Make It Real, Then Film It
Mark Wahlberg talking in the commentary section of the DVD about how they shot all the fight scenes in The Fighter in just 3 days by using an actual HBO fight crew:
Every filmmaker that we talked to about directing this movie was like you can’t shoot the fights in 20 days, you need 35 days. And I said, “Well, we’re going to shoot the whole movie in 33 days and we’re going to shoot all the fights in three days.” And they said, “How are you going to do that? It’s never going to work.” And I said, “Because we’re going to film them like actual fights.”
So we literally did every fight from the actual beginning, coming out of the dressing room into the arena, into the ring, first bell, introductions, to the last bell, and everything. And we just did it over and over and over again.
And what I kept telling everybody is that HBO does it in one take and they don’t know what’s going to happen and they never miss a thing. We have the luxury of showing them what we’re going to do in the morning before we shoot it and doing it over and over and over again. So why do you need 20 days? For what? To jerk each other off? To touch up your makeup? To go in the trailer and take a nap?
We’re not talking about putting the camera in there and saying, “OK, we’re going to do a stunt punch here.” No, we’re going in there and beat the shit out of each other and we’re going to make it real.
(ht: 37 Signals)
This reminded me of John Favreau (I believe, I could be wrong) talking about shooting football (I believe for Rudy). Apparently they consulted with NFL Films – who makes the films of every NFL game, not the TV broadcast, but the actual beautiful films – about how to realistically shoot a football game. Steve Sabol and his team said “listen, we’re going to tell you how to do it, but you’re not going to take our advice, nobody ever does.” He then went on to tell them that the way to realistically shoot a football game is to not put the camera on the field. Don’t put it in the middle of the action. The audience doesn’t buy it. It’s better if the camera exists in a real location where a viewer could actually be. Put them exactly where NFL films puts them. Shoot your closeups on long lenses. If you don’t then you’ll make something that looks like Any Given Sunday (ie: something that looks like crap).
This was a lesson Favreau said he used when shooting action scenes later, don’t put the camera where it could never be. For example, don’t put the camera in the middle of the air if you’re shooting two planes in a dogfight. Film it from the view of the pilots. Case in point – check out Top Gun. It works so well because much of the footage is from the perspective of the pilots and RIOs (Radio Intercept Officers – what Goose was, sitting behind Maverick). You rarely are given that luxury of a big wide shot from the middle of the air that gives perfect context. You never have the camera stationary, floating in the air, and the planes flying past.
This concept – make it real, then film it – has wide adoption actually. The film that I consider the most breathtaking historical epic ever is Barry Lyndon. The power of the images in that film is largely from the fact that Kubrick insisted on not creating a film-able version of history. He said, “let’s recreate it the way it was and figure out how to film it.” That meant no external light for those beautiful night interiors. Only the candle chandeliers. He had to build custom lenses that were so big they had to remove floorboards and walls to get the cameras into position. The result? One of the only films that I feel truly looks like genuinely history come to life.
So, to all you aspiring directors. Make it real, then film it. Words to live by.