How to script and film a dynamic chase scene

How to script and film a dynamic chase scene

How to script and film a dynamic chase scenes

 

Chase scenes are an excellent way to create energy and excitement to your movies but are notoriously difficult to script, setup and shoot not to mention dangerous if done improperly.  The chase scene is the meat and potatoes of any action movie so without further ado, let’s talk about the ins and outs of filming a chase scene.

So to start with let’s set up some ground rules for a chase scene.  In general, the protagonist should usually be running away from the antagonist in a chase scene because because more suspense is created when someone is running away.  What’s scarier, you chasing someone or someone chasing you?  Of course you are always welcome to break the rules and try new things, but there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the tried and true way of doing things.

Now let’s talk about the flow and structure of a chase scene.  Basically, a chase scene is comprised of three parts:

  1. Build-up
  2. Breakthrough
  3. Climax

The build-up is used to build-up the action before the real chase actually begins.  It creates tension and sets the tone for the rest of the sequence for the audience.  The antagonist starts to realize that they are being chased and the situations for the remaining two scenes are set up.  Maybe he picks up a phone or weapon, or sees an opening in traffic, then abruptly heads down an alley or darts through traffic in order to lose their pursuant and the chase is on!

The breakthrough is when the antagonist tries to break away from the protagonist and chase really starts to heat up.  This is the place to continue building tension and using speed and action in preparation for the climax.  You should start to ramp up the action with running, jumping, driving, colliding with things, jumping over or around things and really anything you can come up with.   Be creative with your action and don’t be afraid to try new things, it can really add to the appeal of the scene and your whole film but remember to save the biggest and best stuff for the climax.

Finally, it’s time for the climax of the chase scene.  This is where the protagonist is either caught or escapes the antagonist and that allows the story to continue.  This is the time when you can really ramp up the action to an extreme.  Heavy gun play, car crashes, explosions, hand to hand fighting.  This is where anything goes so be creative and make it as exciting as possible!

Now that we have the action sequences scripted or at least hashed out, let’s talk about the actual shots.  This is a good time to start storyboarding if you haven’t already begun to do so.  Let’s talk about a couple of different shots, the closeup, medium and wide shot in regards to shooting chase scenes.

Each kind of shot is designed to give the audience some kind of information.  For example, a closeup of the driver could be used to show the anxiety or determination on their face, where as a medium or wide shot may be used to show the speed or action of the chase.  The use of multiple shots and camera angles really complicates things and makes shooting good chase scenes more difficult.

Examples of closeup shots:

  • Putting it in gear
  • Looking in the rear view mirror
  • Tires spinning out
  • Foot on the gas pedal
  • OTS – hands on the steering wheel
  • Profile of driver (closeup or extreme closeup)
  • The gauges of the car, revving or the speed gauges
  • A closeup of the driver with the other cars int he shot

Examples of medium shots:

  • Passing by other cars

Examples of wide shots:

  • Car driving towards the camera
  • Police car driving away
  • Car from behind

 

 

So let’s set up these shots into a sequence now.  An example sequence might go something like this:

  • Closeup: Putting the car in gear
  • Closeup: Pressing the gas pedal
  • Closeup: Tires spinning
  • Wide shot: Car driving towards the camera
  • Medium shot: Driving past other cars
  • Closeup: hands on the steering wheel
  • Closeup: Driver checking mirror
  • Wide shot: Police driving away
  • Closeup: Profile of driver
  • Wide shot: Car from behind

It’s important to remember that a chase scene shouldn’t be shot in the sequence order.  It would be completely impractical and a huge waste of time to do that.  Instead, shoot all of the wide angle scenes at one time, all the medium scenes at one time and so on.

With a chase scene, the action is happening faster so that audience will be thinking faster as well so it should be okay to make faster cuts.  When making your sequence be sure to switch up the angles you are working with.  You would want to show a combination of closeup shots mixed with medium and wide angle shots because the latter two are the one that really show speed.

If you want to shoot a good car chase scene and can’t think of how to sequence it try taking a look at the Fast and Furious series or another good car action movie like Gone in 60 Seconds, and Bond film or the Bourne series of films.  They all have excellent examples of chase scenes and should help you get the creative juices flowing.

Sound is also a very important factor is any chase scene.  The crashing, revving engine, screeching tires, screaming bystanders all help make tension and subconsciously draws that audience into the chase.  And don’t forget about the music.  Typically a fast-paced piece of music would work best for any chase scene.

 

Keep it real, exciting and above all keep it safe!

 

Here are additional resources for you to watch and learn how to shoot chase scenes.

How to shoot a fast driving scene without driving fast: