Written by Eric Jacobus, star, writer, co-director, and editor of the Rope A Dope series.

On January 12, 2015, we released Rope A Dope 2 to the world to commemorate 14 years of The Stunt People. Be sure to check it out below. I promise you’ll enjoy it.

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RAD2 comes after almost a year of development, writing, production, editing, reshoots, more editing, more reshoots, a LOT more editing, test screenings, and press blasts. 2014 was an absolutely mental year because, aside from doing Beard Off, getting married, and attending to other important matters, the year was almost solely dedicated to making this 18-minute short film. It feels like a blur and all the knocks to the head seem to have made my memory a bit fuzzy, but thanks to my patented Trusty Dusty Analog TimeKeeper System® I can dig into the ether and put together a little production diary for everyone who wants to get a behind-the-scenes view at how this action-adventure-comedy-martial arts film came together.

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Eric’s patented Trusty Dusty Analog TimeKeeper System® grants us the magical ability to reverse time all the way back to prehistoric 2006!

It all started with Rope A Dope 1 (please watch it if you haven’t here, all this nonsense will be slightly less nonsensical after a solitary viewing). RAD1 was produced by veteran stuntman and Olympic Taekwondo champ Clayton Barber, whose long list of credits spans from Robin’s stuntman in Batman & Robin in the 90s to acting as stunt coordinator for You’re Next and The Guest, and recently he’s been head of action in the latest entry in the Rocky Balboa franchise Creed. It made sense for me and Clayton to create the Rope A Dope series because we’re action guys making action. That’s the philosophy I’ve always followed and I intend to take it to my grave.

Clayton had received a script that involved the Groundhog Day “guy restarts his day” concept mixed with an action film, except it was a bit muddled, so he came to me and said, “Eric, why don’t we make a Groundhog Day martial arts movie?” The concept was brilliant. I wrote a script based on “Guy gets knocked out, day starts over” in two weeks, Pete Lee co-directed it with me, and it was a hit.

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Eric showing Rope A Dope 1 at Ric Meyers’ Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza in 2013 and 2014

Since I wrote villain and long-time Stunt People collaborator Dennis Ruel waking up at the end of RAD1 having the same abilities as The Dope, a sequel was inevitable. I had it in my head how this would work, but explaining it on paper was a challenge all in itself. The script took a month or so, which Clayton, Pete Lee, and I batted back and forth. Pete said the film needed to be about more than just revenge, so he came up with the awards ceremony idea, which served as the McGuffin. I also wanted to write as many gags as possible into the end fight. Much as audiences enjoyed the finale in Rope A Dope 1, they always seemed to want to laugh during the final action set piece, but never really got the satisfaction.

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Clayton and I, along with the whole stunt group, teamed up with Pete’s company We Are Scandinavia based in Emeryville and brought on several key personnel including Drew Daniels as DP. We had to film our first scene in May, which was a training scene featuring the boxing coach and his sons from RAD1. They were leaving town until August, so even though we weren’t ready to film anything else until July, we needed to get their stuff out of the way first. That created a predicament I’ll get into later.

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For the next two months we prepped for a 4-day stretch where we’d bang out 95% of the rest of the film. All the props, art, casting, and locations needed to be sorted out, so we brought on local line producer Vicki De Mey to handle the nitty gritty while Clayton dealt with the business end and Pete and I prepped our shot lists.

2014-07-09 15.31.45Thomas Tan created the newspapers for both Rope A Dope films.

I also took to the gym to pre-viz both the montage fight scenes and the final fight. This was a step we didn’t take in RAD1 and it cost us a lot of time. This time we also had 9 “loops” to film versus 6 in the original, so we opted to do single-take long shots for each day of fighting. We used maybe 30% of the pre-vizzed choreography, but the important stuff, like which weapons were to be used and what tone we wanted to strike, largely stayed the same. The finale pre-viz was the same.

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July 10th came around and we began filming in the Victory Warehouse, the same warehouse that we used in Death Grip. Clayton Barber and Freddie Poole flew in from Texas to oversee the shoot. We had production designer Margaux Rust watch Rumble in the Bronx and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original film) to get inspiration as to how to decorate the set. We plugged in the arcade cabinets, hung some tarps, and Drew lit the hell out of the place and we had our “Bad Guys’ Lair”. The first day was dedicated solely to getting all the non-action Lair shots out of the way. This was also the only day we had Ken Quitugua, who played “Kimo” the gang leader. Margaux was also tasked with re-creating Den’s room from RAD1 in the back room of Victory. She nailed it.

