View Full Version : Lines of Action during Action Sequences

01-06-2006, 09:30 AM
Recently I just finished shooting a new action movie, much more complex than anything I've done, with the climactic scene featuring 5 characters fighting each other...

When figuring out the choreagraphy, I realized it would be easier if I paired two pairs of guys to fight each other, and then separate them geographically in the screen space so I could focus on one fight at a time.

However there were times when all the characters would fight each other in the same room. To capture all the action, I did a lot of camera movement to capture all the action simulatenously. These shots, requiring much more practice and elaborate staging, were only feasible for a few shots. My next challenge was to figure out how to shoot individual action sequences as to not confuse audiences on what is happening, and where.

Normally, I would storyboard all the shots very carefully, but I didnt have the time to rehearse so we shot the sequence on the fly, figuring out hte choreagraphy as we went along.

Most everything came out well during editing, but I noticed a few mistakes on my part:

the lines of action.

Much like dialogue scenes 180 deg rule, I found that this applied to action sequences as well. You can confuse the audiences if one guy is running to the left of the screen and he jumps to do a flying side kick, and the next shot, he flies through the air and he is flying to the right.

A lot of other issues came up during editing...So my question or topic of discussion is, how do you handle lines of action, scene geography during complex fight sequences so you dont confuse the audience?


01-06-2006, 09:51 AM
In your editing, can you flip any of the shots to move the action in the correct direction?

I think you are on the right track: choreograph the fight and storyboard the sequence up front -- maybe even try animatics. I saw on the episode III making-of that the fight choreographer used a video camera to put together rough cuts of the fights before they started principal shooting.

01-06-2006, 10:26 AM
hey man, YEA! I definitely did flip some shots around, that fixed a ton of stuff


01-06-2006, 10:43 AM
Here is a repost from a similar thread in the cinematography section:


Imagine viewing a basketball game among clones. Both teams wear identical colors. Team "A" is on the left. Team "B" is on the right. The "axis" is the line from team A to team B. As a viewing audience member, you can watch the game from home without confusion as long as you know that team "A" is on the left, and team "B" is on the right.

That means that the cameraman can film anything up to and on the line, but once they "cross the line", the teams positions get switched around. To the camera, once you cross the line, Team "B" is now on the left and team "A" is now on the right. Now if the director were to cut from one side of the line to the other, and you the viewer were to see the angle on the other side of the line, you would be confused as to who was who.

How this translates to film, imagine a battle scene where the hero is running toward a bunker, left to right. If the director (or DP) were to cross the line, and the editor used that shot next, the hero would then be running right to left. Even though he was filmed always running the same direction, to the viewer, he is now running away from the bunker, causing confusion. The line in this instance is the line from the Hero the bunker.

This also is important with eyelines. If Joe is on the left, and Jane is on the right, Jor should look right to see Jane. If we cross the line, and see Joe looking left, the viewer may be lost, wondering, "now who is he looking at?"

Now there are other factors, like having 3 or more people, and having inanimate objects, like a vase of flowers in between two people seated at a table. These situations can add confounding factors and should be considered. You can also "Cross the line" in a legitimate way by having the camera move across the line and showing that to the viewer, or having joe or jane change positions, while on camera. Just some other things that make "crossing the line" hard to figure out some times.

My best advice: get a good script supervisior. you will never go back.



In addition to that, when choreographing 3 persons, the line is between the 2 *closest* actors to the camera. The 3rd actor also has secondary action lines with the other two, and they have to be kept in mind as well. With multiple actors, it gets confusing fast.

You can also have a line between an actor and a prominant object, for instance, a vase of flowers on a table between two actors sitting at atable as they are about to be engaged might be distracting if it appears to "jump" around. It's hard to explain that one, but you would know it if you saw it in the editing bay. Another example might be between the hero and the nuclear bomb he is standing next to might be a more important action line than between the hero and the villain. You might want to keep him glancing nervously to the timer counting down to zero on his left for instance, and the odd crossing the line glance to his right might confuse the audience as to where the bomb might have moved to, or what else is more important that he might be looking at...

Also, as profnoxin pointed out, crossing the line can be used as a creative tool to create "disorientation", as they did in Gladiator. Although personally I found myself getting lost in those fight scenes, and (for that moment) not caring what happened, because I couldn't tell what was going on.

Jay Rodriguez
01-06-2006, 10:56 AM
I was thinking the same thing, just flip it! hehe, it's a good cheat in the editing room (my basement) lol

01-07-2006, 04:21 PM
hey J

thanks for that analogy

that definietly helped me to put some things into perspective...i think its always a matter of thinking in 3-dimensions...and using enough establishing shots to connect things geographically together

01-07-2006, 07:20 PM
This year I plan to shoot my second action project. My biggest problem is inexperienced actors doing stunt fighting. What I do is come to the set with a basic choreography and shot set up in mind. This allows me to expand during choreography. Because of our budgets I tend to run and gun and do a lot of on set choreo so if the actors aren't well trained martial artist the stuff doesn't look right. I do cross the 180 too sometimes but you can bridge this with a close up. Like if someone is flying left then the 180 is crossed and in the next scene they're flying right, cutting to a close up of someone face or something relevant to build tension can work sometimes. I'm great at the action, it's basic narrative direction I need to work on. By the way actor who don't know martial arts make great cannon fodder for gun battles. Too bad I have to sale all my guns and stuff right now.


01-09-2006, 10:30 AM
crossing the line can be fixed with a few rotating shots...basically reestablishing the line...

sounds cool man, when you gonna post a trailer?