HULK EXPLAINS ACTION SCENES – ACTION STRIKES BACK! WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! DAY 2 OF 3

September 14, 2011

PREAMBLE: YESTERDAY, HULK PUBLISHED THE FASTEST CLIMBING ARTICLE IN THIS BLOG’S HISTORY.  IF YOU DIDN’T READ IT, YOU CAN DO SO BY CLICKING RIGHT HERE.

THE RESPONSE TO THE PIECE HAS BEEN TRULY HUMBLING, AND HULK HAVE MANY SINCERE THANKS TO Y’ALL.

SO HOW ABOUT WE EMBARK ON DAY 2?

CINEMATOGRAPHER EXTRAORDINAIRE TOM TOWNEND BACK AND WE READY TO ROLL (NOTE: IF HE HEARD HULK CALL HIM THAT HE WOULD GET ALL BASHFUL AND DEMURE. BUT AS EVIDENCED IN THE PRIOR COLUMN, HE PRETTY BRILLIANT).

SO YESTERDAY WE TOOK ON THE CONCEPTS AT THE CENTER OF CREATING GOOD ACTION: STARTING WITH SIMPLE IDEAS, TREATING THE ACTION AS A “STORY,” THE BASICS OF CAUSE + EFFECT, AND HAVING OBJECTIVES.

TODAY CONCERNS HOW ONE GOES ABOUT THE EXECUTION OF THOSE CONCEPTS. WE HAVE 3 PARTS FOR YOUR ASSES: GEOGRAPHY, TONE/SUSPENSE, AND “PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER.”  IN WHICH, WE WILL TALK THE MATRIX, KUNG FU, JACKIE CHAN, SOUND DESIGN, CAT PEOPLE, TAUT FILMMAKING, QUENTIN TARANTINO’S DIALOGUE SET-UPS, THE COEN BROTHERS RELATIVE AWESOMENESS, AND… DAVID LYNCH? WHAT THE FUCK?

LET’S DO IT:

PART 3 – GEOGRAPHY AND “SEEING THE FRAME”

YOU MAY ASK, “HULK, WHY DO KUNG FU FILMS WORK IF THEY’RE NOT REALLY USING CAUSE + EFFECT AND MORE JUST GUY’S PUNCHING THE CRAP OUT OF EACH OTHER?”

HULK WOULD ANSWER, “THAT A TERRIBLE QUESTION. YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING, DO YOU?”

… LUCKILY IT’S JUST A FAKE QUESTION HULK MADE UP TO PROVE A SILLY POINT: A GOOD FIGHT/KUNG-FU SCENE HAS JUST AS MUCH CAUSE + EFFECT AS ANY OTHER GOOD ACTION SCENE, IT JUST WORKS AT MUCH, MUCH FASTER PACE. BUT IN ORDER FOR IT TO WORK, ALL THE PUNCHES, BLOCKS, AND REVERSALS HAVE TO MAKE SENSE TO THE VIEWER. SO WHEN YOU SEE TWO PEOPLE FIGHTING, YOU HAVE TO SEE THEM FIGHTING.

THE WAY TO DO THAT IS WITH A CERTAIN WORD PEOPLE THROW AROUND A LOT WHEN TALKING ABOUT ACTION SCENES, AND THAT IS WORD “GEOGRAPHY.” WHAT IT MEANS IS THE UNDERSTANDING OF CHARACTERS IN PLACEMENT WITH EACH OTHER AS WELL AS THE SPACE AROUND THEM.

IT SOUNDS RELATIVELY SIMPLE, BUT HULK ASSURE YOU THAT AFTER DEALING WITH THE PRODUCTION COMPLICATIONS OF BLOCKING, SHOT SELECTION, AND THEN EDITING, THEN EVEN THE MOST HEAVILY PRE-VISUALIZED SEQUENCE CAN COME OUT LESS COHESIVE THAN IMAGINED IN THE FINAL PRODUCT. AFTER ALL, 3O SECONDS OF GUYS HITTING EACH OTHER ON SCREEN USUALLY TAKES DAYS TO FILM. WHICH MEANS IT IS VERY, VERY EASY TO LOSE TRACK OF HOW THINGS FIT TOGETHER IN THE CHAOS OF PRODUCTION.(9C) WHICH MEANS THAT WHEN SOMEONE IS FILMING A FIGHT SCENE, THE OVERALL COMMITMENT TO GEOGRAPHY HAS TO BE PARAMOUNT.

FORGIVE A QUICK NOTE ON THE HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD’S RELATIONSHIP TO ACTION “GEOGRAPHY” BUT IT’S IMPORTANT FOR THE NEXT POINT. SAID HISTORY GOES SOMETHING LIKE THIS: IN THE DAWN OF MOVIES THE FRAME WAS STILL PRIMARILY THE “THEATER WINDOW” WHICH MADE EVERYTHING LOOK LIKE A FILMED STAGE PLAY. SO REALLY GEOGRAPHY OF PEOPLE AND ACTION WAS PRETTY MUCH A GIVEN. EVEN IN THE GOLDEN AGE OF FILM NOIR (INSERT 90 MILLION AWESOME FILMS AS EXAMPLES), WHICH USED A MUCH MORE STYLIZED FORM OF FILMMAKING, THE STYLE WAS PRETTY MUCH COMPOSED OF WIDE SHOTS AND LOTS OF INSERTS THAT FOCUSED ON CLARITY. THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE WAS THE LIGHTING AND COMPOSITION WAS FREAKING AWESOME. EVEN THE 60′S/ 70′S ACTION MOVIES (DIRTY HARRY, THE GREAT ESCAPE,  BULLITT, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) USED THE INVENTION OF CINEMA SCOPE TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE WIDE-FRAME. ACTION WAS STILL RULED BY MASTER SHOTS.

LIKE THIS:

THEN THE CINEMATIC REVOLUTION OF THE LATE 70′S CHANGED THE LANGUAGE OF HIGH FORM CINEMA ALL TOGETHER.  THEN SPIELBERG AND LUCAS TOOK THAT NEW FILM LANGUAGE AND USED IT TO CHANGE POPCORN CINEMA. SPIELBERG SHOT HIS ACTION FOR MAXIMUM AUDIENCE TENSION AND LUCAS SHOT HIS ACTION FOR MAXIMUM PACE (AT THE TIME THAT IS). THE EFFECT WAS REMARKABLE, BUT IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT BOTH FILMMAKERS RITUALLY SACRIFICED GEOGRAPHY IN THE NAME OF THESE OTHER CONCEPTS. LUCKILY, THEY WERE SO GOOD AT THOSE OTHER CONCEPTS THAT THEIR WORK WAS REVOLUTIONARY. THE PROBLEM IS THAT THE GENERATION THAT FOLLOWED THEM MISSED THE MARK AND TOOK THE “STYLE” AND “PACE” OF BOTH FILMMAKERS, WITHOUT REALIZING THEIR GENIUS WAS IN THE CONTENT OF DRAMATIZATION, NOT THE CINEMATIC CHEATS. THUS, THE 80′S/90′S WERE LARGELY DARK TIMES FOR ACTION COHERENCE AND GEOGRAPHY, SAVE FOR A FEW BRIGHT SPOTS OF INTERNATIONAL CINEMA.

ENTER THE MATRIX.

…OF THE MANY OF THE THINGS THE WACHOWSKI BROTHERS DID RIGHT (AND WRONG), THEY AT LEAST UNDERSTOOD THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN ALL THEIR FIGHT SCENES WAS GEOGRAPHY.

TOM: In all the hooplah, some people forget that it really is such an important movie outside of its own context (and sequels). The popular introduction of Hong Kong fight choreography to mainstream Hollywood raised the stakes – endless punches and tussles look lame now. Unfortunately the silly physics is what Hollywood adopted instead of the ‘flow’ and ‘shape.’ We got bullet-time jokes instead of people aping the most important thing – one specific fighting action leading to another specific fighting action – cause and effect on a macro and highly engineered level. The Dojo fight in that movie is a rare example of Hollywood getting it right.

