April 25, 2023
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How to Work with Fight Coordinators

Chris Cullari
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Fight coordinators have a very particular set of skills needed to portray characters with a very particular set of skills. Their input and ideas are essential to an action film’s success, whether on a giant superhero movie or a two-fisted indie.

But what’s the best way to work with a fight coordinator? What goes into hiring and collaborating with these experts? To get some answers, we’re taking you straight to the source. 

We sat down with a professional fight coordinator to answer all your most pressing questions about what exactly a fight coordinator does, when to bring them on board, and how they can be most useful to your production.

What does a fight coordinator do?

“We’re not just the guys and girls who fall down. We’re storytellers.” 

That’s according to Ryan Sturz, a professional stunt coordinator and stunt driver (who shares his insights on the four wheeled part of his profession here). With credits ranging from Captain Marvel to Chip ‘n Dale to Childish Gambino’s This Is America video, Ryan has first-hand experience with the kind of stunt fighting that fight coordinators orchestrate on set.

He sees the job of the fight coordinator as another tool in a director’s storytelling toolkit, as powerful and valuable as a cinematographer or production designer. 

Every moment in a fight, every punch thrown and every kick blocked, tells us something about the characters and their journey. Is the fight confident or desperate? Fast or slow? How violent?

How To Work With Fight Coordinators - Wrapbook - Neo
Neo’s attitude tells us everything about his character as he fights his way through The Matrix. SOURCE

A good fight coordinator can help even the most experienced directors dig deeper and answer these questions in ways that make a story unforgettable.

But before we get any further, let’s define some terms:

What is a fight coordinator?

A fight coordinator is an expert who specializes in designing, planning, and executing fight sequences for film and TV productions. Unlike a stunt coordinator, who handles all types of action scenes, a fight coordinator focuses exclusively on fights. 

Fight coordinators work closely with the director and actors to determine the specific moves, tone, and pacing of each fight sequence, and ensure that it fits into the overall story. In addition, fight coordinators are responsible for the safety of the performers involved in the fights.

Fight coordinator vs. fight choreographer

In some cases, a fight coordinator and a fight choreographer may be one and the same - but depending on a film’s needs, these can be two separate roles. For instance, if a fight requires knowledge of a specific martial art, or if there are multiple large fights that are too much for one person to handle, a fight choreographer might be brought in. 

The choreographer would then work hand in hand with the coordinator to design stunt fighting sequences in detail and/or train the actors to perform them. 

Fight coordinator vs. stunt coordinator

It’s also important to remember there’s a big difference between fight coordinators and stunt coordinators. The stunt coordinator is the department head, responsible for all stunts from explosions to car chases, and the fight coordinator reports to them. 

On a smaller film, you may find yourself combining roles and hiring a stunt coordinator who serves as their own fight coordinator - but never the other way around. That would be like hiring a camera operator without hiring a cinematographer. 

And heads up: stunt coordinators may ask for steeper day rates than fight coordinators due to their comprehensive knowledge and experience.

Do I need a fight coordinator?

Does your movie have a fight in it? This could be anything that involves any degree of physical contact or risk to the performers or crew; from a few punches in a bar fight to an incredible show-stopping brawl.

If the answer is “yes,” then you need a fight coordinator.

The more pertinent question might be -

When do I need to hire a fight coordinator?

“As early in pre-production as possible,” according to Ryan. “The second call, after the cinematographer.”

In fact, Ryan suggests bringing a fight coordinator to early location scouts if you want to maximize your coordinator’s effectiveness. They’ll not only suggest ways to build a fight scene around each unique environment, but they’ll also be able to troubleshoot in advance. Are the walls sturdy enough for someone to get thrown into? Can holes be drilled to accommodate stunt wiring? 

The needs of the fight sequences will probably extend beyond location concerns, into scheduling, shot listing, and casting decisions - so the earlier you bring your fight coordinator into the conversation, the better they (and you!) can plan for anything that might come up.

For instance, you’ll want to know as soon as possible if the fights are going to require the cast to get physical. If so, how physical? Will they need to learn choreography? Undergo rigorous training? 

For some actors, stunt fighting might be a perk. For others, it might be a nightmare. 

