Monthly Archives: March 2014

From Punching In to Rabbit Punching!

“Hey, I heard you do martial arts. Would you be interested in doing some fight choreography?”

This phrase began my involvement as a fight choreographer in Haphead. Director Tate Young and I met during post-production on the feature Ghosts With Shit Jobs, and now we were having some pints and discussing a new web-series that he was involved in, written by Ghosts writer Jim Munroe. Now, I’m a composer by trade (and that is why Tate originally called me), but here was an opportunity to also develop and choreograph a fight sequence. As a longtime fan of martial arts and fighting in the movies with a 3rd degree in Shotokan Karate, I couldn’t pass it up.

Rabbit punches – Overgrowth, and early design considerations

Rabbits Fighting in the Overgrowth videogame
Rabbits Fighting in the videogame Overgrowth

As Tate and I began to discuss the parameters of the fight, it became clear that this was going to have some unique twists. The concept of the series is that in a not-too-distant future, people called “Hapheads” learn deadly fighting skills by playing video games. We used footage from the game Overgrowth, which features bi-pedal jackrabbits kicking the crap out of each other. Fun! Tate and crew wanted the fight to reflect the game, so my first order of business was to answer the question: “what style do oversized ninja bunnies fight in?”

With their wrapped hands in “high guard” position and use of kicks and knees, the answer was a kick-boxing and Muay Thai mix. For our heroine to realistically beat her foe, she needed to utilize a practical, direct and brutal style that focused on a good defence and getting the job done.

Characterization and style

Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger

Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger

It’s amazing how much you can tell about a person by how they punch you in the face. This fight would be between Maxine, the protagonist of Haphead, and her evil factory supervisor (who I would portray). For Maxine, I wanted to create a sense of her street-smarts and determination. She stays protected and doesn’t take big chances. She picks the moves with the best percentage, and looks for weaknesses in her stronger opponent. For the supervisor, I imagined a very self-controlled, disciplined and rigid attitude. He would be imposing and powerful, but if you found the chinks in his armour, you could topple this giant. Knowing this, I decided the fight would be tight, dirty, and brutal – not your showy Kung-Fu style (think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) but more like something out of the Bourne Identity.

Bourne Identity

Bourne Identity

Elements of the fight

I reminded myself that a movie fight was not like real combat. Much of my Karate training is focused on trying not to telegraph movements, but a filmed fight needs the actors to really show the moves. One, so the audience can see, and two, for the safety of your colleagues – they have to be able to see and react to what’s coming. I’m used to taking a shot now and then, but this was not something I could ask of my partner. Safety and proper stage combat technique was the first priority and part of the design. Strikes would not only be pulled, but fall far short of their target (by up to a foot), and rely instead on camera angles, the actor’s reactions, and sound effects for realism. The ‘victim’ (or receiver of the technique) would always be in control, especially for anything involving a choke or a throw.

We were designing a fight for a no-budget trailer with limited rehearsal time, so I built my concept knowing the fight would need to be achievable (easily memorized, within the actors abilities).

Budget limitations place no boundaries on imagination, and so special attention was paid to bringing out the details that would make the fight look unique, such as stance, hand position, and more realistic, less flashy combinations.

From Zero to Badass in 90 minutes – The Rehearsal

With the fight sequence planned out, Elysia, our lead, Anthony, the producer, Tate and I met at a dance studio to rehearse the choreography and work out potential shots and camera movement. Elysia, who had no real martial arts experience, threw herself into the work and was a quick study. I gave her a crash course in martial movement, and then we started running the sequence. She had an impressive muscle memory and a great work ethic, and after an intense 90 minute session, she looked like she knew what she was doing.

Bring the Pain – The Shoot

We shot indoors on a frigid February evening after an already long shoot day. The actual choreography took just over a minute to run through, but of course to get all the angles and takes, we shot for around 3 hours. It was exhausting work, and as we got tired, keeping the energy up was a challenge, as was making sure we stayed safe. At one point, I missed distance on one counter-attack and popped Elysia on the nose, but she took it like soldier and later returned the favor by accidentally kneeing me in face.

Adrian right after getting accidentally smoked by Elysia

Elysia returned the favour and accidentally smoked Adrian

We pushed both pace and distance and there were some bumps and bruises, but I think it helped make the fight look more convincing.

The most dangerous stunt I performed myself – which was a fall after being kicked. I’m used to doing proper break-falls, but I had the extra challenges of falling convincingly, with characterization, onto a poured concrete floor without any armour or padding. Padding up the actors is something I will definitely add to my future choreography, which will present an interesting challenge for wardrobe!

The Full Choreography

What you see in the trailer are highlights carefully chosen for impact. Here, you can watch the full choreography in sequence, and get a sense of the flow I was trying to convey. I wanted the fight to have its own internal story arc, which is not apparent in the trailer.

This edit demonstrates how the lack of sound design affects the believability of the scene. I take my hat off to Fanny Riguidel who did a wonderful job creating the sonic elements of the final fight: all of the clothing movement, the air swooshes, incredible body impacts, and joint and bone damage.

Make-up was another feature that really sold the fight, and Trina Brink did a great (and cringe-worthy) job creating our wounds. Showing damage over time presents a challenge in relation to continuity – you have to keep careful track of your shots and sequences. If you get blood on a shirt, for example, you must be sure you have coverage on the non-bloody shirt scenes, or have a fresh shirt on hand. Even a simple thing like my fall was a challenge – the factory floor was dusty, and it was quite a process to make sure I looked clean for the next take.