BOOM. EXACTLY. FOR ALL THE FANCY NEW TECHNOLOGY + SPECIAL EFFECTS, IT WAS REALLY JUST GOOD OLE-FASHIONED KNOW-HOW WITH CAMERA ANGLES THAT MADE IT THE MOVIE WORK (ALONG WITH HEAVY COMMITMENT TO BASIC METAPHORS AND STORY TROPES). AND THAT DOJO SCENE IS EXEMPLARY OF EVERYTHING THE MOVIE DID SO WELL.

SO WHY DON’T WE TAKE A LOOK?

WHILE THE ACTION ITSELF IS RATHER DYNAMIC AND COMPLICATED, WERE YOU EVER CONFUSED ABOUT WHERE SOMEONE WAS IN RELATION TO THE OTHER? OR HOW THEY PULLED OFF AND EXECUTED A MOVE?

TOM: Nope.

THE CAMERA IS ALWAYS JUST FAR ENOUGH BACK TO SHOW THE WHOLE MOVEMENT. IN FACT, THE MOVEMENTS OF THE ACTORS ACTUALLY DICTATED WHERE THE CAMERA SHOULD GO NEXT, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. NOTICE THEIR RELATIONSHIP, THE WAY THE CAMERA SEEMED TO FLOW OFF OF THE ACTOR’S ACTIONS, AS IF IT WAS REACTING WITH EQUAL GRACE. IT BEHAVES ALMOST LIKE A DANCE PARTNER. BUT EVEN WHEN THE CAMERA IS MOVING, IT IS NEVER SO DISTRACTING AS TO MAKE THE CAMERA MOVEMENT THE MOST ACTIVE PART OF THE SCENE. IT’S NEVER TRYING TO BE “NOTICED.”

TOM: Right, it’s low stakes showboating that only just avoids pastiche.

OOOH. GOOD WORD CHOICE!

TOM: Thanks!

SO NOW LET’S GO BACK TO OUR EARLIER POINTS. NOTICE WHAT TOM TALKING ABOUT WITH THE MACRO CAUSE + EFFECT. KUNG FU IS FREAKING BEAUTIFUL, BUT STILL SIMPLE IN THOSE “STORY-TELLING” TERMS: MOVE. REVERSE. MOVE. REVERSE.

AND NOTICE THE EFFECTIVE USE OF OBJECTIVES IN THE SCENE! NOTICE HOW MORPHEUS PROVIDE THE GOALS AND EXPLAINS EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENING. HE’S NOT JUST NARRATING THE ACTION, BUT ALSO THE EMOTIONAL/CHARACTER ARC FOR NEO. AS LAME AND CLICHE AND ON THE NOSE AS ALL THOSE EMOTIONAL BEATS ARE, BY MAKING IT SO DAMN CLEAR IT ALLOWS ALL THE FANCY-PANTS ACTION TO HAVE ACTUAL STORY MEANING.

TOM: Yeah, not sure The Matrix needs the sly character exposition of Silkwood… though it couldn’t hurt.

HULK LAUGH.  BUT SEE HOW IT ALL STARTING TO PIECE TOGETHER? CAUSE + EFFECT/OBJECTIVES TIE RIGHT GEOGRAPHY BECAUSE BOTH STRIVE FOR THE GOAL OF CLARITY. AND GEOGRAPHY IS SO IMPORTANT IN HAND TO HAND FIGHT SCENE BECAUSE IT’S WHAT TELLS THE STORY. SO NOW IT’S COMING TOGETHER TO MAKE A CLEARER PICTURE OF HOW ACTION WORKS.

BUT LET’S TAKE FIGHT SCENES ONE STEP FURTHER WITH THE ALL-TIME GREAT OF KUNG-FU ACTION: JACKIE CHAN.

                                                   FUCK YEAH!

JUST SO YOU KNOW, HULK ADORES JACKIE CHAN. HULK EVEN BELIEVE HE ONE OF CINEMA’S GREAT HEIRS OF PHYSICAL COMEDY. MAYBE IT’S JUST THAT HULK GREW UP ON HIM, BUT HULK THINK HE PROBABLY HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH THE SPARKLE OF BUSTER KEATON AND CHARLIE CHAPLIN THAN PROBABLY ANY OTHER CINEMATIC FIGURES, THOUGH HULK WILLING TO ACCEPT ARGUMENTS. (9D) SO EVEN THOUGH HIS HOLLYWOOD OUTPUT IS LESS STELLAR THAN HIS HONG-KONG OUTPUT, EVEN THOUGH HULK ADORE HIM, THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IS THAT WHAT HE DOES STILL WORKS IN THE MOST BASIC CONCEPTS OF ACTION.

EVEN THOUGH JACKIE IS WORKING IN THE KUNG FU GENRE, WE’VE PREVIOUSLY ESTABLISHED FROM SPIELBERG THAT LAUGHTER, ELATION, AND FIGHTING ENJOYMENT WORK IN EXACT SAME TERMS OF SET-UP/DELIVERY. SO IF YOU CAN UNDERSTAND AND INTEGRATE THEM SEAMLESSLY, YOU CAN CREATE INTERCHANGEABLE FORMS OF JOY. HULK BELIEVE THIS THE REASON JACKIE CHAN THE MOST POPULAR KUNG-FU IMPORT OVER OTHER GREAT CHOICES: HE CONSTANTLY TRYING TO THRILL YOU OR MAKE YOU LAUGH EVERY TWO SECONDS OF AN ACTION SCENE. AND IT’S NOT JUST HIS FIGHTING ABILITIES, WHICH ARE JAW DROPPING, BUT THE FACT HE UNDERSTOOD THAT BY USING CAUSE + EFFECT SO CLEARLY THAT HE COULD ENTERTAIN ON SEVERAL DIFFERENT LEVELS IN WHOLLY RAPID SUCCESSION.

THIS SOUNDS LIKE A SILLY STATEMENT, BUT HULK SO HAPPY THAT JACKIE WAS A PRODUCT OF TRADITIONAL ASIAN CINEMA. UNLIKE AMERICAN FILMS AND PERFORMERS, ASIAN CINEMA REALIZES THAT SUPER IMPORTANT LESSON THAT IF YOU’RE SHOWING SOMETHING GREAT THEN THE CAMERA NEVER HAS TO DO ANYTHING.

LET’S SEE HIM AT WORK, PARTICULARLY AT A SCENE THAT MOSTLY INVOLVES HAND TO HAND FIGHTING (INSTEAD OF USING PROPS, WHICH HE IS FAMOUS FOR) TO MAKE OUR POINT. WATCH HOW MUCH HE CAN AUGMENT THE BASICS OF FIGHTING, MAKING EACH PUNCH AND KICK LOOK UNIQUE IN THE CONTEXT OF ALL THE OTHERS. AND IF KUNG-FU MOVIES ARE NOT YOUR THING, FORGIVE THE PUERILE NATURE OF THE HUMOR IN THIS SCENE AND BAD-DUBBING. THIS IS WHAT KUNG FU MOVIES DO , SO HULK ASKS YOU TO BE PATIENT AND JUST LET IT BUILD. BUT AGAIN, WATCH HOW LITTLE THE CAMERA DOES:

FIRST OFF, LET US JUST ACKNOWLEDGE IF MATT DAMON DID THIS IN AN ACTION MOVIE THE ENTIRE EASTERN SEABOARD WOULD HAVE SHIT ITS COLLECTIVE PANTS (FOLLOWED OF COURSE, BY EACH SUCCESSIVE TIME ZONE). INSTEAD, THESE AMAZING FEATS ARE SOMEHOW REGARDED AS JUST “THAT STUFF THAT JACKIE DOES.” BUT THERE ARE REAL LESSONS TO TAKE AWAY.

