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What It’s Like To Be a Fight Choreographer

A Fight choreographer (sometimes called fight directors) are responsible for mapping out and overseeing sequences of staged combat in a film, a play, or other performances.  A fight choreographer’s job is to make a fight look as realistic as possible while keeping it safe for the actors.  Many films use martial artists to choreograph fight scenes, like Jeff Imada who was the fight choreographer for the movies The Book of Eli and Hannah and many others.

REDD Fight ChoreographerI recently had the opportunity to interview Guro Eric Winfree and ask him a few questions about his behind the scenes experience working as the fight choreographer on the short film REDD.

How did you start the process of designing the fight choreography?

Guro Eric: I worked with the writers and the director to really understand the period of the film. It is set in the 1920’s. I could not use Jeet Kune Do because Bruce Lee had not developed it yet. I really dug deep into the character development to understand their character’s personalities to guide my ideas about how each character would fight. This helped me decide which martial arts style would be the basis for each of the characters fights.

“Knowing the type of character helps me figure out how this person would fight.”

There are two main characters in REDD each has a different background, which makes their style of fighting different.  The first character, Nef, grew up in a hard life and has been fighting for years. He is a street guy, he is a dirty fighter, with an unusual style who uses techniques that you would not normally see. Whereas Damian is just a normal guy who has been thrown into this world of fighting.  He is hard worker, athletic, and strong. He did not grow up fighting and this is all new. So I made his fights more athletic and reactionary.  Damian is more of a counter-puncher who is fighting out of desperation and fear.

How much did you practice before filming?

Guro Eric: We were on a tight schedule, but we did manage to work together for several weeks before filming.  There are three major fight scenes in the movie. So I was choreographing three different scenes simultaneously and we needed to practice all three scenes in a short period of time.  We practiced at our school and it was really great one of our students, Allen, and one of Sifu Tom Moore’s students, Corey, were also in two of the fight scenes.  It made things a bit easier because they know me and the language of martial arts.  Everyone came to rehearsals ready to work and I was very impressed with the actors’ dedication and professionalism. They put 100% into even the simplest of moves.  I gained their respect and trust and I, in turn, have a great deal of respect for them.

As the fight choreographer, what was it like on the set filming?

Guro Eric: Actually filming a fight scene is a lot of work. The actors performed the same scenes over and over and over again. There were multiple takes of the same sequences from various different angles.  The bond that was created between myself and the actors during the rehearsals was evident on set. There was a sense of real collaboration in filming the fight scenes as all of us were committed to keeping the fights authentic and true to the character’s personality.  I gained even more respect for the actors as well as the director, Vaal English.  Filming a fight scene and having it come out as a complete sequence that looks good is not as easy as it looks in the movies.  Everything has to be done just right, the continuity from one shot to the next and from one angle to another has to be just right.  A 3 minute fight scene took about 4 hours to shoot.  It was an absolutely amazing experience that I would love to do again.

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Watch the trailer for REDD.


Jeanne started her martial arts training later in life and has been training at SMAA for over 10 years. She likes all aspects of the martial arts from the physical challenges to the spiritual pursuits of martial etiquette and virtue. She has a master degree in marketing and is currently working on her MBA.

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