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Filming was complicated by the fact that so many “loops” had to be covered, and “Den”‘s loops were odd-numbered. This was all clear in my head because I had spent months developing the script, but everyone else would get lost. So I’d say “We’re on day 3” but nobody knew whether it was Den’s day 3 or Dope’s day 3 or the MOVIE’s day 3… it was a mess. So we created a chain of command – I kept the numbers straight and outlined the motivations (“Den, it’s the second loop, prep for the kick this time” or “Den, it’s the fifth loop, be cocky”). This way Drew could focus on his camerawork and Pete could focus on directing.

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Day 2 was “the end fight.” It might sound crazy, but at first we shot the entire end fight in a single day, with a different finale between me and Dennis. Dennis couldn’t arrive until 4pm, which gave us about 8 hours to get through everything up to his fight. Shaun did his fall through the table, Eric Nguyen bounced me off the corner three times, and we went into the back room to do the pan fight.

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The pan fight was the most painful part of the shoot, and you’d never know it from the final cut because all the painful stuff was cut out. There’s a scene where I hold the pan over my head and they start smashing their sticks on top of it, trying to get through. Tiger Claw lent us a bunch of weapons for this shoot, and I gave the guys various sticks and whatnot, and sometimes one would sneak through and hit my face, or my head or my knuckle. The Dope goes through a dizzy spell like in RAD1 where he hears ringing in his head and almost wakes up, but it’s an egg timer that’s ringing. I back everyone away and smash the egg timer and return back to normal. Sounds funnier than it was. You cut stuff like that.

People ask me how I still managed to flip the egg at the end of the pan fight. Call it movie magic. Pete created the bottle gag on the fly, which we wrestled with in the editing room but ultimately kept because audience responses were always so positive. Throwing the pool ball to the back of Thomas’s head required about 30 takes. During lunch, Ed Kahana and I threw together three sets of choreography for the pool cue fight, and I thought it’d be funny if chalk were still on the tip of the stick and that’s how I beat him. We tried to use real chalk but we couldn’t get it to stay on the top of the cue, so we uttered the four bad words of indie filmmaking – “Fix it in post.” Fortunately VFX artist Alan Cecil did it perfectly.

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We looked at the clock and realized we only had 90 minutes to shoot this entire fight with Dennis in the boxing ring. We fell back on a pre-viz video we had shot a few weeks earlier, rushed through it, and finished before a band came in and took over the space. We walked away feeling we hadn’t accomplished what we wanted, but we had managed to shoot a 6-minute action scene in one day.

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Day 3 was all of the alleyway scenes, which took place in West Oakland. Most of the day comprised of “loops” 1-5, which were more complex setups involving closeups, dolly shots, and all that. It got hot too, which is why I take off my jacket on Day 6 when I have the golf club. This was actually the time when we decided to do single takes for the fight scenes to give them a more video game-like feel. Plus it was the only way we’d finish on time. The weapons we had were real too, because as indie filmmakers we thrive on authenticity (lies – we couldn’t afford prop weapons), and it turns out that pulling hits so they looked real without clocking anyone in the face with a metal golf club or a frying pan is really hard. This was also a time when we could experiment with the weapons since we hadn’t filmed all of the montage yet, and based on which weapons we chose we could sculpt the rest of the unshot scenes around those. This became key later on.

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We also shot a fight using an umbrella, which broke, so we couldn’t use all the footage. You’re not missing much though, since that choreography became the pan choreography. By then my forearm was shot and I could barely hold the pan straight, let alone pull hits. We did about 20 takes of the final bit when the pan drops on my head, which meant 20 welts on my head on top of whatever head trauma I had gotten the previous day. And the day didn’t end there – Jaunt came by with an Oculus 3D camera and filmed a short 360 degree fight scene with us as the sun set. Hopefully Oculus owners will be able to see it some day.

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Day 4 was the last day of a harrowing 4-day stretch of filming, and it was the easiest. This was the day when the Dope wakes up, the Skateboarder knocks him down (played by my cousin Danny DeGregorio who we realized mid-day could skate and therefore do justice to the character, and my wife provided his helmet), and the town celebration committee, headed by the Mayor played by Boots Riley (creator of Magic Clap from RAD1), waits in anticipation for the Dope’s arrival. We shot in Boots’ house again, just like in RAD1, and filmed 8 “loops” of the Dope waking up, some of which we didn’t even use in the final cut. We did one where the newspaper hits a fake version of the Dope, which is revealed as an Escape from Alcatraz gag, the Dope beats up the newspaper and runs out half-naked again like in RAD1, but it never quite played right. So we cut that too.

