Behind the Scenes: Backwards Fight Scene

Things look cool when they break in reverse. But the biggest draw to attempt this short was the challenge of telling a story backwards without giving away everything too quickly. Thus we have “ekatsim ehT”, which alongside achieving that goal also gives me my first realistically fast-paced fight scene. The entire video is not in reverse, a decision I made when I wrote the new script, but this was done to enhance the story.

The Idea

This time I took the oldest idea on my list of craziness and made the second backwards fight scene script. We actually attempted this short once before in 2015 and ultimately surrendered to the easier path of simply relaying the final version in forwards motion. The premise is a fight sequence that is shot in such a way that it conveys the story well when reversed through editing. Instead of trying to duplicate anything from the original video, I started with a fresh script. And this was a weird one, too.

Preparation

The biggest problem with planning this video was the amount of scripts that I had to write. The initial idea was written out with a few short notes that amounted to little more than bullet points. These broad steps were in forward motion, but then I took them and looked at them in reverse order, which is how I needed to line up the story. When I went in to initially write the script, I tried to make it in the order of how the video would play out on screen. I didn’t even get through an entire page before realizing this was pointless.

Very little of the video has any dialogue. The little bits of shouting in reverse were all improvised on the spot, with only the intro/outro piece scripted for wording. Everything else was just action notes. Because my shot script would have to be the opposite of my backwards script, I had to go back and write the script in forwards motion, which of course would be backwards in the video. I admit that I was a bit lax with the shot notes for this video, and didn’t have a separate list so much as a mixture of cues and handwritten descriptions.

scriptThere was a bit of drama involving planning the filming day, which ultimately just resulted in Ixchael replacing Graham, as he became unfortunately unavailable. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

Filming Day

So far we have used very different times in the day for each of our shorts. “32 Chances” took up the late morning and entirety of an afternoon, “Short Cuts” started in the evening and went well into the night, and now “ekatsim ehT” had us getting out of bed at 6:00 a.m. While we were not rushing the clock to avoid running out of daylight, we were nonetheless trying to keep a consistent lighting throughout the shooting. We achieved that, for the most part, by constricting our filming time to the morning. Luckily enough we had beautiful weather on the filming day, as this was our first short for 32 Cuts that was completely outside. It got cloudy seconds after we finished the last take.

I started the day by getting up two hours earlier than usual, in preparation to travel out to Nelson County for the actual filming. The drive itself takes thirty minutes from my apartment in Charlottesville, and along the way I had to pick up Ix. The plan was to arrive at 8:00, and the reason I got up two hours early was honestly that the new script hadn’t been completed yet. The night before it was still in the transition stage from abstract notes to planned shots. I’ve gone into filming projects with lax preparation before, and they usually fall apart before we’ve even finished filming.

This was the first short for 32 Cuts where I wasn’t primarily filming. To add to my insecurities about how each shot would look, Ixchael hadn’t ever been the primary person running the camera in one of my videos. In between almost every take I was running over to look at the shot.

ix

Using what we learned from “32 Chances” and “Short Cuts”, we managed to avoid a variety of the problems that annoyed me previously. Also, having a tent that the characters never enter is really helpful in hiding filming supplies, and therefore ensures that nothing is ever left in the background.

tent

Editing and Review

An anticipated problem when I got to the editing stage was the length of the video. This entire fight scene was intended to be a practice round for further forays into movie combat, and as such it wouldn’t be very long or intricate. During filming we skipped a couple spots that would have dragged the fight out longer, and part of this was due to the poor pacing in between each piece of action. When I first put the video together in Adobe Premiere, even with the omitted sequences, it was over four minutes long. After cutting down on running segments and a few places where the camera lingered for too long, it came down to 2 minutes and 34 seconds in length.

I had to put the fight scene together in forwards motion, then export that segment and reverse it in the accompanying run through Premiere. Once there I cut down on the video, including two places that were obsolete in the reverse motion. For example, there was originally a longer shot where Joe and Ted are looking off-screen, and then the camera pans to reveal the baseball bat. In reverse, the audience already knows that Ted gets the bat and uses it to kill Joe, and thus this clip was completely unnecessary.

Looking back at the complete product, I decided to start a set of notes to remind myself of common mistakes going forward. There were too many shots of running that I had to edit down, and not enough actual fighting compared to the focus on movement. The  original idea for this short involved a lot of building damage. It’s too bad that I missed out on the opportunity to shoot in my parents’ house while they were renovating.

Ultimately this short has become a drive to work on the skills within, specifically pacing and fighting for screen. It was a good learning experience, and at least we didn’t make the same mistakes from the last two videos. The next one will be even better.

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