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’m making action filmmaking tutorials now for indie action filmmakers, martial artists, and stuntmen and stuntwomen, a series I’m calling “Indie Action Essentials”. The first skill I’m tackling is the Hong Kong spin, or the “HK”. The video includes all the steps plus what padding I recommend when doing the stunt on hard surfaces.

If you have any requests for tutorials you’d like, comment below or at the video’s YouTube page. I’m always listening!

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Yesterday I shot the first fight scene I’ve done since finishing Death Grip. It’s a videogame parody where I play a Karate man taking on two other players played by fellow Stunt People and Death Grip actors Shaun Finney and Yun Lujhei Yang.

Stunt practices have paid off: I could still kick and punch pretty quick, and my bones took a decent amount of damage whenever hitting my forearm or shin against an elbow, but the lagging part was the later choreography, which came slowly once we hit the 4-hour point. In the past, I’ve usually muscled through these moments. The choreography gets more experimental, efficiency plummets, and suddenly one shot takes 45 minutes to accomplish. By the third shot I’m mentally drained and often cranky.

Instead, we played it safe. Rather than draining ourselves on two or three extra shots, trying to make weird choreography look good, we just did something fun and character-related, which ended the shoot on a good note. Now rather than dwelling on the frustration of a little test shoot, I get to remember how fun choreography can be. This makes me wanna jump back into doing short videos again, which will allow me to exercise that choreography muscle again in time for the next big project.

In my last post I used Cannes and AFM to take a snapshot of the action industry and predict what the climate will be like in a couple years. Impossible? Maybe, but using some basic principles I think we can be pretty accurate, within fifty percent. So how does it relate to us as indie genre filmmakers? And what’s to be done?

We have two big walls to scale, but don’t worry. We’re spry enough to have notable advantages on both:

1. The indie (drama) film market has been unsuited to genre films since by nature genre films cost more to make. But with decreasing costs of technology, and provided you can round up affordable talent that specializes in the genre (vfx people for sci-fi, stunt people for action, makeup people for horror, etc.), it’s entirely possible to short-circuit this.

2. The studio (genre) film market is locked off to low budget films because funding usually comes from risk averse investors, who see your low budget film as a waste of change. But innovation is easier for a small player, who can target systemic inefficiencies in the studio system and make the case to an investor that a new idea could be marketable. This can lead the way to funding, which leads to casting, etc.

And not to mention:

3. Government funding in Europe is never guaranteed, especially considering the possibility of a Euro crisis. Film funds would be cut long before pensions. Low-budget genre films might then be an opportunity in Euro Zone countries, since the genre itself is more marketable by nature (ask Luc Besson), and the risk at a low budget is, of course, low.

So that’s the good news. As an indie genre filmmaker, you’re positioned between two slow-moving goliaths. Get lured into the subsidized art film industry via the University, and you lose your genre edge. Get lured into the high-grossing studio system via trade unions, lose your autonomy. The road between the two is wide but barely travelled. Do you have enough trail mix?

Of course, if this was all good news I’d be a millionaire by now. We have to come down to earth and realize what we’re up against. Indie genre filmmakers have to realize that the market is rapidly stratifying. To the left, Hunger Games, stardom, theatrical distribution of multi-billion dollar franchises. To the right, self-distribution, autonomy, micro-budget films and lifelong starvation, maybe living in mom’s basement. The rapidly diminishing middle road, the one we’ve been aiming for, is home video, with low to middle budget films that one could once make a living off. When video-on-demand and piracy came around, this middle road, well traveled and smooth as it is, became so narrow it’s now got construction signs every fifteen feet and is home to sinkholes and wild, hairy mammals that will eat you alive and leave you with less than you started with. Is it worth it? Do you still have that other job that paid bills?

This stratification isn’t the work of an evil overlord or the dumb masses, but a natural result of an industry that has more technology than it knows what to do with. To say the market is in flux is like saying the dodo bird just needed some tender care until it could grow fangs. We’ve created the beast of technology, and we’re stuck with its wild swings until we start outlawing it or it crashes into a rock. How will we make a living? Will we make a living? Or will filmmaking, like shoe repair or Pascal programming, become better suited as a hobby?

