Ralph Macchio on the Secret to Making Badass ’80s Fight Scenes in 2021

TheWrap awards magazine: “Cobra Kai” star and executive producer touts the “musical” element to editing — and sometimes not editing — Netflix show’s karate battles

Photo: Netflix

This story about Ralph Macchio first appeared in the Comedy & Drama Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

Ralph Macchio, who first gave life to the enduring character of Daniel LaRusso 37 years ago (don’t remind him of the timeline), is still throwing kicks and punches. Like the “Karate Kid” movie series that preceded it, the Netflix original comedy series “Cobra Kai” features some of the best fight scenes on any screen — scenes that feel like a bit of a throwback and would make Mr. Miyagi proud.

When we asked Macchio, who not only stars on “Cobra Kai” but is among the executive producers, for the secret behind making badass 1980s-era fight scenes in 2021, the timing was serendipitous: Just before our conversation, he’d been on a conference call with his fellow producers discussing a Season 4 action sequence his character was involved in.

“My main note — the edit was not finished, and everyone agreed, it was not like I was the only one who came up with this — was about letting the action play out before cutting, as long as we can,” recalled Macchio, who believes that YouTube has ruined a generation’s patience for pacing. (That’s ironic when you consider the first two seasons of “Cobra Kai” existed on YouTube Premium, formerly YouTube Red.) “There’s always that inclination that you’ve got to cut, or they’re going to pick up the remote and they’re going to change the channel,” he said.

Macchio is not wrong, and his wisdom here comes from experience. In addition to the “Karate Kid” movies, he was also around for the classic Greasers vs. Socs rumble in “The Outsiders.” Pointing specifically to the “Karate Kid” All Valley Tournament matches and the “Skeleton Fight” (the one with the bikes), Macchio explained how those scenes achieved what he called a “cinematic look,” one that we still appreciate in the days of CGI. (Perhaps we appreciate them even more in the days of CGI.)

“There are cuts, certainly, they’re not oners,” he said, referring to long, uninterrupted single shots. “’Cobra Kai’ actually has done a decent amount of oners in some of the big sequences where the camera does not cut. It’s more of a Steadicam movement, but there’s something musical about it.”

That’s a word that kept coming back to Macchio, who was a trained dancer before “The Karate Kid” and applied that skill to the fight choreography. “Editing is musical,” he said. “There is a rhythm and a music to editing, even in scripted and text form. And in action sequences, there really is a music element to it. When you cut as much as you do with all the CGI and the Superman fighting Iron Man fighting Batman fighting whatever — we could go on and on with the superhero movies, which I thoroughly enjoy — but there is an element (where) you’re almost blinking so much because you were being shell-shocked with lights and sound and cuts.

“You’re going from tight to wide to tight to shifting so swiftly sometimes you don’t even know where you are geographically in the scene,” Macchio continued. “And that’s what bothers me, old guy. I lose the geography of where I am with stuff that is just so jammed in your face and cut so much. It’s nice when you know who’s standing on what side of the line and you’re watching the fluidity of the movement. It is musical, in a way. It’s a dance.”

And a true dance, it seems, is Macchio’s benchmark. “When a move is happening, any kind of move, stay with it,” he said. “When you look at the MGM musicals, watch Fred Astaire. It’s like one shot. You’re not cutting to a tight shot of his toe and a tight shot of his knee and his shoulder, his arm, and he spins and hits the floor.”

Read more from the Comedy & Drama Series issue here

FOR STORIES Comedy & Drama Series EmmyWrap 2021
(Clockwise from top: Maya Erskine, Charlotte Nicdao, Punam Patel, Hannah Einbinder)


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