Part 2 of The Art of Violence Series
Read Part 1, Mirror Neurons and Human Violence, here

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has grown interested in the topic of violence, which is driving us back into some old wisdom. If the CDC could avoid politicking, it could show that human violence in general is a contagion. Otherwise it’s just more political theater.

Credit: The Trace

In my article Mirror Neurons and Human Violence, citing Gans and Girard, I claimed that human violence is unique due to our complex mirror neuron systems and our (perhaps related) ability to use tools. This categorically differentiates humans from animals. Our tendency to escalate violence to extremes leads to one of two outcomes – a standstill, or total destruction.

Blood = Violent Contagion

The ancients were very sensitive to human violence. Any sign of it signaled to everyone that a crisis was at hand. One clear indicator of violent contagion was blood. Armor was ritually washed in Torah after battle. As a sign of contagion, blood from child birth and menstruation was quarantined to prevent further outbreak. This was a ritual common to most, if not all, parts of the world, enforced by both genders. It was not to eliminate bacterial contagion (even if that was a side effect), but violent contagion.

Menstrual shed in Nepal. Credit: NPR

Violent contagion is commemorated, or ritualized, in various ways. Bloodbaths are simulated without casualties in La Tomatina. The sight of red doesn’t result in mass warfare because the safety release valve of the ritual, a booster shot, inoculates the crowd against future violent outbreaks. Early depictions of Holi indicate that the primary color for the celebration was red, though the Indian diaspora seems averse to using red.

If we’re going to try and think like ancients, then we can’t look at the taboo against blood and its related rituals purely as ignorant superstition. Red color has real meaning: sometimes taboo, sometimes fortune, but red is never meaningless.

La Tomatina – Simulation of Blood. Credit Wiki

Ritual is a virtual simulation of violent contagion. The ritual injects information into our mirror neuron system, which counteracts the gradual build-up of (often violent) intentions that we unconsciously download from others over time. Ritual unhitches our intent loads in a cathartic release, putting us back in right-thinking. (Its addictive qualities result in some interesting changes over time, which we’ll touch on later.)

The total destruction of society is too risky for any organization of people, so in the past we come up with some interesting ways of dealing with this. And we still use all of it, just with different coats of paint.

Case Study: A Territorial Dispute Leads to Murder

To begin, let’s simulate a situation common to all time periods: territorial dispute. Abe claims his property line includes the cedar tree. Bert claims his great grandfather planted the cedar. Abe builds a fence and encloses the tree. Bert knocks it down. The two shout. There’s an escalation. Intent loads escalate to extremes.

Image result for people arguing fence

Abe has a knife in his belt. Bert anticipates violence. So he hits Abe in the head with a pickax and brains him. (Read Njáls Saga for an Icelandic example.)

In a functional, modern legal system, Bert gets arrested, tried, and goes to jail for second degree murder. But not long ago, Bert instead incurred blood debt. There are lots of ways of describing blood debt: “the ground demanded Abe’s blood”, “Abe’s blood cried out from the earth“, etc. Abe’s family would then collect the blood debt from Bert by demanding some form of payment: financial compensation, killing Bert, or Bert offering the life of someone from his family. Trumbull records this in his 1885 book Blood Covenant:

Hence, in the event of a depletion of the family by the loss of blood—the loss of a life—the goel had a responsibility of securing to the family an equivalent of that loss, by other blood, or by an agreed payment for its value. His mission was not vengeance, but equity. He was not an avenger, but a redeemer, a restorer, a balancer. And in that light, and in that light alone, are all the Oriental customs in connection with blood-cancelling seen to be consistent.

… Von Wrede, says of the custom of the Arabs, in concluding a peace, after tribal hostilities: “If one party has more slain than the other, the shaykh on whose side the advantage lies, says [to the other shaykh]: ‘Choose between blood and milk’ [between life, and the means of sustaining life]; which is as much as to say, that he may [either] avenge the fallen [take life for life]; or accept blood-money.” Mrs. Finn says, similarly, of the close of a combat in Palestine: “A computation is generally made of the losses on either side by death, wounds, etc., and the balance is paid to the victors.” Burton describes similarly the custom in Arabia.

Trumbull, Blood Covenant (1885) p. 89-90

Blood accounting and the feud are not-so-ancient concepts that we have to wrap our heads around if we want to understand ritual combat (and action choreography by extension). Without it, we’re left with a useless emotional reaction to sports combat and other ritual acts of violence (bloody MMA bouts, fist fights in Hockey) that thrive in modern pop culture. My hypothesis: ritual violence is a blood accounting simulation.

