06 Fight to the Death: Training and Choreography
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“Knowing no care, they grind the land like corn. Knowing no mercy, they rage against mankind. They spill their blood like rain, devouring their flesh and sucking their veins. They are demons full of violence, ceaselessly devouring blood.” — “The Book of Vampires”

Raised in the royal household under the tutelage of Mehmed I, Vlad III was trained in the ways of the Janissary, an elite fighting corps unique to the Ottoman Empire. Every five years, the Turks would embark upon recruiting missions, scouring the regions for the strongest sons of the sultan’s Christian subjects- including Vlad. The boys were taken from their parents and placed with Turkish families, where they were taught the customs, language and religion of the Ottomans, before being taken to train as Janissaries. Because of this, Vlad’s fighting style bridged two disciplines: that of his homeland and that of the Turks.

Discussing the strategy, Evans shares: “It’s what made Vlad such a brilliant leader and conqueror. When he stopped the Ottoman Empire from invading Wallachia, he used the fighting style of the Turks because he was reared by the Turks. In a way, they shouldn’t have trained him as well as they did because he came home with all their strategies.”

The complicated sequences fell to stunt coordinator BUSTER REEVES (The Dark Knight Rises, upcoming Tarzan), who assimilated these two distinct fighting styles to define the fight choreography for the film. Reeves provides: “I first looked at Transylvanian war craft, which is just basic broadsword and hacking, and then the Turks, whose style is heavily influenced by Asian styles, so it’s very circular. It was a combination between the two that we came up with for Vlad’s fighting style: the strength and agility of the broadsword with the fluidity and dynamic, almost aesthetically pleasing, work of Turks’ scimitar.” Dracula Untold’s pace intensifies as it is pulled along by the current of Vlad’s transformation. As the heart of the film grows ever darker, the action is magnified, reaching crescendo pitch when Vlad and his brood of vampires attack Mehmed’s camp.

Reeves explains: “When he fights Mehmed, when he fights the brood, we tap into a whole new level of darkness in Vlad. We created the vampire style, more so than just the brutality of being impaled. We wanted to make him more calculating.”

Transforming Vlad (and subsequently Evans) into a killing machine was no easy task. Shore surmises: “Vlad versus a thousand was based on rage. It’s man-on-man, unglamorized, physical rage. Here we see his physical strength and speed over his newly acquired powers.”

The thousand-man fight took three months of intense preparations and training to bring to camera. Reeves walks us through the scene: “We would break it down into sequences so that if at any point we could join two sequences together, we had the manpower to do it. Then it was just a matter of time before we got Luke, and he started learning it the same way.”

Evans was thrilled at the chance to work with the choreographer, commending: “Buster Reeves is a legend in his own right. He has a real flair for designing choreography that supports the actor. Hopefully,  I’ve honored his work in my fight sequences.”

It turns out that the performer was a perfect student. Shore commends that Evans knew just what it took to work within the parameters of DP John Schwartzman’s camera: “Luke has this uncanny ability to be able to take choreography and learn it quickly. There were changes going on with that scene that were in flux right to the end, and Luke was able to adapt to it.”