For many the past few months have been a roller-coaster ride of uncertainty. I too have been caught up in the pitfalls of the Corona Pandemic, having been made redundant from my “Safe” side job where I worked nights at a hotel in central London.


However, for me I have also had the opportunity to reevaluate and refocus on my career trajectory and have managed to both build on my Acting Coaching business through The Global Acting Studio as well as extended our partnership with Prague Film School which you can read more about HERE.


On top of that I was accepted to do my Masters degree in Filmmaking at Raindance through De Montfort University where I am focusing on Action and Stunts in film as a writer/director.


Originally I was planning to start now in September, but when the whole lockdown started back in March I asked if I could join the May cohort instead. I am very glad I did and that they said yes as it meant I have been able to spend the summer months creating my learning plan and conducting research for my first written report.


The Raindance Filmmaking MA is a bespoke program that allows you to choose your own pathway and construct your own learning modules. This is fantastic for me as I already did my Music Business Degree online and am very entrepreneurial and self motivating.


For those who are interested I will share my full learning plan below and will regularly share my progress over the course of the program.


Learning Plan

Xander Turian



30/06/2020

Word Count: 3089


MA in Filmmaking with Raindance, De Montfort University



Table of Contents




Table of Contents 1

Introduction 2

Research Report 4

Negotiated Module 1 - The Story 5

Negotiated Module 2 - The Vision 6

Negotiated Module 3 - The Action 7

Masters Module - The Proof of Concept 8

Appendix 10-12

  • Supporting Activities……………………………………...10

  • Bibliography………………………………………………..11

  • Filmography………………………………………………..11

  • Skills Audit……………………………………………...….12

  • SWOT Analysis…………………………………………....12

Introduction


My introduction to the film industry started when I produced and acted in my first music video with my band Our Untold Story which later led to me founding my own company; Cuprite Productions where I have produced multiple music videos, live concerts and documentaries both for my own band and for others. I continued my path as an actor and later directed multiple short films so as to be able to play the roles I was not being cast for outside of my own body of work. I have previously attended drama school as well as Prague Film Schools Acting for Film program and have a degree in Music Business giving me an insight into entertainment law which has proved invaluable when producing my film projects.


Some of the projects I have produced include the Swedish Horror Feature SARGAD which I was able to obtain a distribution deal for via Chemical Burn Entertainment after making back more than our initial budget in merchandise sales both online and at festivals and conventions as well as my directing debut, the multi award winning horror short, Rotten Love.


My goal moving forwards is to create a proof of concept containing stunts, fight scenes and strong characters which I can use to establish myself as a director and performer and to obtain funding to produce and direct my debut feature film.


Overall Question:

How can I as a director and performer work together with a scriptwriter and stunt-coordinator to create proof of concept action sequences containing deep, interesting characters and exciting fight scenes and stunt pieces while maintaining a compelling story and a high level of safety? And how can I then further develop these concepts and obtain funding for creating a feature film in the future?


Action films have always been able to draw an audience and the line between stunt performers and actors as well as stunt-coordinators and directors is becoming thinner with each blockbuster film that comes out. We are seeing more actors performing their own stunts and fights, stunt performers moving into acting and coordinators and choreographers directing their own films.


“I believe that the demand for high quality action films with intriguing characters and story arcs will only increase with the #StandUpForStunts movement who are campaigning for a stunt category at the Academy Awards” - Rowe, Brandon (2020).


For me to be able to make my mark and establish myself as a competent action filmmaker and performer it is vital that I stay up-to-date on the most current safety and best-practice procedures as well as the legal aspects such as insurance, permits and contracts. I will also need to research other proof of concept action films, how other directors have managed to combine action with emotion in their films and how they have taken a project from concept, to pitch, to feature.