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We did our skateboard gag, and normally being a terrible aim I nailed Danny upside the head with the newspaper on take #2. Also in this scene, I’m wearing solid black slacks which magically become blue and black workout pants in the next scene. Movie magic! The awards ceremony was shot at the library park in Oakland. I came up with an alternate opening to the film where the Dope dreams of the awards ceremony, only to be slapped by Mayor Boots with a newspaper, waking the Dope up as he’s beaned in the head with the newspaper flying through the window. It was cute, but ultimately too confusing in the edit. Viewers didn’t know if it was real or not, which was understandable given the context of the Rope A Dope universe. Finishing up here meant most of the film was wrapped, and all we had to do was shoot the second half of the Dope’s training montage… or so we thought.

 

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We took a much-needed break from the intense 4-day shoot. I did a rough assembly of the film, and everything was good except for two things – the end fight in the ring wasn’t good enough, and the training montage we had shot with Jacob, Josh, and Sergio 2 months earlier had a major continuity error – my hair. Look at it, it’s like HALF the length it was in the other scenes! I looked nothing like the Dope I played through the rest of the movie, so that needed to be re-shot. This seemed like a blessing in disguise, since the training footage just wasn’t as good as we wanted and didn’t really relate to the action we had already shot anyway.

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We regrouped on August 21st for Day 5 of shooting, which would prove to be something of a fateful day in Stunt People history. The plan was to spent the first half of the day in front of Boots’ house in Oakland, the same exterior as in RAD1, shooting the training montage with the weapons master, a bag lady played by veteran Chinese Wushu teacher Xena Xu, and then head to Treasure Island to reshoot the training scene with the Munoz family. The shoot was going swimmingly, with 12 of us taking up the street in front of Boots’ place. All of a sudden, two 20-somethings wearing hoodies and blue jeans walked straight through our shoot, obviously up to no good. We tried to placate them with some free food from our craft services, and they accepted it, but they kept coming back to ask what we were filming. I tried to coax them away from our shoot, and it worked for a little while. Then about 3 hours into the shoot, I heard one of them say, “Don’t move.” I turned around and he was aiming a pistol at me. I did what any good martial artist would do – I did nothing. The other guy ran in, grabbed the $60,000 Red camera and tripod, and they ran off down the street. The whole ordeal was over in 5 seconds, maybe even less. The police took our statements but there was no way we were getting that camera back. The day was a wash, we all felt like crap. There was nothing we could do. Everyone on Facebook was very supportive, which is what we needed.

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We didn’t let a little thing like that stop us, though. On September 16th, Day 6, we picked up shooting again on Treasure Island, CA, this time with Christopher Villa, a professional weapons choreographer out of Santa Cruz, as our training master. We brought Stunt People member Jamerson Johnson for security, which we ended up really needing. Just like Oakland, there were people driving around Treasure Island casing the place for equipment they could steal. Turns out this is a pretty popular thing for thugs to do. A car pulled up and watched us while we filmed, and JJ stood guard while we hurried through the scene. We ended up utilizing a lot of the gags from the end fight that we had already shot, like the “samurai” pan hit on Jason’s face and the “cloud sweep” with the broom that I do in the alley. That’s how good montages are made anyway – film your end fight first with plenty of gags that seem to come out of nowhere, and then shoot your montage so the gags pay off. We left the waterfront and filmed some training footage with the Munoz family for 90 minutes before it got too dark, and called it a day.

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With all the training footage shot, we assembled an edit and, following Clayton’s demands to bump up the pace of the action, decided to re-shoot the finale in the boxing ring with Dennis. He and I got together with Pete Lee for two nights at our gym and rehearsed our fight scene, prepped Victory Warehouse, and we were ready to shoot this bad boy.

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We filmed the final fight scene on October 13, Day 7. Clayton and Freddie flew in again to supervise the action. As Drew and Margaux were prepping Victory Warehouse, returning it to its previous state, Dennis and I warmed up in the back, when Dennis felt something pull in his leg. When we did a nod to No Retreat No Surrender by having him do the splits on the ropes, he felt it pull even more, and when he started kicking and it was giving him a lot of pain, we knew it was bad, but Dennis toughed it out and you’d never know how bad it was by looking at the performance he pulled off. We spent about 10 hours in the ring re-shooting the entire end fight, and the final product speaks for itself.

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Editing Rope A Dope 2 was a major effort. We went through about 20 drafts of the thing, starting from a 25 minute cut with an extra “loop” and extended gags to the trimmed down 16 minutes + credits version that we eventually released. Pete and I screened the film to multiple audiences and took notes on which jokes worked and which didn’t. Clayton passed it off to multiple established comedians, writers, producers and stuntmen for feedback. We took every note to heart.