NOTICE IN THE CLIP HOW SHORT THE ACTUAL SEQUENCE OF HITS ARE PER OPPONENT. IT IS NOT AND ENDLESS SERIES PUNCH AND KICK COMBOS. HE MOVES FROM BAD GUY TO BAD GUY SO QUICKLY (READ: LINKS THEM) THAT IT WORKS BEAUTIFULLY AND FEELS LIKE HE’S PROGRESSING, EVEN THOUGH IT IS JUST THE SAME FOUR BAD GUYS OVER AND OVER. JACKIE UNDERSTOOD THAT YOU HAD TO PUNCTUATE MOMENTS OF FIGHT SCENES LIKE SENTENCES: WITH REVERSALS, FLIPS, FALLS, JOKES, TURNING ATTENTION, FUNNY FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, AND ALL THESE FUNNY PUNCTUATION MARKS FLOW IN THE COURSE OF THE ACTION. YES, THE FIGHTING HAS AN ACTUAL RHYTHM.  AND IT’S NOT JUST BECAUSE JACKIE IS AN ABSURDLY TALENTED FIGHTER, IT’S BECAUSE THE FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY SO WELL-DESIGNED IN FIRST PLACE.

AND AGAIN, THE CAMERA NEVER GETS IN THE FREAKING WAY.

BET LET US ALL BE HONEST, LOTS OF ACTORS ARE JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO FIGHT ANYWHERE CLOSE TO THIS LEVEL (AND THEN THERE’S THE PESKY, THOUGH TOTALLY HUMANE MATTER OF INSURANCE) BUT THE LESSON OF THIS KIND OF STUFF FOR HOLLYWOOD SHOULD OBVIOUS: STRIVE TO PRODUCE THIS LEVEL OF ACTION.

POST-MATRIX HOLLYWOOD IS OBVIOUSLY WAY, WAY BETTER AT OFFERING HIGH QUALITY MARTIAL ARTS AND FIGHTING THAN BEFORE, BUT LOTS OF TIMES HOLLYWOOD IS STILL JUST “HIDING” THE ACTION SO IT DOESN’T LOOK LAME. WELL HULK ARGUE THAT NOT REALLY AN EXCUSE. NOT THIS DAY IN AGE. ACTORS TRAIN FOR MONTHS. FUCK, EDGAR WRIGHT WAS ABLE TO MAKE MICHAEL CERA, MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD AND EGG, HULK MEAN ANNE, FROM ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT KICK ALL SORTS OF RELATIVE ASS IN SCOTT PILGRIM. HULK MEAN, JUST FREAKING WATCH:

SERIOUSLY HOLLYWOOD? CERA, WINSTEAD, AND MAE WHITMAN JUST HANDED YOU YOUR FUCKING ASS. SURE, EDGAR WRIGHT MIGHT BE A ONCE IN A GENERATION FILMMAKER (MORE ON THAT ON DAY 3), BUT WHAT THIS SCENE PROVES IS THAT YOU ABSOLUTELY, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES, HAVE ANY EXCUSE.(10A)

YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER. MOST OF THESE ACTION MOVIE STARS ALREADY HAVE A BREADTH OF FIGHTING EXPERIENCE. AND EVEN THEN OUR FACIAL REPLACEMENT SOFTWARE IS LEGITIMATELY PERFECT NOW AND HOLLYWOOD’S STUNT MEN AND STUNT COORDINATORS ARE SO FUCKING AMAZING AT THEIR JOBS THAT THERE’S JUST NO EXCUSE. HULK WANT TO SEE WHAT THEY CAN DO. APPARENTLY, TOM CRUISE WAS APPARENTLY A NO-BULLSHIT MASTER SWORDSMAN BY THE END OF HIS TRAINING FOR LAST SAMURAI, BUT HULK WOULDN’T KNOW FROM WHAT THE MOVIE SHOWED… SO PULL BACK THE CAMERA AND STOP OVERLY CUTTING FOR FUCKS SAKE…. SORRY. HULK GETTING  A LITTLE SMASHY. (10B)

GETTING THE CAMERA OUT OF THE WAY MATTERS, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE SOMETHING WELL-CHOREOGRAPHED.

NEED PROOF? THIS TIME LET’S WATCH AN AMERICANIZED JACKIE CHAN MOVIE. HECK, HOW ABOUT THE ONE WHERE HE SQUARES OFF AGAINST THE OTHER IMMORTAL KUNG FU LEGEND, JET-LI! NOW UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS A FIGHT THAT KUNG FU FANS WAITED FOR FOR DECADES… AND WATCH HOW IT TREATED “SIMILARLY” UNDER AN AMERICAN DIRECTOR, BUT DIFFERENTLY ENOUGH THAT IT ROBS THE SEQUENCE OF EFFECT:

WHY THIS SCENE FEEL SO DIFFERENT?

IT BECAUSE THE ACTION MOMENTS LACK PERSONALITY AND BEATS. THE TRANSITIONS ARE LIKE “OKAY, NO WE’RE KICKING BACK AND FORTH, NOW WE PUNCHING BACK AND FORTH.” THERE ARE NO REAL PUNCTUATION MARKS, JUST ENDLESS SUCCESSIONS. AND RATHER THAN STRIVE FOR REAL IMPACT, IT STRIVES TO BE BEAUTIFUL/ARTFUL. SURE THE CAMERA IS TECHNICALLY “FAR BACK” A LOT OF TIMES, BUT IT HAS A NUMBER OF TIMES IT CUTS WAY TOO CLOSE FOR SOME ILL CONCEIVED REASON. BASICALLY, THE CAMERA TRY TO “HELP” TOO MUCH.  AND IT FLIRTS WITH HAVING THE GEOGRAPHY IN PLACE, BUT EVERY TIME IT CUTS TO HIGHLIGHT SOMETHING”COOL” IT ONLY GETS IN THE WAY OF WHAT WE REALLY WANT TO BE SEEING.(10C)

AGAIN THESE ARE JUST BASIC CAMERA AESTHETICS. WHAT THAT CLIP MISSES MOST OF ALL IS THE SPIELBERGIAN ELEMENT OF INVENTIVENESS THAT WAS PRESENT IN THE DRUNKEN MASTER CLIP.

AND NOW TO FINISH THIS PART OFF, IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN! LET’S GO BACK TO ATTACK THE BLOCK:

TOM: Ironically, whilst the preservation of ‘screen’ geography has been praised in reviews Joe & I were also trying to hide ‘real’ geography. The A-B journey of the script is built from a totally illogical actual journey – to provide the landscape for various action beats.

THAT AMAZING TO HULK BUT KNOWING PRODUCTION LOGISTICS, ABSOLUTELY TRUE. BUT HULK REALLY FELT LIKE EVERYTHING REGISTERED RATHER WELL. YOU HAD SENSE OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD, WHERE EVERYONE LIVED AND HOW TO GET AROUND, EVEN IF THE PHYSICAL LOCATION NO MATCH AT ALL.

TOM: I’m glad it worked. We had the advantage of a location with very consistent and modular architecture and the sequence was set at night which meant that only what was lit was what you saw and true linear geography could be kept vague.  But we wanted to try and keep things consistent within our screen geography and were diligent about establishing what was in front, behind, to the left, to the right, up and down…

Again, it seems repetitious of me but at the root of everything was the script.  When one sees a character on screen doing something perilous everyone likes to feel that this was still their best option.  Otherwise one starts to loose faith and identification with the character.  To keep the actions of the gang grounded they had to always seem to be making decisions consistent with their established character and circumstances so to force them into jeopardy (which is were all the exciting fun stuff is, right?) there had to be a series of reasonable obstacles between them and physical freedom and/or atonement.

Moses makes 3 bad choices in succession at the start of the story (attempt to mug someone, give an alien a punitive kicking & accept the offer of dealing hard drugs).  Then in the subsequent 3 sequences each of those choices he made start to backfire on him and until the end of the film him and his comrades are hemmed in by the fallout from their own behaviour.  The 4th ingredient is the geography of the location, especially the titular ‘Block’ and the script was very specific in it’s description of the building, the placement of characters apartments within it and particular (but not unrealistic) quirks such as there being no elevator access to the top floor, only one entrance or exit, metal security gates on only a select number of apartment doors, etc.

