Making a Short Film: Opening with Action!

M. Francis Enright
3 min readOct 15, 2023
Photo by Matt Popovich on Unsplash

M. Francis Enright is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. He is also a filmmaker and published author. Listen to full episodes on iTunes and Spotify and visit our website: theworkingexperience.com for videos, merchandise and more. You can also find us on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, and Twitter.

Action Scenes Make Me Nervous

EXT. STREET-DAY

MARCUS JONES, A LATE TWENTY SOMETHING AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN, stands on the street corner. His shirt is dirty, ragged sneakers, disheveled, unkempt hair and beard. He sells drugs so he can use them.

He suddenly spots something and bolts. Two plain clothed cops chase him, badges swinging from the chains around their necks. The three of them disappear around the corner.

I wanted to grab the audience with the first scene. I love slow burns, but it can be hard to hold their attention. Well, a better filmmaker can do it but I’m not there yet.

I have never tried to direct any kind of action sequence. On a low budget, they can really come off as cheesy and weak. We didn’t have any kind of stunt coordinator.

I figured that we would have to reduce it to quick cuts to sell it. We used a glide cam to get the running shots, and then had the actors run past the camera while it was stationary on a tripod. In the editing it was chopped into very short segments.

It is so much easier to film people sitting and talking but Jesus that is so boring. The audience wants to see people moving, doing stuff, running from the cops.

EXT. STREET-DAY

The cops have Marcus against a wall. They search him and come up with a baggie. A close-up on Marcus shows that he is banged up; he has scratches on his face from where he may have fallen and from older incidents.

The hair and make-up artist spent a significant amount of time making up Marcus’s face and hands with old and new bruises and scrapes, the face of a life lived rough the face of a drug addict living on the streets.

KEITH

Damn this dude can run!

TIM (HOLDING MARCUS)

Hey, my man, you becoming a frequent flier. Usin’ now too, huh? (Holds up the baggie.) Mmmm, not smart.

The cops are not sympathetic. The frequent flyer line was cut. I don’t remember if the actor just didn’t say or if we agreed on that. I probably just missed it.

MARCUS

Come on, man!

We were shooting in downtown Brockton which is a gritty spot. A bunch of kids were riding around on ATVs, which seems to be the rage among urban youth. One of them stopped briefly to watch us setting up the scene and yelled, Y’all ain’t about shit! before speeding off.

He had a point.

TIM

Come on, what? Jesus, you fuckin’ stink!

Keith actually held up the baggie with the cocaine or crack of whatever it was, which worked better visually. It was difficult to get the angles when the two cops were holding Marcus against the wall. It seems easy on paper since all three are standing relatively still but having them deliver the lines at certain points that make sense and also getting faces into the shot gets complicated.

KEITH (INTO HIS RADIO)

Yeah, we’re around the corner on Smith. Just one. (To Marcus) Man, you got fucked up. You steal someone’s shit?

Tim tightens the cuffs.

MARCUS

Yo, what the fuck! Come on, man!

TIM

Come on, what?

I like having Marcus repeat Come on. What does he mean Come on? Like they are going to let him go? He’s dealing drugs for God’s sake. But what else is he gonna say?

Tim aggressively yanks Marcus to a vehicle, as Keith finishes with his radio report.

Marcus stares into the camera.

Cops talking and street sounds as we fade out.

The two cops are white, and Marcus is black. But that misdirection.

This is all misdirection.

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M. Francis Enright

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!