Emotional Reactions to Blood

An emotional reaction to blood is normal and healthy. This is a legacy function of our brains which creates a stress response when blood is present, signaling a real risk of violent contagion. There’s no need to resist this healthy impulse. The difference is that our ancestors had proper action understanding surrounding blood – they dealt more readily with open wounds, fought each other more often, saw a lot of human death, and killed a lot of animals with their bare hands. Most of us don’t have this kind of comfort with blood, but we don’t need it.

Nonetheless it’s critical that we understand violence so we don’t react emotionally to it. This helps us think clearly during violent threats and analyze the ritual violence of our ancestors fairly. Without some level of understanding, then violent experiences become locked behind an emotional firewall, preventing their rational discussion.

Take this cliche argument between an academic and a fighter. The academic argues from emotion. The fighter is ready to fight. The academic is coaxed into punching the fighter in the nose, drawing blood. The two might trade blows until the academic, having now built up just a little bit of action understanding, can suddenly speak and think rationally. The violent intent load has been released from behind his emotional firewall, giving the rational part of his brain access to it. This is also how EMDR claims to work. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether to proceed, because it gets a little bloody.

With that, here’s the Blood-Ritual Spectrum.

1. THE BLOOD FEUD

Icelandic bloodfeud
  • Blood-heavy
  • High risk of contagion
  • Rapid response to unplanned violence
  • Examples: Icelandic Commonwealth, Albania, Death Penalty

On the bloodiest side of the blood-ritual spectrum is the blood feud, a stripped down duel whose aim is to balance the blood debt. The concept is that once payment has been made, the feud is over. On a local level, this seems to have “worked”. It survived for a third of a millennium in the isolated “anarchist” Icelandic Commonwealth a thousand years ago. It’s not an ideal form of tort law, but it also didn’t seem to destroy everything in sight.

The death penalty is the only remaining remnant of the blood feud, whereby revenge is prevented via the police. Until recently the death penalty was a public affair which drew large crowds, with the implicit warning to onlookers that they were to “keep the law or this will happen to you.” Today, the death penalty in the USA is a mostly private, bloodless affair, which minimized violent contagion. They even sterilize the needle for a lethal injection. The old mindset believes that violence and plague share the same contagious channels. To them, this level of sanitation makes sense.

One problem with the blood feud is that it doesn’t function well with outsiders. Neighboring tribes may not have the same sentiments about blood accounting that we do. Perhaps have different views on revenge, or what weapons should be allowed in the blood feud. If we can’t agree on the terms, then either we have endless war, or one side subjugates the other. The blood feud is a disaster in a global economy. A single assassination can kickstart an entire world war.

Another issue with the blood feud is the contagiousness of it. Blood feuds often spread like wildfire to the loser’s next of kin and beyond. It was in everyone interest to put up some boundaries to confine the conflict between the two parties. This became “the duel”.

2. THE DUEL

Musashi vs. Ganryū
  • Usually bloody
  • Honor-based
  • Lower risk of contagion
  • Examples: Samurai, Western Gun Duels, later Icelandic sagas

The duel is a humanitarian response to the blood feud. If revenge spiraled out of control, boundaries were erected to reduce or eliminate the spread of contagious violence. At the same time, participation was mandatory. A combatant did not back down from a challenge. In Japan it was better to kill one’s self than to forfeit a sword duel. Icelanders called them níðingr (nithingr), or the lowest form of cowards. European gun and sword duels functioned the same way.

The anticipation of a duel, with death hanging in the air, was a good incentive for others not to let disputes go this far.

Nonetheless, after a duel, a bloody corpse usually remained. Blood contagion was still a factor, just less so than the blood feud. Revenge against the victor was taboo, but not unheard of. The observers might be contaminated by the duel and unleash their own violence in a later, unrelated event. There was an effort to clean up the ritual while still maintaining the dueling elements.

3. FIST FIGHTING

Crib vs. Molineaux (Wikimedia commons)
  • Moderate blood (broken noses, busted lips and knuckles)
  • No casualties
  • Longer, more exciting battles
  • Dramatic
  • No weapons
  • Minimal wear-and-tear
  • Examples: Irish fist fighting, Takanakuy, BKFC, Russian boxing, Lethwei, Hockey

The bare-knuckle fighting Wiki page says the first recorded fist fight was in 1681, but that wasn’t the first ritual fist fight. From the moment we realized we could sort out our differences without the fear of death, we fought bare-knuckle brawls. Fist fighting is a critically important institution in America (Dawg Fight, 2015), Ireland (Knuckle, 2011), and anywhere else where warrior classes are legally obligated to abandon their arms and sort out their differences in the arena. They resort to bare knuckle fights because they’re the next-best option to dueling. Peru’s Takanakuy requires combatants to shake hands before and after the fist fight.

Takanakuy – Peru’s fist fighting festival that takes place every Christmas

Academics criticize bare-knuckle fighting for its supposed “barbarism”. This concern stems from the preponderance of blood in the sport. Common injuries include face cuts and broken hands, fingers, and teeth. However, there are myriad benefits of bare-knuckle fighting over its sanitized cousin boxing.

Bare-knuckle fights are fast and result in only surface injuries. The risk of a broken hand incentivizes contestants to throw strategic shots. By contrast, boxers’ hands are protected by gloves, incentivizing them to punch more often. Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) fights last a maximum of 5 rounds, 2 minutes each, for a maximum of 10 minutes. Boxing fights run 12 rounds, 3 minutes each, a maximum of 36 minutes. More shots thrown and longer rounds in boxing result in far more head trauma than in bare-knuckle fighting.

Artem Lobov (L) vs Paulie Malignaggi – June 22, 2019, Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, Florida State Fairgrounds Entertainment Hall in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)

Academics-turned-lawyers have tried for centuries to outlaw bare-knuckle fights and enforce the use of gloves. This comes from an emotional reaction to the sight of blood, an element that is permitted in the sport. This confirms that blood contagion at the sight of blood is real, even to an academic.

But bare-knuckle fighting has its limits. The audience will demand a longer fight. They’ll want variety beyond just using one’s hands. A fight promoter doesn’t want a corpse on his hands, and we might try and clean up the blood a little more. This was the introduction of free fighting. (Kyokushin Karate and some other contact sports and competitive martial arts fall somewhere within this category and the next.)

4. FREE FIGHTING

Muay Thai, Thailand (credit: Tiger Muay Thai)
  • Less blood thanks to gloves
  • Longer rounds (3-5 min.)
  • Multi-limbed combat
  • Examples: UFC, Savate, Muay Thai, Sanda

The free fight is a little cleaner than the bare-knuckle fight and is far more marketable. It’s often characterized by the use of gloves and allows the legs as weapons, and sometimes includes throws and grappling. Gloves, mouth guards, and groin cups allow the fights to run longer than the bare-knuckle fight. Early UFC fights featured no gloves and unlimited ring times, but the introduction of grappling meant fights sometimes went beyond 40 minutes, and the audience hated it. The UFC has continually re-written the rules to strike a balance between portraying realistic combat and keeping the fight entertaining for the spectator.

Bloodied mat in UFC 189 McGregor vs. Mendes (Credit: Sports Joe)

Blood is allowed to flow in the free fight. It’s common for UFC fighters to bloody the mat up, and it’s extremely rare for fights to be stopped due to blood. Still, free fighting is just less visceral than bare-knuckle fighting.

There’s always the potential that a ritual combat league or combat sport will transition into a cleaner category. The Masvidal vs. Diaz fight was stopped due to a standard cut over Diaz’s eye. Many claim the state-employed doctor who made the call was inexperienced and responded emotionally. This was no surprise to UFC fans who have known New York ti be particularly hostile to MMA, beginning with its 1997 ban in the state.

If stopping UFC fights due to blood contagion were to become standard practice, Dana White would be forced to transition the league into a cleaner category. But this is unlikely given the audience’s backlash from the decision. And if the UFC were to be cleaned up, leagues in other countries would quickly take its place and soak up all the fans. And given President Trump attended the Masvidal vs. Diaz fight, there’s no indication that the American (or New York state) government will make a move to clean up the biggest free fighting organization in the world.

But cleanups happen. That’s how you get boxing.

5. BOXING

Anthony Joshua vs. Andy Ruiz Jr – 12/07/2019 – Diriyah, Saudi Arabia (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
  • Restrictions on blood
  • Very long fights (up to 36 minutes)
  • Extremely limited set of movements
  • Examples: Boxing, fencing, kendo, airsoft (see bottom of section)


Boxing is universally recognized and understood. Equipment: shorts, gloves, mouth piece, groin cup. 4 moves: jab, cross, hook, uppercut. 3 minute rounds, 12 rounds. If they can’t stop your bleeding, you lose. Boxing is where ritual combat becomes very clean.

Aug 26, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Floyd Mayweather Jr. lands a hit against Conor McGregor during a boxing match at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The world loves boxing. We’re drawn not just to the combat, but to the stories and the rivalries. Our mirror neurons immediately sync up with Pacquiao and Mike Tyson, who went from nothing to global superstars. We become stars ourselves as we watch them rise to the top. Their rivalries sync with our own interpersonal feuds. Boxing’s lack of blood is compensated by the human interest dramas that accompany each fight.

The combination of reduced blood contagion and entertaining human interest stories is why boxing is one of the biggest commodities in the entire world.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has made boxing something of a political hot potato in the West. Gloves protect the hands but not the head, incentivizing combatants to throw more strikes. Gloves reduce blood contagion, instead causing cleaner injuries. A bloody bare-knuckle punch destroys the teeth, but a boxing punch destroys the brain. MMA fighters face brain injury too, though for different reasons and probably less often.

