In preparation for their job shadowing, our Shaw Media Diverse TV Director students recently participated in a workshop to direct multi-character, multi-camera fight scenes.
The students worked with some of Toronto’s best actors and crew while they prepped and shot scenes as part of a mock production simulating the process of series direction.
Program manager Elise Swerhone wrote an overview of the workshop. Below a couple of our students wrote about their experiences.
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Gloria Ui Young Kim
I was super excited and nervous about doing the shoot. I’ve been shooting a lot lately for work but haven’t done a lot of narrative in a while and, even though I’ve done some blood before in my CBC short Flamenco, I haven’t done torture, specifically drill torture and beatings. I’m excited!
I read the script and wonder how am I going to get into these characters? I ask for the full script and get it, and read it through. I see there’s a pretty cool arc for the main character that makes him more than a thug. It’s about family betrayal, and what makes it deeper is that there’s rivalry, distrust, paranoia, love and hurt going on. Juicy. This helps me hang the scene on emotion and truth rather than just action … even though the action is pretty damn fun.
I’m introduced to my actors by our incredible production manager Byron Martin, whose IMDb page is a mile long.
My actors are kickass. Egidio Tari is the main guy, Frank J. Zupancic is the stool pigeon being tortured, Pedro Miguel Arce is the torturer with the drill and Karl Campbell rounds out the cast and adds a little colour – both literally and figuratively. For a time in which diversity is becoming more than just a buzzword, this is vital.
I touch base with them and, while I’m the kind of director who loves actors anyway, these guys are dynamite. They’re open and keen and, even when what we’re shooting is an exercise, want to talk about character and are open to notes. I’m already in love.
I find out my cinematographer is Peter Benison and his work is spectacular.
I get to work with Grand Master Tommy Chang, a tae kwon do master and stunt coordinator who I’ve been wanting to work with ever since I heard from Minsook Lee who worked with him on her doc, The Real Inglorious Bastards. Plus, he’s Korean.
And then I find out the special effects makeup artist is Daniel Lee from Lost Girl. He’s also Korean – what?!? This is seriously a dream come true.
I’m super nervous that I only have a week to prep but I go into high gear and check the location found by location manager extraordinaire Greg Holmgren.
I fall in love with the dingy, nasty kitchen space even though the action is supposed to happen in the bar. Even though it’s tight, the authenticity is something that you can’t mistake, especially when the budget and art department is tight. But art director Greg Chown and props master Anthony Stracuzzi totally bring it and make it super easy for me.
I design the shots and have a great meeting with Peter Benison and Tommy Chang and we work things out before the shoot.
I’m the first shoot up and the challenge for me is that there’s blood and torture, and the space is tight, and we’ve got to be in and out in six hours. WHOA.
Gail Harvey, our incredible mentor [and program advisor], gives me the absolute best advice – RUN THE SCENES AS ONE! And reduce the number of setups.
Bruce Speyer, my 1st AD tells me again, reduce my setups and I say yes, of course I know that. I just need to let my imagination roam free before I edit myself because that’s the creative process.
I reduce my setups to 14, and have three as ‘nice to have’s’ and not ‘need to have’s,’ and by the time we get to my shoot, I feel ready.
The shoot itself is great. When I get on set and see the trailers, the Whites truck and the craft truck, I want to cry I’m so freakin’ grateful. Seriously, the currency and power of NSI and the relationships that Byron Martin [production manager for the shoot] had to swing to get all this.
I ask Gail to speak freely on set and suggest ideas, because when am I going to have another opportunity on a set to have someone of Gail’s experience and stature observe me and give me free and open feedback?
She teaches me to reduce the number of axes to reduce the number of setups (although I’m super happy that visually we pushed to grab the setups we got), and to keep the camera super loose and free to swing and grab other people’s close ups in the middle of the scene.
This is invaluable advice that I would have had to learn through mistakes on my own shoots. I’m so lucky that I get to do this through NSI.
My actors are a dream, just as they were in pre-production. They bring colour, grit and violence that sells the scene. There’s so much excitement and incredible energy that makes the six hours whip by.
Tommy Chang is amazing. Peter Benison is fabulous. My camera operators Andreas Evedemon and Jeremy Bernatchez bring artistry and great ideas. The gaffer, Dallas Suess, is an artist with light. The grips – Jordan Hegye, Brandon Lee, Dexter Caleja and Koadie Preston – are supersonic engineers. Daniel Lee is an incredible special effects makeup guy – super fast and does gorgeous work. And Ting-Fang Liu, who does hair, is fantastic.
Our sound guy Brian Newby is humble and super careful, and our boom op Jason Gough never has a boom in shot. I feel like I’m the most blessed of all humans, I really do.
And when I get to the edit, I work with James Bredin at Eggplant and, wow, the facilities are great. James is hilarious and amazing and brings all his own ideas and makes everything better. When we find out that James has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for best editing for Schitt’s Creek, it just feels like all the great energy and blessings are being spread around and I’m just so lucky to be here.
