I like DVD commentaries, and not because it’s an excuse to avoid writing by watching a film twice. There are often some nuggets of insight hidden away amongst the pap, and sometimes, like in the case of Robert Rodriguez, they are entire how-to guides and an illumination of a work ethic that will make your balls bleed.
The commentary on the recent Star Trek film is also a good example of this; not least because it highlights that Spielberg should definitely record something for his films. JJ Abrams is talking about a chat he had with Mr Spielberg during the shooting of the movie, wherein they discussed how to structure an action sequence.
They used the V Wing Plane Fight from Raiders of the Lost Ark as a base. (I can’t find an actual clip of it online, so here’s what I could find):
Here, the action is driven forward because everything Indy does to overcome an obstacle throws up a new one.
They need to get the Ark back, and they think it’s on the plane, thus they need to get on the plane. By doing this, they alert a guard, and Indy must fight him. This fight draws the attention of the pilot, who begins firing his pistol. Indy dives under the wing, and whilst fighting the guard, Indy uses the chocks as a weapon. Meanwhile Marion knocks the pilot out, who falls on the controls and puts the plane in motion.
This goes on; but the important point is that every action to overcome an obstacle presents a new obstacle.
If your action scenes feel a bit flat, bear this in mind.
In fact, it’s an excellent maxim to plot by. Rather than just a series of obstacles to overcome, which is pretty good drama anyway, it elevates things by having your hero surmounting one obstacle, but creating another one. What’s more, you could have the resolution of an obstacle in your sub-plot build a new one in your main plot.