Flashback Friday

In lieu of a post here, let me just link to a guest blog post I did for Zombie Orpheus Productions, over on their site, discussing the fight coordination and armoury work I did for them on The Gamers: Dorkness Rising and GAM3RS: Hands of Fate.

 

Click here. Go there. Read.

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UWYO Workshop

No time for a proper post; I hope to catch up a bit in the coming weeks, as I might get some time between the end of classes and the beginning of full time rehearsals for The Fantasticks, which I’m directing and then touring in June.

Biggest upcoming thing, though, is this weekend’s Third Annual UWYO Stage Combat Workshop. I hope some of you can join us – it’s grant subsidized thanks to the Wyoming Arts Council, making it the cheapest SAFD sanctioned stage combat workshop in the country. Come check it out!
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New Toys

Coming out of hiding for a quick post – there’s been a fair bit of interest in blank firing gun reviews, state-of-the-market posts, etc. so here’s a video I put together after rehearsal the other day. You can tell from the circles around the eyes and tendency to ramble that I’m tired, but these are some models I think will be perfect for your indie film projects.

There’s a backlog of posts I intend/ed to post, and may catch up on some time, but for now I’m working 13-15 hour days most of the week, so there’s not much time for producing social media content (unless it’s for work – I’ve done a few video trailers for them this year).

But with luck and time, there will be more about the shows I’m working on, the video gear I’ve been playing with, the Paddy Crean workshop, and some general stuff on props I’ve been meaning to write up (like how to best pack and ship them), as well as perhaps a companion piece to the New York Times article on Falling that I was interviewed for last year.

 

The Longsword/Broadsword divide

One of the relatively recent and ongoing debates within the Society of American Fight Directors revolves around a category we’ve been calling “Broadsword” for years. It’s a slightly problematic term, since it’s historically been used for a variety of things, and not at all specifically for the hand-and-a-half cruciform swords the SAFD uses to to refer to – something that probably has as much to do with pop culture and misinformation than historical research. Calling it a broadsword probably won’t make any D&D players bat an eye, for example. But stylistically, functionally, and historically the most accurate parallel would be the longsword, something that has been experiencing a second (or third, if you include the Victorian-era rediscovery with folks like Hutton) renaissance.

“Fetch me my longsword, ho!” – Lord Montague

We now have a wealth of translations and reprints available, active HEMA and WMA groups scattered around the globe, longsword fencing tournaments, specialized vendors making fencing feders and sharps for cutting practice, ongoing conversations between those who go deep into the German or Italian traditions… exciting developments, most of which I’ve watched happen since I first started in stage combat, and while I dabbled, enjoyed, and incorporated some of this into my work, the depth of knowledge and skill  that has disseminated has left me in the dust.

So we now have various levels of experience, comfort, and interest in this within stage combat. Many of us initially trained in a very different, much more stagey system, using way over-weighted props, slower tempos, exaggerated movements, etc. – but there’s also various places where we can see European reenactors, HEMA groups, or a select few stage combat choreographers who try to reconcile the deadly techniques of combative or competitive longsword (which frequently includes things like stabs to the face) with the needs of dramatic storytelling. I remember the gasps from those of us on the Paddy Crean workshop field trip down to the Royal Armoury at Leeds in ’00, before the Edinburgh workshop, when we first saw the interpreters there do a full-speed thrust towards someone’s face, or the glee we had at watching Paul Macdonald and Andrea Lupo Sinclair take each other down with longsword binds and grappling.

It’s been slow to work its way into the mainstream though, either in live theatre or video, but it’s happening. Since I’ve seen several of these examples go viral in the past few months amongst my social media channels, I thought I’d compile and share a few favorites here:

First, more of a demo reel than story, but here’s the one and only Nigel Poulton (of both the Australian and American fight societies, and probably a few more besides) demonstrating some of what he’s been working on.

 

Another that was making the rounds this past week or two, from people I don’t personally know but who’ve been playing with mixing WMA content in for years now:

 

…and stepping away from the Germans,  here’s one for the Italian fans:

The inserts of the Fiore plates are a nice touch – it’s used a bit like the planning sequences in the Robert Downy Jr. “Sherlock Holmes” movies (featuring the excellent work of Fight Master Richard Ryan), but also shows the great interpretation of the historical material.  A shorter excerpt of just that section has been making the rounds as well.

Sadly the closest study group to me is still several hours’ drive away, but I’ll get to play with some of this again I suspect at this winter’s Paddy Crean Workshop, where I’m very excited to be returning as staff. Come join us in Banff – it’s not too late to register!

 

 

Blank firing penetration test

So in the Theatrical Firearms Workshop this afternoon, someone asked, after seeing some of the paper tests, if a blank would tear the same kind of hole through skin and flesh, or if we’re harder than paper.