I’m actually not worried. There is only one big competitor for film, and that’s video games. And video games are genre to the bone. People hunger for hard conflict, anything to feed the beast inside that’s being tranquilized by civilization. We turn to video games for firsthand access and pay a lot of money for it. The market for action is still alive and well, and it’s arguably the reason boys stay home from the movies. They killed the arcade. Will they kill cinema? To prevent this awful fate, we need to show them how well we can do it, since nobody else seems to give a crap about doing this.

As micro budget filmmakers, how do we prove ourselves to the world if we can’t even get our masterpiece off the ground? If my own experience can serve as a pithy example, I would do this in three stages, one film per stage.

First stage: shoot an ultra-low budget feature film for as little cash as possible. Maybe portion out $5k from your college tuition and tell your parents (or yourself, or the government, or whoever is providing it) that it’s part of a work-study program that’ll teach you more than any class could. Write, direct, produce, and star in it if you have to, edit it, and stick it on a DVD or release it online. You should be able to get some willing and able college kids to help you out, since they probably won’t have anything better to do. Making a feature-length action film is cool. Prove that you can just get something done without demanding millions of dollars, or anything for that matter, except for some time from your friends. You prove yourself as a director to your cast and crew, and you prove yourself to the market as someone competent enough to make decent entertainment. The bar is low already. If you can make your $5k back, even better, but getting $0 back in exchange for a huge audience and more dedicated crew isn’t a bad deal. Most important thing: finish it.

Second stage: save some money, fix whatever needs fixing (for me, it was everything except the action, hopefully you’ll be further along than this), and shoot on a micro budget of $20,000 to $100,000. This sounds like a lot, but $20,000 is roughly the credit line equivalent of seven credit cards, the max one should have before their credit rating begins plummeting, so it’s feasible. I don’t recommend this option since it’s the worst option outside of gambling or theft, but the barrier to entry isn’t prohibitive. Feed everyone in the production, and pay anyone who’s not an extra, even if it’s just a little. Make it feel official. Get one celebrity of some kind, which may require visiting a trade show in LA and handing out free copies of your first film to willing participants (it’s how we got Johnny Yong Bosch). Finish this second movie on a schedule and make it kick ass. Release it officially however you can, either at a festival or via a distributor. Prove you’re not only able to make stuff, but you can sell it too. Again, you’ve asked for no favors. So nobody hates you yet, except for your competition in the industry. And your competition makes bad action.

Third stage, which is the rocky territory: people need to bet on you. You’ve proven you can make stuff, and you can sell stuff. Now, someone’s gotta take a risk. If you have to ask for this, you may want to milk your previous two projects, and then put the word out that you’re looking to collaborate on your next project. Farm out your weaknesses to more talented people, since you’ll know what you’re good at by now.

From here, it’s into the blue. Maybe the next step will have to be theatrical, or straight to VOD, or maybe a police state will eliminate piracy and home video will make a resurgence! (*crickets*) Regardless, the most important lesson to take away from this or any other plan you might devise is don’t try to make a million bucks on your first film. That’s instant suicide. Filmmaking is a career, not the lottery. Even on a steady shoot, hour-by-hour you’ll be paid less than a UAW member from GM. A good work ethic is absolutely essential, as is some tough bark for all the times when locations, people, or funds will fall through. Sometimes all in the same day.

So as indie genre filmmakers, we have an entirely new road to cut, pave, and travel to see if it leads anywhere. If I didn’t believe it went somewhere great, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be in France.

Good luck, and always feel free to leave comments!

From the Vimeo synopsis:

Shaun Finney of The Stunt People explains to casual viewers and budding action filmmakers alike what it takes to make your test fight sell. So Shaun is on location in NYC to show off its production value, but a Chinese kid from Jersey and some Mexican dude interrupt his filming. Wackiness ensues.

Starring
Shaun Finney of The Stunt People
Jon Truei of The Conquistadors
Emmanuel Manzanares of Lazy Brown Productions

Camera
Jon Truei
Emmanuel Manzanares
Shaun Finney

Fight Choreography
Shaun Finney
Emmanuel Manzanares
Jon Truei

Editorz
Emmanuel Manzanares
Jon Truei

lazybrownproductions.blogspot.com

Now that I’ve made the case that even in this economy filmmakers are still incredibly well off, I thought I’d go a bit further… no, more like jump off a cliff, and make the case that because it’s so easy to make films, it’s possible to make money (hopefully profit) at the cost of the Hollywood studio system.

