They never said the 5 Animal Forms of Kung Fu were easy. Fortunately for Eric, Lei Wulong is the perfect training partner. Watch him shadow the Tekken master.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
By Eric Jacobus
After 10 months of hard work, I’m pleased to present Rope A Dope 2 to the world. Here it is:
If you haven’t had a chance to check out the first Rope A Dope, be sure to watch it here.
I’ll post a production diary soon.
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.
Rope A Dope – Meet the Dope, who takes a beating by a local gang of martial art thugs, only to awaken the same day after being knocked out. Every day he finds himself in the same fight, awakening the same day, and forced to fight every day. When the Dope takes his fate into his own hands, things begin to turn around.
Starring Eric Jacobus, Dennis Ruel, Shaun Finney, Yun Yang, Thomas Tan, Lorenz Ruwwe, Sergio Munoz, Jacob Gonzales
Written, Directed, and Edited by Eric Jacobus
Produced by Clayton Barber and Rebecca Ahn
Executive Prodocer – Shahar Sorek
Co-Director / Co-Producer – Pete Lee
Director of Photography – Drew Daniels
Grips – Alan Cecil, Colin Shane, and Cory Riley
Wardrobe – Vicki de Mey
Sound Mixer – Justin Valerio
Colorist / Photographer – Pete Lee
Visual Effects Artist – Shaun Finney
Art Director – Thomas Tan
Key Artist – Gil Sanabria
“Magic Clap” Written by Boots Riley and Gabby Lala, Performed by The Coup, Courtesty of ANTI
“Final Fight” Composed by Nick Mastroianni
Special Thanks to Daniel Mode & DTC, Boots Riley & Gabby Lala, Sergio & Gabby Munoz, James Mitchell, Simi Tufunga & Team Tufunga, Pacific Frame Glass Works, John Pomeroy Jr. & Purity Vodka
Rope A Dope was the brainchild of myself and producer Clayton Barber. The premise we devised was simple – take Groundhog Day and put in a fight scene as the macguffin. After a few nights of writing, we signed off on the script, scrounged up a few hundred bucks, Pete Lee joined up to co-direct and co-produce, hooking us up with a lot of good equipment and contacts along with Drew Daniels who would shoot it, and went to work at the end of March, 2013.
Day one – we started out at the Dope’s home (which belongs to singer/songwriter Boots Riley, who wrote the montage song “Magic Clap”), which we banged out in a few hours thanks to the simplicity of this kind of production. We went out to Treasure Island to film the training montage with Jacob when we happened upon Sergio Munoz, who turned out to have been a boxing coach in the past anyway. Perfect, since I didn’t know jack about boxing anyway. After wailing on the punching bag without wraps, I screwed up my wrist for the next 6 months, and the one-handed clap pushups probably didn’t help that, but by sundown we were shooting at the waterfront and bagged a third of the movie in a single day.
We knew we were getting some street cred in West Oakland when a fellow (John Pomeroy) drove up, gave us some free vodka samples from his company Purity Vodka, and drove away. Oakland can be crazy like that.
Day 2 was far more chaotic. Under the assumption that we had secured a location for the burger joint in downtown Oakland, which had the aesthetic of a 1950s diner and a huge parking lot in which to perform the first fight scene, we arrived at the burger joint despite numerous traffic detours due to a local marathon, and we began setting up equipment before the owner showed up. When he arrived, it all went to hell. He demanded to see proof of insurance, claimed he never agreed to let us film there, and finally allowed us to shoot for 3 hours in the corner of his parking lot, where we were not to point the camera at the building. Some burger joint. So we freaked out, huddled, and within 20 minutes decided to ditch the idea.
We drove around frantically trying to find a new location, finally picking West Oakland again where we had shot the previous day. Lo and behold, we saw the hamburger and fries on the wall, and best of all, the place was for sale. So there was no foot traffic to worry about, and cops don’t drive through West Oakland. If they do, the last of their worries is a film crew. We hustled through the fight scene, and the owner shows up and asks if we want to open the front door, so we didn’t have to hide the fact that the front door was locked.