Perhaps MMA’s cathartic bloodletting will bring it to the top of the charts. The UFC is creeping up on boxing in terms of PPV sales, and McGregor tops the list, undoubtedly for the same reasons. It’s no wonder he challenged Mayweather. But for now, boxing is the “gentleman’s sport”, not because of the behavior of the combatants, but because the rules, which reduce the fighter’s arsenal to a very limited set of movements, naturally enforces gentlemanly-ness.

Riot following Bowe vs. Golota stoppage, 1996

When we watch boxing, our mirror neuron systems is constantly loading the intents of the fighters. We unconsciously simulate the fight in our brains. The intentions are absorbed and either released later in our boxing gym, or maybe they erupt on the spot. Boxing, and combat in general, clearly has a tendency to rile up the audience. Theoretically, if striking were removed from the equation, you’d have an even cleaner form of ritual for our combatants.

Many other combat sports fit the cleanliness, limitations, and aggression of boxing, but employ different weapons and rules. Kendo and modern fencing require skills that are beyond the average person, so they could be considered cleaner. Others, like airsoft and SCA, might be categorized as bloodier.

6. WRESTLING

African wrestling. Credit: Vice
  • Very low chance of blood
  • No striking
  • Examples: Judo, Jiujitsu, Sambo, Senegalese wrestling

By removing striking and only permitting throwing or grappling, the audience is deprived of the cathartic punch of the Boxing ritual. Wrestling, by contrast, is a far cleaner affair. The audience’s violent contagion should be restricted to some broken bones, with minimal blood contagion.

The fantasy of living in a warrior society devoid of blood contagion has prompted some interesting films such as Johnny To’s Throwdown (2004). Compare this to the grim reality portrayed in a very different grappling film like Mamet’s Redbelt (2008).

Can we go cleaner? Do we need to? Can wrestling get out of hand and grow bloody? It can. Can we keep the clashing bodies, but eliminate the combat component altogether?

7. CONTACT SPORTS

NFL
  • Rare chance of blood
  • No fighting (except hockey, in “fist fighting” above)
  • Heavily rules-based
  • Examples: Rugby, American Football, Roller Derby, Kabbadi

Contact sports are on the very clean end of the blood-ritual spectrum. The rules for fighting vary within these sports. Charging the mound has fallen out of style over time. American Football has low rates of fighting, likely because the clashing of bodies lets off more than enough steam for the players. And football/soccer has a hilarious incentive system. Takraw is a conduit for non-violent sparring.

FC Lokomotive Leipzig fans before their team’s encounter with SG Dynamo Schwerin in the East German FDGB-Pokal in 1990. Credit: Wiki

Sports players aren’t the problems in sports. It’s the fans who get out of hand (even the winners riot). Football Hooliganism (literally the name of its 8-mile long wiki page) is a global phenomenon. It reveals that a clean, non-combat sport like football/soccer will still have a massively contagious element.

Perhaps we’re so far from the blood end of the spectrum that the sporting event itself causes more problems than it solves. Or maybe guys will fight over anything, and football happens to be what they chose. We could still maximize the cleanness by totally departing from aggressive competition.

8. THE WAR DANCE

Chinese Wushu
  • Zero blood (except some WWE)
  • Combat is choreographed or friendly
  • Movements can be applicable
  • Controlled storytelling
  • Examples: Wushu, some Kung Fu forms, WWE, Lucha Libre, Pakistani Kabbadi, Kalaripayattu, Capoeira

In 1958, the communist party of China determined that the traditions of kung fu distracted the individual from his duty to the state. The Chinese State Commission for Physical Culture and Sports then created Wushu, a performance art combining kung fu and military poses, but emptied of kung fu’s more traditional, sacred elements. (Communist states tend to try and wipe out the sacred center, replacing it with the state itself. Strange things will often happen.)

Wushu, one of the most physically demanding sports on the planet, is on the clean end of the spectrum. While the combatants attack with fists, feet, and weapons, the movements are entirely scripted like an Olympic gymnastics routine. Wushu is as white-washed as combat gets. Nobody riots after a Wushu performance.

WWE’s Steve Austin and Vince McMahon

Ritual arts have a long legacy in their respective domains. Pro wrestling leagues around the world like the WWE, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and Lucha Libre feature choreographed moves and scripted character drama. The stories before and after the match are an integral part of the fights. Pro wrestling is the ultimate stage drama because writers determine the narrative. Peking and Cantonese Opera function the same way. (The WWE isn’t always clean, however.)