How To Work With Fight Coordinators - Wrapbook - Scott Adkins
It’s unlikely that Brian Cox would sign up for this. SOURCE

Coming on early also gives the fight coordinator the chance to go deep on the script with the director and align their visions. After they’ve read, they might want to have a meeting to talk through each sequence.

The director will give their notes (“This fight is too big on the page, we need to tone it down,” or “This character would never fight inside their father’s home - I wonder how we could stage it outside.”), and the coordinator can offer their insights. 

According to Ryan, some scripts may not even have the action written out beyond “A big fight happens,” in which case, it’s all hands on deck to figure out what will ultimately be seen on screen.

Budget for what the fight sequences may need during your production

Once your fight coordinator is hired and discusses the script with the director, they’ll break the script down with the stunt coordinator and go over their needs with the UPM. These needs may include weapons, costuming, makeup, camera equipment, and safety gear. 

This is where communication with other department heads becomes essential. 

For instance, certain martial arts require a greater degree of movement than James Bond’s perfectly tailored suits may allow for. If that’s the case, the costume department will have to create suits tailored for specific sequences. This could be a looser crotch for high kicks or more room in the shoulders to make it easier to throw punches without ripping the stitching.

How To Work With Fight Coordinators - Wrapbook - James Bond
Good luck stunt fighting in regular pants. SOURCE

Or maybe multiple doubles will be portraying a character at different moments in a fight. Those doubles will need to be fitted with their own wigs, makeup, shoes, and other accouterments at a cost of time and money. 

Fight coordinators often find themselves collaborating with the art department, too. Every time something breaks during a fight - a bottle, a table, a window - that’s a special breakaway prop that needs to be provided.

As with any shoot, you don’t want to be calculating those costs on the day. You want your fight coordinator to be thinking through and planning these elements with the entire production weeks in advance. 

Budget for safety

Stunt fighting is exactly that: a stunt. No one should ever get hurt in pursuit of an awesome looking move. A good fight coordinator will make sure your cast and crew is safe every step of the way. 

How To Work With Fight Coordinators - Wrapbook - Raid 2
Believe it or not, this is totally safe. Or can be, with the right fight coordinator. SOURCE

While smart planning and careful coordination play a big part in keeping people safe, some safety measures cost money. Depending on what the script calls for, your fight coordinator will include line items like stunt bags, wire rigs, knee or elbow pads, and additional medical personnel in their budget breakdown. 

Don’t be surprised when you see these items, and don’t cut corners!

Work with your fight coordinator to achieve your storytelling goals

Of course, while your fight coordinator is tending to safety measures and collaborating with other departments, you need to make sure you’re achieving your storytelling goals. Make sure you’re touching base with them as script changes are made or new ideas come up.

It’s not unusual for character arcs to be shaped by various elements in pre-production - and in an action movie, some of those character changes need to be reflected in the fights. Maybe you’ll even find exciting ways to reveal story twists or tie some foreshadowing into a battle. 

Whatever the case, you need to make sure to convey to your fight coordinator what you want from the fight sequences and how they fit into the larger narrative. This can help ensure that your fights are not only safe and well-executed, but also contribute to the overall quality of your production.

Ryan points out that because many modern stunt professionals are filmmakers themselves (with careers built at least partially on sites like YouTube), it’s easier than ever to have his stunt fighting teams give directors options. His teams often include at least one videographer and one editor to shoot and cut pre-viz videos for the director to try out or approve various camera angles and blocking. 

Wrapping up

Hiring a fight coordinator is an essential step for any production that includes fight sequences. By understanding the responsibilities of a fight coordinator, knowing when to hire one, budgeting for their needs, and communicating effectively, you can ensure that your fights are not only safe, but thrilling and impactful.

If you’re putting together an action film, be sure to check out our related article with Ryan, How to Hire a Stunt Driver. And maybe take a look at our guide to film production insurance, too…just in case.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Chris Cullari

Chris Cullari is a writer/director based out of Los Angeles. His most recent film, THE AVIARY, is available for streaming on Paramount Plus and Showtime. You can find him tweeting about monsters, pro-wrestling, and horror movies.

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