The thing people might not realize is that we had to shoot all seven “days” for each shot setup. For instance, we set up the dolly shot for day 1 and 2, where I walk out of the burger joint wearing dumpy clothes and go from being an oblivious dope to waking up from what felt like a bad dream. Then we move to day 3 clothes by changing the sweatshirt and doing paranoid Dope, then day 4 with the boots and montage mode, days 5 and 6 are another change, and finally day 7 which is a complete wardrobe change, where my mood is now “confident martial arts master.” We had to do every iteration of The Dope for every shot. It was out of the question to do all of day 1 and 2’s stuff from all the different angles with tripod shots, dollies, flags, and all that, and then redo EVERYTHING with the next day’s wardrobe. So Rebecca Ahn devised a very precise wardrobe system with marked plastic bags, and I’d have to remember my 7 different acting cues during each shot setup. Sometimes I’d just try different versions, and occasionally in editing I could rob a different day’s reaction, but the wardrobe change made it incredibly difficult to mix it up in editing. If I had to do it again, I’d keep the wardrobe exactly the same, because most people aren’t gonna notice this.
The night before the final fight, Drew, Dennis, Shaun, Yun, and I went out to Team Tufunga gym, where owner Simi granted us permission to film in the alley behind the gym and use his bathroom when needed (I paid him off with some Petron and steak, a pretty good deal for us). We rehearsed half of the scene that night in about 45 minutes, but we realized that our best choreography would come from being on the spot, so we called it a night and decided to just wing the rest of it.
Day 3 was smooth – we got through over half the fight. The clouds were creeping in, but it stayed dry. We shot more than we used in the final product, probably 3 and a half minutes in one day. We were able to move so quickly because we went entirely handheld. We also did a small acting scene with a kid on the spot, but we cut it out of the final edit. I’ll upload the deleted scenes some other time.
Day 4, the final day – not so smooth. My finger was constantly on the “weather” button on my Android, and I was sweating bullets seeing the chance of rain climb from 20% to 80%. By the time mid-day came around, the clouds came in, and we were rained out, so we huddled under a canopy for an hour to powwow. Ultimately we decided, “Screw it, let’s shoot in the rain and just not show the ground.” You’ll see the rain on the ground in the second half of the fight, but we avoided making it distracting. We’d get too rained out, threatening the life of our dear camera (Sony FS100), and we’d have to huddle under the canopy until it let up again. We did this for about 3 hours, until it finally cleared up completely and Dennis and I finished up our bit. Our last shot of the day was a pickup shot – me kicking the bucket at Yun. We must’ve done 15 takes of it, and for whatever spots the rain didn’t hit on Yun that day, the bucket took care of it. He was drenched, but like a stuntman he took it in stride and we finished strong.
Editing took about a week, with music, coloring, and sound mixing taking another two weeks on top of that. We had a finished product in a month, but once the festivals took notice we realized we couldn’t release it into the wild just yet. It premiered at Ric Meyers’ Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza event at Comic-Con in July of 2013 to an amazing audience response. Then after receiving Most Kickass Film award at the LA Indie Film Fest, Best of Local Shorts at Oakland Underground, and doing a solid showing at the Toronto After Dark and SF Shorts fests, it was time. I sent out a press release asking all the media outlets to release it on Monday, but many ignored the request and released it right away, so it came a little prematurely. Regardless, here it is. Hope you enjoy!
In future weeks I’ll be releasing some pre-viz videos and a couple other little fun bits from Rope A Dope, perhaps including the uncut fight (which is a minute or so longer than the final one). You can see some shots from the deleted bits below:
Now I’m off to write the feature length version of this baby. Thanks!
(Photos by Pete Lee)
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!
You’ve probably seen Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx, but have you seen this version? This one’s uncut, with original Cantonese audio, and subtitled. It’s the version you’ve never seen and might never see. Highly recommended, as the fight sounds and voices are much different, and all the stuff that New Line cut out is left in tact.
Japanese outtakes from the Lucky Stars films, lots of great moments with Jackie, Yuen Biao and Sammo.
Jackie demonstrates some stone-breaking skills
Action-packed Jackie Chan commercials. First one’s on par with his film work
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.
Hiroshi and Eric square off once more before Hiroshi leaves for Japan. Enjoy!