We turned to our favorite Game Master, Jon Verrall, to give us some pointers about the finer points of creating the best LARP experience. Beyond just knowing everything this is about LARPing, Jon is also the executive producer of the series. Check out all the new episodes of LARPs: The Series here on Geek & Sundry.
Seen LARPs Season Two, Episode Seven yet? Go ahead. I’ll wait. (You probably want to watch the rest of the series, first, though. It’ll take about two hours to see everything.)
Okay. You’ve seen the fight between Brittany’s character, Corillia, and Evan’s NPC, the Executioner (with a timely tag-in from Will’s ranger, Biff). Let me take you through how that fight came to be on our webseries, from start to finish.
The open secret about fights seen in television, movies, and yes, even webseries, is that they bear little resemblance to actual fighting. Go attend a LARP in your local area and see how the sword fighting looks. It’s quick, short, and efficient. Real fights don’t tell stories or convey emotion as well as set fights, so we exaggerate for the sake of the show.
First up are the actors involved in this one fight: Scott Humphrey, Charlotte Rogers, and me. We all had months of training as stage combatants before LARPs even shot a single frame—hours upon hours of classes teaching unarmed and armed fighting with the goal of looking awesome without hurting anyone. (We did this while studying acting at university, years ago.)
Now, throw in Shawn Baichoo, our fight choreographer (and also Harold, one of the Steampunkers). From fight performance to direction to motion capture, it’s Shawn’s job to work with the actors to create a fight that is visually interesting and emotionally true.
It’s not enough to have cool costumes and props: fight choreography is part movement piece and part dance. It’s not interesting to see people just swing at each other; how do you mix up a fight? There’s a bunch of different ways (and we’ll see more before the season’s done), but here’s some examples of how we spiced up the fight in choreography for “Last Breath.”
- Arsenal: Brittany has her staff, but also her spells; Will has his arrows and his longsword. Evan as the Executioner is a walking tank, wielding a halberd, a kama, a katana, three throwing knives, and a crossbow. Characters switch weapons often throughout the fight, keeping the action fresh. Brittany even steals two of Evan’s knives and uses them against him!
- Attacks: We don’t just try to slash at each other. We trap and bind weapons, disarm opponents, feint, and beat. Some attacks are parried, some dodged, and some even land.
- Distance and Time: The fight doesn’t all take place at the same rhythm and range. Sometimes the combatants are far apart; sometimes they pause to catch their breaths or feel out their opponents, and sometimes attacks come fast and furious.
We set it up early by giving the combatants a reason to fight, with their own stakes. Those emotions are placed into the fight itself; a fight where people are slinging insults back and forth feels a lot differently than a character’s life-or-death struggle.
But here’s where it gets complicated. First, the fight was introduced in the script:
A screenshot of the LARPs shooting script.
Brittany has a compelling reason to fight Evan one-on-one—we’ve been building it throughout Season Two—even though she doesn’t really have anything against her brother personally. Evan, as the GM, feels responsibility to his game, so he’s obligated to fight hard (the Executioner is positioned as the “big bad” of the season to this point).
Obviously, some elements of the fight changed from the script. That’s where Julian Stamboulieh, the director, came in. During fight rehearsals (done months in advance of shooting), he worked with Shawn to give the fight the tone he wanted for the episode (as well as insight into the environment we’d be shooting in). Joe Baron, the director of photography, offered his input on how he’d shoot the fight.
When it came time to actually shoot, we needed the entire crew on board. It took two shooting days to get the full coverage we needed for the fight in temperatures barely above freezing. Performing fights can be stressful, because there’s so much that can go wrong, so everyone has to be on their game. I’m not even going to try to name everyone involved during the shoot, but I can say as one of the actors involved, I’m extremely thankful that everyone supported me so much on a very tough day.
Julian is also the editor, so he has to create a coherent fight from all the different camera angles and shots we got during filming. Not done yet, though: he’s gotta work with our colourist, Alexis Vanier. They desaturated the beginning of the episode to give it a bleak, dramatic feel—the color palette warms once Will wins the fight.
Shawn Baichoo (chorographer), Zak Thriepland (props/costumes), and a tired Executioner. (Photo credit: Jon Woods)
Watching is cool, but fights can feel empty or fake without good sound. In comes Matt R. Sherman. We wore wireless microphones to capture our performance, but even with the mixing wizardry Matt can give us, some sounds need to be created. Alekxandra, our foley artist, created sounds missing from the original recording to really spice things up. You can hear the sound of a sword slicing through the air or hitting leather armor. Even our footsteps needed to be thrown in there to complete the illusion.
And then, underneath all of that, Michael Shlafman wrote and conducted the score, giving the fight a lonely feel with a solo cello before driving up the excitement once Will shows up. He needed to make sure that the music matched the pace of the fight—it was written specifically for this scene.
And our producer, Benjamin Warner, needed to find all these people and make sure they had everything they needed to do their jobs.
For only a couple of minutes of screen time, hundreds of person-hours were spent to make sure that the fight told the story we wanted. I love the end result, but it sure wasn’t easy!
Feature Image Credit: Jon Woods