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We made some painful decisions, one of them being cutting the Munoz family from the edit, and a lot of gags were discarded as I listed earlier. Coloring, sound, and visual effects (mostly removing dirt and fibers from the footage from Treasure Island) took up the majority of December’s post production timeline. We sent Rope A Dope 1 to multiple festivals before posting it on YouTube, but we decided that you, the audience, should see Rope A Dope 2 first.

Thanks for all the support. I’m so stoked for what’s going to come from this. More updates as I get them. Until then…

Stay Dope!!
Eric

I bought my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition from Best Buy along with chest and head straps for the sole purpose of doing first-person action scenes. The FPS movie (“found footage”) genre is one of my favorites, and I think it’s criminally underused, especially in the action cross-genre, so my hopes have been to create solid action content for the FPS and found footage fans out there with our special brand. With it we shot a Star Wars fan video that went viral, a videogame-like weapon fight in the vein of Super Spy, and a Redneck’s guide to fighting a zombie without a weapon. As an action filmmaker who’s used the GoPro for almost two months non-stop, here’s what I’ve got to share.

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Design
The GoPro is dainty and can fit in your pocket along with the head strap and some extra batteries, so in terms of picking it up and going it’s a hell of a piece of equipment. The on-board buttons are tough to push, and pushing them might move your GoPro from whatever position it’s in. Often we found it easier for someone other than the wearer to push the buttons. The remote control, included with the Black version, solves this problem, though you’ll then have to deal with the Wi-Fi issue (below). As with any equipment that prides itself on being compact and easy to pick up and shoot, the side effect is that it’s a pain to change batteries and eject the memory card. Small and compact, but a pain to swap out accessories.

Video
The Hero3 Black has a wide range of resolutions and frame rates, from standard definition widescreen at 240 frames per second, to 4k @ 12fps. My favorite resolutions have been the SD 240fps for doing super slomo, 1440×1920 24fps for HD (giving you 360 pixels of vertical buffer) and 2.7k cine just to show off. 4K caps at 12fps, so from an action perspective it’s pointless using this resolution. Hero3 Silver does SD @ 120fps, so if you want the best in terms of slomo, get the Black, though the amount of noise in the slomo mucks up the footage to the point where it’s best used as a novelty. Otherwise the Silver will suffice, though you’ll lose out on the 1440 resolution option.

The lens is super wide, around 170 degrees, with the option to narrow significantly to something resembling a 45mm lens. So keep your crew completely behind the camera when filming because it sees everything. Since it’s so wide, your action will look comically fast, so whoever’s moving toward the lens needs to move at about 75% speed. The person behind the lens will have to move at normal speed.

Low light capability is very good, almost as bright as night vision, without the annoying green glow. Shutter speed gets blurry automatically with low light, since manual image controls are largely nonexistent, and the video compression gets pretty crazy when you’ve got any haze or UV light sources. Lots of shooting modes and great low light, but mid-grade compression in low light that won’t please videphiles. Action filmmakers probably won’t mind.

Sound
The sound is better than you’d expect from a tiny mic located on the side of the GoPro. Surprisingly good, but get an external mic for dialog. The main issue is the sound is usually out of sync with the video. A quick slide in your video editor can fix this.

Monitoring and Reviewing
The primary issue using the GoPro is figuring out how to monitor what you’re shooting. The GoPro transmits video and audio over its own Wi-Fi network to an Android, iPhone, or iPad using the GoPro app, which can then monitor what’s being shot. There’s a delay of about 2-4 seconds, but the app is invaluable. You absolutely MUST use it.

I tend to monitor with an iPad 2. My experience has been that the Wi-Fi signal is very weak, and it’ll often just cut out for no apparent reason. If you reset the camera, switch into review mode, or do anything besides just leaving the GoPro in camera mode, you risk losing your monitoring capability for who-knows-how-long. You’ll need to restart the GoPro AND its Wi-Fi (two entirely different functions), then reconnect to the Wi-Fi using your monitoring device, restart the program, and by then you’ve wasted five minutes. In an eight-hour span of time, we ran into this issue no fewer than ten times, so for a delay that happens more than once an hour, the GoPro just becomes annoying. By the end of the day we’re wondering why we didn’t just duct tape DSLRs onto our foreheads. (Okay that’s harsh, but those are raw thoughts for you.) I’ve used the Android app, but not extensively enough to determine if it’s more stable than using an iPad.

The other major issue with the monitoring software is that it has no option to review footage that you’ve already shot. To do that you need the LCD backpack (below), or you’ll need to connect the cam to a computer to review what’s on the SD card. Having to remove the GoPro from someone’s head or chest just to review footage makes it yet another annoying hangup in the production.

