Emmanuel Manzanares is an up-and-coming name in the action film world. He’s had a consistent stream of content showing off his skills as a choreographer, camera operator, and director. His latest effort is with the super talented duo of Brendan Huor and Mickey Facchinello, where they recreate the finale of Wheels on Meals between Jackie and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, shot for shot, with the same choreography, sound effects, and music. Don’t miss it, and subscribe to Emmanuel’s channel to stay up to date with more indie martial goodness.
Kenji Tanigaki is a name we should all know. He’s been doing stunts and choreography on Donnie Yen’s films since Ballistic Kiss and can be seen in supporting action parts in Wu Xia, Sha Po Lang, and Flash Point. He’s put together a video tribute of Martial Club where his team recreates the famous alley fight between Gordon Liu and Wang Lung Wei. They nailed it. Check out Kenji’s other videos too, since he posts a lot of behind the scenes footage of Donnie’s films.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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?
Shaun Finney has released his second installment of Beast Mode, a reel of the latest indie action from across the globe, set to a rad song. If you’re new to the indie action world, then this is a great place to start.
The Stunt People Forum is also a great gathering place for indie action teams. Just go to the Independent Alley section to get your daily fix. Also be sure to check out Beast Mode 1, which is a similar compilation but of badass Hong Kong film clips.
It’s been a long time coming since the last indie action roundup, and since there’s been so much good stuff released lately just featuring various Stunt People members and associates, it’s time to resume the madness and show you exactly how indie action videos are superior to Hollywood’s latest stream of ooze (though Captain America was a pleasant surprise).
I gotta hand it to Ed Kahana first. His latest film Relic Hunt is an Indiana Jones-type action adventure with a killer fight scene plus some motorcycle stunts. Features Lucas Okuma, Bryan Cartago, Alvin Hsing, and Caitlyn Corson.
Next is Dennis Ruel‘s feature film Unlucky Stars which is nearing completion. Check out Steve Yu, Vlad Rimburg, and Jose Montesinos, along with Shawn Bernal, Manny Manzanares, Sam Hargrave, Roy Chen, and Ken Quitugua.
Last is Clandestine, the latest Thousand Pounds production which successfully raised a big chunk of change on Kickstarter. This fight features Brenden Huor facing off against a crowd that includes Alvin Hsing, Bryan Cartago.
Lawson posted his top 10 fights of 2010 and picked a few that aren’t available online, including the finale from Dogs of Chinatown a(4:24) and my fight against Ed Kahana in Detective Story (8:19). We’re honored to be featured! Hats off to all the other indie guys in there:
The Young Masters: http://www.youtube.com/user/youngmasters/featured
Jabronie Pictures: http://www.youtube.com/user/jabroniepictures
Rising Tiger Inc: http://www.youtube.com/user/BoloMcTigerThunder/featured
The Mag Fighters: http://www.youtube.com/user/MagnificentFighter/featured
Sunday May 20. An early start today was necessary to catch the 7:45 am train to bordighera, which would lead us to our final destination of Seborga, the independent principality that was celebrating its second anniversary of the election of their prince. The euro rail was smooth, the tray tables long, and we hopped off at Bordighera to find the bus to Seborga. Our combined knowledge of Spanish and about three pages out of the Italian phrase book was enough to find the bus stop, and we caught the next bus to Seborga three hours later, climbing the twisting road to the scene of the party.
We searched for where the ceremony might be. The entire town is a series of small corridors, centuries old, with feral cats running every which way. I had managed to get a hold of Her Serene Highness Mrs. Nina Menegatto and secure an informal meeting to talk about Seborga’s independence and other sovereignty-related topics, since this relates to my day job at The Seasteading Institute. So we had an invitation to the anniversary party, we just had to find it and then get past her Italian entourage to say “Hey, remember us?”
We found the party at a quaint restaurant, which was packed. We asked if there was seating in more bastardized Italian, and the waitress looked at us like we were crazy. Rebecca added, “Princess Menegatto invited us!” and the waitress glowed and brought us to the only remaining table and showered us with a four course meal. We could only eat half of it. Meanwhile the room was all stares. Who are these strange non-Italians walking into our small town and getting quick service?
