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.

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!

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.

This weekend I spent about 48 hours finishing up the Death Grip behind-the-scenes featurette The Life of Death Grip, which clocked in at 75 minutes. I also finished authoring the DVD and the Blu Ray masters and shipped them off to Signature Media this morning. If all goes as planned, we’ll have 2000 DVDs and 1000 Blu Rays to sell at our June 30th Theatrical Premiere. We’ll also have shirts. And if you’re in California, please come to the premiere. You’ll like this film, I promise.

I made the cover art after I finished the BD and DVD masters, so I ended up squeezing more onto the discs than it actually says on the artwork itself! So here’s an updated list of special features:

Blu-Ray: Even though the printing company will only burn a single-layer Blu Ray disc, which limited us to about 2 hours of videos, this version still has its share of special features and I loaded it to the brim, utilizing almost all of the disc. All special features are in 1080p HD.

  • Full film in 1080p HD
  • Commentary with me and producer/co-star Rebecca Ahn
  • The Compound – a 13-minute short action film, from which we cut the old teaser for our IndieGOGO campaign to raise funds early on
  • A deleted fight with Johnny Yong Bosch, which was part of our IndieGOGO campaign
  • A deleted fight with Yun, which was reshot in favor of a longer fight
  • Bullet Time
  • Outtake Reel – 14 minutes of outtakes
  • Paper Pushers short film
  • 2 small Easter eggs

DVD: This one’s a dual-layer disc, meaning it holds twice as much information as a regular DVD, but like any DVD it’s in standard resolution instead of the ultra-crisp 1080p you get in the Blu-Ray version. I used 5mbps VBR 2-pass encoding, and the film codec we shot on has a lot of bit depth, so it still looks damned good. I loaded this disc to the brim and had almost no space to spare from the 8.5 gigabytes available.

  • The Life of Death Grip – This will be the reason people might choose the DVD over or in addition to the Blu Ray. It’s a 75-minute behind the scenes look at all aspects ofDeath Grip, from casting Johnny Yong Bosch to budgeting, location scouting, and tons of making-of footage for the fight scenes in the film. Includes interviews with Johnny and two more industry pros, J. J. Perry and Shahar Sorek.
  • The Compound (same as above)
  • Outtakes (same as above)
  • The Art of Throwing – All the throwing outtakes from the film
  • Commentary with me and Rebecca (same as above)
  • Deleted fight with Johnny (same as above)
  • Deleted fight with Yun (same as above)
  • Deleted scene at a sushi restaurant
  • Deleted scene with Mark
  • Deleted segment of the end fight, which made Kenny out to be a little too ruthless
  • Deleted segment of the care home, which gives away too much of the film
  • Alternate car scene, which was funnier than we wanted at that point in the movie
  • Paper Pushers
  • Bullet-Time
  • Easter egg

Now we wait for the printers to get the shrink-wrapped units to us while we make the soundtrack CD for the donors, print Death Grip shirts, print new retro SP shirts (the “Our Pain Is Your Pleasure” ones), and attempt to get 800 people to our premiere.

The DVDs and BDs will be for sale at The Stunt People Store on or around July 1st.

The journey home from Cannes was long, but it gave me some time to evaluate the whole trip. The most shocking realization was how little we knew about the European film industry simply because we live in the USA. Even attending the American Film Market didn’t prepare us for what Cannes was all about. The focus at AFM was on making a marketable independent film, while Cannes was about how to co-produce with other countries and get in tight with film fund managers, all to take advantage of government subsidies.

As Americans, most of us don’t understand why the government would pay us to make art. We didn’t have a Renaissance on this side of the ocean, when artists lived with the nobles and exchanged art for room and board. Art wasn’t “marketable” then either in the strictest sense of the term, since your average artist couldn’t afford the tools and materials to make marble sculptures. Art was treated as a cultural asset, a long-term investment that the upper class subsidized. Those beautiful things like the Duomo are still standing today because of this. It’s the best of the best of art. Perhaps the masses thought it was too “artsy fartsy” to be marketable then too, yet it still stands tall and we’re all jealous that we have nothing like it in the States.