Glitches
Heads up – the GoPro glitches pretty regularly. The LCD backpack seems to add more reasons for the GoPro to crash, perhaps due to its added heat. Usually we have to pull the battery, open the box and lay all the tiny pieces about. After a firmware update, crashes are less common, but still happen at about 20% of the original crash rate. Random Wi-Fi disconnection happens at almost the same frequency.

I’ve had a few frames glitch due to fast movement, but if you can get away with cutting those frames it’s nothing too problematic. So far, no ruined shots.

Accessories

  • LCD Touchscreen Backpack – You’ll want to fork over eighty bucks for the tiny LCD screen to watch what you’re shooting live and review footage. The LCD for the Hero3 is a touchscreen, but the edges rarely register and I find myself just using the camera buttons to navigate it. If you’re hanging the GoPro in front of your face your nose will probably inadvertently push a button too. The LCD also seemed to display a lower quality image than the iPad did, giving us an inaccurate display of our footage. It’s best used for framing purposes. Get the footage onto a computer to see how it actually looks.
  • Extra Batteries – Battery life is around 2 hours (with the LCD), but charging time is nearly double that, so your workflow will suffer if you don’t have enough batteries to power through the day. The Wasabi battery pack is a good deal at $25 for 2 batteries and a charger. Get three of em if you plan on doing long days with the GoPro.
  • Head Strap – If you’re doing a fight scene, this is the strap to use. You can adjust for different head positions so it always captures the moves. Fast head movements might knock it off your head so get a chin strap and secure it that way. The screws don’t hold the GoPro as tightly as I’d like, so you’ll have to constantly readjust them.
  • Chest Strap – Not as useful as the head strap because any body movement will move the GoPro, but better for acrobatics.

Bottom Line
I like my GoPro. It’s a unique way to make action (or genre) films, and the end result always seems to entertain. Glitches and annoyances aside, you can sidestep all this by just getting two of everything. I have two GoPros now, which came in handy when the Wi-Fi for one of them randomly cut out and wouldn’t come back, so we just swapped everything over to the second GoPro and made it through the day.

I give this thing a B+ until they fix the heating issue and release one that’s got a better wireless transmission mechanism. Bluetooth maybe?

If you’ve made a pitch in the past ten years, you understand the euphoric sensation when someone says, “I didn’t see that coming!” But working that twist into your narrative in a meaningful way only results in pain and misery. The “twist” is good for pitches, but consider ditching it as soon as outlining phase starts. With most twist ideas, the character arc suddenly hits a brick wall and the character’s growth was largely for nothing. If it’s still workable, it might add a few extra tenths of a point to your IMDB rating. But if you struggle on with it anyway just to give a big “f*ck you” to the audience then you should at least include complimentary lube with your DVD.

We set about the difficult task of authoring a Blu-ray version of our latest film Death Grip, which you can buy on our website. They’ve been selling much faster than the DVDs because Blu-ray rocks, and I’m happy as hell we did it. I often get questions from filmmakers asking how the process went, so this very pragmatic blog post is about what to expect when replicating a small order of Blu-rays. Because it’s nowhere near as easy as replicating DVDs.

If you’re a veteran at making DVDs, move down to the Blu-ray section by clicking here.

Being of the do-it-all mentality, I always like to edit our films and put them onto DVD for direct-to-consumer (DTC) distribution. When making a DVD, you go through an “authoring” process where you take your edited product and drop it into an authoring program (DVDit, Encore, DVD Studio, etc.), where you make menus, playlists, Easter eggs, and all that fun stuff. The authoring system then takes your DVD “program” and translates it into a standard format that every DVD player can understand. Despite the occasional glitch popping up, I’m amazed that, given the diversity of DVD players on the market, these authoring systems basically have a 100% success rate at making compatible discs. If you work in software, you understand how improbable this is.

You have two options for distributing your freshly authored DVD.

  1. Burn or duplicate your own DVDs, print your own labels and sleeves, buy your own boxes, and shrinkwrap them in cellophane (or tin foil, that could be kind of charming too). They’ll be purple underneath, some of the labels will be crooked, you’ll experience compatibility issues with older players, and you’ll spend hundreds of hours. For small batches, this is a good choice.
  2. Send a DVD or an ISO (a file of the DVD) to a factory where they replicate your order onto a silver disc, print the label onto the top of that disc, and do all the packaging for you and even shrinkwrap the thing, all for roughly $0.99 a piece. If you want to make more than 100 DVDs, this is the way to go, though most replicating facilities won’t print fewer than 1000 units.

If you sell your DVDs for $10/pop, that’s a hefty profit. For anyone hoping to sell their film to more than 100 people, I recommend option 2. It’s easy, and there are companies everywhere that will do it for you.

What about piracy protection? No problem. Replication plants offer CSS (Content Scramble System) for a small fee, which is usually bundled with the overall cost. All CSS keys are encrypted exactly the same, so the replication plant has no hurdles to jump through. This has its disadvantages, obviously, since CSS is easy to crack and was cracked within 2 years of its creation. Turns out the US Gov. wouldn’t let its authors encrypt with more than 40 bits. If you have an odd fascination with stuff like this the way I do, you can read more here. It’s a sad, but hardly surprising, example of government being far behind the curve of innovation.

When making Death Grip, I assumed making a Blu-ray disc (BD) would be the same process. Run the authoring software, burn a disc, deliver to a replication facility and get a thousand made.

The authoring part was the same as making a DVD. More options are available, since Blu-Ray machines have a standard operating system that can do more complex processes than DVD players. Moving menus, picture-in-picture, etc. I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole since our timeline basically gave me 24 hours to author the entire disc, so I just authored the same menu structure as our DVD, burned a BD out, and it worked on the first try. Great. Now just deliver it to the replication plant and we’re done.

Not so fast… there are two new acronyms to worry about. One is called BDCMF (the file format), the other is called AACS (the encryption standard).

Here’s what you don’t know about replicating your BD: you can’t send the BD to a replication facility and have them replicate 1000 of them. They require it in a format called BDCMF, which is basically the Blu-ray disc in a folder, except formatted uniquely. You put that folder on a hard drive and send it to them. Odds are, your authoring software doesn’t export your BD to BDCMF. Encore CS5.5 and CS6 and DVD Studio will not do it. These and most authoring programs simply don’t have the licensing rights to export this proprietary file structure made by Sony, which is required by the licensed replicators that can only read this proprietary file structure. In fact, I’ve found only three programs can do it:

  • Rivergate makes one called BluStreak Tracer. It’s $600. The programmer emailed me after buying it to ask if I had any questions about how to use it. Good customer service. It’s also fast, and you just import your ISO, click “make BDCMF” and let it go. It worked for me on the first try.
  • Sony has a program called DoStudio Indie. Cute huh? It’s $3,000. That’s the entire budget of Immortal.
  • There’s a third option that’s $1000, but I won’t even bother with a link. Just get Rivergate.

The other hurdle is AACS, Advanced Access Content System. Unlike CSS, every BD disc has a unique encryption key supplied by the AACS Licensing Distributor. You pay a fee for it, and you can’t replicate a Blu-ray without an AACS key. (DVDs may be similar with regards to CSS, but the hurdle is far smaller.) This is a bureaucratic step, so you’ll need to budget another couple days so this can be done. Your BD replicating facility deals with it all and wraps it into the cost of the replication. Sony, BD players, and studios came up with this hurdle because of piracy concerns. Blame whoever you want, the fact is this is the reason AACS Keys are now a necessary step toward getting your BDs made.

There’s one more issue to consider: the number of Blu-ray replication facilities is extremely small. We had a hard time finding one, and they could only do single-layer BDs (maxing out at around 2 hours of content). Perhaps in higher quantities they would’ve done dual-layer, but not for us. They even required the sleeve printing be done at an external facility. Due to all the costs of going HD and making a BD, major studios and distributors are the only ones utilizing these replication facilities, and the standard Blu-ray replication job is on the order of 50,000 units. Ours was 1,000 units, so you can imagine the excitement of the sales rep when she had to walk me through every step I’ve just outlined.

It’s simply not worth replication plants’ effort to do your crummy order of 1,000 Blu-rays, unless you do it perfectly and require no further attention after sending them your hard drive. We went through hours of troubleshooting, multiple overnight FedEx deliveries, and a lot of wasted authoring time because the information simply wasn’t out there.

Even in making 1000 BDs, we’re still considered very small fish, and we don’t know jack because nobody’s really done this stuff yet. Hopefully this helps you.

Filmmakers always want to know what goes down at the American Film Market. As I probably mentioned a few times, Death Grip attended AFM in 2011, and while the price of admission was steep, the learning experience more than paid for it. Stacey Parks of Film Specific recently interviewed us for her latest case study on AFM, and Death Grip‘s producer and co-star Rebecca Ahn gave a lot of insight into the current film market and how it impacts independent action films.

Today I’m going to introduce you to Rebecca Ahn and Eric Jacobus whom I worked with as private clients on their film Death Grip.  As you’ll see, even though Death Grip wasn’t finished by the time AFM rolled around, Rebecca and Eric decided to make the trip anyway (from San Francisco where they’re based) and see if they could start drumming up interest for their film.