We spotted the princess, surrounded by about seven men all three feet taller than me, and this was our only chance. With about eight seconds before she left the restaurant for the maze-like corridors of Seborga, I walked up, said “Nina, I’m Eric” and she remembered me, shook my hand, and said she’d meet me at ten am the next morning.
We started searching for the local bed and breakfast, and the owner just happened to be walking out with her dog. In another mix of Italian and English and hand gestures we convinced her we had made a reservation. She believed us and took us upstairs to a small room. I was skeptical though, and told her that we had talked to someone else when making the reservation. I showed her the phone number, and she recognized it, except the reservation was at a bed and breakfast a mile away. Rather than giving the room to the wrong people she called the owner to pick us up.
A constant struggle for introverts like myself and other directors is building up the guts to approach people, be they a princess or a film financier or a celebrity, despite feeling completely alien to the situation. This opportunity was too good to pass up, so swallowing my insecurities paid off, and we had arranged a meeting. They say the more you do this kind of thing, the easier it becomes in the future. I hope that’s true.
Watched Bangkok Dangerous in Italian, The Shining in Italian, and other stuff in Italian, and took advantage of the free food in our room.
Monday May 21. After a much-needed 9+ hour sleep, I woke up at 7am to attempt to make coffee with a metallic contraption that I believe is a “French press.” It didn’t work, or I’m too stupid to use one, so I heated up some water on the stove and dipped a hand-made coffee filter made out of a napkin filled with grounds into the hot water to make some extremely strong coffee that sent me into cardiac arrest.
We met the Princess in her office at ten, where she told us some Seborgan history and detailed the situation with Seborga. Basically, Seborga is its own country within Italy. When the Italian states united in the 1800s, Seborga was the only one that wanted to maintain its independence and has succeeded in being independent to this date. They’ve successfully turned Italian police away, and judges have noted in proceedings that their independence is valid. It’s all very Zen-like. I asked, “What did you guys do to avoid unification with Italy?” Her reply was, “Nothing, we didn’t agree to it.” There’s a very good chance that Italy will officially recognize this small Principality’s independence, which can only result in good things for this small community.
There’s also a chance that we’ll look at Seborga as a filming location some day. As Rebecca and I talked about our work as action filmmakers and producers, Princess Menegatto openly advocated making a film in Seborga. I pitched a kind ofIn Bruges style fish-out-of-water film. We’d have to is figure out where to keep all the cast and crew, since the two bed and breakfasts only have about 6 rooms each, and devise some content that would sit well with the locals, since they’re mostly Catholics who want their town to look good. Logistics aside, all we need is a killer concept. So, consider that an open call for concept pitches, if you’ve got any!
We toured Seborga for the next hour, visiting their church, musical instrument museum, and convenience store. The B&B owner was nice enough to drive us back down the mountain to Bordighera so we could withdraw enough money to cover the room. Went to a bar nearby, took a long train ride to Milan, met with our sound mixer Matteo, and had dinner at his place.
We shared our experience in Cannes, and Matteo reciprocated our “Euro-shock” with a surprise that we just didn’t know these basic facts about art film financing in Europe. We talked about Italian cinema, and apparently Italian films are all dubbed, and it’s just the traditional way it’s done here. And it seems films are more about “the director’s vision”, ala Frederico Fellini, where he writes a script that is less story and more “idea”. The film is a bit abstract in the end (is that unbiased enough?). Not exactly a winning formula for action film.
There are also no Italian action films, though not because of the reasons above. Basically, there’s no Luc Besson of Italy. I’m no expert on Italian culture, but they seem to dig action, and I’m pretty sure they dig Italians. Talk about a gaping hole in the market. But I guess if you’re convinced your film industry needs to follow in the footsteps of the art-house film, and your action concept doesn’t stand a chance of being funded with public money, it’s easy to see why this hole wouldn’t easily be filled.
Then again, apparently Milan’s the money place right now. Makes you wonder whether it’s difficult to invest in film here. The guys at D-Unit could certainly use a budget.
Matteo’s been nice enough to let us stay at his place and cook us dinner. Tomorrow we check out downtown Milan, train with D-Unit, and experience some night life!