Good question, I said. Thankfully, I’ve never had to find out. I also didn’t happen to have any ballistic gel handy.

I did remember that from my martial arts background, water bottles or milk jugs filled with water are often used for cutting tests, as they supposedly approximate the resistance you’d get from cutting at a person. One of the students happened to have an empty small Pepsi bottle, so we tried that. I imagine that a milk jug, being softer, would probably have been penetrated, but this was not. The first shot, at a distance of a few inches from the muzzle of the Retay XR front-venting 9mmPAK blank gun, knocked the thing back, blew off some of the wrapper, and singed the plastic, but did not change its shape at all. The second, at point blank, did deform it a bit, whether due to heat or pressure.

 

And just for kicks, here’s another student with a top-venting Asi also in slow-mo:

Comedy of Errors

Several things have been keeping me busy of late, perhaps excusing the lack of posts here, but the man in one would be our first Fall production at the University of Wyoming, William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, slightly edited and re-staged to fit a completely modern setting. Here’s a brief unofficial promo I threw together for it around 1am Friday night, after our first dress rehearsal:

We open Tuesday, and run through a matinee next Sunday. Tickets available at https://www.uwyo.edu/fineart_ticket/tickets.aspx or at the box office.

It’s been a good opportunity for me to try out some of me new video capabilities, playing with the Sony a6300 I bought a couple months ago. Given time, I’ll probably make a post of all that later, for indie filmmakers interested in using the a6300 – it was a shift for me, going from a Canon 60D DSLR to the Sony mirrorless, but so far I’m happy with it’s ability to do the things I want it to do. I’ve yet to make full use of its capabilities, since I don’t have the software to handle 4K footage, for example, but it’s good I’m getting more comfortable with it now, since I’m anticipating doing some videography for the Paddy Crean workshop this winter, and planning to run a filmmaking class this Spring.

If anyone is local, come to the show and say hi!

 

The Things that Matter, & the Things that Don’t.

Things that probably don’t matter: The design of this blog. Feel free to argue with me here, but I opted not to keep paying for the custom design layout I had before, and you can see the difference easily. I’m guessing there’s some way I can go back and make it at least a little nicer still, but I’m not sure when or if that will happen. Frankly, I haven’t been posting regularly enough to justify the expense.

Things that matter:

People, and the things they do.

339bf44b0c02f986eb15d1fa61f2b488Those of us who have been in the business of stage combat long enough remember when American Fencer’s Supply/AmFence, was the main go-to for theatrical swords (well, that and Starfire anyway, and it seems like they’re now transitioning). Their stock still serves loyally in many a theatre and school, and I have a few of their blades on swords in my Fight Designer inventory.

Kevin Kline’s sword as the Pirate King in the 1983 movie production of The Pirates of Penzance was made by American Fencers Supply Co., and it was a modification of this hilt.

Like many of us, the people who run AmFence have other projects they’re involved in as well; Matthew Porter served as an armorer for the US Fencing Team, for example, and was just down with them in Rio.

Sadly, he had to come home to… well, a lack of a home. And like me, it would appear he ran much of his business out of his home.

Story here:

Member of U.S. Olympic team returns to find home destroyed in Clayton Fire (with video)

SF Chronicle story.

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Photos via SF Chronicle

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And here’s the link to their GoFundMe page to help support them.

 

My heart goes out to Mr. Porter, and I wish them the best in recovering their home and livelihood.

 

 

 

 

Keeping it unReal

A recent lengthy expose’ by the Chicago Reader on Profiles Theatre has been causing quite the buzz in our theatre and stage combat circles lately. The pattern of abuses chronicled there only briefly and tangentially touch on stage combat, but the issue is one that effects us in several ways, and the overall aesthetic of “real” in our theatre is a larger topic needing addressed.

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Yes, if we are “to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure” then we must recognize the representations of reality, so there must be some truth to our Truth… but the art is in the fact that it is not real. This is something artists, critics, and the general audience have a difficult relationship with sometimes. Witness last year’s accolades for The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio’s award-winning performance was generally lauded for two things: The bear attack (a marvel of the collaboration between technology and live performance), and the ‘reality’ of his suffering in the cold, making himself vomit eating real raw bison liver (and he’s a vegetarian), etc. – a strangely contradictory gift basket of “man, that bear attack was so real-looking and brutal” and “wow, they had a miserable time but it meant they did that stuff for realz!” All this somehow without acknowledging the contradictions there, that the bear attack could look and feel (to the audience) so real without it needing to feel real to the performers, and that we still somehow think it’s better if they really suffer for their art.