Every year, hundreds of filmmakers show up on the AFM doorsteps with films in the post production stage in hopes of finding distribution interest for their films. But where I see most filmmakers fail is when they show up grossly unprepared – without the proper presentation materials and without any meetings set up… and as a result, most of them go home frustrated.

In this case study, you’ll see how Rebecca and Eric did things a bit differently by going in prepared…yet learned some very valuable lessons of what they could have even done better.

Enter Rebecca and Eric…

What is the name and log line of your film?

Death Grip

An Action Kickback film by Eric Jacobus, which takes Kenny Zemacus and his autistic brother Mark deep into the deadly world of the mysterious Coin of Judas and the murderous cult that will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

What is the website for your film (if you have one)?  

www.DeathGripMovie.com

What is the budget (or budget range) of your film? 

In the end, we will have spent just over $100,000 to produce Death Grip.

What stage were you at with your film for AFM and what was your strategy and overall goal going in? 

We were in post-production on Death Grip when we attended AFM last year, so our goal going in was to find either interested distributors or at least a reputable sales agent to take on our film.

What did you do most to prepare for AFM? 

We did our research and identified several distributors and sales agents we thought would be a good fit for us and our film, then reached out and set up several meetings throughout the market. We then worked hard to put together a solid sales one-sheet with great cover art on one side, and cast & other important production info on the other. Since Death Grip was still in post-production, we didn’t have a final screener to take with us. So instead we took DVDs with the trailer and a few rough scenes from the film to show prospective distributors.

What were some of the obstacles you encountered (if any) and how did you overcome them? 

Our biggest obstacles came from the marketability and timing of our film. While the sales agents we met with at AFM seemed satisfied with our content, they continually expressed concern over whether we had adequate name talent. We hadn’t fully understood how singularly essential this one element can be to distributors, pretty much above all others, and this limited our ability to connect with some of the more established sales agents. In addition to that, we went to AFM while still in the early stages of post-production on Death Grip, which meant we didn’t have a polished looking product and our trailer wasn’t as strong as it could have been. This also hurt us in our AFM meetings, and though some sales agents were able to see past that to the film’s potential, we definitely would have made a stronger impression if we’d brought a completed screener, or at least an extremely solid trailer.

What were some of your biggest mistakes or wastes of time with regards to AFM? 

Going into AFM, we were still a bit fuzzy on the difference between a distributor and a sales agent. We realize now, looking back, that it was not as realistic to pursue deals directly from distributors there (especially not foreign) given the package of our particular film. So I do feel we wasted some of our time in contacting and pursuing distributors who would rarely give a film of our level their precious time. In the end, our conversations with sales agents were far more rewarding than those with direct distributors, so that is an area where we could have used our time more wisely.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful in preparing for and attending AFM? 

FilmSpecific.com was by far the most valuable resource for our AFM preparation, as well as for producing Death Grip in general. We were also fortunate to work with Stacey Parks on our marketing and distribution strategy. Beyond that, we just researched every site and resource on film markets and distribution we could find, and talked to everyone we knew who had been through it before. So we felt very well prepared going into AFM.

What was the outcome of your trip to AFM and did you accomplish your goals? 

At the end of the market, we left with a good number of positive leads from sales agents, which later developed into several full offers. Our hard work at AFM was rewarded, and we were able to compare and negotiate these offers and select the very best one for us. So in the end, we did indeed accomplish our goal, and now have our ideal sales agent WonderPhil representing Death Grip.

 If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?

How you brand yourself is just as important as how you brand your film. Although we had prepared solid materials for our film, we didn’t focus enough on materials about ourselves – namely our business cards. We did have some on us, but they were hard to read and a bit outdated, since we made them for an older company. I sometimes wonder if we would have had more success had we brought more professional business cards with our current production company and roles.

Armed with these, we also might have had more courage to make more frequent introductions. We didn’t quite realize the importance of impromptu introductions until the end of the market, and therefore missed out on a good many additional opportunities. We had our schedule of meetings, but didn’t take as much initiative between them to pop in and introduce ourselves at other companies we hadn’t reached out to yet, but were still a potentially good fit. The few times we did do this, it lead to something more. So we left feeling like we could have done more there.

What are your next steps from here? 

We are proud to say we finally released Death Grip a few weeks ago with our own theatrical premiere, which was extremely well received and has already been earning numerous glowing reviews (http://deathgripmovie.com/press). It is also now available on DVD and Blu-Ray at our online store (http://stuntpeoplestore.bigcartel.com), where sales have really been taking off! So next, we will be working on building up more press, trying to get into a film festival or two, and helping our sales agent sell rights to more territories around the world. At the same time, we are also developing our next two projects, which we’ve gotten to the script stage and are now packaging with financing and cast. So it’s onward and upward for us!