The clean end of the spectrum might be home to some outliers. Capoeira isn’t scripted, and while its moves can be used in combat, the roda is a mostly friendly affair, and the movements of Capoeira call back to a significant part of Brazilian history. Wing Chun Kung Fu also has some application, but much of the ritualization in the art centers comes from its history. Animal styles of kung fu feature a similar sort of physical storytelling.

The Blood-Ritual Spectrum Overview

Bloody: Paying down blood debt despite high risk of violent contagion.

Less Bloody: Strict rules of battle reduce spread of violent contagion.

Clean: Cathartic entertainment with heavy restrictions on blood.

Cleanest: Ritualized storytelling without fear of violent contagion.

The audience plays a huge role in this. Cathartic entertainment is what they came for, but the intents they load have to go somewhere. We’ll cover this in the next post.

The Fighting Spirit Film Festival (@FSFilmFestival) recently featured our film Blindsided alongside Scott Adkins’ action-comedy Accident Man.

Blindsided won Best Short at the 2017 Fighting Spirit Film Fest. Thank you Soo Cole for featuring our film, and Hardeep Mahal and Scott Adkins for the Twitter love.

Clayton Barber and I spent a chunk of 2017 on the continuation of Blindsided entitled “Blindsided: The Game“. Stay tuned for release details.

Today we’re releasing our new short film Blindsided, an exciting event not only for marking the third film of the JB Productions franchise, the first 2 being the Rope A Dope series, but also for representing a turning point for this humble stuntman, who started a stunt career in 2001 as a do-it-all-because-I-have-to filmmaker, wearing all hats, and proceeding to shed one hat after the other through various projects, until the moment of finding himself working alongside an incredible team that functions like a fine camera. Whatever role I might have played in Blindsided, all credit is owed to the following people:

The director, Clayton Barber, also my business partner and mentor, introduced me to storytelling with Save The Cat, a huge help in not only creating story but understanding the tradition of the feature film format. Clayton’s ability to find good story has been responsible for all our great short films. His inspiration helped create the Blindsided script, and his direction is why I was able to deliver any lines whatsoever. He always reminded me of who Walter Cooke was. Thank you, Clayton.

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David No is a fantastic stuntman and veteran filmmaker, but he demonstrated his producer skills by putting Blindsided together in ways I’ll never understand. He actually has two phones, one for each ear, one for dealing with shooting locations falling through, and one for everything else. I’m not sure he sleeps either. His deep understanding of martial arts cinema of the world ensured every level of the production would produce a quality action film in the end. David set an example for the team by demonstrating that there was no ego on this shoot, as he dedicated himself solely to producing and shooting, from shooting and editing the initial pre-viz to producing the post-production process, even doing some color and editing himself.

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Roger Yuan, a veteran stuntman and actor, was so good to us to lend us his time as a performer, but he topped it off by coming to every pre-viz session to create the choreography that would end up on camera. Roger helped craft Walter’s movements and it was an honor to work with someone who knew cinema like Roger did. My favorite piece of advice from Roger was, “Smooth is fast.” It calmed my nerves when using the wiley blind cane, which I knew nothing about up until the moment we rolled cameras. While shooting Roger made performing a simple task, always finding the truth of the scene and never walking over anybody, even though he fills huge shoes and has decades of experience on most of us.

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Nicholas Verdi, also a stuntman, and filmmaker, made himself available to not only play the villain Nico but also to act as director of photography. He brought a classic sentiment to the shooting style, often running behind the camera to check lighting when necessary, then running back in front to do his scene. Nick’s a hell of an actor, and as anyone knows, a fight scene needs two players. This performer looks only as good as the people around him, and Nick sold every second.

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Khalid Ghajji, also a stuntman, is a world class breakdancer, boxer, and basically the ideal martial artist, cast in the role of one of Nico’s gangsters. We learned this in China working on Heart of a Champion, when in 4 days of his final fight scene Khalid made zero mistakes. In an alternate universe, Khalid would be doing windmills and 540s in the Blindsided fight scene. But in this world, he was given a character who loses his knife and grabs a broken skateboard, and he perfected it. If you gave Khalid a popsicle stick and two broken legs, he would perfect that. That’s what it means to be a perfect stuntman. Shitty stuntmen do 540s when they’re armed with popsicle sticks.

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Brett Sheerin, also a stuntman, originally came on as a stand-in for shooting pre-viz, but when the other performer couldn’t commit to the part, Brett was an obvious choice since he had already recreated the part from the ground up. When he owned it, he perfected it and began innovating, finding new ideas everywhere, and always being a pro. Brett was also expecting the delivery of his second child during the last day of shooting but he never let that break his focus.

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Steffen Schmidt, our composer, a professional, sat through a dozen arduous meetings where we would tear apart the latest draft of his soundtrack and often leave nothing but scraps. In the end Steffen became the ultimate composer because he never rushed anything and instead let the music find the film, first by creating the perfect theme song, and then with Clayton’s input letting that theme song drive the rest of the soundtrack. Steffen created magic.

