Preparing to leave 2012

A look back, a look forward, a look around – all of these are generally prompted by changes in the calendar date. That and the occasional curse when writing a check, followed by some ripping and another check coming out.

Looking back it’s been an eventful year. Don’t worry, I don’t have the time for much navel-gazing, and will get to the more general interest stuff shortly, but I think it’s worth acknowledging: an MFA, Teacher Certification in stage combat with the SAFD, adjunct work at the College of William & Mary, teaching for several theatres and schools, some screen acting, some stage acting, some live theatre fight choreography, some stunt coordination, winning the RTCC Artsie, a successful stage audition, teaching my daughter archery, running my first Skills Proficiency Renewals for SAFD certification, another article published… it’s been quite the year in Fight Designer land. A number of props have come and gone, including my first UPS insurance claim… and my second. I got a dealer account with Cas Hanwei, which I’ve yet to do much with. I got a new and better video-capable camera (Canon 60D) which I still hope to do more with some time.

It’s also been a year of some frustration, some of which brings us to the present. A long hiatus from any serious stage acting was to be broken by being one of the leads in Time Stands Still at Firehouse Theatre – this may or may not still happen. Several attempts to work with local theatre companies on SAFD certificate stage combat classes fell through, until things finally came together with Firehouse Theater – this also may or may not still happen. Both hinge primarily on the outcome of a current political mess there, which has resulted in what amounts to a professional boycott/strike of Firehouse, pending the return of their recently (and forcibly, and clumsily) dismissed (founding) Artistic Director. More here. Or here. If Firehouse falls through on the stage combat I may look in to trying to do classes on my own, renting space and getting my own insurance, publicity, etc… I’ve looked at it before, but would much rather let an established theatre be the host – both because that’s not the work I enjoy, and because I’d love to see this become a local expectation that can outlast me if I leave.

I also continue to work towards a full time faculty position – the market seems to be improving some over last year, but there’s still a huge backlog/field of competition. Until then, I’ve got five adjunct classes lined up next Semester, at four different schools, plus other work (like the possible Firehouse gigs).


Now to more on the field, and where IT stands.

I’m still not sure what to make of 3D in the long term, if it will grow, die out, or just continue to be a niche. I just came back from seeing the Hobbit, in all its High Frame Rate 3D form, and I think that has very interesting potential- but like regular modern 3D, I’m not sure how popular it will become. I love how it almost eliminated the jerkiness of quick pans or motion, and it did make things feel much more real – like a window in to a stage show, or an IMAX documentary the first time you see one, that sort of almost tangible reality of it. Because of that, a high fantasy piece may not have been the best choice for a grand experiment in high frame rate though, as at times the medium and the genre were at odds. I think this is something filmmakers could learn to work with, but Peter Jackson may not have mastered it on his first try. I see the objections by some that the art is in what’s hidden, or in the very theatricality of the image (yes, even for cinema), and this did at times look more mundane, or more ordinary, making the potential absurdity of the high fantasy costumes, props, and CG stand out more. Likewise I felt a bit of a clash between the More Epic than Epic portrayal of some characters (Thorin and the main bad guy, mostly) and the very grounded, ordinary style of others (Freeman’s Bilbo especially), and the slightly over the top comic antics of others (some of the dwarves, Radagast the Brown, etc). Some of that is in Tolkein’s writing, some in Jackson’s attempt to make the movie more in line with Lord of the Rings, even though the book of the Hobbit is more in line with Narnia in terms of age it caters to.

Still – an enjoyable journey. I doubt the high frame rate will stand out as much on the home TV screen as it does in theatres, since we’re used to video’s higher frame rate on the small screen. What I’d love to see done in this sort of high frame rate modern 3D is something like a Tony Jaa movie, or Jackie Chan back in his prime… something that shows off the speed and virtuosity and realness of their stunt work. It’s one thing to cinematically look real, but they’ve also got to look impressive. I’ve read a few people complaining about the fights in the Hobbit. I found them to make sense in the world of the story, and easy to follow, but not really capitalizing on the new format. Granted many people will be seeing the Hobbit in traditional formats still, but to really make the most of the high frame rate I think you’d need to use motion a bit better. That ease of following translates to some people as ‘slow’… although granted some of that is in the timing of the edits as well. SPOILER ALERT EXAMPLE:  in a face-off with the Goblin King, Gandalf responds to a “what are you going to do now, wizard?” type challenge with a quick poke in the eye and a follow-up with his sword. On a simple storybook (slightly cheesy) level that works… but just having him cut off that line of dialogue halfway through the last word would have made it much more believable, less cheesy, and more funny. “What are you going to do now, wiz-AUUUGH!!!  See?

Which brings me to one of the things it took me a while to figure out when stunt coordinating, and which I hadn’t actually said out loud until working on the GAM3RS: Hands of Fate set in Seattle last month: sometimes it’s not about whether you have all the right moments in the can to sell all the hits and action, but about just making sure you have the coverage/b-roll/reversals/etc to be able to adjust the rhythm of the fight in post-production. A stuntman or actor just has to think about the shot they’re doing right now (and consistency with the last shot, perhaps), but a coordinator has to think about what the editor needs to tell the story, and rhythm is such a huge part of a fight you can’t forget abut how the editor plays their percussion instrument in this band.
So looking forward: I will not be going to the Paddy Crean workshop in a couple days. This marks the first time in 14 years that I have missed one, apart from an experimental one they ran in Australia a while back. Sad to be missing my Paddy Family, and the great stage combat workshop there (and the beautiful Banff Centre), but my focus is currently on what will help me grow the most as an acting teacher in the next year or two – and another stage combat workshop was not what my CV really needs either. Instead, I leave in a few days to begin a Certified Teacher process with the National Michael Chekhov Association, with a week long workshop (the first of two or three it requires) in Florida, and begin teaching almost immediately upon my return (first class is at Christopher Newport University). 2013 holds so many great and potential life-determining events for me, and my family, and my business; it’s going to be another exciting year.

I missed any holiday greetings apart from those on the Fight Designer facebook page, as it’s been hard to find time to keep updating the blog. Still, wishing you all the best of New Years. May it hold great lessons, great progress, great performances, and no injuries… unless you’re really dying for a cool looking scar, in which case I certainly hope you learn from it in the process.



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