Fugu Talk saw our preview at Comic-Con 2012:

There was one Donny Yuen film, some awful stuff that ranged from fun to unwatchable, and a really impressive indie effort from The Stunt People that reminded me of the old Jackie Chan films, both in terms of action and physical humor. I liked the clips so much that I searched out their booth on the exhibit floor (turns out they were adjacent to Troma) to buy the DVD, which has a lot of interesting and inspiring special feature bits on the history of The Stunt People and the development of Death Grip (the star/writer spent six years on the script!)

Martial Arts Movie Junkie Kelly Miller:

The fights are fast and intense. I absolutely loved some of the longer takes and little stunts that were sprinkled in. What make the fights truly shine, though, are the situations that are created. Each fight has its own personality and feel, and it’s apparent that a lot of thought went into these. One of my favorite fights is one that takes the term “toilet humor” to a whole new level. If you like fights, you won’t be disappointed.

UMUSTBEBORED – DEATH GRIP: A must watch for kung-fu movie lovers!

The fights are phenomenal.  Eric Jacobus not only stars but also directs DEATH GRIP.  He and his Stunt People crew understand how to perfectly shoot and execute a fighting scene.  These guys have it down to a science.  There are no wires or fast edits mixed with excessive shaky cam.  We see everything in sometimes long continuous takes.  The fights are fast and they leave a lasting impact.  You can tell what is happening.  … They are way better than the fights you would see in a Bourne film or any other big budgeted mainstream film.

Sound good? Buy the DVD or Blu-Ray (both are all-region!) today. Domestic orders ship almost daily, and international orders (we ship everywhere) ship twice a week. All funds go straight back to us to pay for making the film. This way, we can get started on our next projects that are currently underway.

DEATH GRIP: A must watch for kung-fu movie lovers!

When we walked into the exhibit hall today to begin our Comic-Con 2012 adventure, the initial impression was: holy sh*t. Not only is Comic-Con bigger, but it’s louder, thicker, longer, and faster. Legendary is two hundred yards from us with a Dolby Surround system and a 130-inch LED TV near the ceiling playing every trailer since 2009, and Konami is around the corner with a booth that looks less like a booth and more like a castle.

The Stunt People exhibited the first day with an all-new booth design by Chelsea and Rebecca that drew a solid crowd. Sales were better than the last three years combined for preview night, when the exhibit hall opens for only three hours to a more select group of attendees who want to get in and buy the collectibles before the big crowd arrives on Thursday. The Stunt People banner is missing, so we’re showcasing the Action Pact Entertainment logo above the booth. People are less likely to assume we’re a stuntmen trade association this way. Once we get the SP banner we’ll put it in back above the TV for those who engage our booth.

Ric Meyers prepped me for his Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza panel with him tomorrow night, where I’ll be featuring some action from Death Grip. it. I probably shouldn’t tell you exactly what he said about the fights in Death Grip, but I can say that of the six or so other film snippets playing, Death Grip will be the last one for a reason.

We’re going to do our best to get into other people’s panels, including one with an appearance by Jackie Chan and the cast of Expendables 2. To be honest, there’s no way in high hell we’re going to get into these, let alone meet the stars, and least of all hand them a DVD. The fanfare at Comic-Con is utterly super-human. There’s still a line around the building waiting to see a cast appearance at the Twilight panel on Thursday, and get this: the line started on Monday. These kinds of waits are common, and we simply aren’t hardcore enough to do it. Plus, we’ve got a movie to sell, and so far people are really, really digging Death Grip.

Enjoy these pics from the show. We’re stoked about tomorrow, and we’ll post plenty more pics from then too!

Last we heard from our sales agent Wonderphil, a company in India has purchased the rights to distribute Death Grip in India. Will it be subtitled? Will it be dubbed? Will we have to shoot a pickup of a dance number for the ending? No telling, but in any case, Death Grip will be released commercially in India. The deal finalizes in August, when they will pay and take delivery.

A company in Germany also called last week and plans to make an offer within a week or two. I understand Germany often dubs and changes the titles to action films. Jackie Chan’s Project A is known as Der Superfighter and Wheels on Meals is called Powerman. Maybe they can call this one Deathman or Eric the Killer Body. Or something equally catchy. J. J. Timbro suggested Meatstorm.

France, South Korea, and Turkey also requested a dvd, so packages went out yesterday. The future’s looking good for Death Grip.