Throughout my MA I will be in contact with industry professionals who are active in their area of expertise and use their guidance and feedback to create safe and exciting set-pieces which I will then build my story around. A few of the people I will be referencing include Ralf Haeger who has worked on films such as Spiderman: Far From Home and now The Matrix 4, Tarmo Hietala who is the first Scandinavian Stunt-Coordinator to win the Taurus Award which is currently the highest accolade for stunt professionals and Kevin Inouye, author of The Theatrical Firearms Handbook (2015) and The Screen Combat Handbook (2020).


My weaknesses lie in creating structure for my script and will need to obtain the help of an experienced screenwriter so as to bring my story to life in a way that is structurally sound and translates the action and emotion that I want to portray on the big screen. I will be seeking a writing partner through various platforms including Facebook Groups, Mandy.com and Shooting People.


As I will also be performing in my own film as well as directing, it will be important for me to work with a good assistant director that has experience with stunts and who can help me to achieve my vision. Communication and planning will be of key essence so I will be putting emphasis on creating my visual aids in the form of a lookbook and previz shoots on my most important stunt/fight elements.


My process over the next two years is to build the skills needed and a strong network of advisors, crew and performers that can come together in helping me create a stunning final proof-of-concept that we can use to pitch to financiers.

Research Report


Key Questions:

What elements make a strong and compelling, character driven action sequence and how do directors combine action and emotion in their films?


Rationale:

The type of action that I am drawn to contain strong, vulnerable characters that have depth and an interesting arc, such as John Wick, Extraction, Reservoir Dogs, Snatch as well as El Mariachi and Green Room. I therefore need to hone in on the key elements that define these types of characters and how the action of these films drives the story forward, rather than being there purely for entertainment or shock value.


As I plan to make a Proof-of-Concept to showcase my theme, style, action and characters I must watch other POC’s in the same vein that have then gone on to gain funding.


Because I want my stunt and fight sequences to drive my story it must be justified by my characters choices which is why I will be focusing my research on better understanding the process of character development within the action genre.


Methodology:

  • Watch Proof Of Concepts and their Feature Film counterparts to find what translates. Ex. THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT - POC sequence for SIN CITY (2005) by Robert Rodriguez

Industry Context:

  • Proof of Concept Sequences for elevated genre films are a core element for seeking finance through partnerships such as The Frontières Platform in Cannes.

  • “A team of stunt performers, more modernly known as action actors, were responsible for delivering the movie magic and making it look seamless. The term "action actor” is relatively new, but the industry of stunt performance has been around for nearly as long as films have been made.” (Brandon Rowe 2020)

  • “Physical conflict and action have always been popular in television, movies and the new territories of streaming video.” (Kevin Inouye 2020)

Learning Outcomes:

  • A better understanding of what makes a compelling, character driven film that combines action and emotion.

Deliverables:

  • 4000-word Research Report.

Negotiated Module 1 - The Story


Key Questions:

How can I work with a Stunt Coordinator to design impactful fight scenes and stunt pieces that I can then build my story structure around with the help of a screenwriter? Considering that this is not the conventional way of developing a script, what can I do to ensure a smooth collaborative process where the story drives the action?


Rationale:

My main weakness as a filmmaker is writing scripts, however I am confident in taking other people's written work and developing it into something visual, therefore I will be searching out a screenwriter to work with me on creating the structure for my film. Finding a writer that can work with me consistently over the next two years will be a huge challenge, but hopefully I will be able to find someone whose goals align with mine.


I understand the basic principles of combat and how I would want to capture it visually, but need help in designing stunt sequences that are beyond the basic knowledge I possess and most importantly, that follow the most up-to-date safety guidelines and legal practices. To be able to execute my action set-pieces I will thus need to work alongside a Stunt-Coordinator and Fight Choreographer.


My job as director will be to bring these key experts together and create a story concept that incorporates the action elements designed with my stunt team and the character arcs and story structure together with my writer.


Methodology:

  • Find and hire my stunt-coordinator and writer using my network and online resources including: Mandy.com and ShootingPeople.org.

