Eric Jacobus featured on Comedy Film Nerds Podcast

I had the honor to be featured along with Rebecca Ahn on the Comedy Film Nerds podcast with Graham Elwood and Chris J. Mancini. We talk about Death Grip, action movies we love, and other nerdy stuff you’ll all dig. Enjoy.

Listen to it at the Comedy Film Nerds website – http://comedyfilmnerds.com
iTunes link – https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/comedy-film-nerds/id345412221
mp3 file – http://traffic.libsyn.com/comedyfilmnerds/CFN_ep_135.output.mp3

What’s so difficult about making 1000 Blu-ray discs? Well… everything. Here’s how Death Grip did it

We set about the difficult task of authoring a Blu-ray version of our latest film Death Grip, which you can buy on our website. They’ve been selling much faster than the DVDs because Blu-ray rocks, and I’m happy as hell we did it. I often get questions from filmmakers asking how the process went, so this very pragmatic blog post is about what to expect when replicating a small order of Blu-rays. Because it’s nowhere near as easy as replicating DVDs.

If you’re a veteran at making DVDs, move down to the Blu-ray section by clicking here.

Being of the do-it-all mentality, I always like to edit our films and put them onto DVD for direct-to-consumer (DTC) distribution. When making a DVD, you go through an “authoring” process where you take your edited product and drop it into an authoring program (DVDit, Encore, DVD Studio, etc.), where you make menus, playlists, Easter eggs, and all that fun stuff. The authoring system then takes your DVD “program” and translates it into a standard format that every DVD player can understand. Despite the occasional glitch popping up, I’m amazed that, given the diversity of DVD players on the market, these authoring systems basically have a 100% success rate at making compatible discs. If you work in software, you understand how improbable this is.

You have two options for distributing your freshly authored DVD.

  1. Burn or duplicate your own DVDs, print your own labels and sleeves, buy your own boxes, and shrinkwrap them in cellophane (or tin foil, that could be kind of charming too). They’ll be purple underneath, some of the labels will be crooked, you’ll experience compatibility issues with older players, and you’ll spend hundreds of hours. For small batches, this is a good choice.
  2. Send a DVD or an ISO (a file of the DVD) to a factory where they replicate your order onto a silver disc, print the label onto the top of that disc, and do all the packaging for you and even shrinkwrap the thing, all for roughly $0.99 a piece. If you want to make more than 100 DVDs, this is the way to go, though most replicating facilities won’t print fewer than 1000 units.

If you sell your DVDs for $10/pop, that’s a hefty profit. For anyone hoping to sell their film to more than 100 people, I recommend option 2. It’s easy, and there are companies everywhere that will do it for you.

What about piracy protection? No problem. Replication plants offer CSS (Content Scramble System) for a small fee, which is usually bundled with the overall cost. All CSS keys are encrypted exactly the same, so the replication plant has no hurdles to jump through. This has its disadvantages, obviously, since CSS is easy to crack and was cracked within 2 years of its creation. Turns out the US Gov. wouldn’t let its authors encrypt with more than 40 bits. If you have an odd fascination with stuff like this the way I do, you can read more here. It’s a sad, but hardly surprising, example of government being far behind the curve of innovation.

When making Death Grip, I assumed making a Blu-ray disc (BD) would be the same process. Run the authoring software, burn a disc, deliver to a replication facility and get a thousand made.

The authoring part was the same as making a DVD. More options are available, since Blu-Ray machines have a standard operating system that can do more complex processes than DVD players. Moving menus, picture-in-picture, etc. I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole since our timeline basically gave me 24 hours to author the entire disc, so I just authored the same menu structure as our DVD, burned a BD out, and it worked on the first try. Great. Now just deliver it to the replication plant and we’re done.

Not so fast… there are two new acronyms to worry about. One is called BDCMF (the file format), the other is called AACS (the encryption standard).