The doyen of these sorts of mechanics is Die Hard, my all time 2nd favourite film set in a tower block.

HULK LAUGH.

BELIEVE.

PART 4 – TONE, SUSPENSE, AND THE ART OF GOING “TAUT”

A WOMAN WALKS DOWN AN ABANDONED HALLWAY.  SHE SENSES SOMETHING UNSEEN. SHE SLOWS. THE MOMENT BUILDS. AND THEN SOMETHING JUMPS OUT AND SCARES THE FUCK OUT OF HER/THE AUDIENCE.

WE’VE SEEN THIS A MILLION TIMES BEFORE. IT IS NOT A NEW IDEA. IT IS NOT A “COOL” IDEA. SO WHY DOES IT CONTINUE WORK TIME AND TIME AGAIN IN A MILLION DIFFERENT FORMS?

YES, CAUSE + EFFECT IS ONE BIG PART OF IT (THE SCENE IS PRETTY MUCH ALL SET-UP), BUT SINCE THERE IS NO CLEAR VISUAL EVIDENCE OF WHAT ABOUT TO ACTUALLY HAPPEN, WHERE DOES THE TENSION COME FROM? WHAT CREATES IT? WHAT IS ACTUALLY SETTING YOU UP?

SOMETIMES ACTION IS ABOUT THE SEEMINGLY INTANGIBLE THINGS, THE ACTION WE DON’T SEE. THE TENSION COMES FROM A “FEELING” WE GET. AND WHEN HULK TALKS ABOUT HOW A MOVIE FEELS THE WORD TO USE IN THAT SITUATION IS TONE. DOES THE SCENE FEEL TENSE? FUN? CHAOTIC? SAD? THAT IS WHAT TONE IS. AND MOST TIMES THE POINT OF A SCENE IS NOT ABOUT WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING, BUT HOW THE SCENE FEELS.

THE AESTHETICS OF CINEMATOGRAPHY PLAY A PART IN TONE OF COURSE. HULK THINK MOST PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THIS INTRINSICALLY: THERE IS THE DARK AND MOODY SOURCE LIGHTING OF DRAMAS AND THE HIGH-KEY BRIGHT LIGHTING OF A ROMANTIC COMEDIES. BUT WHILE THE EFFECT OF CAMERA AESTHETICS ARE DEFINITELY IMPORTANT, THEY ARE SLIGHTLY OVERRATED BY THE PUBLIC COMPARED TO SOMETHING ELSE:

SOUND DESIGN!

                                                BEEP BOOP.

SOUND DESIGN IS ABSOLUTELY THE FIRST THING RESPONSIBLE FOR EFFECTIVE TONE ESTABLISHMENT. THIS ABSOLUTELY INCLUDES THE SCORE BY THE WAY. BOTH THE SOUND DESIGN AND SCORE WORK IN CONJUNCTION TO PROVIDE THE “FEELING” OF A MOVIE AND PLAY THE AUDIENCE ON A WHOLLY VISCERAL LEVEL, MEANING SOMETHING YOU INHERENTLY REACT TO IN AN UN-PROCRESSED MANNER. SAD MUSIC MAKES YOU CRY. SCRAPING METAL MAKES YOUR CRINGE, ETC.

SO LET’S GO BACK TO THE EXAMPLE OF THE WOMAN WALKING DOWN THE ABANDONED HALLWAY. OUR FIRST EMOTIONAL CUE THAT SOMETHING IS WRONG WILL LIKELY COME FROM SOUND. IT WILL BE SUBTLE. ALMOST SUBCONSCIOUS. THINGS WILL SUDDENLY GET QUIET. THE SOUND DESIGNER WILL USE PERHAPS A SLIGHT DRONE OR HIGH-PITCHED WHINE TO GET YOUR EARS AND BODY TO RESPOND. WE HAVE A VISCERAL REACTION TO THESE SOUNDS EVEN IF OUR BRAIN IS NOT ACTUALLY PROCESSING IT. THE SUSPICION WILL THEN BE CONFIRMED WITH VISUAL CUES FROM THE WOMAN (HER SLOWING DOWN/LOOKING INTO THE NOTHINGNESS). THE FEELING WILL BUILD. PERHAPS A SLIGHT MUSICAL CUE TO “HEIGHTEN” THE EMOTION. AGAIN NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENING, BUT THE AUDIO TELLING US SOMETHING WRONG BEFORE IT EVEN HAPPENS. AND THEN IN THE EVENTUAL MOMENT OF ACTUAL ON-SCREEN ACTION, WHEN THE THING JUMPS OUT, THE SOUND DESIGN WILL CLIMAX OR RELEASE, THUS ENDING THE BUILD.

TOM: Stop right there. You all have to watch and enjoy this:

TOM: Surely the progenitor of all ‘lone woman getting spooked in an alley’ sequences.  I believe that the device of a sudden, loud (but justifiably ‘diagetic’) noise on the soundtrack, which makes the audience jump but which proves not to be the expected threat, is known colloquially as a ‘Lewton’s Bus’ to this day.

HULK TOTALLY HEARD THAT BEFORE BUT DIDN’T KNOW THE REFERENCE! UGH! AMAZING!

YOU DEAR READER WILL RECOGNIZE WHAT WE TALKING ABOUT HERE AS TEXTBOOK HORROR DEVICES, BUT THE SOUND DESIGN/SCORING OF ACTION SCENES USES EXACT SAME LOGIC, EITHER WITH A BIT MORE SPEED AND SUCCESSION, OR NICE LONG BUILDS TURNING INTO EXTENDED SEQUENCES.

LET’S LOOK AT A VERY WELL-MADE FILM BY EVERYONE’S FAVORITE ANTI-SEMITIC/SEXIST/CRAZY ASSHOLE. CONCERNING OUR EARLIER PARTS, THE SCENE YOU ARE ABOUT TO WATCH IS A GREAT EXAMPLE OF CAUSE + EFFECT AND YET A TERRIBLE EXAMPLE OF ESTABLISHING GEOGRAPHY. THIS IS OKAY BECAUSE IT MAKES UP FOR ANY GEOGRAPHY PROBLEMS WITH TREMENDOUS ABILITY TO BUILD TO THE ACTION WITH SOUND DESIGN/MUSIC.  PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO JUST THE AUDIO IN THIS  SCENE AND HOW IT FEELS:

GREAT USE OF TONE RIGHT? THE WAY THE SOUND ECHOES AS THINGS MOVE SLOW? THE WAY THE MUSIC GOES IN AND OUT.? THE WAY IT PROPELS ONCE THE ACTION ACTUALLY STARTS? THE WA IT PUNCTUATES THE ACTUAL MOMENTS OF IMPACT? THE THINGS THAT MAKE THIS SCENE WORK ARE THE EXACT SAME PRINCIPALS OF THE HALLWAY SCARE ANALOGY, JUST AUGMENTED TO FIT BOTH DRAMA AND ACTION.

HULK WANT TO USE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO DISCUSS SOUND WITH A REALLY WEIRD EXAMPLE AND SHOW THAT EFFECTIVE SOUND DESIGN CAN PLAY PART OF ANY KIND OF MOVIE AND CONTROLS YOUR INTENTION/MEANING WAY MORE THAN YOU CAN EVER IMAGINE.

THAT EXAMPLE IS DAVID LYNCH.

WHEN WE TYPICALLY THINK OF DAVID LYNCH, WE THINK OF HIS AMAZING/CRAZY IMAGERY: THE BABY IN ERASERHEAD. OR FRANK WITH OXYGEN TANK. OR THE SCARY HOMELESS MONSTER BY THE DUMPSTER. THESE ARE THE SUBJECTS, BUT THEY ARE NOT THE TONE.

DAVID LYNCH’S WORK, IF IT HAS ONE RUNNING THEME, SEEMS TO BE CONCERNED WITH THE EXISTENCE OF DARKNESS JUST UNDER THE SURFACE OF “ORDINARY.” IN EXPLORING THIS THEME HIS WORK EITHER OUTRIGHT SHOWS THE SUDDEN INVASION OF THE MACABRE INTO TRADITIONAL WHOLESOME SETTINGS, OR HE PRESENTS OVERTLY-PRISTINE IMAGES THAT ARE TAINTED BY SOMETHING SEEMINGLY PERVERSE.

TO EXECUTE THIS SECOND OPTION, LYNCH TAKES GREAT CARE TO PROVIDE UNSETTLING FEELINGS AMIDST THE “ORDINARY” SUBJECTS HES’ SHOWING. HE’LL PUT STRANGE DRONES AND WHINES UNDER SCENES OF DAILY HOUSEWORK AND OUR SEEMINGLY MUNDANE SUBURBIA. HE’LL SHOW SOME CUTE PEOPLE ACTING OVERLY-NICE, BUT WITH CREEPY SOUND DESIGN THE WHOLE THING BECOMES SUPER-SUPER CREEPY. IT ALWAYS MANAGES TO SET UP THE REST OF THE MOVIE, WHICH WILL GO DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE INTO TRULY DARK PLACES. AND LYNCH ACCOMPLISHES THESE SIGNIFIER  JUST BY USING COUNTER-INTUITIVE SOUND DESIGN.

AGAIN, IT’S THE EXACT SAME PRINCIPAL: YOU KNOW SOMETHING IS WRONG EVEN YOU’RE NOT SEEING IT. WHEN THE POINT COMES AROUND WHERE LYNCH STARTS TO UNRAVEL YOU WITH HIS IMAGERY TOO, HIS MOVIES ENTER THIS BRILLIANT HEIGHTENED STATE OF FILMMAKING. FOR EXAMPLE, THE FIRST MOMENT IN BLUE VELVET,WHERE KYLE MCLAUGHLIN DISCOVERS THE FIRST HINT TO THE DARK UNDERBELLY AROUND HIM, IS PERFECT LYNCH. A TINY SLICE OF BODY HORROR COMBINED WITH A GREAT SOUND DESIGN CUE. IN THIS SCENE, NOTICE THE “WHINE” HE USES TO LINGER OVER THE SCENE AND RE-eNFORCE THAT EVEN THOUGH THE SUBJECT IS WRONG, THERE IS SOMETHING EVEN MORE WRONG BEYOND IT. CHECK IT OUT:

THE SOUND DESIGN SAYS EVERYTHING ABOUT THE TONE IN THIS SCENE (NOTE: HULK COULD HAVE PICKED WAY, WAY, WAY CREEPIER SCENES FROM LYNCH, BUT THIS MORE APPROPRIATE FOR GENERAL AUDIENCES).

GO AHEAD. JUST DARE ME TO HAUNT YOUR DREAMS.

LYNCH MATTERS BECAUSE IT SHOWS WHAT INTERESTING DEPTHS YOU CAN GO TO BY MESSING WITH THE SOUND IN YOUR MOVIE. YOU CAN CHANGE GENRES, YOU CAN IMBUE FEELINGS, BUT MOST OF ALL YOU CAN MAKE AN AUDIENCE FEEL TENSE.

SO IF YOU’RE MAKING AN ACTION MOVIE, DON’T FORGET THIS.

DON’T JUST SETTLE FOR MUSIC THAT PROPELS THE AUDIENCE THROUGH YOUR SCENE WITH RECKLESS ABANDON (JUST TO KEEP THEM PLACATED). USE YOUR SOUND DESIGN TO AMP UP TENSION (FOR EXAMPLE, SPIELBERG DOES THIS BEAUTIFULLY IN JURASSIC PARK). PLAY WITH THEIR EMOTIONS, USE HORROR BEATS AND CONCEPTS AS YOUR “SET UP” BEFORE YOU DELIVER THE ACTION GOODS. HOLD THE TENSION. IT WILL WORK SO MUCH BETTER IN TERMS OF DRAMA AND AMPLIFY YOUR CAUSE + EFFECT.

HOOOLLLLLLLDDDD!!!!!!!

SO… LET’S GO ONE STEP FURTHER AND ASK WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO COMBINE THE LESSONS OF TENSION AND SOUND DESIGN IN TO THE LARGER SENSE OF FILMMAKING? SPECIFICALLY, HOW DO WE TAKE THIS SHARP SOUND DESIGN AND ACHIEVE THE SAME RESULT WITH CINEMATOGRAPHY AND EDITING? AND THEN HOW MARRY THE TWO INTO SOMETHING THAT AMPLIFIES THE TONE? AND YET SO IT BOTH CLEARLY SHOWS THE ACTION AND YET STILL HEIGHTENS IT?

HULK ARGUE THE WAY TO ACHIEVE ALL OF THIS IS WITH “TAUT” FILMMAKING.

ADMITTEDLY HULK LOVE TAUT FILMMAKING. IT SHOWS PERFECT UNDERSTANDING OF CINEMATIC PRINCIPALS AND QUITE HONESTLY, IT JUST HULK’S FAVORITE KIND OF FILMMAKING TO WATCH. WHY? BECAUSE IT OFFERS THOSE OF US WHO DEEP-TISSUE ANALYZE A MOVIE AS PART OF OUR INDUSTRY, A CHANCE TO REALLY TRULY “FEEL” A MOVIE. IT IS PURE CINEMA. AND HULK KNOW THE WORD “TAUT” NOT THAT DESCRIPTIVE, BUT WHAT IT ESSENTIALLY MEAN THAT TENSION AND IMPACT RULE THE SCENE ABOVE ALL OTHER FACTORS.

TAUT FILMMAKING USUALLY FEATURE A LOCKED OFF, NON-MOVING CAMERA (STILL SHOTS). THE CAMERA WILL PREFER STAY ON SUBJECT AS TENSION BUILDS UP. IF IT USES TRACKING SHOTS THEY WILL BE DELIBERATE AND SLOW (THINK KUBRICK). THE MOMENTS OF ACTUAL ACTION WILL OFTEN BE QUICK, VISCERAL, AND GRAPHICALLY VIOLENT. IF THE ACTION SPREADS OUT AND THE CHARACTERS/SUBJECTS BECOME KINETIC THE CAMERA WILL STILL STAY LOCKED OFF, BUT THE EDITING WILL QUICKEN PACE TO REFLECT THE CHANGE IN MOVEMENT. IT WILL BE JARRING, BUT NOT DISORIENTING. IN GENERAL, TAUT FILMMAKING WILL NOT USE TWO SHOTS WHEN ONE WILL DO AND EVERYTHING IS VERY, VERY DELIBERATE.

NEED SOME EXAMPLES? THE HISTORY GOES BACK TO GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM IN THE 20′S, BUT YOU’LL SURELY RECOGNIZE IT IN HITCHCOCK OR ROBERT BRESSON (A MAN CONDEMNED TO DEATH ESCAPES(1956) (10D) IS ONE OF HULK’S FAVES!). THERE’S THE FRENCH CONNECTION, JAWS, THE CONVERSATION, DAS BOOT, ALL OF SCORSESE’S ACTION, AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING KUBRICK EVER DID. MORE RECENTLY WE HAVE MOVIES LIKE THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, HEAT, PAN’S LABYRINTH, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (AND PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING CRONENBERG). EVEN TRUE-ART CHARACTER DRAMAS CAN COUNT LIKE KIESLOWSKI’S BLEU.