  • Use techniques from Kevin Inouye’s The Screen Combat Handbook and Andrew Lane’s Movie Stunts & Special Effects to create a stunt breakdown together with my coordinator.

  • Read John Yorke’s Into The Woods for a better understanding of story structure.

  • Utilize Dan Harmon’s Story Circle and Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s But and Therefore method for my story outline.

  • Work together with my Coordinator and Writer using my stunt breakdown to create a basic story outline for my film.

Industry Context:

  • Stunt professionals I have interviewed, including Joacim Landin and Tarmo Hietala discussed the process of developing scripts around the major stunt set-pieces and characters.

  • “Action should always be about character and story, not a gimmick.” (Sam Hargrave 2020)

  • “I don’t see us as being in competition with effects because we’re all trying to make this movie together.” (Darrin Prescott in Variety 2018)

Learning Outcomes:

  • How to design and plan practical stunts and fight sequences, how to budget them and the legal steps and safety measures required.

  • How to work together with a Stunt-Coordinator and Writer to be able to create a story and characters based on the main action set-pieces.

Deliverables:

  • A Stunt breakdown and Story outline.

  • 7500-word Reflective Report.

Negotiated Module 2 - The Vision


Key Questions:

What elements make a beautiful, detailed and compelling visual aid for pitching my film to potential collaborators and investors? How can I capture the central theme and vision of my film while also showing the essence of my characters and the action points of my project?


Rationale:

Action can be one of the most costly genres to produce so being able to communicate my vision in a clear and concise way is vital both for hiring the right team of crew and performers, as well as for obtaining the interest of potential financiers.


To be able to better understand what elements I need to include I must contact producers that work within the action genre and also directors that have successfully gained financing through their lookbook and pitch deck.


Methodology:

  • Interview Producers and Directors in the action genre on what they believe makes a strong and compelling lookbook for communication vision and obtaining funding.

  • Look at lookbooks, moodboards, and other visual aids from other independent action films to gain inspiration.

  • Write out a vision statement and collect images and put together an initial collage of ideas.

  • Create my lookbook.

  • Get feedback and make adjustments to my lookbook accordingly.

Industry Context:

  • “This book needed to make choices. For example, should the show be neon noir, film noir, or neo-realism? Shooting primarily at night, should the show exploit neon signs or the more subtle and draining fluorescent? What best reflects the tone of the show? A show which is both funny and eerie? Distributed to all department heads, producers, visiting directors, etc., the document needed to be clear and consistent.” (Inga Brege 2019)

Learning Outcomes:

  • How to break down the core visual elements of my action sequences.

  • The understanding of how to translate my ideas into a visual medium in the form of a lookbook.

Deliverables:

  • Lookbook containing concept art and visuals for my Proof-of-Concept

  • 7500-word Reflective Report.

Negotiated Module 3 - The Action


Key Questions:

How do I execute and film the action sequences in my film in a safe and exciting way while ensuring the quality of the final results? What makes a good action sequence in terms of lighting, framing and editing?


Rationale:

Safety and best practice are the most important aspects when it comes to stunts. The correct procedures for preparing and rigging each stunt, the prep work for my performers and how to capture the shots required while keeping my cast and crew safe is vital.


Utilizing my stunt breakdown from NM1 and my visual planning from NM2 I will test my most important stunt set-pieces, working with my key cast and crew to put together some previz clips where we experiment with lighting, framing, movement and most importantly workout all of the safety procedures in preparation for our main shoot in the final MA module.


Being able to communicate and plan my shots will also allow me to explain to my cast, crew and potential investors ahead of time before investing in huge, expensive set-pieces. It will also give me a chance to explore what works and will allow for a smoother process when shooting on expensive locations with a full team.


Methodology:

  • Hire a DP

  • Use my stunt breakdown from NM1 and lookbook from NM2 to work with my DP and Stuntcoordinator to plan our main stunt and fight sequences.