The final fight sequence:

Wrapping up

Fight scenes take a lot of time and planning to pull off, but they are rewarding when they come off. For me, it was incredibly fun and I felt like a 7 year old kid through this process, but it was also a crash course with lots of valuable lessons learned. What we achieved was due to having a great crew, and I tip my hat to Elysia for putting her trust in me and working her butt off, and everyone that made this come to life with make-up, sound, cinematography, editing, and sound design. I guess the music ain’t bad either. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing the journey with Haphead, both as a choreographer and composer.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs: The Final Numbers

This is cross-post by Haphead creator Jim Munroe. It also appears on


We started making Ghosts With Shit Jobs in 2009, released it in 2012 and screened it in 25 cities thanks to a Kickstarter campaign through 2012-13. We’ve learned a ton and recently applied what we know now to a proof-of-concept trailer for a new project — it’s called Haphead, and features the infinitely stretching electronics factory pictured above. And bunny-ninja fights.

But before we move on we thought we’d talk frankly about the numbers behind our lo-fi sci-fi feature.

We attracted attention to the project by being up front about our original $4000 production costs, and now we want to do a final accounting in the hope that it’s useful and/or interesting to other indie filmmakers. There’s a certain amount of pressure to not talk about this stuff when it’s not super-impressive — that somehow it hurts our credibility — but we think it’s useful to show people what very minor success looks like.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs cost $20,180.97 to create and promote and earned a gross of $39,317.18.


To date we have made a small profit of $19,136.21.


Happily we had a contractual agreement in place (read about our egalitarian model here) so it’s been a fairly straightforward disbursal. 54 people contributed a total of 7309 hours to the project, and the amount of hours they worked decides what percentage of the profit they receive — regardless of the role they played. We have issued cheques between $24 and $3,873.



Since $2.62/hr is a terrible wage, even compared to the characters in our movie, we prefer to think of it in a different way. We estimate that 6857 people saw the feature film for a total 10,286 hours of viewing time.


If you count the time people viewed the trailer (150K+ views) and the webisodes, that adds an additional 7130 hours. By this metric for every hour we laboured we created 2.4 hours of entertainment!


Some notes

  • Volunteer power allows passion projects like this to exist. Paying everyone on a similar  project in the future at $15/hr would cost $109,635 — and it’d be below scale.
  • We needed a lot of hours in post, mostly because we did way more effects shots than we should have and did an inconsistent job of location sound capture. We needed 20 ADR sessions (where the actors come in and lip sync to picture) to improve the audio as a result. Both of these things needed us to find technically experienced and like-minded individuals who were willing to donate their lucrative skills — quite difficult.
  • Time logging works well with certain types of personalities, but you need a variety of personalities to make a movie. We ended up estimating a lot of the production time amounts based on an (Hours on Set) X (Prep Time) equation. Also, we had pros and amateurs helping out with VFX, and 1 hour from an expert took someone learning 5 hours of work. As a result we needed to manually adjust for experience in some cases so that people didn’t get less of a profit percentage because they were a more efficient worker.
  • It’s harder to track hours watched when people aren’t in a theatre. There’s a chance people will buy a DVD or rent it on iTunes and only watch half, or not at all. But there’s also a chance they’ll watch it with a friend or two. So we’ve figured it’d even out, more or less.
  • A small amount of audience members — the Kickstarter backers — accounted for a very large portion of the profits.
  • The flights cost a lot of money, and it’s hard to gauge if our attendance put a lot more bums in seats. Or, for that matter, if it was a big factor in why people backed the Kickstarter campaign.

Ghosts With Shit Jobs is available on iTunes and DVD.

Trajectory to Haphead

It’s interesting to look back and see how our team has coalesced over time and see that the quality of our productions continually improve.

In the early days, Jim, myself and a few friends would walk around with a camcorder and look for inspirational settings, hit record, and do on-the-spot skits. It was a lot of fun and not serious at all. We made dozens of tiny videos, with a few of them offering laughs. One day I hope to dig them up, put them online and embarrass all involved.

Then Jim made My Trip to Liberty City, a foray into machinima, in which he visits the world of Grand Theft Auto. It was clever and different enough to be written about in the New York Times.

We wanted to make a movie, but knew it was too much work for one person to do unpaid. Jim hit upon the idea to break it down into chapters, having different artists each direct and edit their own segment. At this point we knew enough to bring a mic, even if we didn’t know how to use it. The result was Infest Wisely.

With Jim writing, Anthony producing, and myself acting in Infest Wisely, the beginnings of the Haphead team were forming.

Once the multi-director structure had proved itself, we set out to make something with higher production values. Ghosts With Shit Jobs was born, a sci-fi mockumentary in which western economies have collapsed and China is the new first world. Ghosts was filled with many highs and a few hard lessons.

For the past year we’d been throwing around the idea of making something new and again upping our game. In early December, 2013, Jim emailed Anthony, Tate and myself  a link to the Independent Production Fund (IPF) web series application. The IPF invest in several productions a year. “You Guys Should Totally Do It” Jim said. He was super busy with The Hand Eye Society and preparing for his role as the AGO’s Artist In Residence, but he offered to write the script and provide guidance. So with Anthony and myself producing and Tate directing and editing, Haphead started to roll.

By this time we’d made many connections, established good relationships, and shown that we get things done and we get them out there. We put together a great team. Many people were from Ghosts, and we had a few newer faces including Tony, our DP and Elysia, our lead. Everything fell into place almost perfectly for our Haphead trailer.

We’ve received amazing feedback for our trailer and I’m looking forward to what we create next.

Press Kit with Behind the Scenes photos now available

We setup a press kit at Check it out for behind-the-scenes photos.

Welcome to Haphead

Welcome to the new website for a forthcoming, noir flavoured sci-fi web series about a subculture where video games are so immersive that gamers learn lethal skills just by playing. They’re called hapheads.