I seriously want to thank NSI and especially Elise Swerhone who felt like a mom, mentor and friend all in one. Thank you for this wonderful and incredible opportunity. I really am the most lucky and blessed human being.
Action, action and more action. This was the theme for the second component of the Shaw Media Diverse TV Director course.
As a female director, this industry has a bias against women directing action. This is why, when asked what sort of scenes we would like to shoot within our workshop, I jumped at the chance to direct more action. I was really looking forward to shooting a long and character-based fight sequence.
Above: Melanie and Randall Okita
Our prep process was very straightforward. After being sent our scenes, my first meeting was with the stunt coordinator. Tommy Chang and I had a good discussion about the story I was telling, the people he had for cast and then we discussed fight styles and he provided a few examples.
One thing that really amazed me was the sound of one of the ‘drills’ that would happen in a class. I loved the sound of the kicking on the pads – it seems to wrap all around you. I used that element of sound to redesign the first scene I had. It was a really great jumping off point.
The day before production we had a tech survey, production meeting and stunt rehearsal. I was well prepared for all of these meetings. I was able to answer all questions, give information related to my shoot plan and roll with the punches within production limitations.
The stunt rehearsal is really where it all took shape. My story became reality and we were able to find layers within the fight. With my shot list printed later that day, I was ready to go.
Above: Melanie with Peter Bension and Bruce Speyer
Sunday morning I hit the floor ready for action. I was very happy with the crew that was put together. Byron Martin did an excellent job. Peter Benison’s lighting of the Dojo was great and the muted tones we were going for looked beautiful.
The camera team that I had to work with truly made the experience better than I could have hoped for. Andreas Evdemon and Jeremy Bernatchez were not only collaborative but their excellent creative instincts really allowed us to work together to achieve a variety of angles in very few set ups.
The shoot was a very smooth, enjoyable process. The crew was very professional. We completed my scenes with a little time to spare.
As a director, I like to be very clear and concise with not only my direction to actors but also with the crew. This exercise allowed me to do just that. I loved the cast that I got to work with. I had chosen Simu Liu to play the main character, Rick. I was very happy to work with him.
Interestingly enough, he is a trained hip hop dancer and not a fighter. This really helped with his [believability] as a fighter. Tommy worked and rehearsed with him and Simu got the choreography fast. The rest of the cast were all trained black belt fighters. Because of this, I was really able to have a wide variety of choreography.
Above: Melanie with Simu Liu
I love the editing process. And here we are, with a four hour window to cut together a number of fight scenes. I know going in that we won’t get to edit it all. So I pick one scene to complete.
James Bredin and I got right into it. I chose the second scene to edit. As we progressed into the first cut I was very happy with the coverage I had. I had many options for each ‘hit’ – not just takes, but in frames as well.
I learned that although you may have excellent coverage of a fight, make sure to keep the story there in coverage. I wish I had a better reaction to the second fighter getting flipped but because the action was so fast, there wasn’t enough time to cut to his face. The scene works without it but it’s something to remind myself of.
Unfortunately we only have one scene cut as that’s all the time allowed. I am now working on sourcing out an editor to finish editing the scenes. Once they are completed, I am also going to get them sound mixed. I am excited to see them all completed.
We got to screen the scenes later on that Tuesday. They were well received. It was also valuable to get feedback and confirmation of my skills.
A huge thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who came out and worked on our crew.
Byron Martin was a perfect addition to pull it all together and what a lovely person he is to work with. Elise, again and as always, helps to create a great learning environment and truly celebrates our accomplishments.
Above: Melanie with Gail Harvey
Gail Harvey, a good friend and an excellent mentor. Until now, there have been many people I have admired for their work and directing style but I can clearly say that Gail Harvey is my mentor. Her love, support and fearless way to honesty have been the most important thing to me. Thank you, Gail. This program is a success because of your involvement.
And lastly, the ever-so-happy Gloria Kim and the visual mastermind Randall Okita what a pleasure it was to share the floor with you. I hope we get to do it again soon.
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Shaw Media Diverse TV Director is an advanced two-phase diversity training course for up to four diverse directors who are female and/or Aboriginal (male or female) and/or a visible minority (male or female) and/or a person with a disability (male or female). The course is designed for participants with directing experience who are interested in making the leap to directing scripted television series.
Shaw Media Diverse TV Director is supported by Presenting Sponsor Shaw Media; Industry Partners the Directors Guild of Canada and the Directors Guild of Canada Ontario; Supporting Sponsors Entertainment One, Super Channel, Corus Entertainment, Breakthrough Entertainment and the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television; and Service Sponsors William F. White International and Clairmont Camera Film & Digital. NSI Core Funders are Manitoba Tourism, Culture, Heritage, Sport and Consumer Protection and the City of Winnipeg through the Winnipeg Arts Council.