  • Prepare, choreograph and explore our main action set-pieces together with key cast and crew.

  • Film previz clips testing out movement of my performers and camera, lighting and framing.

  • Edit previz material to try out editing techniques and submit for feedback and self analysis.

Industry Context:

  • According to Kevin Inouye in The Screen Combat Handbook “The camera is another character. It provides perspective, as our audiences eyes. We should be very intentional with our point of view… ...Camera can be affected by events on-screen. Examples of sympathetic camera motion include twitches with punches, or upside-down perspectives after judo throws…”

  • 87Eleven Action Design is a success story in part because of effective and proactive previz. They made their name submitting spec pitch videos of fight sequences when they heard about films they wanted to work on.. Their portfolio includes franchises like; John Wick, The Expendables, Deadpool, The Hunger Games, Bourne and stand alones such as Atomic Blonde.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Gain the knowledge on how to properly plan, set up and rig my stunts and fight scenes while following the most up-to-date safety and legal procedures.

  • Have a better understanding of which techniques are most suitable for capturing my action sequences in the style I want.

Deliverables:

  • Previz tester clips of my key action sequences containing set-ups, rigging and shot by shot performer & camera movements.

  • 7500-word Reflective Report.

Masters Module - The Proof of Concept


Key Questions:

Can I combine the new knowledge and techniques I have learned in my previous modules to make a high quality Proof-of-Concept Action Sequence that showcases my skill and talent as a director and performer in the genre, that I can then use as part of my pitch to ultimately seek financing for a future feature film?


Rationale:

All of the insight and planning from my previous modules will be combined and implemented in this final Proof-of-Concept Sequence which will need to contain the essence of the characters and story that I have developed together with my team, the stunts and fights we have designed and choreographed and the visual style we have created.


Although I would have tried and tested multiple techniques and made plans for the structure of my POC, I am likely to discover new insights, obstacles and ideas for the final feature film. It will be important for me to reflect upon this and give myself the chance to keep developing the feature script and pitch for my feature moving forwards after graduation.


However it is still important for me to make the very best Action Sequence and really dig down to find the core essence of each element I want to showcase - This will be my biggest challenge as I know that as a director and performer I often want to cram as much in as possible. Instead I must hone in with the idea of “Quality over Quantity”.


Another challenge I will face is balancing my roles as Director and Performer. Will I be able to give a strong performance while also keeping an overall eye on the whole production? Will I be able to trust my key team members and that I have communicated my vision clearly enough to them throughout the earlier development phases of the project? And will I be able to translate that vision to a final POC sequence that can ultimately gain the interest of investors and financiers?


Methodology:

  • Finalize a working script and shooting outline for the Proof-of-Concept Sequence.

  • Put together the rest of the cast and crew, communicate the vision and rehearse the key elements.

  • Plan: Locations, Costume, Props, Make-up and other details for the shoot.

  • Create a shot list and schedule together with my DP and AD.

  • Make sure there is adequate time in the schedule to check rushes for mistakes so as to minimize the risk of costly re-shoots.

  • Go through all the safety checks making sure we have all the correct permits, insurances, contracts and personnel needed to have a smooth and accident free shoot.

  • Role with the punches, analyse each situation and make decisions on the go as needed.

  • Work with my Screenwriter and Editor to analyse the final material and create our POC sequence.

  • Submit material for feedback to my mentors and my industry interviewees and implement any adjustments for the future feature project.

Industry Context:

  • According to Stéphanie Joalland it is common for elevated genre filmmakers to create Proof-of-Concept sequences to showcase their ideas in a visual way; for example at The Frontières Platform in Cannes.

  • Primarily, a proof of concept allows creatives (specifically the director) to give potential financiers a strong indicator of the visual and story possibilities of a feature-length film or episodic TV show.” (Tongal 2018)

  • “Creating a feature-length film is hard. Really hard. Not impossible—but there is so much that could happen (or not happen) to stop it from coming to fruition—so make the proof-of-concept because, if you don’t, you may never get the satisfaction you’re seeking in having your vision come to life, even if it’s not in the form you originally intended” (Seth Worley 2020)

Learning Outcomes:

  • How I work together with a core team of experts to develop a concept into a story and then how to translate that into something visual that sells.