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Johnny Marshall, our sound designer, took the final cut and score, locked himself in a cave or some catacombs in the middle of the planet for a couple weeks, and emerged with the final sound design, with every punch and kick sound perfectly tuned, all dialog mysteriously “frontal”, and all mixed so you could enjoy it in a theater or on an iPhone in a crowded subway car. I’ve never seen or heard of anyone doing this on the first draft before. Can someone confirm that Johnny Marshall is actually human?

Tim Connolly, a veteran stuntman, not only has the most epic beard of any man, but is also the kindest tough guy on the planet. Tim lent us all his equipment, including his cameras and sound gear, and even operated B camera for the entire shoot. I liked throwing jabs at Tim because he’s a nice guy. Then I’d run away because he’s 6’2 and kicks like Van Damme. Thanks Tim, you’re so rad.

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“Hippie Frank” Frank Strick, veteran of the film industry, is one of those guys you hire to play a part, in this case the “bum”, but when you realize how gifted he is with people and the production process you hire him to do whatever’s left undone. By the end of the shoot he was running the set, taking notes on a piece of cardboard he found, calling the shot list, keeping schedule, always treating everybody with respect, and at the same time never to be disrespected. Faced with an extremely limited schedule during the second day of the fight scene, Frank’s attitude and work ethic allowed us to finish with hours to spare. People like Frank are nothing short of superheroes who fix all your problems, and after it’s all done they vanish to do cool things.

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Pete Antico, yet ANOTHER veteran stuntman (there are more stuntmen in this project than people on screen), sports the most expensive outfit in the shoot, thus effectively donating $500 to the budget. Acting with Pete was like being in an improv troupe. Every take was different. As the editor I would have hated him for that, but the takes always got better, and the final take was always magic thanks to Pete. It’s an honor to act with a man like Pete.

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Walter Raineri, our blind consultant and real-life action hero, is the man I train with in the end credits of Blindsided. Walter’s insight into how the blind perceive the world not only crafted the script and performance but gave me some real-life insight that I’ll never forget. Grant Corvin was generous enough to help out for the day I met real-life Walter and filmed the entire meeting. It will make for a great behind-the-scenes video in the near future.

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Renae Moneymaker, a stuntwoman, originally acted in the liquor store scene, but the scene was a late addition, and though her performance was perfect and charming, the scene wasn’t right for the final cut. She’s a world class stuntwoman and she should at least throw a kick next time. Or fight with a popsicle stick.

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Laura Aika Tanimoto, the art director, pulled off a genius move that I didn’t notice until I watched the dailies. There’s an upside-down painting in Walter’s apartment that’s clearly visible when he’s rolling dice. That was Laura’s doing. She envisioned the Walter character trying to fit in with the sighted world and doing his best by buying art and accidentally framing it the wrong way. An art director who knows the character knows the entire film. Laura was also instrumental in crafting the pie scene. During the fight scene, Laura and her assistant Daniel Alverado were always ready during the fight with extra blind canes, some lighter than others, some with the sections taped together, and some with knives embedded.

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Sharon Zhang, our wardrobe pro, had a vision from the beginning of Walter and created what you now see. Costuming is a nightmare, but Sharon makes it look easy because she’s so good at it. She even painted Walter’s shoes. Twice. That’s crazy.

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Jair Holguin was our script supervisor. I never understood the need for this role, until I underwent the hell of syncing external audio and picking shots for the edit and received Jair’s notes transcribed in a spreadsheet, complete with shot and take numbers, file numbers for video, file numbers for audio, and detailed information about every shot that he gleaned from random notes thrown around by Clayton, David, Nick, and myself. I thank you Jair for shaving off hours hacking off days of work in the post-production process because of your work.

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Parker Amberg, our assistant camera, is a prodigy. David would point to something he needed, but before he could mouth the words Parker would have it in his hand. Parker’s like a hitman you bring onto a shoot to annihilate 10 hours of work in no time and save you huge headaches.

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Karen Pang, hair and makeup, and a fitness model to boot who makes an appearance as the jogger, made us look sexy. That’s not hard with someone like Nicholas Verdi, but for me it’s a monumental undertaking usually reserved for people armed with pruning shears and die grinders. Entrusting the entirety of that task to Karen was a wise decision. Thus, everyone looks sexy in Blindsided.

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Don Le, our co-producer, was instrumental in getting the project going from the start. Don’s got that “first push” way about him, where once he gets the cart moving, you better run after it because it’ll finish without you.

Nate Votran, behind the scenes camera operator and stills photographer, followed us around for 5 days documenting everything. He even loaned us his equipment. His attitude is fantastic and I can’t wait to show what he filmed.

