Amateur Video

Just because the business is temporarily shut down doesn’t mean the conversations need to be…

With the explosion this past few years in cellphones that can upload video to YouTube with the tap of a screen, Flip Mino HD camcorders, etc, I’ve noticed we’re seeing a LOT more video of stage combat… renfair street fights, rehearsals, stage shows, stunt shows, classes, etc.

Thing is, most of it looks like crap, and I have to wonder what that does to the image of the field as a whole (if anything?).

Honestly, most video of productions that were staged to be live shows is lousy.  You just do things differently (or should) if you’re intent is to play it for a camera than you do if the intent is to play it to a crowd, and the videographer (i.e. the dude with the cellphone) is usually trying to stay out of the way, so is not well positioned.  We wouldn’t want it otherwise- I know I’d be annoyed if someone stood up in front of the audience with a camcorder during a show.

The hits may well look like misses, the speed usually looks slow (in part due to wider shots than we’re used to seeing in movies), and it tends to make things look really amateur, even if the experience of it live isn’t that bad.

Been thinking about this as I look in to what phone and plan to replace my old one, (iPhone or Droid, and which ones?) and if and how I’d use video.  Just notice so much up there on Facebook, and frankly a lot of it isn’t doing the tagged performers any service.  Anyone of my generation or later who did acting as a kid probably has embarrassing old VHS tapes kicking around somewhere of them up on stage, looking small and fuzzy and occasionally obscured by the back of someone’s head… but those rarely see the light of day.  Now, like many things in the age of social networking, it’s out there for all to see.

Is this just a new kind of medium that we haven’t learned how to properly take advantage of yet, or is it inherent that live shows just don’t video well without the intrusive or expensive equipment used in big stadium concerts and sporting events?



  1. Posted June 9, 2010 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Live theatre just doesn’t film well–that’s exactly right.

    My issue is basically this: in a globally-linked world, what are our films for? In my theatrical past, filming a live show was purely for archival purposes. Now I have students wanting to make podcasts of their work. I’ve also used video for instructional purposes–so the students can see themselves from outside and see what to work on. But the stage combat they all film isn’t film-stunt-work, it’s designed for live theatre. Not only that, it’s filmed with our small devices, not with high-quality equipment. So should they post and share these things or not? I find the same issues to be true for the martial arts (non-theatrical combat)–it just doesn’t normally record well.

    It’s like the argument I hear in storytelling circles re: anthologizing oral traditions. Is the quality diminished (and the artfulness killed) when the performance is recorded? Or is anything better than letting it stay ephemeral? Is the spread of the art (and the awful mediocrity that ensues) worth the increase of rough the diamonds get buried in?

    Or is it just not something anyone should publish?

  2. Posted June 9, 2010 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I had some more thoughts I had to write:

    Thanks for bringing up this topic!

  3. Posted June 9, 2010 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    I noticed that the new iPhone has a version of iMovie with it… I wonder if that kind of casual editing option might help.

    Or it might just mean bad soundracks added to bad video.

    Some of this might be a question of artistic control- I know many instructors require explicit permission for any pictures of their workshops to go public, for example. Last thing any of us trying to make a livelihood of this need is a picture out there of us presented out of context, showing how not to do things, or just taken from the wrong angle so a hit looks like a miss, etc.

    With the advent of digital video has come the ability to review footage instantly. That is a power and option perhaps not exercised enough.

    • Brady Darnell
      Posted June 10, 2010 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      Stage combat – or as I prefer to call it STAGED combat (for the knuckleheads who think that a real slap plays better) – is alot about the angles and the misdirection. Even if you can control all of the angles, it’s very difficult to misdirect a “digital eye” taking a wide shot. Street magicians can often run into the same problems.
      Stage(d) Combat is an illusion, too – a deception – one that often won’t bear scrutiny in slow-motion replay.
      There is a vast difference between film stuntwork and live stuntwork – most notably the absence of doubles in the latter. Sorry, wait, MOST notably the ability to say “cut”, “let’s try that again” and “let’s use the third take of that shot.”
      So my prescription for live staged combat situations is the same as for live magic situations: control your angles as much as you can, control your audience’s focus as much as you can, and – when you can’t – use “gags” that may not be as impressive but are harder to scrutinize.