Here’s what you don’t know about replicating your BD: you can’t send the BD to a replication facility and have them replicate 1000 of them. They require it in a format called BDCMF, which is basically the Blu-ray disc in a folder, except formatted uniquely. You put that folder on a hard drive and send it to them. Odds are, your authoring software doesn’t export your BD to BDCMF. Encore CS5.5 and CS6 and DVD Studio will not do it. These and most authoring programs simply don’t have the licensing rights to export this proprietary file structure made by Sony, which is required by the licensed replicators that can only read this proprietary file structure. In fact, I’ve found only three programs can do it:

  • Rivergate makes one called BluStreak Tracer. It’s $600. The programmer emailed me after buying it to ask if I had any questions about how to use it. Good customer service. It’s also fast, and you just import your ISO, click “make BDCMF” and let it go. It worked for me on the first try.
  • Sony has a program called DoStudio Indie. Cute huh? It’s $3,000. That’s the entire budget of Immortal.
  • There’s a third option that’s $1000, but I won’t even bother with a link. Just get Rivergate.

The other hurdle is AACS, Advanced Access Content System. Unlike CSS, every BD disc has a unique encryption key supplied by the AACS Licensing Distributor. You pay a fee for it, and you can’t replicate a Blu-ray without an AACS key. (DVDs may be similar with regards to CSS, but the hurdle is far smaller.) This is a bureaucratic step, so you’ll need to budget another couple days so this can be done. Your BD replicating facility deals with it all and wraps it into the cost of the replication. Sony, BD players, and studios came up with this hurdle because of piracy concerns. Blame whoever you want, the fact is this is the reason AACS Keys are now a necessary step toward getting your BDs made.

There’s one more issue to consider: the number of Blu-ray replication facilities is extremely small. We had a hard time finding one, and they could only do single-layer BDs (maxing out at around 2 hours of content). Perhaps in higher quantities they would’ve done dual-layer, but not for us. They even required the sleeve printing be done at an external facility. Due to all the costs of going HD and making a BD, major studios and distributors are the only ones utilizing these replication facilities, and the standard Blu-ray replication job is on the order of 50,000 units. Ours was 1,000 units, so you can imagine the excitement of the sales rep when she had to walk me through every step I’ve just outlined.

It’s simply not worth replication plants’ effort to do your crummy order of 1,000 Blu-rays, unless you do it perfectly and require no further attention after sending them your hard drive. We went through hours of troubleshooting, multiple overnight FedEx deliveries, and a lot of wasted authoring time because the information simply wasn’t out there.

Even in making 1000 BDs, we’re still considered very small fish, and we don’t know jack because nobody’s really done this stuff yet. Hopefully this helps you.

Death Grip at the American Film Market – Interview with Film Specific

Filmmakers always want to know what goes down at the American Film Market. As I probably mentioned a few times, Death Grip attended AFM in 2011, and while the price of admission was steep, the learning experience more than paid for it. Stacey Parks of Film Specific recently interviewed us for her latest case study on AFM, and Death Grip‘s producer and co-star Rebecca Ahn gave a lot of insight into the current film market and how it impacts independent action films.

Today I’m going to introduce you to Rebecca Ahn and Eric Jacobus whom I worked with as private clients on their film Death Grip.  As you’ll see, even though Death Grip wasn’t finished by the time AFM rolled around, Rebecca and Eric decided to make the trip anyway (from San Francisco where they’re based) and see if they could start drumming up interest for their film.

Every year, hundreds of filmmakers show up on the AFM doorsteps with films in the post production stage in hopes of finding distribution interest for their films. But where I see most filmmakers fail is when they show up grossly unprepared – without the proper presentation materials and without any meetings set up… and as a result, most of them go home frustrated.

In this case study, you’ll see how Rebecca and Eric did things a bit differently by going in prepared…yet learned some very valuable lessons of what they could have even done better.

Enter Rebecca and Eric…

What is the name and log line of your film?

Death Grip

An Action Kickback film by Eric Jacobus, which takes Kenny Zemacus and his autistic brother Mark deep into the deadly world of the mysterious Coin of Judas and the murderous cult that will stop at nothing to get their hands on it.

