Approaching Monster and Action ScenesEvery scene in a film has its own unique requirements, whether they involve a short exchange of dialogue or a long action set piece. Monster or action scenes should never receive any special treatment. They should be approached the same way you would approach every other scene. You must make sure that they actually serve the story and move the characters forward. If they do both of those things, then you are free to design your fun and impressive action sequence.

  • Beginning and Endgames: The first thing to do when beginning work on an action or monster scene is to figure out how the scene starts, and then how it ends. You must have a clear idea of how the characters will get out of the situation they’re in – that’s assuming they do. Think about what the characters are trying to achieve during the scene, and about the physical environment around them. In the case of a monster scene, you want the location to be more than just something cool to look at. It needs to be there to serve a purpose, instead of just suddenly appearing in the story for no valid reason. Make sure that you’re not forcing the scene into the script just because you’ve sat down to write an action movie and you haven’t had a big set piece for 20 pages. If the beginning and the end come to you naturally, then you know you’re ready to start building the scene.
  • Obstacles and More Obstacles: Assuming that your characters are the main focal point of the scene, then they need to have obstacles thrown in their path. Just keep throwing obstacles at them until you’re satisfied and the characters have either successfully overcome them or failed completely. Just remember that this is a story about people, and that applies even in a big monster scene. If you forget about the characters and just aim to make an arresting image, you may find when you look back over the completed scene that there are a lot of superfluous shots. You may even find that the scene has served no purpose at all and you’ve wasted your time. So make sure that your characters have goals, and then throw obstacles in their way. That could even include your monster attempting, for example, to climb a large building but being impeded by the army.
  • Storyboarding: When you’re satisfied with the scene you have in your script, it’s now time to storyboard it. Many directors such as Christopher Nolan are now only using storyboards when it’s absolutely necessary, and doing mainly shot lists on an annotated script. This is fine with a very simple scene, but when it comes to an action or monster scene it’s important to have the image down on paper. This can either be done by you, or by a storyboard artist if you don’t think you’re sketches will present the right idea. A storyboard will allow you to visualize the scene in much more detail, and will give the rest of the crew a chance to see how the scene will look. The director of photography, production manager, and art director will all want to have a look at the storyboards so they can start preparing to shoot the scene well in advance. You may also find, while getting it down on paper, that you have a few shots you don’t really need, which allows you to really tighten the scene.
  • Visual Effects, or the Real Deal: When the time finally arrives to shoot your big action or monster scene, you will have to decide which images will be computer generated and which will be shot in-camera. Many Hollywood blockbusters are now opting to shoot entirely in front of a green screen; whereas other directors – such as the aforementioned Christopher Nolan – like to keep things in-camera as much as possible. Remember that the real thing always looks better than a visual effect, so try to keep it real if you are capable and have room in the budget. Of course, if you’re doing a monster scene, then the monster in question will need to be a visual effect. In this case, you’ll have to communicate well with the crew about the look and feel of your monster. Remember that special effects shots are expensive, so the scene needs to be locked before you reach this stage. In any case, try to be practical and shoot in-camera when it’s better to have a visual effect, and visa versa.
  • Never Forget the Story: No matter what is happening in the scene, whether you have two robots fighting it out in the middle of a major city or two guys fighting in a bar, each scene must move the story forward. Always take your characters into consideration when designing each scene, so that your audience remains emotionally involved. There are few things that can make an audience feel colder than an unnecessary action scene that comes out of nowhere. The story and the characters are the most important thing, and if your action or monster scene involves them both, then you will have an engrossing scene that will keep your viewers on the edge of their seats.