Communication, commitment, honesty, reliability, ability.
As the fight director on a production you are responsible for the safe and dramatically interesting staging of theatrical violence. In order to achieve this goal, you must approach your duties with a professional integrity which begins even before the first rehearsal.
The job offer. “Hi Carter how are you doing? How are things? Are you busy? Blah blah… we’re doing this show, and we need a fight coordinator… blah blah” and then it comes “We don’t have much money.”
Arranging your contract
Before beginning work on any production it is essential that at least some elements of the contract have been hammered out between the FD and the company’s producer or administrator. In film this can be the line producer, the production manager or sometimes with the producer directly. On low budget short films etc. it’s quite often with the director who is also assuming the mantle of producer. In theatre productions this can be with the stage manager, or production manager. Often in theatre the actual physical contract comes from the theatre company’s general manager.
In Scotland a verbal contract is binding however it may be difficult to prove what has been said and may cause confusion or awkwardness if you have nothing in writing. An email or a letter confirming details may be all that is needed and in my experience this is usually confirmed by the production. *I often find when dealing with college’s that two or more people seem to be giving me my remit, and in these circumstances, for the sake of clarity you should state by email cc’ing in the relevant parties what you believe the job is that you are being asked to perform.
When initially discussing contracts you should cover in some detail the hours which you will be required to work, the style of the fights within production, the weapons and details of the fights you are being asked to stage, the amount of rehearsal, the time scale of rehearsal, the location of rehearsals and of course the amount of payment.
Arranging a contract is a two way thing. You are responsible for the safe staging of fights so when arranging a contract if you start to hear alarm bells or doubt the motives of the company or person you are dealing with then don’t be afraid to walk away or to doubly re-state your point. Make sure that you are happy with the agreement, with the hours and with the safety aspects of the job.
Most of the time, including for BBC gigs, my contract comes in after the production has completed. Don’t be alarmed at this, but if you are nervous about the job for whatever reason, you should confirm the details yourself.
Job description. Some companies will want to place a full job description on the contract, others may just put “fight director” and leave it at that. This differs from company to company, but if you are unsure of the requirements expected of you then ask for a clarification.
Meetings and Discussions
As mentioned above the first meeting is often the one at which you arrange details of a contract and find out the basic parameters of the job. At all meetings notes should be taken as you never know when that information will be useful.
Typical meetings or discussions expected of a fight director include:
1/ Designer or design department. Find out about the surfaces you will be fighting on, the props and the set elements that may be involved and discuss anything at all that may come into play.
2/ The props department on film or television will be responsible for weapons etc. If the production utilizes firearms then you will want to meet the armorer but generally speaking props (or stage management in theatre) will be responsible for production weapons such as knives, baseball bats etc. You should discuss the characteristics of weapons and/ or their stand ins. The props guys are your friends. They have a tough job, but often they carry the safety mats and weapons that you will require. I especially like to get to know the props department when working on any production. They can make your life easy or they can make your life hard.
3/ Wardrobe – The Costume Department should be informed of the necessary safety requirements. They may require hiding padding or knee braces etc under the costume. They may have to provide specific safety gear such as gloves and they may also require to have doubles of costumes for fights which involve potentially getting dirty. You will have to discuss footwear with them also. Many costume departments regard the FD as a pain in their ass. They don’t generally budget for doubles of costumes and feel you should personally pay for their special expenses. Please bear in mind that if you are pressured by costume department for this sort of thing you should bring it to the attention of production. It is assumed that you will provide some padding for production but this could get out of hand and really kill any profit if Costume start taking the piss. It can literally be a nightmare when it comes to costume, but it entirely depends on the experience of the Costume department and the budget restraints placed on them. NB Some Costume departments in film and television get really annoyed when you referred to them as Wardrobe. I literally have no idea why this is but be warned.
4/ Lighting – More specifically for theatre but make sure there is sufficient light and that any cross lighting does not blind the actors.
5/ Director – It is essential that you discuss the director’s requirements with him/ her prior to speaking to anyone else. It is the director’s vision (often combined with a producers vision) which you are assisting to come to fruition. A good director will heed the advice of the FD. You should never expect this to be the case. Getting listened to on set and being given respect by all departments all stems from your relationship with the director.
6/ A good DOP may wish to discuss elements of the fight in order that he/ she can shoot it in the best manner. That said they will generally shoot what they want and will sometimes disregard you. Don’t be upset by this. They often know what they are doing and will turn to you if they have an issue.
7/ The Producers, 1st Ad or other production personnel may also appreciate a word from you even if only to confirm they are not required or as an introduction. Certainly you should make yourself known to the 1st AD as soon as you are on set.
8/ The Armorer. Find the armorer. Speak to them before hand or even before the shoot day. Talk through exactly what they are providing. Liaise and trust the armorer. They are another freelancer possibly on for the day too. They will appreciate your support and you can back each other up when it comes to safety.
9/ Special Effects. In my experience this is often the armorer, but just as often it’s a separate team. Sometimes props have been landed with it. Discuss everything with them beforehand. As with the props guys mentioned above they will sometimes have thought of solutions to problems you may not even have seen coming.
10/ Makeup – Blood and bruises can be a drag. Discuss with makeup any injuries they have already shot on. So when shooting a film out of sequence if they’ve shown a bruise on the left cheek, you need to deliver a hit that would cause that bruise. Also blood application during filming can be tricky, and most of all time consuming. Bring the 1st AD into this chat or report to them what you have discussed with makeup. In theatre terms of course its the stage management department you will be talking to.