It’s Not Hawkeye’s Fault!

Entertainment Movies

In the past, we’ve reviewed archery form, good and bad, in the movies and TV. Katniss, Merida, and Oliver Queen all got positive marks, and Hawkeye took a drubbing (though I later allowed as how he didn’t look that bad in the film; not great, but not as bad as I’d originally thought he would). Well, now it turns out it’s not really his fault anyway.

The latest photos from the set show director Joss Whedon demonstrating an alleged “archery pose” for actor Jermey Renner, and suddenly it all becomes clear; Renner’s archery mistakes in the first film can be laid squarely at Joss Whedon’s door. Let’s take a look.

Jeremy Renner watches Joss Whedon attempt interpretive dance.
Jeremy Renner watches Joss Whedon attempt interpretive dance.

We can forgive the backward lean as dramatic license, trying to create a dynamic image in what is actually a fairly static activity. More problematic are the raised shoulder, the lack of an anchor (the hand touching the face so he knows where his arrow is), the weak wrist on the draw-hand, and the death-grip on the imaginary bow.

hawkeye-coverHere’s David Aja’s illustration of archery form from the cover of the first issue of his and Matt Fraction’s critically-acclaimed Hawkeye comic series. Notice that there is a straight line from the rear elbow to the point of the arrow, and the bow arm is parallel to it. Notice that the hand is firmly touching the face just below the cheekbone. This is the traditional method of shooting; competitive archers drop the hand a little lower, anchoring under the chin. Notice that the string is in front of his eye, touching his nose, not pulled back behind his ear as Whedon is demonstrating. This is super-important, because aiming is accomplished by looking down the shaft of the arrow (for trad shooters) or by aligning the string to the bow (for Olympic-style); in either case, if the arrow is off to the side of the face, it’s not going where the archer is aiming, and he’ll have to compensate by shooting to one side. Now look at the smaller illustrations: the relaxed grip on the bow, the position of the hand with the thumb pointed toward the target, the elbow rotated to get it out of the way. All elements missing from Whedon’s attempt. The second small illustration shows the hand coming off the string. That only works if the wrist is straight and the knuckles flat. Making a fist on the string guarantees the arrow will go a couple of feet to the side, because the hand has to pull sideways to come off the string, fouling the shot.

joss-whedon-archery-1Of course I should have known. After my first Hawkeye article ran, I found this image from the making of the first movie.

He looks awkward and uncomfortable. There’s no line of action, no drama, no power. He looks like a guy who has never touched a bow before and isn’t quite sure what to do with it, and, because he was showing the actor what to do, the actor (and character) looked awkward and uncomfortable as well.

We all know that movie fighting, martial arts and sword-fighting look nothing like the real thing. That’s because those activities have to be slowed down and made broader, both for safety and so the audience can follow the action. Movie sword-fighting involves a lot of big sweeps of the arm, swords clashing together all over the place and carefully choreographed movements to create the illusion of a fight without the pointy things ever getting close to anybody. Real sword-fighting is quick and controlled, with smaller parries and more contained movement, keeping the weapon as close as possible to the target area, and it happens really fast. People watching a bout will often wonder what just happened.

That’s not the case with archery. There’s no such thing as “movie archery” or “stage archery.” The real thing is safer for the actors, and, more importantly, it looks better. There is no reason to ever do it wrong except for ignorance and apathy.

Mr. Whedon, here’s the thing:
You’re making a movie that will cost about a quarter of a billion dollars. You have a character who is known for doing one thing better than anybody in the world. It will cost you about $100 and take maybe two hours to show the actor how to handle a bow convincingly, eliminate all the things that make him look amateurish, and make him look like he actually knows how to do that one thing well. In the process, his confidence in the role will be visibly enhanced, because he will know what he’s doing and why instead of faking it, and that confidence will transfer to the rest of his performance. His scenes will look more believable, more dynamic, more convincing, and more interesting, because real archery looks a lot better than fake archery. Doesn’t it make sense to spend $100 of your $250,000,000 budget to make sure one of your lead characters looks like he knows his job? Especially if it will greatly enhance his performance in the non-archery scenes?

Archery is one of the fastest-growing sports in America today, largely due to the triad of archery movies from 2012, Hunger Games, Brave, and Avengers. Your portrayal of it has brought literally thousands of people of all ages out to archery ranges all over the world to learn an exciting sport. Don’t you owe it to those fans to honor them with at least a token gesture of an attempt at accuracy?

Seriously, Joss, buddy, pal… arrange for yourself and Mr. Renner to spend an afternoon with a competent coach and learn the half-dozen details that will make Hawkeye look like a real archer. You’ll be glad you did.

See you on the range.

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11 thoughts on “It’s Not Hawkeye’s Fault!

    1. Amell does a great job and works very hard at it. His coach, Patricia Gonsalves, is an awesome archer and a world-class expert on the ancient and modern archery traditions of many cultures. There were problems in the first season, entirely due to the bow that somebody chose to use, which was too small for Amell to draw properly. That bow was deliberately smashed to pieces in the season finale so they could bring in a gorgeous Oneida Kestrel for Season 2. Can’t wait to see what he’ll be shooting in season 3.

  1. Actors almost always look for a unifying theme for their character, to justify motivations, and to determine how to pose when they are background in a scene. Knowing about the lines and precision of archery would do WONDERS for allowing Renner to know how someone devoted to archery in near absolute would hold himself. There is a reason in the animations Hawkeye has few (if any) curved lines in his entire character.

  2. I’m glad to hear it! Have always had respect for Amell et al. so the level of authenticity behind his technique makes perfect sense.

  3. Well, we’ve had a discussion about this before, so I will just add my congratulations for your analysis of why “real” fencing wouldn’t exactly work when transmitted to the screen … 😉

  4. I seem to remember reading that Renner spent an afternoon with some archery coaches before the first one, but was unable to use anything he learned because of the rate of fire needed for scenes. It took me months to learn something resembling a proper draw, so I’m not sure an afternoon would have helped him much ;). Could part of the problem be the use of CGI arrows and, I think, string in some shots? I would think having the draw weight would help develop better form as it would make you load the weight properly. That hoyt comes with a minimum draw weight of 34lbs, I believe, which may explain why they thought repetitive takes would be too much. Maybe they made a custom one like for Hunger Games though…

    It’s all interesting! Your initial article made me a lot more critical of archers in film/TV , but my own slow slog to get good has made me very sympathetic to them 😉

    1. I read that he spent an afternoon at a range, but there was no mention of any coaches. He looks entirely self-taught.

      Archery is a strange sport; you can learn the basics in a half-hour, but it takes years to master them. For movie purposes, there are about six things an actor needs to understand about how archery works in order to look convincing on screen. Simple things: not breaking at the wrist while drawing, not turning the chest toward the target, not raising the shoulders, getting the elbow back in line with the arrow, not making a fist on the string, not putting the thumb on the string or arrow. Do those things, and you’ll look enough like an archer to satisfy the camera.

      Most people won’t notice if you do it wrong, but they will definitely notice when you do it right. It’s the difference between “that’s cool” and “THAT IS AWESOME!!!” I want Hawkeye to be awesome, not merely cool.

  5. Yes because ever batter in baseball has the same stance at the plate. Your nerd rage humors me.

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