AND AS LOVER OF TAUT FILMMAKING HULK CAN NO WAIT SEE NICOLAS WINDING REFN’S DRIVE (COMING OUT THIS WEEK!). THE FOLLOWING CLIP IS FROM THE MOVIE YOU SIMPLY HAVE TO CHECK OUT. IT IS TREMENDOUS AND INCORPORATES EVERYTHING WE’VE TALK ABOUT SO FAR CONCERNING ACTION SCENES AND TAUT FILMMAKING: CAUSE + EFFECT, TENSION, STILLNESS.  IT CAN’T BE EMBEDDED, BUT SERIOUSLY, CLICK LINK AND WATCH IT:

http://www.festival-cannes.com/en/mediaPlayer/10934.html

… TENSE… EXHILARATING…. WOW.

THAT CLIP IS A PERFECT REPRESENTATION OF “TAUT” FILMMAKING. HULK BARELY FEELS LIKE HULK HAVE TO EXPLAIN ANYTHING! THAT WHAT COMPETANT FILMMAKING DOES, YOU JUST BE ON THE LOOK OUT FOR IT AND HOW IT WORKS END UP HITTING YOU RIGHT IN THE DAMN BRAIN. THE MUSIC, THE STILLNESS OF THE SHOTS, THE TENSION, THE DELIBERATE MOVEMENTS. AND BEST OF ALL, THIS “TAUT” FILMMAKING AND ALL THE CINEMATICS THAT MAKE THE SCENE WORK ARE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING NEW.

HOW NOT NEW ARE THEY? LET’S REVISIT OUR GOOD OLE’ FRIEND WAGES OF FEAR (1953). THE FILM’S GROUNDWORK LAID IN THE FIRST HOUR WHERE THEY CREATE THE CHARACTER TENSION, WHICH SETS THE STAGE FOR SEVERAL CONFRONTATIONS. WATCH THIS GREAT SCENE BELOW OF SEVERAL CHARACTERS FIGHTING OVER THE PLAYING OF MUSIC IN A BAR. NOTICE THE SUPER-DELIBERATE BEHAVIOR OF THE CAMERA AND THE CARE WITH WHICH IT CONVEYS THE IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

NOTICE THE FILM’S INTENT ON CLARITY. SURE, THE AESTHETICS ARE NO LONGER IN CINEMATIC VOGUE (THE BLACK + WHITE, THE SQUARE ANGLES, THE LINGERING PACE), BUT HULK TALKING ABOUT INTENT.(10E) EVERY SHOT SO F-ING SPECIFIC. EVERYTHING DESIGNED TO ESTABLISH INFORMATION. AND SOON IT BUILDS. SOON IT SWELLS. FINALLY THERE IS A CONFRONTATION WITH PALPABLE TENSION. IT’S AN “OLDER” FILM, BUT THE FEELING AND TONE IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO UNDERSTAND. IT SECRETLY THE EXACT SAME PRINCIPALS OF THE DRIVE CLIP.

OKAY TIME TO SWITCH GEARS IN THIS TENSION/SOUND DESIGN/TAUT DISCUSSION AND BRING UP ONE MORE WAY IN WHICH YOU CAN DIRECTLY EFFECT ACTION IN TERMS OF TONE:

DIALOGUE

NOW YOU MAY HAVE ALSO NOTICED SOMETHING ABOUT THE MOVEMENT OF THAT LAST SCENE FROM WAGES OF FEAR AND THE FOCUS OF THE DIALOGUE… IT MAY HAVE REMINDED YOU OF SOMEONE… THERE WAS ONE SHOT IN PARTICULAR THAT RINGS TRUE OF A FAMOUS DIRECTOR… HULK IS TALKING ABOUT THE SLOW TRACKING SHOT OF THE FEET WALKING TOWARD THE TABLE…. ANY GUESSES?

SO THE PERSON IT MAY HAVE REMINDED YOU OF IS ONE QUENTIN TARANTINO.

TARANTINO HAS TALKED EXTENSIVELY ABOUT THE INFLUENCE OF WAGES OF FEAR(11) AND PARTICULARLY THE DIRECT EFFECT ON HIS NOW FAMOUS BAR-ROOM SCENE FROM INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. THE SIMILARITIES SHOULD BE OBVIOUS: THE SETTING. THE MUSIC. THE TENSION. THE DRUNKENNESS. THE DIFFERENT WANTS OF THE CHARACTERS AT ODDS. AGAIN, THE BASTERDS SCENE IS VERY MUCH IT’S OWN UNIQUE THING AND HAS SPECTACULAR VITALITY, BUT TARANTINO IS ALWAYS SMART ENOUGH TO RECOGNIZE THE LESSONS FROM GREAT FILMS.

CHIEFLY, THAT WORDS CAN BE YOUR BEST WEAPON.

PICTURED: AGREEMENT

YES DEAR READERS, EVEN DIALOGUE CAN HELP ESTABLISH TONE AND SUSPENSE IF YOU USE IT IN THE EXACT SAME WAY AS ACTION.

IT REALLY IS NO ACCIDENT THAT TARANTINO HAS MADE HIS CAREER OF BUILDING TENSION WITH DIALOGUE. THINK ABOUT IT: MR. ORANGE TELLING THE BATHROOM DRUG STORY IN RESERVOIR DOGS. THE EZEKIEL SPEECH FROM PULP FICTION. THE SUPERMAN ANALOGY IN KILL BILL. AND PRETTY MUCH THE ENTIRETY OF INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (LANDA’S JEW-HUNTER SPEECH, THE CREAM-DESSERT IN THE CAFE, THE INTERROGATION ABOUT MOUNTAIN CLIMBING). NOTICE THE KEY ELEMENT OF EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE “SPEECH” SCENES IS THAT ONE PERSON IS ESSENTIALLY HOLDING A SECRET FROM THE OTHERS, AND FROM THERE THE OTHER CHARACTERS ARE PLAYING WITH FACT THEY MIGHT KNOW. SERIOUSLY, THAT ONE SINGULAR DEVICE IS AT PLAY IN EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE SCENES.

AT AS A RESULT, THOSE SCENES ARE TENSE AS ALL FUCKING HELL.

YES, MOST OF US ARE NOT WIZARDS OF DIALOGUE LIKE TARANTINO, BUT HE IS REALLY JUST USING A BASIC SINGULAR DEVICE (ONE THAT HITCHCOCK USED A LOT TOO) AND THEN PLAYS AROUND WITH THE DIALOGUE TO TWIST AND TURN THE AUDIENCE EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. SO NEVER, EVER FORGET THAT THE BASIC PRINCIPALS ARE THE SAME. NEVER BE AFRAID TO HAVE YOUR CHARACTERS IN THE SERVICE OF TENSION (WHILE KEEPING IN MIND A FOCUS ON ECONOMY). PLAY WITH THE AUDIENCES EXPECTATION AND HAVE CHARACTERS PLAY WITH EMOTIONS OF OTHERS. IT WILL THEN PLAY/FUCK WITH THE AUDIENCE.

AND IF YOU USE IT RIGHT, LIKE IN TARANTINO’S BAR ROOM SCENE, THEN THE GREAT DIALOGUE SET UP CAN EXPLODE IN WONDERFUL MOMENT OF CHAOTIC-ALL-HELL-BREAKS-LOOSE ACTION:

NOTICE THAT THE BRIEF MOMENT OF ACTION HAS ABSOLUTELY NO CAUSE + EFFECT, NO TANGIBLE OBJECTIVES, NO CLEAR GEOGRAPHY, AND RESEMBLES UTTER FREAKING CHAOS, AND IT IS SO TOTALLY OKAY.

AND THAT’S BECAUSE THE AMAZING SCENE OF DIALOGUE THAT COMES BEFORE SETS UP THE CHAOTIC DELIVERY OF THIS BRIEF SCENE EVER SO CAREFULLY. IT IS ONE “EFFECT.” THE BRIEF CHAOS ENTHRALLS US BECAUSE WE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT THE CHARACTERS BY THIS POINT OF THE SET UP (TESTAMENT TO TARANTINO, WE WERE INTRODUCED TO MOST OF THESE GUYS AT, LIKE, THE BEGINNING OF THE SCENE). REALLY THE SCENE WORKS BEAUTIFULLY AS ONE MOMENT OF CHAOS.

AND DON’T DARE FOR ONE SECOND ASSUME THAT IT’S BECAUSE TARANTINO DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO “STAGE” ACTION BECAUSE KILL BILL PROVED THAT BEYOND ANY KIND OF DOUBT. (11B) SPECIFICALLY WITH THE VERY LAST SCENE WITH BILL, WHICH WORKS IN A VERY, VERY SIMILAR MOMENT ENDING WITH A BRIEF EXPLOSION OF (WELL-CHOREOGRAPHED) VIOLENCE.

REMEMBER, WE MAY NOT GENIUSES, BUT WE CAN USE THE PRINCIPALS AT WORK HERE.

SO ONCE AGAIN, LET’S RETURN TO ATTACK THE BLOCK – TONE IS ONE OF THE MOST CRITICAL ASPECTS OF HOW THE ACTION WORKS IN THAT FILM, BECAUSE UNLIKE MOST HOLLYWOOD BLOCKBUSTERS, THEY HAD TO DEAL WITH LOW-BUDGET CONSTRAINTS AND AN INTIMATE SCALE,.SO IN ORDER MAKE EACH SCENE FEEL DIFFERENT THEY CHANGED THE TONE AND LANGUAGE OF EACH SCENE: THE ATTACK ON THE AMBULANCE USE HORROR LANGUAGE AND MUSIC CUES. THE ESCAPE ON THE BIKES USE CHASE LANGUAGE AND PROPULSIVE MUSICE. THE FIRST ATTACK IN THE APARTMENT USE FIGHT SCENE LANGUAGE (MOSES’S “NINJA” MOMENT). THE  SECOND ATTACK STARTS OFF WITH THE SAME FIGHT SCENE LANGUAGE AND THEN ABRUPTLY INVERTS IT WHEN THINGS START GOING WRONG. THEN THE SCENE OF TRYING TO GET TO RON’S WEED ROOM TURNS THE TONE BACK TO HORROR, BUT THIS TIME WITH EFFECTIVE STAPLE WITH THE “CHARACTERS BEING LOST IN THE FOG WHERE THE UNSEEN INSPIRE DREAD” THING AND USING EERIE “ATMOSPHERE” SOUND CUES. THEN THE LAST ACTION SCENE, WHILE BEING A BIT MORE STYLISTIC, STILL SUPER-CLEAR WITH THE OBJECTIVES/STAKES AND USES THE SLO-MO AND GREAT MUSIC TO RAM HOME EMOTION. PLUS THEY INCORPORATE OUR MAJOR CHARACTER MOMENTS. TO REITERATE, THE ENTIRE FILM HAVE ALL ACTION SCENES TAKING PLACE IN AND AROUND THE SAME APARTMENT BUILDING AND YET THEY ALL FEEL UNIQUE BECAUSE THEY SMART ENOUGH TO ESTABLISH DIFFERENT TONES.

TOM: Thanks! And just to mention, the biggest struggle on ATB was generating a sense/feeling of dangerous kinetics with fairly low speed travel. But then again it’s not like we could go too far in the other direction. Try this one on for size:

YOU’VE SUCCESSFULLY BROUGHT TARKOVSKY INTO A CONVERSATION ABOUT ACTION FILMS! CONGRATS!

TOM: Thank you. It’s one long shot and wouldn’t at first seem to be ‘action’ in any usual sense but I defy anyone to watch that scene and not feel an unbearable level of tension by the end.  Even if one doesn’t have foreknowledge of what the task is that the character has set themselves (or its wider implication in the narrative) all the right elements are there, just presented in an unconventional fashion.  One could argue that the scene is an exercise in frustrating a viewer more used to a different pace of visual story telling, or just dismiss it as an academic attempt to try the patience of anyone. But by exploring ‘real time’, rather than abbreviating it with edits, the net result is surprisingly the same.  I’ve no idea where this might shore up any of your arguments as it would seem to contradict them on a surface level but it’s always fascinated me that something so painfully slow and drawn out can become exhilarating.

REAL TIME INDEED. WHAT DID TARKOVSKY CALL FILMMAKING AFTER ALL? SCULPTING IN TIME. BUT ENOUGH TARKOVSKY.

LET’S MOVE ON AND PUT THIS SHIT ALL TOGETHER!

PART 5 – PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

THIS PART FIVE IS GOING TO BE VERY SHORT. THAT BECAUSE HULK GOING TO SHOW A CLIP THAT, WELL, PRETTY MUCH SHOWS AND EXPLAINS HOW TO DO EVERYTHING WE’VE TALKED ABOUT SO FAR.

“RECENTNESS” BE DAMNED, HULK ARGUE THE BEST ACTION SCENE EVER IS IN NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN.

HOPEFULLY YOU SEEN IT BEFORE. IF NOT, HERE’S ALL THE BACKGROUND YOU NEED: A CHARACTER NAMED LLEWELEN MOSS STUMBLED ONTO THE CARNAGE OF A DRUG DEAL GONE WRONG. HE TAKES THE MONEY LEFT AT THE SCENE AND RUNS. THE UNSEEN DRUG BOSSES THEN SEND THEIR BEST HITMAN, ANTON CHIGURGH, TO FIND AND KILL MOSS AND GET THE MONEY BACK. AND UNFORTUNATELY FOR MOSS, ANTON CHIRGUGH IS BASICALLY THE ANGEL OF DEATH PERSONIFIED. AT THIS MOMENT ANTON HAS BEEN TAILING LLEWELEN FOR BIT AND HAS FINALLY CAUGHT UP TO HIM:

FUCKING.. A.

THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING WE TALKED ABOUT. CAUSE + EFFECT. SET-UP/PAY OFF. SHOWING LOCATIONS TO USE AGAIN (WHEN IT COMES BACK AROUND FOR THE DEAD HOTEL CLERK). THE LOCKED-OFF CAMERA. THE ALTERNATING TONE OF STILLNESS, ANTICIPATION, AND ACTION.

WHAT IS PERHAPS MOST AMAZING ABOUT THE SCENE IS THE WAY THEY EDIT IT MAKE IT FEEL IMPOSSIBLY KINETIC. THEY DO THIS BY CUTTING TO ANOTHER TENSE SHOT THAT MAKES PERFECT LOGICAL SENSE, INSTEAD OF JUST MOVING THE CAMERA RAPIDLY. BEST OF ALL, EVERY SINGLE TIME AN ACTION OR BEAT IS ABOUT TO REGISTER TO THE AUDIENCE, THAT ACTION (USUALLY A GUNSHOT) HITS THE EXACT BEAT .01 SECONDS BEFORE OUR MIND DOES, THUS GIVING EVERY SINGLE MOMENT TRUE VISCERAL IMPACT (WHILE STILL GIVING ENOUGH SET-UP FOR US TO UNDERSTAND).

IT IS A MASTERCLASS.

REALLY. HULK NOT SURE YOU TRULY UNDERSTAND HOW HARD IT IS TO GET THAT KIND OF PERFECT TIMING AND PACING IN AN ACTION SCENE. TO BE ON SET AND TO PERFECTLY UNDERSTAND HOW TO TIME THINGS WITH YOUR ACTORS AND CREW. AND THEN TO GET IT TO TRANSLATE ON FILM SO THAT IT CAN BE PERFECTLY CUT IN THE EDITING ROOM… IT LIKE… HULK MEAN… THEY JUST…  GOOD GOD.

BUT JUST LIKE TARANTINO’S DIALOGUE, LET’S BE HONEST. THE REST OF US ARE NOT THE COEN BROTHERS. WE JUST HUMAN… AND THEY CLEARLY NOT.

BUT WE CAN CERTAINLY ASPIRE TO BE LIKE THEM.

PICTURED: MAYBE THE BEST SEMIOTICS MOVIE OF ALL TIME

SO THERE WE HAVE IT! DAY 2 IN THE BOOKS!

