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Make Compelling Documentaries with Lighting and Editing

We show you how to make professional looking documentaries. Find out how to shoot, edit and stylize stories that center around real life and real emotion.

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Video Transcript

Elements of the action genre show up in one way or another in every other genre that’s out there. To understand how to make your very own action video, the first thing that you’re gonna need to think about is how these projects are defined, some of their style, then how to shoot with a variety of camera angles, and lastly how to edit it and put it together.

An action movie is defined by a story that is primarily carried forward through physical action. The story involves a hero and their efforts in dealing with the bad guy. Action has been associated with many other genres since as early as the 1920s, but it didn’t take off as its own genre until the 1970s. There are many different variations of the action genre. Some of the more popular subgenres include the action-adventure, thrillers, and martial arts.

The big emphasis during an action-adventure film centers around the travels, conquests, struggles, and situations that the protagonist is faced with, rather than a simple emphasis on violence and physicality.

Action thrillers often build their stories around a race against the clock, contain a lot of violence, and usually have a very obvious antagonist. Elements of the crime, drama, and mystery genre are very apparent, although they stand secondary to the action.

Martial arts films are dominated by physical action and generally focus more on the fight scenes themselves rather than the characters. Their primary appeal is how well these scenes play out rather than moving the story along, and often stand in place as a method of storytelling and character expression and development.

Action movies can take on a variety of different styles, but one of the biggest consistencies is quick forward motion. With such a heavy emphasis on physical activity, motion is the primary focus.

Lighting for this genre generally centers around how the scene is gonna be cut together in post, so in most cases everything is lit up fairly evenly to make the subject or subjects stand out. Shooting outdoors is going to require understanding when the best time to shoot actually happens to be. Depending where you’re located, these are the hours of 5:00 to 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 to 7:00 p.m., or the hour before sunrise and before sunset, also known as the magic hour.

No genre uses more camera angles than the action genre. Whether it’s mounted, moving, or zooming in and out, if you can make it happen and it makes sense, do so. They key is to grab a variety of separate shots. Never limit yourself. There is no such thing as too many angles, so be sure to think outside the box.

The first thing to think about is camera placement. Using a variety of angles keeps the pace high and the action dynamic. The more creative the shots are, the more energetic the visual become. Take a look at this example.

Next step: You need to consider how the placement is gonna trick the audience. If we shot a fight scene using only wide angles we would expose the fact that the subjects really aren’t anywhere near making physical contact with each other. This is why it’s a good idea to have the subjects work with some depth of field between them so that the distance is closed off. This will make it appear as if they’re much closer to each other, and the use of a variety of angles will make it appear as if they’re making physical contact with one another.

The last element to this genre is tying everything together when you edit the piece. Action films are built around quick, fast-paced thematic editing set to a heavy, beat-driven soundtrack. Sometimes the cuts are so fast that you can’t even see what’s happening, or the action is sped up but the sound effects are kept at the same speed. This plays a mental trick on us and lets our brain think that we’ve seen something that we actually haven’t. Because these shots move so quick, it seems as if the subject is running through the group of bad guys left and right; however, this only works because the video is being sped up and the sound effects are being added. Because it plays out so quick the brain makes a mental connection and the clips make sense to us visually.

Another editing technique to keep in mind is cutting on the action. This is a technique where you would cut from one video clip to another that matches the same action as the first video. This gives the impression of continuous action. Since these cuts take place during some sort of motion we tend to accept the movements as happening in real time, even though in reality they may have happened hours apart.

The main thing to think about when it comes to the action genre is thinking outside of the box and making sure that what you’re shooting feels dynamic and captures the physical nature of the script, and the story is carried along throughout that action.

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