ANALYZING MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
editing a powerful action scene
From eliciting a range of powerful emotions in your audience to helping them smoothly interpret and experience a rich story behind a trailer, there are a handful of principles that can help in guiding you to edit better action sequences.
We asked Sankha Wanigasekara, a Content Writer at Medium, about his favorite action movie trailer, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and why it stood out to him:
“To me, it was the perfect encapsulation of the movie franchise’s tone and tenor. The frenetic pace and editing, the oddball and eclectic mix of music, and the splicing of narration and dialogue all spelled ‘CRAZY.’”
Sankha says that a successful action movie trailer captures the tone and ambiance of the film it promotes. When he saw the trailer for Mad Max: Fury Road, it aligned with his expectations for the dystopian world, where all semblance of law and order has disappeared, shaped by the films that came before it.
“The world has lost its mind, and every decision in that trailer reflected it. Choppy and frantic drum beats are timed perfectly with the cuts in action sequences. Sweeping orchestral scores swoon to the despondent musings of Max Rockatansky. And we take the foot off the gas momentarily, in fits and starts, to tease the narrative direction of the movie by just enough.”
I suppose, in many ways, a great action movie trailer is just enough. Just enough of the characters. Just enough of the story. And just enough of the action. Success depends on moderation, even when dealing with a world gone crazy.
the good, the bad, and the ugly
action movie tropes
When we think of movie tropes, most of us immediately think of the action and horror genres. Why is that? Consider this scenario: you’re an average joe, someone is chasing you, and you trip over absolutely nothing. Then, you scramble to grab your phone (insert brand partnership here) only to find that there’s no reception – despite smartphones being more advanced than ever.
Nothing you haven’t heard before, right? That’s because it’s what we’ve seen in countless action and horror movies during the last decade.
Often, it’s still easy enough to enjoy a movie even with a questionable decision here and there, but we never wonder why that is, bringing us to why editing can either make or break a movie – including when the ball isn’t entirely in the hands of the editor, which, unless it’s their own movie, it rarely is.
Jourdan Aldredge, a Writer and the Content Marketing Manager for Soundstripe, shared his roundup of the best and worst tropes seen in action movies:
best action movie tropes
- Dropped frame editing in action sequences to make things more chaotic and hit harder.
- Fight scenes in new and creative locations which use the environment (a la Jackie Chan).
- Red Herring bad guys who end up helping in the final battle.
worst action movie tropes
- Heroes who turn their back on bad guys early in the final battle even though we know they’re not dead yet.
- Shaky camera work as a way to hide poor stunts and fight choreography.
- Fight scenes that haven’t earned the stakes (poor writing results in little audience investment).
Editing an engaging, immersive action scene that still flows well with the greater narrative of a movie can often be broken down into three simple points of focus:
- Pairing different camera angles with notable movements to show an enemy’s action and a defender’s reaction (which also helps make stunts and hits more believable if they’re not exactly on point).
- Cutting to show the facial expressions of characters within each action arc creates a more natural, ‘human’ atmosphere during a stunt-heavy sequence, where it’s easy to get distracted from the story by the ongoing commotion.
- Introducing the location of the fight or battle early on and editing to place emphasis on how the location is being incorporated allows for a more immersive experience.