HULK & TOM HOPE YOU ENJOYED AND FOUND IT INFORMATIVE AS DAY ONE.

TOMORROW WE TACKLE PARTS 6, 7, 8, AND 9 TO FINISH OF THE SERIES. SINCE TODAY WE COVERED HOW TO “EXECUTE” SCENES IN IDEAL FASHION, TOMORROW WE GOING TO TALK ABOUT EXCEPTIONS THAT CAN WORK, THE IMPETUS AND PROBLEMS OF “STYLIZATION,” THE CRIPPLING PROBLEMS OF PRODUCTION LOGISTICS, AND ALL THE PRACTICAL ADVICE WE CAN GIVE TO YOUNG FILMMAKERS. IN DOING SO WE’LL COVER MURDER’S ROW OF: GREENGRASS, SPEILBERG (AGAIN) MICHAEL BAY, ZACH SNYDER, CHRIS NOLAN, EDGAR WRIGHT, PETER JACKSON, AND YOUR MOM.

<3 HULK & TOM

ENDNOTES!

(9C) HECK, HULK SAW A MOVIE THAT BROKE THE 180 LINE THE OTHER DAY WITHOUT ESTABLISHING NEW GEOGRAPHY… OH YEAH, THAT WAS MOST MOVIES.

(9D) JAQUES TATI?

(10A) THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY HULK DOESN’T LIKE THOSE ACTORS. HULK ACTUALLY LOVE THOSE ACTORS. BUT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEIVABLE REASON THAT THEY SHOULD BE THE PRINCIPALS IN A BETTER FIGHT SCENE THAN WILL SMITH OR VIN DIESEL… IT SHOWS THAT SOMETHING ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF ACTION FILMMAKING.

(10B) HULK’S MAIN ARGUMENT THIS: IN HIGH SCHOOL HULK AND A FRIEND MADE KUNG FU FILM FOR FILM PROGRAM. SOME OF THE ACTION IN IT LEGITIMATELY BETTER THAN SOME HOLLYWOOD MOVIES THAT POPULAR AT TIME. THIS NOT TO IMPLY WE AWESOME, WE JUST SEMI-CAPABLE KUNG FU PEOPLE. WHICH MEANS THAT HOLLYWOOD’S STANDARD TREATMENT OF TWO GUYS FIGHTING EACH OTHER IS PRETTY MUCH SHIT…. AND YES YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT. THE 12 FOOT BIG GIANT GREEN HULK KNOWS KUNG FU… SO WATCH YOUR ASS.

(10C) OKAY. SO IF YOU EVER WANT TO KNOW HOW DIFFERENT ASIAN CINEMA IS FROM AMERICAN CINEMA AT THE TIME OF JACKIE’S RISE TO PROMINENCE, SEE THE PROTECTOR (1985). IT IS AN ATTEMPT TO INJECT JACKIE INTO THE TYPICAL 80′S SLEAZY ACTION MOVIE. IT IS THE WORST KIND OF HORRIBLE. THEY TRIED TO TURN JACKIE INTO THE STOIC, SUNGLASSES-WEARING BADASS AND DEFIES EVERY POSSIBLE ATTEMPT FOR HIM TO DO SOMETHING PHYSICALLY INTERESTING. HE SPENDS THE ENTIRE MOVIE DRIVING AROUND WITH DANNY AIELLO AND FEATURES THOSE AWFUL 80′S GUNFIGHTS. IT IS ONE OF HULK’S LEAST FAVORITE MOVIES OF ALL TIME BECAUSE IT IS THAT SPECIAL BRAND OF CLUELESS.

(10D) IT ALSO KNOWN AS “A MAN ESCAPED” BUT BRESSON ALWAYS WANTED THE FULL-TITLE SO HULK GOING WITH HIM.

(10E) LET’S HAVE THE QUICKEST POSSIBLE CONVERSATION ABOUT “OLD” MOVIES. THE IDEA THAT OLD MOVIES ARE “SLOW” AND “BAD” IS BOTH 1) A WHOLLY UNDERSTANDABLE IMPULSE TO A NEW VIEWER AND YET 2) QUITE POSSIBLY THE DUMBEST POSSIBLE THING ONE COULD EVER SAY. SO DON’T. WATCHING AN OLD MOVIE IS TO GO BACK AND TRANSLATE WHAT THEY WERE DOING INTO THE CINEMATIC LINGUISTICS OF THE TIME AND RECOGNIZE WHAT THEY AFFECTED THE CONTEXT OF FILM HISTORY. IT IS TO UNDERSTAND CINEMA’S UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE. SURE SOME MOVIES “WORK” BETTER IN TERMS OF DATING, BUT TO OUTRIGHT INFER THEY WERE ‘BAD” MOVIES SIMPLY BECAUSE OF DIFFERENT HISTORICAL STYLIZATIONS IS AKIN TO WALKING UP TO WALKING RIGHT UP TO HANK AARON AND SAYING HE DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO HIT HOME RUNS.

(11) UGH… THIS THE SORT OF THING HULK WOULD NORMALLY BACK UP BUT HULK CAN NOT FIND THE CLIP OR ANY WRITTEN REFERENCE TO IT. THIS LACK OF SUPPORT WOULD TRADITIONALLY REQUIRE THAT HULK OMIT THE DETAIL, BUT THIS ISN’T A 100% ACADEMIC SETTING AND TO PUT IT MORE SIMPLY: HULK DON’T WANNA. SO WE’RE GOING WITH HULK’S MEMORY ON THIS ONE… AND IF HULK’S BEING HONEST HULK’S MEMORY PRETTY DAMN GOOD.

(11B) TARANTINO FAMOUSLY BURNED ABOUT 1 MILLION FEET OF FILM ON THAT MOVIE, MOST OF WHICH WAS UNUSED BECAUSE HE WAS TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO “SHOOT” ACTION FIRST.

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12 Responses to “HULK EXPLAINS ACTION SCENES – ACTION STRIKES BACK! WITH SPECIAL GUEST TOM TOWNEND! DAY 2 OF 3”

  1. Lemuel Pitkin said

    I am due at a rehearsal in a moment and can’t begin to express my gratitude for this essay / conversation! Thank you thank you thank you.

  2. [...] case you love UPPERCASE LETTERS, here’s Film Critic Hulk talking about action sequences. Funnier within the 140-character confines of twitter? Yes. More [...]

  3. [...] case you love UPPERCASE LETTERS, here’s Film Critic Hulk talking about action sequences. Funnier within the 140-character confines of twitter? Yes. More [...]

  4. What a wonderful essay! Kudos Hulk…Kudos! Can’t wait for part 3! In the meantime I will need to see Wages of Fear because apparently I am a moron and have not seen it yet.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      DON’T WORRY ABOUT NOT SEEING THINGS YET! EVERYBODY HAVE MOVIES THEY NO SEEN. THE KEY IS TO DO EXACTLY WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND SEE GREAT MOVIES WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY ARISES. CHEERS!

  5. [...] DAY 2 WE EXPLAINED THE WAY TO EXECUTE THE ACTION WITH COMPOSITION, CLARITY, SOUND DESIGN, AND CAREFUL EDITING [...]

  6. [...] et enfin les 3 articles de HULK, que je lirais en entier un jour [...]

  7. [...] EXPLAIN ACTION SCENES! (WITH TOM TOWNEND!) – DAY 1, DAY 2, DAY 3 – A GIANT WRITE UP ON HOW TO APPROACH ACTION IN CINEMA AS “VISUAL [...]

  8. [...] fight scenes done right is an art form that can make or break a movie.  See Film Crit Hulk’s explanation on action scenes for more interesting background on this topic. Share [...]

  9. [...] fight scenes done right is an art form that can make or break a movie.  See Film Crit Hulk’s explanation on action scenes for more interesting background on this [...]

  10. […] good action scenes. It’s an interesting read if you have 1-2 hours to spare Part 1 – Part 2 – Part […]

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