The premiere for Death Grip on June 30th, 2012 was a night I’ll never forget. Two years of solid labor suddenly morphed into something real and alive. The audience reaction was incredible. They got every joke (and a bunch of others, which I didn’t expect), screamed at the gore, and cheered after every fight scene. They ate up the DVDs and shirts, people said they wanted to invest, and we’re expecting a bunch of reviews to flow in soon.

And now I’d like to extend a thank you to everyone for making Death Grip happen.

Cast – The overwhelming response was that while the action still beat everyone’s expectations, the acting was the ultimate surprise. The most frequent comment I received was, “I came in expecting just some action movie, but it was like a real movie.” The cast did an incredible job at taking Death Grip far and above the schlocky action film genre and into a new ballpark. Johnny, Nathan, Chelsea, Shaun, Amberly, LaChe, Cynthia, and Sean, I wish you could have made it for the show, but due to a combination of prior engagements and leaky car batteries weren’t able to attend, and the audience missed you all.

Crew – The audience was convinced that Death Grip was made for a few million dollars. This is largely thanks to the efforts of our amazing crew that squeezed every bit of production value out of our budget as they could thanks to their superb grasp of the art form. Drew Daniels (DP), Brett Perry (composer), Brad Wagner (sound recordist), Phil Gorn (sales agent), Justine Jacob (legal), and Matteo Grilli (sound designer and mixer), we missed you all.

Donors – The overwhelming support of our donors helped us meet our budgetary needs and showed us that there’s plenty of hope for the independent genre film. Thank you all. We’ll be sending out donor packages this week, with a short delay for those who requested the Blu Ray upgrade.

Family – Our families gave us extra support when we needed it the most. From financial help to location services, the Jacobus, DeGregorio, and Ahn families were invaluable to the production.

Fans – To readers of this blog, members of The Stunt People Forum who have pushed me since day one, the Facebook community, our Press contacts, and all the other forums and blogs out there putting the word out, we couldn’t make a splash without your support. Many of you came from a long distance to see the show and it as a pleasure to see you all!

Friends – To all the good people who lent support whenever it was needed, from handing out fliers to pushing us on social networks to just bringing people to the show, we thank you!

Investors – To the executive producers who truly believed the independent action film could hold its own in the market, we hope (and expect) to make it worth your while in spades, setting a precedent with Death Grip.

Local BusinessesFlips N Flops Gymnastics, Tiger Claw, Arthur Freyer Lighting, Jonah Hendrickson, Petaluma Historical Museum, The Seasteading Institute, Ongaro & Sons, Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church, Yusan Sushi, Arizmendi Bakery, Historic Bal Theatre, and Victory Warehouse were all instrumental in the making of this film. We feel an even stronger sense of community after your help, so thank you for making the Bay Area the perfect location for Death Grip.

Thanks to all of you, Death Grip is sure to make an impact. Now let’s see some reviews 😀

The latest series of events in Stunt People history have made it painfully obvious to me that you have to be a huge player to get any momentum in the entertainment world.

  • Materials – Getting a printing company to make 1,000 DVDs on time when their regular clients print 50,000 is like pulling teeth. Printing 1,000 units through a smaller printing company will cost you far more since it’s not as streamlined and requires more man-hours.For example, I’m trying to make DVDs and the people at the press are utterly unresponsive after running into multiple errors with the discs and hard drives I sent. I’m not convinced these are my errors and I’ve seen no attempt on their parts to figure out what to do next, but since they’re not making much money from this deal compared to the 50,000 disc runs they’re used to, they have no incentive to respond to my emails very quickly. I’ll end up on the phone with them today, probably a lot.

    I recommend kunaki if you’re doing single-layer DVDs or CDs. Quick, cheap, and easy.

  • Distribution – If you’re indie, you rely on a core, fan audience, but once your film is done, sales agents tell you not to make too much noise, for fear of hurting international sales. If international distributors get word that your film is “old” or has been released already, they may drop their deal. The alternative is to stay silent and avoid getting too much press for your film, and avoid showing it to people until some distributor picks it up, which these days might take years. Getting people to review your film and showing it to the world before its eventual release requires stealth and will result in a lot of aches and pains.

    For example, I went ahead and edited the IMDB listing for my last feature film (starts with “cont” ends with “or” … see that shit? stealth, though don’t be surprised if I have to edit this damn blog too now) to give it its new alternate title. An hour later, our distributor contacted me saying, “Hey just a quick note, just in case you’ve been telling people about the old title of the movie, don’t give out that information, because it will kill the film.” When I told him about the IMDB update I made, I think he had a heart attack. Currently I’m trying to cancel that, which is incredibly difficult if, again, you’re a small fish.

  • Being Talented – If you’re talented, and you make a big splash, the way The Raid has, you’ll get noticed. Then you become a big star, right? No. You get hired to work behind the scenes on the remake of your own film.

This isn’t meant to be a bitter blog post. It’s a snapshot of how the industry works, and why only the hugest conglomerates survive. Conglomerates are no more evil than Manzanita in California or killer whales in the Pacific, or mold on your bread, they’re just the things that survive. And I’ve got no interest in fighting the system because, like it or not, we’re all knee-deep in it. In fact I like the system. It made many of the world’s best action films.