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Andrew Lewis, our colorist, slaved away for weeks trying to mask the insane lighting discrepancies of the outdoor scenes. I have no idea how coloring works, but I know when it doesn’t work, and that’s when people notice things. Don’t know how you did it, Andrew, but you did.

Zach Chamberlain, another stuntman, did our on-site sound recording. The sound came out fantastic. Thanks for all the hard work, Zach. Special thanks to Christina Connolly for coming out and filling in when Zach was booked.

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Master Andre Lima was extremely generous in allowing us the use of his Lima Taekwondo schools. Master Lima is a TKD extraordinaire and his story is inspirational. At lunch he told us, simply, “Show up on time, do your work, and you will succeed.” (Having a phenomenal work ethic like his helps too.)

Gil Sanabria, our titlist who also did titles for Rope A Dope, never disappoints and always gets things done super fast.

Jenna Tower, key art photographer, shoots magic. Sometimes she has to shoot schlubs like me, but she makes the best of it and snapped the coolest poster photo of all time.

Kenny Sheard, another freaking stuntman, came and helped pre-viz the action and brought his awesome attitude and epic beard. Kenny claims to be new at stunts but we all think he might have been making action films during his military tour.

Edward Kahana, the last stuntman in this post I swear, dedicated his time to helping create Walter’s style during pre-vizzing sessions in the park. Ed’s good at coming up with choreography ideas, and we happened on a bunch, about 2% of which ended up in the film. That’s not bad! Ed is a dear friend of mine and was the best man at my wedding, and he’s an amazing griller, but most of all he’s been instrumental all of my projects since 2003.

Allen Quindiagan, another stuntman (I lied, there’s more) and production assistant, made time to come and help with the shoot. Allen also dedicated tons of time to some of my side projects and is busting his ass daily as a stuntman in LA.

John Adams, composer of the “Q’s Blues” song playing in the background of the liquor store, stole my heart with his track. I’m a closet jazz fan.

Many thanks to Rafael, Carmine, and Ralph Santos of Grace United Methodist Church in Long Beach for granting us use of their parking lot on such short notice.

Thank you Ron Stehler, Paul Tek, and Nick Nipha of Wine Mess Liquors for being so cool and letting us take over your store for a day and even come in for reshoots.

Cold Steel was kind enough to sponsor our knives, which were fake.

Eone was kind enough to sponsor the blind watch, which was real.

Tasha Day and Emily Scott of Long Beach for helping with putting production on track, Luke Lafontaine for your knife expertise, 87eleven Action Design for loaning out props, David Hoang, Nam Luong, Park Pantry, Don and Cindy Stokes for your constantly accommodating me in my many trips to LA, my wife Chiara for her love and support and watching 72 drafts of this film, and the families of all involved.

Special thanks to the following folks who contributed subtitles:

Arabic – Sari Sabella
Chinese – Grace Wang (thanks also to Pete Lee)
Dutch – Elwin Rijken
French – DL MacDonald & Michèle Wienecke
German – Alvin Vojic
Greek – Manos -The Bro- Kipouros
Indonesian – Dave Christian
Italian – Zak Lee Guarnaccia
Japanese – Ian Erickson
Norsk – Andreas Vasshaug
Polish – Uzi
Portuguese – Helton Carvalho
Russian – Rustic Bodomov
Spanish – Dario Susman
Swedish – Christoffer Frank
Tagalog – Joey Min
Thai – Boripat D
Turkish – Tanay Genco Ulgen
Urdu – Nick Khan
Vietnamese – Lee Entertainment

And thank you Kan Shimozawa, Daiei, and Shintaro Katsu and for creating the iconic Japanese underdog Zatoichi and Phillip Noice and Rutger Hauer for Blind Fury. Your work will forever inspire us.

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Now for the film!

It’s still January but California-based stuntman Eric Jacobus has already had a very busy 2017. From promoting his new short Blindsided and writing the feature film adaptation to working as a motion capture stuntman for numerous video games, Jacobus had momentarily stepped away from the Tekken IRL series. In his Armor King IRL video, Jacobus polled his YouTube subscribers, whose numbers recently surpassed 50,000, asking them which character they’d like him to reenact next.

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The fans spoke, so Jacobus gave them what they wanted.

Jacobus notes on his YouTube page that Devil Jin’s movelist has some real-world origins but is mostly a mishmash of Karate techniques.

Devil Jin’s movelist is built off Jin’s Tekken 3 movelist utilizing Mishima-Style Karate, which is shared by Kazuya, Heihachi, Jinpachi, and a few other characters. According to the Tekken Wikia, DJ’s movelist has elements of Shito-Ryu, though it seems like more a general amalgamation of Karate elements with its front-stance punches and abundance of front kicks, plus all the laser beam attacks. It’s be a stretch to say Devil Jin’s style is applicable in real-world situations, though the fundamentals of his basic attacks definitely have their place, as do most of his throws.

