it directly. If your camera doesn’t have that option…change the speed by the appropriate percentage in your editing software. Experiment and use what works best for you.
My feature film “The Grind” that I shot, edited and executive produced is still deep in post…but contains examples of all 3 of these techniques. Check out the video below to see these 3 tips in action. The color and sound is nowhere near finalized but the dramatic impact of the effects should give you a good idea of the possibilities. The first scene is a fistfight with a knockout punch. The second scene has the 3 lead actors in a car chase on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. They are tracking their target on an iPhone while at same time being tracked themselves…by a helicopter high above them. Finally, I chose a 2.00 aspect ratio that is also used in House of Cards.
Once again I would like to stress that if you do your homework…you can find simple and creative ways to make your film look and feel like the biggest blockbusters out there. The techniques and execution are the same…regardless of what camera or editing software you use.
Until next time…