Become a Fight Choreographer: Career and Training Roadmap

Jul 30, 2018

Learn how to become a fight choreographer. Research the training requirements, skills and certifications you will need to start a career in stage combat direction. View article »

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  • 0:00 Become a Fight Choreographer
  • 0:40 Get Professional…
  • 1:15 Learn About Theater Staging
  • 1:44 Take Fight…
  • 2:43 Earn a Degree in Choreography
  • 3:14 Earn Certification &…

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Video Transcript

Become a Fight Choreographer

Degree Level Master's degree or other graduate level program
Training Required Advanced training in various fighting styles; stage training; completion of stage combat coursework
Certification Basic and advanced certification is available through the Society of American Fight Directors
Salary $51,560 (2015 median for all choreographers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Fight choreographers design and direct combat sequences for theater, film and television. They instruct actors and directors on realistic, historically accurate fighting styles for a production, while ensuring the safety of the crew during simulated fight scenes. While knowledge of various fighting styles is necessary for this career, fight choreographers must also understand theatrical staging and the principles of choreography. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that choreographers in general earned mean annual salary of $51,560 as of May 2015. Let's explore the steps to enter this unique career field.

Step 1: Get Professional Fighter Training

Before choreographing fights, individuals must first be trained how to fight in styles such as hand-to-hand combat, fencing and martial arts. Some organizations provide period-fighting training such as gladiatorial fighting or Renaissance fencing. Places that provide training include gyms, martial arts studios, colleges and other combat-specific organizations. Significant time and effort might be required to learn a particular fighting style. For instance, to earn a black belt in karate may take several years of consistent training and fighting competitions.

Step 2: Learn About Theater Staging

Whether working with theater stages or sets for movies and television, choreographers need to understand the fundamentals of staging. Some people can learn about theater staging by working as crewmembers for different acting troupes. Others choose to take formal classes. Courses on staging or stagecraft often cover topics such as set design and construction, microphones, lighting, actor positions, blocking, costumes and audience positioning.

Step 3: Take Fight Choreography Courses

Some theater departments offer fight choreography training as traditional courses or as workshops. Also known as stage combat, fight choreography classes might cover safety considerations, body movements, space issues and the use of various props. Several courses emphasize the use of technique with different fighting styles, especially with over-dramatizing theatrical fighting to emphasize the visual display.

Stage combat courses and workshops with at least 30 hours of training per weapon might culminate in a skills proficiency test in which students perform a choreographed fight sequence as part of a dramatic scene, demonstrating specific stage fighting techniques with swords, staffs and hand-to-hand combat. Depending on the number and types of weapons demonstrated, students might attain basic proficiency, actor combatant or advanced actor combatant certification through the Society of American Fight Directors (SAFD).

Step 4: Earn a Degree in Choreography

The majority of choreography programs tend to be at the graduate level, including Master of Fine Arts (MFA) programs in choreography or graduate programs in theater or dance with choreography options. Coursework might include music and dance choreography, fight choreography and teaching methods. Most programs also require students to complete practicum projects, which often include designing choreography for a play or dance, teaching choreographic moves and assessing the performance.

Step 5: Earn Certification & Find a Job

Fight choreographers can pursue basic and advanced fight director certification through the Society of American Fight Directors. Prospective fight directors must first pass the skills proficiency tests for advanced actor combatants and show an ongoing commitment to stage combat training. In addition to choreographing fight scenes, fight directors might teach stage combat workshops and courses for actors pursuing SAFD stage combat certification.

To recap, fight choreographers typically need to train in various fighting styles and learn about theater staging. They also might opt to pursue a degree in choreography and attain voluntary certification.

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