  • How to dig down to find the core essence of my characters, theme and which action set-pieces are key to create a proof-of-concept that can be used in combination with my lookbook, pitch deck and stunt breakdown to obtain funding for a feature film.

  • Be better prepared to find balance in my roles as a director in charge of the overall vision as well as how to work with a stunt-coordinator in the role of second-unit director in the moments I need to focus on being in the scene as a performer.

Deliverables:

  • A Proof of Concept Sequence for my Film

  • 15000-word Reflective Masters Report.

Appendix



Supporting Activities


  • Watch proof of concept films from other directors

  • Watch the special features with director commentary on films containing stunts and fights that I would like to replicate or am inspired by.

  • Raindance Courses: Directors Foundation Course, Screen Acting with Patrick Tucker, etc.

  • RD Directing and Writing Cluster.

  • Sundance, Yale, Masterclass and other online e-learning resources.

  • Workshops with British Academy of Stage and Screen Combat (BASSC) and British Academy of Dramatic Combat (BADC).

  • Interviews with professionals including: The British Stunt Register, RC-Annie, Independent Drama, The European Stunt School, 87Eleven Action Design, etc.

  • Attend HEMA, Reenactment, LARP, Martial Arts and Comic-Con events as well as Film Festivals and Panel discussions to network, find collaborators and inspiration.

  • Create a budget based on my stunt breakdown and visual elements and create a Pitch-Deck for obtaining future funding.

  • Working with one or multiple screenwriter(s) on continually developing the project into a feature film script for future production.


Bibliography


Books

  • Cowgill, Linda J (2005) Writing Short Films 2nd Edition: Structure and Content for Screenwriters, Watson-Guptil Publications

  • Davis, Rib (1998) Writing Dialogue for Scripts, A&C Black Ltd

  • Davis, Rib (2001) Developing Characters for Script Writing, A&C Black Ltd

  • Grove, Elliot (2014) Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking, Focal Press

  • Inouye, Kevin (2014) The Theatrical Firearms Handbook, Routledge

  • Inouye, Kevin (2020) The Screen Combat Handbook, Routledge

  • Katz, Steven (1991) Film Directing: Shot by Shot

  • Lane, Andrew (2015) Movie Stunts A Comprehensive Guide To Planning And Executing Special Effects, Bloomsbury

  • Lumet, Sydney (1995) Making Movies, Amjen Entertainment

  • Mamet, David (1991) On Directing Film, Penguin Books

  • Mamet, David (1997) True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, Faber and Faber

  • Mercado, Gustavo (2010) The Filmmaker's Eye, Focal Press

  • SEAM (2012) Story Design: Storytellers Handbook

  • Yorke, John (2014) Into The Woods: How Stories Work and Why We Tell Them, Penguin Books

Journals/Articles/Blogs

  • Fight Master

  • The Hollywood Reporter

  • Variety

  • NoFilmSchool.com

  • ScreenCraft.com

  • Stuntsunlimited.com

  • thebritishstuntregister.co.uk


Filmography


Atomic Blonde (2017) Focus Features, Dir. David Leitch

EL Mariachi (1992) Columbia Pictures, Dir. Robert Rodriguez

Extraction (2020) Netflix, Dir. Sam Hargrave

Green Room (2015) Broad Green Pictures, Dir. Jeremy Saulnier

Grindhouse (2007) The Weinstein Company, Dir. Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino

Haywire (2012) Relativity Media, Dir. Steven Soderbergh

John Wick (2014) Thunder Road Pictures, Dir. Chad Stahelski

Sin City (2005) Trouble Maker Studios, Dir. Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller & Quentin Tarantino



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