Technology. Fantastic and futuristic technology — it makes our lives easier, right? While it may help the film business by lowering the cost of shooting, it can also make things more difficult. No one knows this better than the action actor, or stunt person.
The takes are getting longer and “cut” is being called fewer times than “go again.” This becomes a safety concern when you have physical action in the scene.
First, we have the problem of the extended take. We can all walk and talk at the same time (well, most of us anyway) but acting and doing choreographed action is a different story. While it may be simple enough to do in smaller segments, as the shots get longer, the more difficult it becomes. The brain goes into overload, trying to remember lines, intentions and what you are supposed to be doing physically, resulting in mistakes. These mistakes range from mild — messing up a line or walking the wrong way — to dangerous — forgetting your choreography and crossing into the path of gunfire or pyro.
Another issue concerns continuous takes. When you are asked to go again right away, sometimes without the camera even cutting, there is a sense of urgency that can cause accidents. Going again, without different direction, without time in between to reassess and rest, increases the likelihood of muscle fatigue and injury. In addition, there are long-term, wear-and-tear effects when having to do the action more times than necessary.
The key to addressing these issues is communication. Make sure that you feel safe, and communicate with the stunt coordinator or 1st A.D. if you do not. You can ask for a moment to collect yourself and make sense of any changes. If you are feeling tired and worn out, you can let the A.D., stunt coordinator or director know that you only have a few more takes in you or that you need a break. Anticipate your fatigue because if you push it too far, your chances of getting hurt go up dramatically. Finally, make sure that people are communicating with you, that you know why you are going again and what your new acting/physical direction is.
Just because technology is no longer limiting us, doesn’t mean that we don’t have limits. If everyone respects those limitations, we can enjoy safe working conditions for years to come.