While sacrifice is nothing new to filmmaking or theatre, the celebrating of that suffering might be a more recent thing. Pushing the envelope for the sake of extreme results on screen is one thing, celebrating the misery of production is another, and one that makes me concerned as someone who both tries to work in it (when I can – hard in Wyoming) and sends young students out to do so. It’s one thing to admire Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa movies or District B13 for our knowledge that they really did those stunts, and another to use injuries as a selling point… Yes, The Crow gained publicity due to the tragic accident with Brandon Lee, but at least it didn’t use that to make a case for how realistic the gunplay was, like the ads for Raging Pheonix  almost did with their “Real Fight, Real Injuries” in several versions of the trailer.

I know and have heard briefly from a couple fight choreographers who worked with Cox at Profiles Theatre, and none were aware of what was happening either behind-the-scenes or after the choreographer leaves, and with systematic abuse like this I’m not too surprised the resident stage manager or others didn’t report it back. Some things, like unheeded safe words, uncontrolled attacks resulting in bruising and damage to sets, etc. SHOULD NOT HAPPEN, however, and I hope that any readers of this blog, who I assume know that already, will be in positions where they feel empowered to speak up about anything like that.

There’s so many issues at play here; the aesthetic of “real” versus, well, acting, both for audience and actors (is imagination a dirty word here?), the expectations based on movie performances (where we can use expert stunt doubles, CG enhancements, green screen compositing, pads, wires, mats, prop swaps, sped up film, depth of field compression due to lens choice, and other cheats while still keeping the final product realistic) being transposed onto live theatre rather than finding theatrical answers to those problems, and the culture-wide issues of abusive relationships, sexual assault, abused power dynamics, sexism (fake female directors, really?), career pressures, and more.

I can only hope that the horrified reactions to the Profiles Theatre piece, the #NotInOurHouse movement coming out of it to help maintain basic safety protocol on non-Equity productions, the petition to remove Mr. Cox from the theatre, the mea culpa from critics, that all of this can fuel a discussion reexamining our both work environment and aesthetic assumptions. Speak up. Take a stand when needed. We all have to walk that line between plausibility and real danger any time we pick up a sword, gun, or act out intimacy on stage, and the ‘right’ answer will always be determined by many factors, including our scene partners, the directors, the audience, stylistic conventions, and who knows what all else. Nobody can really give you universal answers, but so long as we keep the discussions happening, I think we’ll all keep moving towards a better place.

 

“Have you ever tried acting, dear boy?” – Sir Lawrence Olivier, to Dustin Hoffman, anecdotally in response to Hoffman’s ‘method’ approach.

 

 

 

Blank Firing Guns: Updates

This is a constantly changing market, in a slightly-less-constantly-changing field, so perhaps a state-of-the-industry check-in is in order, if I can dash one off. I’ve been submitting updates for The Theatrical Firearms Handbook, since it should be getting a second printing some time this Summer, and that’s had me thinking about some of this stuff lately. Incidentally, I also recently discovered it was reviewed in the IATSE journal this past year. Thanks to Eric Hart for the nice write-up. Good to see the word getting out in the technical side of the house, since a lot of it applies to backstage handling and decision-making.

Also, I’ve been trying to start to build a small prop gun armoury at the University of Wyoming, so I could offer the SAFD Theatrical Firearms workshop here – due to conflict of interest rules, I can’t rent them equipment from Fight Designer, LLC. Through placing some orders through Maxsell, I discovered a they’d had a key employee depart unexpectedly, taking some of their codes with them, but they’re doing their best to re-structure and I think improve their system as a part of this, and it seems like they now have many of the wrinkles ironed out. Maxsell has for a while now been on the cutting edge of importing new (especially front-venting) models, and I hope they can maintain activity in that area. They also recently dropped their price on 9mm PAK Blanks!A few new players have entered that market though, including Sharp Imports. Seems like a constantly shifting landscape there, and at least one of the companies I listed in the index of my book had to be removed for this latest update.

A drop in the availability of both all blank-firing Bruni and Zoraki Glocks (thanks to the previously discussed lawsuit) and the P99s by Umarex had some of the SAFD firearms instructors wondering how to demonstrate hammerless models. That got me speaking with Umarex USA, which informed me they had decided to stop importing any blank guns as a part of their operation. That saddens me, as they have some nice models (even if their semiautos are modified in strange ways for top fire) and they’re the only company securing licensing for fully trademarked replicas. They did have some of the S&W Chief’s specials left in stock though, so I bought a crate of those and sold some to my peers, since that brand is generally pretty reliable (it’s the only maker I’ve had clients ask for by name). I do still have several of those available if anyone wants – eBay pulled my listings and gave me a warning (they have very inconsistently-enforced and vaguely-defined policies against blank guns), but I can sell them for $160 + shipping each for anyone who’s interested.

