I bought my GoPro Hero3 Black Edition from Best Buy along with chest and head straps for the sole purpose of doing first-person action scenes. The FPS movie (“found footage”) genre is one of my favorites, and I think it’s criminally underused, especially in the action cross-genre, so my hopes have been to create solid action content for the FPS and found footage fans out there with our special brand. With it we shot a Star Wars fan video that went viral, a videogame-like weapon fight in the vein of Super Spy, and a Redneck’s guide to fighting a zombie without a weapon. As an action filmmaker who’s used the GoPro for almost two months non-stop, here’s what I’ve got to share.

GoPro-HERO3-Black-Edition

Design
The GoPro is dainty and can fit in your pocket along with the head strap and some extra batteries, so in terms of picking it up and going it’s a hell of a piece of equipment. The on-board buttons are tough to push, and pushing them might move your GoPro from whatever position it’s in. Often we found it easier for someone other than the wearer to push the buttons. The remote control, included with the Black version, solves this problem, though you’ll then have to deal with the Wi-Fi issue (below). As with any equipment that prides itself on being compact and easy to pick up and shoot, the side effect is that it’s a pain to change batteries and eject the memory card. Small and compact, but a pain to swap out accessories.

Video
The Hero3 Black has a wide range of resolutions and frame rates, from standard definition widescreen at 240 frames per second, to 4k @ 12fps. My favorite resolutions have been the SD 240fps for doing super slomo, 1440×1920 24fps for HD (giving you 360 pixels of vertical buffer) and 2.7k cine just to show off. 4K caps at 12fps, so from an action perspective it’s pointless using this resolution. Hero3 Silver does SD @ 120fps, so if you want the best in terms of slomo, get the Black, though the amount of noise in the slomo mucks up the footage to the point where it’s best used as a novelty. Otherwise the Silver will suffice, though you’ll lose out on the 1440 resolution option.

The lens is super wide, around 170 degrees, with the option to narrow significantly to something resembling a 45mm lens. So keep your crew completely behind the camera when filming because it sees everything. Since it’s so wide, your action will look comically fast, so whoever’s moving toward the lens needs to move at about 75% speed. The person behind the lens will have to move at normal speed.

Low light capability is very good, almost as bright as night vision, without the annoying green glow. Shutter speed gets blurry automatically with low light, since manual image controls are largely nonexistent, and the video compression gets pretty crazy when you’ve got any haze or UV light sources. Lots of shooting modes and great low light, but mid-grade compression in low light that won’t please videphiles. Action filmmakers probably won’t mind.

Sound
The sound is better than you’d expect from a tiny mic located on the side of the GoPro. Surprisingly good, but get an external mic for dialog. The main issue is the sound is usually out of sync with the video. A quick slide in your video editor can fix this.

Monitoring and Reviewing
The primary issue using the GoPro is figuring out how to monitor what you’re shooting. The GoPro transmits video and audio over its own Wi-Fi network to an Android, iPhone, or iPad using the GoPro app, which can then monitor what’s being shot. There’s a delay of about 2-4 seconds, but the app is invaluable. You absolutely MUST use it.

I tend to monitor with an iPad 2. My experience has been that the Wi-Fi signal is very weak, and it’ll often just cut out for no apparent reason. If you reset the camera, switch into review mode, or do anything besides just leaving the GoPro in camera mode, you risk losing your monitoring capability for who-knows-how-long. You’ll need to restart the GoPro AND its Wi-Fi (two entirely different functions), then reconnect to the Wi-Fi using your monitoring device, restart the program, and by then you’ve wasted five minutes. In an eight-hour span of time, we ran into this issue no fewer than ten times, so for a delay that happens more than once an hour, the GoPro just becomes annoying. By the end of the day we’re wondering why we didn’t just duct tape DSLRs onto our foreheads. (Okay that’s harsh, but those are raw thoughts for you.) I’ve used the Android app, but not extensively enough to determine if it’s more stable than using an iPad.

The other major issue with the monitoring software is that it has no option to review footage that you’ve already shot. To do that you need the LCD backpack (below), or you’ll need to connect the cam to a computer to review what’s on the SD card. Having to remove the GoPro from someone’s head or chest just to review footage makes it yet another annoying hangup in the production.

Glitches
Heads up – the GoPro glitches pretty regularly. The LCD backpack seems to add more reasons for the GoPro to crash, perhaps due to its added heat. Usually we have to pull the battery, open the box and lay all the tiny pieces about. After a firmware update, crashes are less common, but still happen at about 20% of the original crash rate. Random Wi-Fi disconnection happens at almost the same frequency.

