Seven tips on improving shootout scenes

Want to improve your shootout or action scene? Sometimes I get requests from young filmmakers on how to make a shootout scene look good. My best recommendation is to hire a real FX technician, but what if you are on a small budget? I recently started responding to an “indie” filmmaker and ended up with a long list that even surprised me. If you are in the same situation, here is part of that list of “Proven techniques to improve any bullet hit scene” – using any type of exploding squib, safe air squib or even CGI hits. Amazingly, even if the tips are tested in hundreds of productions, way before even CGI-hits were developed, these ideas will work nicely in such situations too!

Here is the list:
1) Add plenty of sound effects. Add many more sound effects than visible hits on the actor. Have lots of shots firing, but it is only necessary to ”show”
a hit for every 3-6 sounds of a gun fired. This will make it seem like more hits.

2) Have the actor act with many jerking motions as he/she was riddled with many hits, even if you only actually SEE a few hits.

3) Have the surroundings behave as if that was hit by stray bullets to lure the viewer’s eye away from the lack of blood hits on the actor.
If you are on a budget and cannot afford a real FX technician, you can use fishing lines and compressed air, and even people behind set pieces dropping paintings, knocking over props, breaking mirrors (from the back with a small hammer etc) and use breakaway bottles etc. It is also common to rig mouse traps to throw things around in the background. Maybe try shaking a bush or pulling off wires in trees if you are outdoors. Paint out fishing lines in post-production if you did not hide them well enough when filming.

4) Have the actor do dramatic things. Fall backwards, into bushes, onto balsawood props, drop breakaway bottles, fall into ponds or – my
favourite – lean with a bloody head onto a wall or window (be VERY careful here and take precautions not to break it – preferably use plastic polycarbonate etc) , slowly smearing the surface with stage blood as the talent ”slides” down.

5) When editing, cut to scenes of splattering blood on a wall or on other actors. This can be done with stage blood in a hand sprayer – or even with a handful of stage blood swung toward the wall etc. (additional tip – practise with water that dries quickly). This way, you don’t need to show the hit, but leaves that to the imagination of the viewer.

6) If you want to film the actor lying ”dead” after the attack, add extra bullet holes (20-50 % more) and blood splashes when filming him
”dead” on the ground. This will make people more impressed – but ”don’t overdo it” of course. You cant show a guy shot twice, and then
show him dead with a hundred holes…

7) Heavy editing. Cut quickly between other actions. Close-up of the victim’s face in agony, a car passing by with a scared driver,
screeching tyres, muzzle flames, evil shooter smiling triumphantly, people’s phones tapping in ”911″, and simply the victim contorting
and holding the arm, chest or stomach as if in pain.

Good luck with your filming!