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There’s a rumor going around that there might be a new source soon for front-venting P99s, which would be great for filmmakers as well as instructors. I have one that I got a decade ago, and it’s been one of my prize pieces since… it doesn’t have the cut-out along the slide that their top-venting versions have, which kind of ruins the authenticity points they’d otherwise get for having trademarks. Nothing seems to be in stock yet, but here’s hoping. In the meantime, I have a new prize possession, having picked up one of the elusive Zoraki models that looks similar to a Glock 17 – it wasn’t cheap, but I’m assuming that Glock will continue to shut down importation of new ones of those, so between my stock of Brunis (including top and front venting, full size and compact Glocks) and the Zoraki, I probably have the biggest inventory of those around. From some of the earlier online images, it had looked like these Zoraki versions had a grip safety in the back (like the Springfield XD) but at least this one doesn’t.

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Moving over to revolvers for a while – I did discover an interesting oddity in the University of Wyoming props collection: a revolver that has molded into the front of the cylinder chambers something that looks a bit like bullets. Most blank firing revolvers always look unloaded from the front, since the cylinders have restrictions (to prevent loading real ammo) but are open (for venting). This .22 gets around that by having individual vent holes in the side of each chamber, which (when firing) line up with a vent hole in the top of the frame.

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Hadn’t seen that tried before, and I have others by this same brand in my own collection [that just use the wedge in front of the cylinder to vent spray to both sides].

Granted, this particular example could now be used to demonstrate the reason dry-firing a .22 is a bad idea; check out the damage to both the cylinder and the hammer. Haven’t test fired it yet to see if it even works.

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I still think it’s a bit ridiculous that there isn’t at least one .22 blank firing semiauto on the market here, ideally one that could use hardware store nailgun blanks. If I ever get copious free time and someone to collaborate with who’s got some experience with gunsmithing, 3D printing of guns, something like that… one of these years… along with other projects, like building musket and shotgun shells that can fit over some of my blank firing revolvers (something I get asked for fairly regularly, and for which no affordable blank fire options exist). Time is always scant though, and here in Laramie there’s definitely a window of just a few months where doing work in the garage is at all appealing.

 

 

 

Spring Updates

Since it’s been a while, and I’d rather not clutter up my next themed post with personal updates, here’s a quickie on the last few months for anyone wondering:

UWYO Stage Combat Workshop – this year it was held in mid-April, which was in retrospect a mistake; we got hammered by a huge snowstorm. One of our instructors, Tim Pinnow, couldn’t make it from Colorado (they closed Vail pass 15 minutes before he got to it), and we also lost a car of students from CO Mesa that were going to be following him up here. Both Fight Master Brian Byrnes and Certified Teacher/Stuntman Mike Yahn had complications to their travel, but they arrived mid-morning on Saturday, and were able to join our small but intrepid band for the rest of the weekend. We lost some Cheyenne students I think as well, and the “no unnecessary travel” warning may have cost us some locals too. We had a great time with mostly screen-based action, covering gunplay, knife, single-sword, and unarmed, and all of the students (including one up from Denver who was renewing) passed their tests, with some recommended passes in there for our SPR. It was great for me to work with both Yahn and Byrnsie, as these are pretty much my main chance at professional development as well, getting to see what others at the top of their fields (in more active markets than Laramie WY) are doing.

Speaking of Professional Development, I did also finish up my teacher certification with the National Michael Chekhov Association this semester.

Shows – I’ve participated in a couple staged readings in town, choreographed fights for a community theatre performance of God of Carnage, and was doing fight choreography for the University’s own original musical this Spring, Angry Psycho Princesses, but that number ended up getting cut before the run. In a small market like this, you’re glad for whatever work you can get.

Directing-wise, I’m already in full swing on design decisions and ore-production for the first Fall show, The Comedy of Errors, and also the last of our summer season shows, I Ought to Be in Pictures.

Classes – This was a great semester for getting to play to my strengths, having both an Advanced Stage Combat and a Movement class. I also did a couple small stage combat guest artist things at a local youth theatre, and am planning a bit more with them for this Summer.

One new class I’m looking at proposing for next year would be an intro to filmmaking in the Spring. Timing could be pretty good – there’s a screenwriting class being offered in the Fall (a one-off), and I’ll be teaching Acting for the Camera in the Spring as well. Trying to find ways to create a more active video production scene here.

Writing – Having dropped out of the Physical Dramaturgy book project last Fall, after being co-editor for a couple years of bringing the project to life, I was recently asked if I could still contribute a chapter. Routledge liked the proposal. Working on that now, as well as updates for a pending second print run of The Theatrical Firearms Handbook.

 

 

 

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