So there are still those at the top subsidizing the lifestyles of artists making pieces that will be in museums and archives 300 years from now. These modern nobles run the film funds and the commissions that decide whether the film gets to take advantage of government cash. We train in school to get their blessings so they will pay us to make art. What’s strange is they don’t seem to admit their status as gatekeepers, preferring titles like “fund manager” or “co-producer”. People in control of money are people in control of money. If you can’t agree with them, it’s off to the dogs with your film! Though if you can please the dogs…

Marketability be damned, this is art, and it’s how our civilization will be remembered. So what will be remembered? Will there be a Schwarzenegger Criterion Collection? I doubt it, but for the record, I’d give anything for a future where Criterion published the Schwarzenegger collection to commemorate the beautiful years of 1980-1994… and throw a John Carpenter Collection in there, the best of Sammo, and an Eric Jacobus collection for the hell of it, I’ll up-rez whatever’s necessary. Will Dolph Lundgren speak at the UN? Stallone could do some health PSAs on public radio. And Chuck Norris knows a thing or two about family values. Status confers power, no?

Of course I’m joking, nobody wants celebrities dictating our norms in anything except their specific media. Now if we could only get George Clooney to shut up.

I apologize for being crass. It’s just that my idols, the ones who broke records in home video and at the box office and entertained me as a latchkey kid, don’t get the royal treatment. And when we went to Cannes as independent action filmmakers, neither did we. We’re doing genre films, and action is the most genre of genre. The medium requires a good-vs-evil approach that can justify violence, and to the film fund manager it’s very simple and very dumb, reflecting a cultural viewpoint that’s outdated… something they don’t want their country remembered for. So unless there’s a clear cultural villain of some kind (often action films about independence movements against evil overlords can get funding this way), then the drama film, with its ethical shades of gray, will be the one that gets funded. If you’re going genre, your best chance is to stay out of Europe.

It’s a strange feeling, realizing you’re part of a movement that’s so un-chic. As if my t-shirt and jeans didn’t make me American enough, using Cannes to market our action films is like strapping on a fanny pack and an “I Love Paris” baseball cap. But as un-cool as our action films are to the indie crowd, the burn pile will never be their destination. It’s not 1914, not 1939, not 1954. You can’t just remove copies of bytes. They’re here for good.

Asia, on the other hand, seems to like its genre films. Martial arts is still a cultural side dish everywhere there, and with the right recipe it can mix beautifully with the American carnivorous consumption of mixed martial arts. If you want government funding for your action film, team up with Asia.

In the end you may not need to co-produce with a foreign country anyway. The action genre sells on its own pretty well. I’ll echo the sentiments from AFM more than Cannes: save your money on name talent. Once you cover that, if you’ve got enough cash to go to an exotic location, it can only help.

But if you’re anything like me, the same burning question remains in your head: what do I do? AFM is so geared toward the mainstream studio film, while Cannes only seems to care about the art house film. Where do we fit in? In the next post I detail an example process for how to best take advantage of your position as an indie genre filmmaker.

Tuesday, May 22 – Our time in Italy was short but sweet, punctuated with our sound designer Matteo and a stunt team called D-Unit. We went into the fashion capital of Milano, where we went to the only coffee place that resembled Starbucks called Arnold Coffee. Italy is the only European country that doesn’t have Starbucks, so instead they have Arnold Coffee, where they sell huge drinks and pancakes and all that crap. Like France, Italy doesn’t seem to offer “large” coffee sizes, or any sizes for that matter, but rather those tiny cups you drink at the bar, so it was a relief for two Americans to get a big drink for once.

The galleria was massive, with chairs lining the sides that cost 20 € to sit in. The whole place was a tourist trap, a gorgeous tourist trap, and we got out before the twentieth Senegalian tried to sell us another bracelet. There was the Duomo, a massive Catholic church which was like a step up from a “Cathedral”. The outside was tiled entirely with marble, which is incredible if you think about how much a marble countertop costs these days. Police and a Father were teamed up at the front door, making sure nobody desecrated the Duomo by wearing revealing clothes inside. One woman was wearing a low tanktop, and the father shook his head and cast her away. The inside was lined with gigantic paintings and confession booths, some multilingual, carved from wood. Something like the Duomo simply couldn’t be built today. America never even had these kinds of things because it just wasn’t around before 300 years ago. And it never will. So I did what any intelligent person would do and took a bunch of pictures.

