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.

While working on a science fiction concept I’m developing, it’s been interesting to study how the genre itself functions. Science Fiction has two key responsibilities:

  • Predicts the logical ends of a technological trajectory and sets it up as the conflict.
  • Utilizes current filmmaking and computer technology in a profound way.Or “Tech-porn”. Often sci-fi films will have throwaway scenes that really have no place in the story except to showcase a new technology. These are necessary for the trailer, so they’re  forgiven because they’re profound enough to elicit a strong response.

    (My favorite example is in Total Recall, where police see an x-ray of Quaid’s gun, so he just breaks through the x-ray glass, toward them! The police then cower and let him run away. The scene obviously had no logic to it, yet it’s iconic, so it’s forgiven.)

This is backed up by Wiki’s explanation:

Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible (or at least non-supernatural) content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities. Exploring the consequences of scientific innovations is one purpose of science fiction, making it a “literature of ideas”.

We expect sci-fi films to extrapolate on our current trajectories and set those up as the conflict. AI goes berserk (2001, Terminator), space travel finds more than it bargained for (Alien), and playing God goes bad (Jurassic Park, Gattaca). It’s what the genre promises. Take what we know about technology and show the consequences. The results of scientific innovation could be positive, but when a human is the main character, the genre tends to fall into the realm of man vs. technology. This is not an error of mere convention, but rather how stories have evolved over thousands of years.

Yet many recent sci-fi films depict scenarios already unacceptable, such as increased pollution, corporations exploiting the population, oppressive police states rising to power, etc. To make them “sci-fi”, technological elements are mixed in, often as solutions to the problem rather than problems in and of themselves. These stories are “What-if” scenarios, not logical ends to scientific innovation. Contrary to these, I can predict with certainty that in 10 years, no matter who takes office, there will be more green energy, smarter artificial intelligence, less religion, no time travel, and no zombie Hitlers. Last two notwithstanding, it’s disappointing that sci-fi filmmakers rarely tackle such issues.

In case you’ve been in a cave for the last 30 years, you won’t be surprised to hear that government-funded Science (with a capital S) has settled into a cozy era that has placed it on the pedestal. Artists are less inclined to predict its drawbacks and more interested in “what-if” scenarios should the trend reverse. That is the new sci-fi. Exceptions aside, for a genre which produced dozens of classics before the 2000s, its continual reneging on its promises has cause it to go soft and limp.

Basically, sci-fi sucks because Science takes itself so goddamn seriously.

My prediction is that this trend will not reverse any time soon, unless somehow Science loses its government funding and falls from grace, or an alternate information source springs up that competes with it. Until then, there are thousands of sci-fi concepts just dying to be made, and the audience is still there. It’s a good time to be a genre filmmaker.

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!

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 😀

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!

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.

Back in 2003, I expanded The Stunt People to San Francisco, where I met Ed Kahana and Andy Leung. After doing small projects we went under the San Francisco State University parking garage for five school nights and shot Escapee. Originally a part of the Stunt Blade Alpha compilation, it got enough attention that I figured it could stand alone. Here it is.

  • 0:20 – We got into this room under our college because the door was left open by a custodian. We took advantage of it and went nuts.
  • 0:56 – Accidental kick to Yasu’s jaw.
  • 2:38 – Concussion
  • 4:34 – Stick hits Ed in face

You can also see Escapee on the Everyone Is Kung Fu Fighting Again DVD, which has been discontinued. They put Escapee on this DVD without our signing a contract, but whatever, maybe some people out there saw it. The whole DVD’s compilation can be viewed on YouTube here.

The Stunt People Wiki is back online in full force, ready for you to add your stunt crew, films, and any information applicable to the premiere indie-action wiki. Concerns about spam have been addressed, as we have implemented a new Captcha system as well as email confirmation (details below), and there’s now a detailed help section.

Users who already have usernames registered can re-register their email by logging in and going to “my preferences” and “confirm email address”.

The SP Wiki was resurrected thanks to Dario Susman, without whom Eric would still be scratching his head at the old Wiki wondering how to access the admin panel. Thanks Dario!