Techniques to shoot an action sequence with a chase
Action forms the crux of a hard hitting Hindi film story; couple that with an interesting chase and you have a winner. In the first part of our educative segment, we speak to noted cinematographer Ravi.K.Chandran on the key techniques to shoot a power packed action sequence with a chase. The scene in reference is the climax sequence from the Aamir Khan starrer film ‘Ghajini’, shot by Ravi. He shares with us the thought behind the filming of this sequence, the equipment involved and the various techniques used to create a nail-biting chase with gripping action stunts.
“When we discussed the action part we didn’t want to do something that we have done earlier. We were looking at our own films, for example, I had done a complicated chase in Yuva, so we wanted to do something totally new. In Ghajini, it was more than just a chase and the idea was to get the emotion across. Aamir is following the goons and he goes into the alley where he forgets who he is after the fight. So the scene is more about that emotion than just the chase” says Ravi.
A long lens is normally used when you want to create a commotion in the foreground. We use 45 degree shutter angle, crash zooms and opposite tracks, we shoot through cars etc, so there is a kind of pandemonium in the visual. There is a tension that goes in a simple frame also. Sometimes when I shoot and the actors come and see, they wouldn’t have done anything but I would have done all the action through the camera. What we try to do is, even if an actor doesn’t fight aggressively we try to make it look aggressive through camera moves, zooming and tracking.
I preferably shoot action scenes with a long lens. But for Ghajini we went opposite, we used wide angles mostly. If you look at the scenes, the roads are so narrow; we had to get that effect, where the character is getting lost. In Yuva chase, when you are shooting on the road, it is risky to put actors in the middle of the traffic. So in that situation we chose to shoot those things with a long lens that creates an appearance of the actors in between the traffic. In actuality the traffic was not where they were fighting it was around them but it looked like the traffic is moving. Now with the green screen technique we can shoot separately and then add other things later.
WORKING WITH TIGHT SPACES
There are two ways of working with tight spaces, one is if you want to create motion, depth etc. then you need to use wide angle lens. In tight spaces when you use telephoto lens the advantage is that there is a blurr kind of effect that makes the fight look more violent. For example, if someone is fighting in a bathroom, you don’t put a wide angle lens but a slightly tighter lens like 50 mm and shoot, it gives a more claustrophobic feeling because the space is so less. If you use a wide angle lens it still feels like a big space. It depends on the setting of the place.
APPROACH TO SHOOTING IN NARROW SPACES LIKE THE ALLEY
We were using wide angle lens and it was very close to the actor. Aamir was doing that kind of action for the first time so we made sure that the action looks different from the rest of his films. We used 45 degree shutter angle with wide angle approach. It gives a strobic effect and it helped us to achieve the impact. Also mainly the stunt master’s contribution is the biggest thing. They normally come up with something and we see it differently. Good shooting may not be sufficient to look impactful on screen. For a screen impact you need certain punches, certain connectivity to be seen. That is when you feel the pain of the hit. The reaction of the impact has to be seen.
CAMERA SET UP IN OPEN SPACES
We have normally used four cameras. The risk is too much and we can’t have the actors doing these action shots 4-5 times so it’s better to have multiple cameras and capture everything.
TENSION WHEN THE ATTACKER IS CLOSING IN ON THE VICTIM
Most of the times in a chase scene, we try to show the point of view of the attacker as he is getting closer to the escaping character. We use a wide lens and the camera is just behind the character that is running away. It can create a moment of shock. Sometimes we also try to give the character a goal to run towards, like a door. This builds a feeling in the audience that the character might reach there and escape before the attacker catches up. We place the camera in such a way that it is slightly up and just when it is about to reach you speed up the attacker and move into the shot where he grabs the other character.
It all depends on the place where the scene happens. How you build up the scene is in the hands of the director and the editor. As a cameraman, when we shoot, we do certain things that may not be impactful in the final edit. So we have to work with the stunt master or director’s vision. That graph is not in your hand. When you are using multiple cameras you cannot monitor everything, so some second unit will be shooting other bits of something falling, breaking etc. So it is largely in the hands of the stunt coordinator.
[box_light]Aamir had shown us the house in Hyderabad for the shoot and we also thought was the correct place for the villain’s house. It had narrow alleys. So if you shot in one alley also, it looked different from different angles, like a maze of sorts. It was challenging in a way because only one person could run through the alleys. So the steadicam had to run through the very narrow alleys. And we had to light it also and shoot without showing the light. We used wide angle lenses to give that depth. [/box_light]
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