      • Posted June 10, 2010 at 4:33 am | Permalink

        With video you can and need to usually (barring multiple cameras) be much more specific about what you’re playing to- it’s a couple inches across, maximum, whereas in live theatre even if you’re on a proscenium there’s a range of viewing angles. People know this, and know your actors aren’t professional stuntmen, and tend to be much more forgiving.

        Put it up on screen and you lose that, though.

        Plus, where hits are concerned, it makes a huge difference not having to hide a knap.

  4. Nick
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink

    I tend to use the technology purely for rehearsal purposes… I use my iphone to tape a fight or sequence and then use youtube to then provide it to the performers… most of the time they look terrible and at best, progress and improve through time — for those whom are visual learners, it is a form of very useful notes. I have other advantages now where I can record at 60p and slow it down to 40% speed so that performers can really look at what they are doing… and if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, I can video annotate sections on where there are particular problems, corrections needed or parts to keep.

    Overall, it’s a useful tool when rehearsing — rarely do I end up with the final product on youtube and when I do, it probably only looks marginally better for the noted reasons above. I have less concern about copyright as I don’t make my living doing fights, but I would hope that our skill, training and practical experience would be clear in the professional result than that teenager who tried to replicated what you did.

    I would think that anyone would look at this rehearsal footage and say “huh, that looks like rehearsal footage” rather than “wow that’s absolute garbage”, but honestly, I don’t care if they do, because those that matter, aren’t in the latter group. Lastly for me, it’s nice to have a visual record to accompany my paper notes since I don’t always make 100% clear notes and often I’m rushed in the actual rehearsal, so it’s nice to make the notes AFTER the day is done.

    • Posted June 10, 2010 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      Nick, those are all very legitimate uses to my mind, but also none of them need be public. Most productions don’t make their rehearsals public, let alone post them on the web for all to see- if they do, it’s in a very carefully selected, vastly edited down version that just shows enough to pique interest without giving anything away or leaving people with the impression that the production will look like the crap that early rehearsals are likely to be.

      Plus having public rehearsals can stifle creative risk-taking (not with safety, but with acting choices).

      I guess my issue isn’t so much with things being taped, it’s more with the general trend towards the once-private becoming public in today’s world of social media. But then badly taped or performed stage combat is far from the only thing on YouTube or Facebook that really doesn’t need to be aired in public…

  5. Nick
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

    True enough that all those rehearsals could be shared in private, the problem is the mainstream tools youtube and such aren’t really designed to favour private usage (quite the opposite actually)… I started doing private, but after the 10th person wrote me back saying they couldn’t figure out how to access the video, I just defaulted to public because it always works and no one has to understand how it works to view the video. As tools improve, I’ll reconsider, but at the moment, privacy is actually a barrier to using them effectively.

  6. Posted June 12, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Good point re: actors not being professional stunt fighters. I’m still so on the fence about this issue though, as I don’t think it’s impossible to make good amateur fight films, even with low-budget equipment. The thing is that most folks don’t understand the difference between live and film technique, or even real and theatrical martial arts (I remember an excellent article by Tony Wolfe about this, called “Ne’er the Twain”).

    But does that mean we need to quit posting these films, for whatever use they’re meant? Maybe. Like I said on my blog, I do like the spread of the art online, but I don’t want us to end up looking like “Star Wars kid” either, when we’re real professionals.

One Trackback

  1. By Bonzuko » Is it Live? on June 9, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    […] post on fellow stage combat blogger’s site Them’s Fightin’ Words re: Amateur Video. I had to post a comment to it–this is something I’ll be learning more about this […]

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: