on November 21, 2013

I love a good action movie, and more than just for the adrenaline rush.

I use action movies as guides to choreograph action scenes in my books. For example, ARROW.

Okay, backtrack a minute … ARROW is one of those shows I really didn’t like when I started watching it, but I was compelled to watch. It’s really a rather simple show on the surface — billionaire presumed dead returns home after five years a changed man. He becomes a vigilante to avenge his father’s murder and rescue his city from the clutches of evil. It’s a quasi-super hero show, but the super-hero is all human (though possibly genetically enhanced.)

But it started slow, the characters weren’t all that great, and there was a kind of one-sidedness to each show.

Yet … I watched because of the action scenes.

The choreography and stunts were really good, and felt real. The longer I watched, the more invested I became with the characters, and by the midpoint of Season One, I found myself looking forward to each new episode. The characters grew, they became more complex, and–honestly–the actors improved as well, as if they’d finally slipped into the roles as real people instead of just actors. It just … clicked.

But it’s still the action that takes the show to the next level.

I remember when I wrote THE KILL, my third book, and got back the revision letter from my editor. She called me and we discussed the book. There was a part near the end where my heroine, Olivia, is held captive by the bad guy. They’re driving down a winding mountain road and he has a gun on her, forcing her to drive. The police are in pursuit. The jumps from the car, it crashes, the bad guy is caught.

My editor felt the scene went too fast and suggested that Olivia go for the gun and have something happen to prolong and increase the suspense.

I considered her suggestion, but it just didn’t work. Not for my character. Olivia didn’t like guns. She couldn’t pass the firearm proficiency test and therefore wasn’t a sworn FBI agent, switching over to lab work. Guns made her nervous. She wouldn’t go for the gun. But I sat down with my husband, had him hold a water pistol on me, and no matter how I tried to get it away from him, I ended up wet (read: dead.)

It wasn’t plausible. It wouldn’t work.

However, I came up with another idea. She still tried to get out of the car, but he pulls her back in, drops the gun, but pulls out a knife and cuts her. He holds a knife to her side while forcing her to drive. This gave me the opportunity to dig deeper into his psyche and have Olivia ask questions, have him explain his reasons. Then the next time she jumps out, she doesn’t make the mistake of “warning” him by braking. She makes the decision to open the door and jump out while the car is still moving. At great personal risk, but if she got off the mountain with him–she’d be dead, anyway.

Acting out the scene helped me figure out what worked and what didn’t work. Getting into Olivia’s head, and the killer’s, also helped me figure out what they would each do when confronted by obstacles in their path.

Watching actions movies helps in a similar way. I file away the information of how people move, what weapons they choose to use based on who they are and what’s at hand. I can see what’s possible and what’s not, and often go back to watch a favorite episode again.

PERSON OF INTEREST is another great show to analyze fight choreography, especially with the use of buildings and instincts (without the superhero cloak.) THE MATRIX, most James Bond movies, and the reboot of STAR TREK (Spock and Kahn fighting on top of the transport — great stuff!) There are many more … what’s one of your favorite action movies or action sequences?