Jacobus added another poll to this Tekken video asking users who they want to see next. Make sure you turn on annotations and vote to tell him which one you want.

Back in 2003, Chelsea Steffensen and I embarked on our first feature film endeavor, a film he wrote called Immortal. We shot for three months under the sun in a Redding summer and one month in a freezing winter, encountered dozens of injuries, and finished the thing five years later. You can still buy the DVD at The Stunt People Store, but we’ve now made it publicly available because, hey, we just want you to see it. We went through so much pain to make this damn movie; I busted my eye socket and knocked myself out falling through a floor, Gavin got heat sickness, Chelsea broke his nose and big toe, we took on a haunted building for two weeks to make the end fight, and everyone got kicked in the nuts at least a dozen times.

We hope you enjoy this film. It’s all heart, kind of goofy, kind of serious, but the action’s still great.

If you like it, the DVD’s loaded with special features, including a hilarious commentary track where we get drunk and make fun of the film. Buy it here: http://stuntpeoplestore.bigcartel.com/product/immortal-dvd

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.

Ric Meyers showed Death Grip at his kung fu movie panel, and I had the opportunity to meet James Lew before the panel. It was awesome. Though the crowd was an entirely different demographic than the one that attended our premiere, they laughed at all the same jokes. Afterward Ric had us all stand in front of a cheering audience.

All kinds of other awesome things happened too. Nathan met Eric Roberts, who signed a photo of him doing a stunt, sales were great, and I got to meet James Lew. Oh wait I said that already.

This weekend I spent about 48 hours finishing up the Death Grip behind-the-scenes featurette The Life of Death Grip, which clocked in at 75 minutes. I also finished authoring the DVD and the Blu Ray masters and shipped them off to Signature Media this morning. If all goes as planned, we’ll have 2000 DVDs and 1000 Blu Rays to sell at our June 30th Theatrical Premiere. We’ll also have shirts. And if you’re in California, please come to the premiere. You’ll like this film, I promise.

I made the cover art after I finished the BD and DVD masters, so I ended up squeezing more onto the discs than it actually says on the artwork itself! So here’s an updated list of special features:

Blu-Ray: Even though the printing company will only burn a single-layer Blu Ray disc, which limited us to about 2 hours of videos, this version still has its share of special features and I loaded it to the brim, utilizing almost all of the disc. All special features are in 1080p HD.

  • Full film in 1080p HD
  • Commentary with me and producer/co-star Rebecca Ahn
  • The Compound – a 13-minute short action film, from which we cut the old teaser for our IndieGOGO campaign to raise funds early on
  • A deleted fight with Johnny Yong Bosch, which was part of our IndieGOGO campaign
  • A deleted fight with Yun, which was reshot in favor of a longer fight
  • Bullet Time
  • Outtake Reel – 14 minutes of outtakes
  • Paper Pushers short film
  • 2 small Easter eggs

DVD: This one’s a dual-layer disc, meaning it holds twice as much information as a regular DVD, but like any DVD it’s in standard resolution instead of the ultra-crisp 1080p you get in the Blu-Ray version. I used 5mbps VBR 2-pass encoding, and the film codec we shot on has a lot of bit depth, so it still looks damned good. I loaded this disc to the brim and had almost no space to spare from the 8.5 gigabytes available.

  • The Life of Death Grip – This will be the reason people might choose the DVD over or in addition to the Blu Ray. It’s a 75-minute behind the scenes look at all aspects ofDeath Grip, from casting Johnny Yong Bosch to budgeting, location scouting, and tons of making-of footage for the fight scenes in the film. Includes interviews with Johnny and two more industry pros, J. J. Perry and Shahar Sorek.
  • The Compound (same as above)
  • Outtakes (same as above)
  • The Art of Throwing – All the throwing outtakes from the film
  • Commentary with me and Rebecca (same as above)
  • Deleted fight with Johnny (same as above)
  • Deleted fight with Yun (same as above)
  • Deleted scene at a sushi restaurant
  • Deleted scene with Mark
  • Deleted segment of the end fight, which made Kenny out to be a little too ruthless
  • Deleted segment of the care home, which gives away too much of the film
  • Alternate car scene, which was funnier than we wanted at that point in the movie
  • Paper Pushers
  • Bullet-Time
  • Easter egg

Now we wait for the printers to get the shrink-wrapped units to us while we make the soundtrack CD for the donors, print Death Grip shirts, print new retro SP shirts (the “Our Pain Is Your Pleasure” ones), and attempt to get 800 people to our premiere.

The DVDs and BDs will be for sale at The Stunt People Store on or around July 1st.