Attention action directors: Shaky cam and fast editing needs to go away

This is my rant to action some action directors in Hollywood who thinks that by having shaking cam and fast editing style will make your action scenes look cool. Please stop doing that right now! Those kind of sequences made some of us the viewers dizzy and a lot of times distract us from enjoying your movies.

I tweeted Brad Bird the other day asking him what’s his take on these kind of new style of shooting actions scenes and here’s what he tweeted back:

In the hands of a talented filmmaker (like Greengrass) it can be great. But a lot of hacks use it because they can hide bad staging.”

I agree with what he said 100%, besides Paul Greengrass I don’t believe any other directors has done a good job of shooting those crazy hand held shaking cam action set pieces. It seems like after The Bourne Supremacy came out, there has been an onslaught of action films with unwatchable action sequences.

I wonder if these kind of style are now being taught in film schools or that the studio big bosses are demanding that an action film needs to be done in fast-editing and hand-held-camera style. To me, it seems some of the newer filmmakers tend to take these kind of style to heart, for example I recently saw Safe House which was directed by a new young director Daniel Espinosa. The action scenes he shot were overly-done with that fast editing and shaky cam that I couldn’t really tell what the heck was going on. Another director who seems to love to make people sick while watching his film is Jonathan Liebesman. I dare you to watch his masterpiece pile of poo, Battle: Los Angeles, without getting a little dizzy.

But the worst offender to me was Sly Stallone, he shot so many bad action sequences in The Expendables that I thought he was high on something.

Take a look at this car chase scene from that film, it was so badly-edited and shot that I got dizzy from watching it:

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When I saw it in the theater, I wanted to yell out: “Stallone pull the darn cameras back and let us see what the hell is going on!”  The scene was so tightly-shot and the hand held shaking cam style didn’t help at all. I love car chase scenes but I was begging for this particular one to be over fast. The sad part is, had Stallone and his cinematographer pull the cameras back a little and forgo this overused filmmaking style, that scene could’ve been very exciting to watch.

Another experienced action director who seems to now love this kind of style is Tony Scott. His last few films were pretty bad and the action scenes in those films were even worst. Take a look at the shootout scene from Domino:

If I didn’t know it was Scott who directed it, I would’ve thought it was some amateur filmmaker who tried too hard to make that scene look exiting. I couldn’t even finish watching that scene, I had to fast-forward it because I felt sick watching it. What’s so depressing was that Scott actually shot two similar scenes in his earlier films, True Romance and Enemy of the State, but in those films he did a great job of creating chaos during a shoot out scene in a tight space. And those films were very good while Domino was an awful movie.

Then there are some directors who’s now jumping into doing action films. For example, Marc Forster, who made Quantum of Solace and most of the action scenes in that film were badly shot. With the exception of the opening car chase and the foot chase/shootout during the opera, the rest of set pieces in that film were incomprehensible. Hopefully he’ll do a better job on his next big action film Word War Z. Now I haven’t seen the film yet but I read that in The Hunger Games, Gary Ross used too much of the hand held shaky style on a lot of scenes.

Another director I need to mention is Christopher Nolan (don’t hate me Nolan fanatics, I’m a huge fan of his too), the man still doesn’t know how to shoot a well-crafted action sequence. Apparently Nolan is the only big name director in Hollywood who doesn’t have a true second unit director working for him. He wants to shoot every scene for his films and so he’s there for all of the big action sequences. I love Batman Begins but I thought all of the action scenes in that film were poorly shot and edited. His style improved in The Dark Knight but some of the action scenes in Inception were so-so. Hopefully he’ll give us some great action set pieces in The Dark Knight Rises. Although after seeing the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises last winter, my gut feelings tells me Nolan might still needs to improve his skills as an action director.

I think these directors needs to study how to shoot great and exiting action scenes from the directors such as Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson and Sam Peckinpah. I thought Brad Bird did an amazing job of shooting the action scenes in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, instead of giving us the usual shaky hand-held and fast-editing look, he built the tension up and the results were some very cool and exciting set pieces.

One of my favorite action scenes is from the final shoot out of Extreme Prejudice (which Jack Deth reviewed here), here’s the clip:

The film was directed by Walter Hill and I think this scene should be shown in film school everywhere on how to shoot an action sequence properly. I love this scene and can watch it over and over again. It’s an homage to Peckinpah’s classic The Wild Bunch, which has, in my opinion, the best finale shootout in film history. Check it out here:

Well that’s my rant to Hollywood action directors about shooting bad action sequences. Do you agree that this kind of style needs to go away or do you find them to be quite exciting to watch?