The big guys are, however, sweating. The market is volatile as ever, and the people in high positions are clinging to their spots, which explains why nobody would ever just GIVE Evans and Uwais starring parts in a new film. Since the studios can’t make action films like The Raid, they just co-opt the people who can. And being co-opted is a valid decision, because the alternative is a lot of cancelling IMDb changes, sneaking around while trying to release your film to your fans, fighting with disc printers to get your stuff done on time, and making roughly 25% of the salary of a stuntman. It’s not glamorous by any means.

But that hasn’t been the decision for me and I don’t plan for it to be in the future, despite opportunities that have presented themselves. I like the stuff I do, I like my audience, and through all this I’m still convinced that this is the best way to do it.

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.

Update: You can now purchase tickets for the premiere at http://tinyurl.com/DeathGripMoviePremiere for $10 each!

It’s happening! Our kick-ass, martial arts action-thriller Death Grip now has an official date for its theatrical premiere!

When: Saturday June 30, 2012 @ 7:00 PM
Where: Bal Theatre – 14808 E 14th St., San Leandro, CA 94578 (Google Maps)

Ticket information and other details will come soon, but mark your calendars for an epic night. And be sure to check out the Death Grip homepage for more info on the film.

Special thanks to Bob Johnson of Bay Area Film Events for helping us secure the Bal Theater.

Recently my post celebrating the 10 Year Anniversary of KWOON sparked some discussion on the forum about the state we’re in today compared to 10 years ago. Not in general, but as filmmakers.

For those who have been hiding from the news (for good reason), we’re in a recession that’s probably the worst since 1929. Unemployment is hovering around the 10% mark, consumer confidence is low, and the stock market is worth about half of what it was during the housing bubble-era. Economic indicators aside, what does it mean to a filmmaker? Perhaps there are some metrics that the talking heads on FOX and CNN are missing.

Here are some comparisons between our situation now versus 1999:

  1999 2009
Low-Budget Camera $700 (Sony Hi-8 TRV95) $700 (Sony 3-chip TRV900)
High-Budget Camera $100,000+ (35mm camera + stock + developing costs) $3,750 (Scarlet)
Web Hosting (Godaddy.com) $10/Month (50MB / 1500MB transfer) $5/Month (10,000MB / 300,000MB transfer)
8GB Harddrive $200 (HDD) $5 (thumbdrive)
1,000GB Harddrive $18,000 (50 x 20GB HDD) $100
Dell Inspiron 1150 Laptop
(for editing DV footage)
$1,000 (2004) $74.00
HD Limited to industry Everywhere
Youtube, Wikipedia, Facebook No Yes

All these technological advances were driven by profit-seeking. Obtain profits by creating products that consumers want and competing with other companies for market share. Without the legal means to make a profit, companies would not pioneer the technology that allow us to produce films so much more efficiently today vs. 1999.

As filmmakers, we are much better off now than we were 10 years ago. While the supply of films continues to grow, the barriers to entry into the film market shrink, making it easier and cheaper to make a moderate return on a small feature film investment. I was listening to a podcast on EconTalk recently (I recommend) where they talked about startup companies and how now it’s so much cheaper and easier to build a startup company than it was 10 years ago. Programming languages are more abstract and have bigger building blocks, cheap computers can handle all the software a startup requires, and information is free.

Today we’re able to grow more efficiently than we could in 1999. $100 today is worth so much more than $100 in 1999, even adjusted for inflation. The amount of productivity we can enjoy thanks to online social networking and the low cost of producing feature films means our $100 takes us today to where only $5,000 could take us in 1999. Wealth is not created by simply moving money from point A to point B. The pie stays the same size in that case. Wealth is created by the increased efficiency and productivity that improves our standard of living, thereby making the pie bigger, meaning bigger slices for everyone.

Zumbi of Zion I stars alongside Theresa Wondra in Pete Lee’s latest film, “This Close or This Far.” The film also features acting performances by Stunt People members Eric Jacobus, Stacie Rashel, Ed Kahana (who also produces), Brandon Daranouvongs, Shaun Finney, and newcomer Erika Balasabas.

“This Close or This Far” was shot on the Sony PMW-EX1 HD Camcorder. No release date is set yet for the final release, but feast your eyes on some screen caps in the meantime.

Even ninjas have day jobs.

9 to 5 Ninja is an upcoming martial arts action-adventure mini-series featuring The Stunt People. The series begins with Aya (Anne Lundbom) and Gunner (Eric Jacobus) as two ninjas working for Ninjatel, a San Francisco non-profit that specializes in espionage, surveillance, extraction, and maiming on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. All proceeds go towards the relocation efforts for displaced ninja refugees from various ninja-clensing turmoil overseas in countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Somalia.

Shooting is complete and the episodes will be out in the coming months.
http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=2146657&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1
9 to 5 Ninja Trailer – The Stunt People from Eric Jacobus on Vimeo.