Matteo talked about Apple stores in Milan. I brought it up because it’s a hip town, but I didn’t see one. Apparently the nearest Apple store is dozens of miles away, they just don’t have many of them, but when the iPad 3 came out, eager artists and students all flocked to that Apple store to buy it. A critical thinking citizen said, “But the other electronics shops all have it too, and there’s no line! Let’s go there!” and the people responded, “We want to get it in the true Apple way!” Like Americans, Italians crave an experience, however banal it may be. They also seek the prestige not just of owning an Apple product, of but associating with other Apple customers, lined up for hours with equally fanatical consumers to get the latest and coolest. Buckingham said that modern audiences don’t just want what they pay for now. It’s all about the “added experience”. Anything a company can do, be they a production company or an electronics manufacturer, to give the audience more than just a product, makes them that much more marketable. Plus, Apple doesn’t just sell a product, they sell “creativity”. If you buy Apple, you’re buying into a cool marketplace that sets you apart. If as filmmakers we can tap into that extra selling point, in the form of a “movement” on top of the film’s basic premise, it’ll really set us apart. Seems to work for Apple, even when there are almost no Apple stores.

After a lunch of mozzerella and prociutto, we passed through a castle, which was another tourist trap. We made our way to Monza to meet with Loris Rippamonti of D-Unit. There were signs for Monza everywhere, so we assumed it was close. Big mistake. We ended up on the freeway, walking for what felt like miles trying to navigate the Italian bus system. My broken Italian got us to a train, which turned out not to go to Monza anyway. Loris told us where to find a McDonald’s, where we waited for him. McDonald’s in Italy, obviously, looks nothing like a McDonald’s in Oakland. There aren’t even trash cans in the bathroom. I bought another tiny but super-strong coffee (at this point I had really started to hate these) and Loris arrived.

It felt as if I had met a long-lost brother. Loris, Mirco, and Ivan of D-Unit have been taking gigs in Italy for years, trying to break into the action scene like any of us, except of course with the added disadvantage that the independent film market in Italy is skewed toward certain films that get government funding, and D-Unit, God bless them, don’t turn to dramas and documentaries to take advantage of that. They’re action people, and Rebecca and I joined them for their stunt practice session at a big gym in Monza. Loris gave us some D-Unit shirts, we practiced tricks and taught each other new stuff that I’m excited to take back with me to SP practice, and shot a little fight scene, which I’ll post here soon along with photos.

At a pub we got a better handle on D-Unit’s situation in Italy. Apparently the Italian action film market is embarrassingly bad, and I started feeling guilty for my frequent thrashing of America’s market. Differing standards aside, they are face with an action film market that, like all the others, requires a name actor. They have the writing, directing, editing, and action, all key elements of the Action Kickback model, but they don’t have the name, which means they don’t have the complete marketing parkage, therefore they don’t have the funding. It’s the catch-22 we all know: to get a star, you need money, and to get money, you need a star. Meanwhile they all keep their day jobs and do stunt gigs, the latest of which had fallen through without their even being told. Hopefully on one of these gigs they can meet an actor who can bring them some financing, and Loris can become the Luc Besson of Italy.

We parted ways that night after they drove us back to Matteo’s. The next day was spent entirely on the train, traveling back to Cannes, where we’ll spend one more day checking out what we missed at the market and maybe catch another screening.

Check out D-Unit’s Facebook page here and their YouTube channel here. Thanks Matteo and D-Unit’s Loris, Mirco, and Ivan for introducing us to the best of Italy.

Rebecca Ahn and I are attending the Cannes film market this year in May. Production designer Ejay Ongaro is likely attending as well. Death Grip isn’t in the film festival, though. That deadline’s long since passed. Our sales agent Wonderphil will be there selling Death Grip to distributors. Here’s hoping for the best!

At the very least, we’ll get to enjoy some good French food, which is my kind of stuff.

Based on the recommendations of fans and our sales agent, as well as our own preferences, we’re likely to rename the film to its original title Death Grip. While we had chosen “Rise And Fail” because we thought it to be more appropriate for the story than “Death Grip“, we do agree that Death Grip is a more suitable action film title.

This change happens frequently in the action genre, often due to regional differences in marketing. A recent example is Jet Li’s Danny the Dog, which was retitled Unleashed for its American release. Fans of the original title kept the “Danny the Dog” naming convention, so likewise if you want to mention “Rise And Fail” to us we’ll honor the naming preference. But for the sake of marketing the film and allowing us to continue doing films in the future, the formal name is likely to be Death Grip.