I’ve had a few frames glitch due to fast movement, but if you can get away with cutting those frames it’s nothing too problematic. So far, no ruined shots.

Accessories

  • LCD Touchscreen Backpack – You’ll want to fork over eighty bucks for the tiny LCD screen to watch what you’re shooting live and review footage. The LCD for the Hero3 is a touchscreen, but the edges rarely register and I find myself just using the camera buttons to navigate it. If you’re hanging the GoPro in front of your face your nose will probably inadvertently push a button too. The LCD also seemed to display a lower quality image than the iPad did, giving us an inaccurate display of our footage. It’s best used for framing purposes. Get the footage onto a computer to see how it actually looks.
  • Extra Batteries – Battery life is around 2 hours (with the LCD), but charging time is nearly double that, so your workflow will suffer if you don’t have enough batteries to power through the day. The Wasabi battery pack is a good deal at $25 for 2 batteries and a charger. Get three of em if you plan on doing long days with the GoPro.
  • Head Strap – If you’re doing a fight scene, this is the strap to use. You can adjust for different head positions so it always captures the moves. Fast head movements might knock it off your head so get a chin strap and secure it that way. The screws don’t hold the GoPro as tightly as I’d like, so you’ll have to constantly readjust them.
  • Chest Strap – Not as useful as the head strap because any body movement will move the GoPro, but better for acrobatics.

Bottom Line
I like my GoPro. It’s a unique way to make action (or genre) films, and the end result always seems to entertain. Glitches and annoyances aside, you can sidestep all this by just getting two of everything. I have two GoPros now, which came in handy when the Wi-Fi for one of them randomly cut out and wouldn’t come back, so we just swapped everything over to the second GoPro and made it through the day.

I give this thing a B+ until they fix the heating issue and release one that’s got a better wireless transmission mechanism. Bluetooth maybe?

While Pet Sematary‘s presentation might feel a tad Lifetime-y now, it still serves up a great tale on the human inability to accept the end of life, hitting all the right beats with regular thrills, superb gore moments, and eerie atmospherics that make for an exemplary horror film. As a bonus, it would be utterly impossible to repeat the film’s finale in today’s uber-sensitive culture. It’s no wonder a package like this would make over 5x its initial $11M budget. Stream on Netflix here.

No major conflict appears in Strange Days until almost an hour in. Until then it’s snazzy virtual reality and an inept love story. 2 and a half hours of not caring much about the victims, let alone the hero, and there’s no wonder why this flopped. Some say it was too early with its police commentary, but the bottom line is that aside from a great concept, which delivers with some cool virtual reality elements, it’s just tedious.

Death Grip is now on sale at The Stunt People Store, and four very favorable reviews are already up. Check out what people are saying:

Alex-in-Wonderland says:

This latest offering from Eric Jacobus and The Stunt People is nothing short of amazing, and the groundwork laid by their previous films is finally bearing fruit. Eric has grown and matured as a filmmaker, writer, and actor, and the entire production is first rate. Excellent cinematography and a complimentary musical score mask the film’s impressively lean $100k budget, and you can tell that all of the money is on the screen. Nearly everything is shot in camera in real time, which adds an extra sense of authenticity to the production. The acting is surprisingly good, and bolstered by a script that allows for character development through body language and minimal exposition. And being that the cast is made up almost entirely of stunt people, body language is what they excel at. The fight scenes in the film are excellently realized and hard hitting, evoking the look and feel of classic Hong Kong action cinema. Shot in chronological order one angle at a time, the rhythm and cadence are perfect and the give-and-take progression creates an excellent sense of dramatic tension. The speed, precision, and complexity of the knife fight between Eric and Alvin Hsing is so intense that you almost wish it were slowed down a bit so you could see more of the individual moves. The final showdown between Eric and Johnny Yong Bosch is also extremely satisfying for those who appreciate the skill and craft of thoughtful fight choreography and editing.

Jackie Chan’s “Heart Of Dragon” (1985) immediately comes to mind when watching the film, but it wisely stays away from the melodrama and overwrought sentimentality that weighed that movie down. While the story maintains an appropriately sober and serious tone throughout, brief moments of humor help to alleviate the tension here and there, including a wonderfully realized showdown involving an auto-flush toilet. What’s brilliant about this sequence is that it’s not treated as a gag, but rather an unusual (and absurd) situation that requires a unique solution (another nod to Chan’s genius). The minimalistic dialog does an excellent job of establishing the characters, keeping them self consistent, and maintaining a good pace, but at the expense of not fleshing out the larger world. You leave the film wanting to know more, which I suppose is ultimately a very good thing. Especially in American films, which nearly always tend to divulge too much information. … Definitely worth checking out if you enjoy and appreciate the cinematic flair of 1980’s action cinema.

