How to Make a Hollywood Action Movie

I have money (sometimes). I like to spend that money on tickets to action movies. GOOD action movies. Action movies that make me go “Yessss! That is so AWESOME!” not “Guuuugh, that is sooo LAME!” I have seen a disturbing number of the latter type films in theaters lately so I thought current and future Hollywood producer types might appreciate (okay, more NEED than appreciate) this guide on how to get my money from me.

You could be forgiven for looking at the less-than-stellar repertoire of action stars like Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Damme and extrapolating the formula for making a successful Hollywood action film as follows:

The Hollywood Action Equation: Boobs + Bombs = Money

Roughly translated as: boobs plus bombs equals massive pile of money

But if all you want is successful, go back to Underachievers Anonymous, because you’re obviously not getting the message. Film is an art form as well as an entertainment medium. Contribute, dammit! You should be aiming for maximum entertainment value: and that means making a GOOD action movie.

STEP 1: INSERT BRAIN IN HEAD

Clearly you’ve got your brain in your head if you’re reading this article, so let’s move along to the characters. Making a good action movie is about more than filming muscle-bound thickos boning willowy blondes with huge knockers while oil rigs burn down in the background. We, the audience, want to be able to respect the characters for their expertise or wit or whatever (and respect ourselves for paying money to see the movie). So give them some brains.
Essential brain components of action hero
these are the basic components of a functioning action hero whose brain is not located in his biceps (or lower)

So don’t just buy a script from some idiot who copy-pasted cliched one-liners into a blank screenplay template. (This just in: “Live for nothing or die for something” from Rambo officially declared worst line of dialogue ever) Buy one from a writer who actually knows/cares enough to write the characters like they weren’t dropped on their heads as infants.

STEP 2: PAIR UP INTERESTING CHARACTERS

If you’re following the standard model, the man is always the brawn and the woman is always the brains. Brawn comes in four subsets: cop, soldier, spy, and criminal. Brains are always experts in some field that is likely to be in crisis just about every other day (nuclear missile development, espionage, journalism, etc). Obviously for the plot to work there needs to be someone who can handle themselves in a fight and someone to drag them into a fight they don’t want. But why does it have to be so standard? Let’s have some brawny girls and some brainy guys, or maybe two guys or two girls (trust me, Hollywood producers, the world will not implode if you may a gay action movie). Change the soldier into a Hollywood stuntwoman and the nuclear physicist into a stamp collector…..

soldier becomes stuntwoman, physicist becomes stamp collector

And voila! You’ve got an action scenario in which a philatelist has to team up with his disgraced Hollywood stuntwoman neighbor to stop an evil villain from bringing down the world’s economy with a rare stamp. I’ve definitely never seen that one before.

STEP 3: HIRE PEOPLE WHO CAN ACT

Again, by looking at some of the more popular action movies like First Blood or Conan, you could be forgiven for thinking this step is entirely optional. However, if you want your movie to be more than just a cult classic on the testosterone channel, you need to hire actors who a) have depth and b) can convey it. Print out the handy guide below and carry it around with you just in case you ever get confused during a casting session.

the action producer's casting cheat sheet

This cheat sheet should not only help you hire people whose skills will improve your film (and hopefully make it timeless), but also help you save you money. So take the $20 million you were going to pay the pretty face of the month and use it to pay for explosions instead.

STEP 4: CRAFT UNIQUE ACTION SETPIECES

Car chase. Boat chase. Car chasing boat. Boat chasing car. Boat and car being chased by helicopter. All the basic modes of transportation are old news when it comes to chase scenes. Fights are even worse. Guns, swords, rocket launchers, wooden sticks, axes, anything that’s traditionally regarded as a weapon has been featured in a fight scene in at least 25 action movies. If you want to make a good one, you need to come up with something I’ve never seen before. Have a brick-throwing fight. Make acid water balloons. Employ dog sleds. Anything to stir things up. For instance, why not have a high-speed blimp chase… with missiles!

High Speec Blimp Chase

STEP 5: SPEND MONEY

If you have no money, or you lack the ability to talk others out of their money, you have no business being a Hollywood action movie producer. Cheaping out by blowing up fake-looking models or paying animation students to render airplane chases that are only one step up from a Saturday morning cartoon will not a great action movie make. To make money you have to spend money. Just not too much money. Retain perspective by keeping up to date on global economic figures. For instance, if you notice that your film’s budget exceeds the GNP of Saint Kitts and Nevis, then you should probably re-evaluate things.

action movie budget cap

STEP 6: PUT A SHOCK COLLAR ON YOUR DIRECTOR

Directors are an unfortunate necessity. Producers can’t write, produce, and direct movies all by themselves (well it happens, but think of it this way: if YOU do it the result is more likely to be Little Ninjas than Avatar). Hire the best director, the most trustworthy, the hottest, the least expensive, the most talked about, whoever you want. The important thing is to keep them in line unless you want your movie to be a repeat of the Nottingham fiasco. I suggest the shock collar, which will deliver a little zap of electricity whenever your director starts making noises about “putting his stamp” on YOUR movie.

director getting zapped by shock collar

Don’t worry. The ASPCA will only get on your case if you do this to dogs.

This may seem a little bit cruel, but what’s worse: pre-emptively tasering somebody for trying to hijack your creative vision, or actually having your creative vision hijacked? If you’re off convincing a Middle Eastern sheik to let your stuntmen ride motorcycles off of his biggest oil derrick, who’s stateside with your director making sure he doesn’t break the rules I laid out above? That’s right, no one. No one but your trusty Shockmaster 3000.

Congratulations. You have just graduated from the school of good filmaking. Now get out there and rob a bank or something to finance your next film. I’ve got $10 sitting in my pocket to buy a ticket to it. Hurry, though: if you take too long I might be tempted to spend it on food instead.

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