A lot of us are done with Hollywood when it comes to action films. Occasionally there’s something ground-breaking like uh, well you know, that one action movie that came out. I can’t think of the name, probably because I’ve been inundated with explosions from 50 angles, badly wired fights, generic kung fu poses by Angelina Jolie, and any other characteristic of the typical blockbuster action film. Most of you in the indie action community look at these and think, “I can do better than that.” And you can. You prove it daily. Maybe you can’t make an explosion as big, or as big a car chase, but you can use raw talent in ways Hollywood can’t. Here’s why:

Hollywood is so big that it’s become efficient only at making profits, and inefficient at making quality action (or insert your favorite complaint here).

Hollywood is like AIG and GM. They read charts and predict future profitability based on statistics and make crummy deals with huge groups of people, resulting in poor action films. The only difference is that Hollywood’s still profitable, and it still earns an audience because most believe there’s not much else out there competing with it.

Here’s an example from Heatseeker (1995) with Gary Daniels and Keith Cooke, two of the most talented screenfighters in American cinema history, going head to head:

Bad. Boring, lots of bad fog, bad editing, bad choreography, bad camerawork, bad everything. The cameraman wants to shoot multiple angles of the fight so he can’t be blamed by the editor for not getting enough coverage (which could destroy a cameraman’s reputation), so he consults with the director, who has Keith and Gary perform the fight repeatedly. While the two go at it all night, the cameraman is 300 feet away getting a master shot (just in case any closeups don’t look good), then he puts on the 105mm telephoto and shoots a few more takes, then comes the 50mm, etc. Gary and Keith have to run through the same, long sequence (hopefully broken up somewhat), over and over so the cameraman can get his shots. Any intricate handwork or subtle moves are impossible in this situation. The cameraman could care less if a move connects or looks bad because he’s just getting his coverage. He’s not there to critique martial arts. They fill the scene with fog because keeping the audience around this whole time would be torture. Shooting “around” the audience isn’t an option because the cameraman insists he needs full freedom to get coverage, thus fog is used. Plus fog was cool in the ’90s.

The choreographer has no say in any of this except where the 2 guys’ hands and feet go. When the cameraman moves to an angle where a certain kick suddenly doesn’t look so good, the choreographer’s hands are tied. Keith Cooke’s amazing high kick goes to hell from this angle, and Keith’s the one who looks like a fool. The choreographer (and Keith) let it go and hope the editor doesn’t use that bit. Then the editor makes coleslaw out of it. Case in point: even if you’re as gifted as Keith Cooke or Gary Daniels, a studio system can still make your fight suck.

Here’s a counter-example. Gary Daniels in Gedo – Fatal Blade (2001):

Gary Daniels six years later, but working with a crew that has full control over not only the choreography, but also the camera placement and length of shots, which in effect gives them control over editing. Limit the editor’s options and he has to cut the action the way you shoot it. The ability to just shoot what the shot requires means they don’t have to repeat the same 60 moves all night. Instead they focus on 1-8 moves per setup, and the energy is obviously better because of it.

The difference between these two clips is that the fight from Heatseeker employs Division of Labor to accomplish the goal. Definition by Adam Smith:

Smith saw the main cause of prosperity as increasing division of labor. Using the famous example of pins, Smith asserted that ten workers could produce 48,000 pins per day if each of eighteen specialized tasks was assigned to particular workers. Average productivity: 4,800 pins per worker per day. But absent the division of labor, a worker would be lucky to produce even one pin per day….

Don’t get me wrong: division of labor has brought about wonderul economic wealth. I love it because it makes laptops cheap and pencils magically appear in abundance almost everywhere for next to nothing. The exception is with filmmaking, especially action filmmaking. The clip from Fatal Blade integrates all the necessary elements without so much division of labor, and instead uses a unified vision to accomplish the goal. The modest action set-piece ends up being far more energetic, and probably cost a lot less to film.

An indie filmmaker can see the problems, and he’s able to use his small crew to make something that easily outshines the best martial arts scene Hollywood has to offer.

Maybe the problem you see with the studio system is with their storytelling, or their cinematography, or lack of a certain racial makeup. Whatever it is, if you’re identifying the problem, odds are a million other people are too. That’s your audience, and they’re waiting for something good to come out. It’s no hard task to convince them to buy your energetic, raw-talent film on DVD for $15 instead of paying $20+ to sit through action drivel that leaves even the most catatonic person feeling somewhat lost after two hours.