Dan’s Movie Report … uh, reports:

Leave it to Eric Jacobus and his fantastic Stunt People crew to come up with a highly original film concept, the theft of a magical coin with a biblical connection, and wrap it around the backdrop of some of the finest fight sequences ever recorded.

… [A]ll of the actors are rather intense and obviously Eric took time with the actors and himself to get the facial and body actions to belay their respective characters’ emotions.

The plot is rather complex for a lower budget film, and requires careful attention from the viewer, there are religious and demonic undertones, but by the end of the film things become quite clear. Follow the coin, and see where it goes!

I hate when reviewers spoil the plot of films, and the events occur in Death Grip, should not be revealed, but I will reveal the action. Eric and his crew have made an epic action film, the fights are stunning, well lit and expertly filmed.

KeAbtium declares:

I was almost immediately pulled into the story.  The film opens with a serious scene with Kenny (Eric Jacobus) about to get his brother Mark out of a mental institution.  Nathan Hoskins plays the roll of Mark and was nothing short of amazing.  They both tell a story with their facial expressions and simple, not over the top dialogue.  Which I feel can be a fatal flaw in low budget films with untrained actors.

There is immediate character investment with Mark and Kenny and their relationship and there is a desire to learn what happened to them to bring them to this point in time.  Along with a great score which reached into your heart during the serious moments and made you laugh at the jokes, it seems like they had re-written the book on action movies with a good story.

The film continued to amaze with great locations, extremely well choreographed fight scenes, heart stopping action and several well timed laughs.

The end fight with Johnny Yong Bosch and Eric Jacobus was memorable, but more importantly it kept you on the edge of your seat.  It was fast, well thought out and well shot.  It is what we have come to expect from The Stunt People, yet so much more.  I wanted to include, that what you seen on screen for all of their fight scenes isn’t sped up or cut and reassembled.  It’s shot in sequence at speed with a single camera which is very impressive.

Lastly, Fictonia raves:

Holy crap, there is so much I can say here.  The fighting was intense and exciting, and genuinely felt real.

The cinematography was beautiful and the picture was sharp and clear, with fantastic use of color and lighting.

The sets and environments were interesting and it was fun and satisfying watching them get destroyed over the course of the many fights.

The story was engaging, and easily bounced around between being funny, touching, dramatic, and exciting.

The acting.  Holy crap, the acting.  I never thought I would say this about a Stunt People movie, but the acting was fantastic.  Nathan Hoskins in particular had an amazing performance as Mark, the main character’s developmentally disabled brother.  With only a few minor exceptions, the entire cast did a fantastic job bringing their characters to life.

… It feels like a long time since I’ve had this much fun watching a movie.  Death Grip was genuine entertainment from start to finish, and one I will be watching over and over.  It’s exciting, it’s brutal, it’s dramatic, and it’s really, really funny. But most of all, it’s an engaging story with characters you actually care about, which is something you don’t often get to say about an action movie.  The DVD and Blu Ray are on sale now in their store, and you should go buy it.  Seriously.  Right now. Go.

Scott Brown of the Shortz! Film Fest comments:

If you are into martial arts action flicks, this one should be on your list of “must sees” Eric Jacobus and The Stunt People have reached a new pinnacle that all other independent action flicks will now be forced to live up to.

Often I’m asked, “What can we do to help your films?” The best thing you can do is buy Death Grip (Blu Ray also available) and write a review on your blog or whatever your preferred online publishing tool is. If you write for a print magazine or a major website, contact me for a reviewer’s screener copy. You can also review it at the Death Grip IMDB page. I’d link it directly, but if a bunch of reviews come directly from my blog to the IMDB page, the review aggregator will suspect foul play and won’t count the reviews, so just go to IMDB.com and search “death grip”.

Thanks everyone for the glowing reviews. These kinds of things really help us jump into the next one.

I was just over at IMDB and noticed that in the past month Contour‘s rating has jumped 3 stars. Not only that, but IMDB has removed many of the low scores it received (14 or so 1’s and 2’s), making me think that the low scores may have been from the same person or website. Now it’s at a glorious 7.6.


Thank you IMDB for fixing the score, and thank you viewers for making the score happen. If you’ve seen “Contour” and haven’t left a rating yet, we hope you’ll check out the Contour IMDB Page and leave a few stars for us too.