What is the website for your film (if you have one)?  

www.DeathGripMovie.com

What is the budget (or budget range) of your film? 

In the end, we will have spent just over $100,000 to produce Death Grip.

What stage were you at with your film for AFM and what was your strategy and overall goal going in? 

We were in post-production on Death Grip when we attended AFM last year, so our goal going in was to find either interested distributors or at least a reputable sales agent to take on our film.

What did you do most to prepare for AFM? 

We did our research and identified several distributors and sales agents we thought would be a good fit for us and our film, then reached out and set up several meetings throughout the market. We then worked hard to put together a solid sales one-sheet with great cover art on one side, and cast & other important production info on the other. Since Death Grip was still in post-production, we didn’t have a final screener to take with us. So instead we took DVDs with the trailer and a few rough scenes from the film to show prospective distributors.

What were some of the obstacles you encountered (if any) and how did you overcome them? 

Our biggest obstacles came from the marketability and timing of our film. While the sales agents we met with at AFM seemed satisfied with our content, they continually expressed concern over whether we had adequate name talent. We hadn’t fully understood how singularly essential this one element can be to distributors, pretty much above all others, and this limited our ability to connect with some of the more established sales agents. In addition to that, we went to AFM while still in the early stages of post-production on Death Grip, which meant we didn’t have a polished looking product and our trailer wasn’t as strong as it could have been. This also hurt us in our AFM meetings, and though some sales agents were able to see past that to the film’s potential, we definitely would have made a stronger impression if we’d brought a completed screener, or at least an extremely solid trailer.

What were some of your biggest mistakes or wastes of time with regards to AFM? 

Going into AFM, we were still a bit fuzzy on the difference between a distributor and a sales agent. We realize now, looking back, that it was not as realistic to pursue deals directly from distributors there (especially not foreign) given the package of our particular film. So I do feel we wasted some of our time in contacting and pursuing distributors who would rarely give a film of our level their precious time. In the end, our conversations with sales agents were far more rewarding than those with direct distributors, so that is an area where we could have used our time more wisely.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful in preparing for and attending AFM? 

FilmSpecific.com was by far the most valuable resource for our AFM preparation, as well as for producing Death Grip in general. We were also fortunate to work with Stacey Parks on our marketing and distribution strategy. Beyond that, we just researched every site and resource on film markets and distribution we could find, and talked to everyone we knew who had been through it before. So we felt very well prepared going into AFM.

What was the outcome of your trip to AFM and did you accomplish your goals? 

At the end of the market, we left with a good number of positive leads from sales agents, which later developed into several full offers. Our hard work at AFM was rewarded, and we were able to compare and negotiate these offers and select the very best one for us. So in the end, we did indeed accomplish our goal, and now have our ideal sales agent WonderPhil representing Death Grip.

 If you had to do it all over again what would you do differently?

How you brand yourself is just as important as how you brand your film. Although we had prepared solid materials for our film, we didn’t focus enough on materials about ourselves – namely our business cards. We did have some on us, but they were hard to read and a bit outdated, since we made them for an older company. I sometimes wonder if we would have had more success had we brought more professional business cards with our current production company and roles.

Armed with these, we also might have had more courage to make more frequent introductions. We didn’t quite realize the importance of impromptu introductions until the end of the market, and therefore missed out on a good many additional opportunities. We had our schedule of meetings, but didn’t take as much initiative between them to pop in and introduce ourselves at other companies we hadn’t reached out to yet, but were still a potentially good fit. The few times we did do this, it lead to something more. So we left feeling like we could have done more there.

What are your next steps from here? 

We are proud to say we finally released Death Grip a few weeks ago with our own theatrical premiere, which was extremely well received and has already been earning numerous glowing reviews (http://deathgripmovie.com/press). It is also now available on DVD and Blu-Ray at our online store (http://stuntpeoplestore.bigcartel.com), where sales have really been taking off! So next, we will be working on building up more press, trying to get into a film festival or two, and helping our sales agent sell rights to more territories around the world. At the same time, we are also developing our next two projects, which we’ve gotten to the script stage and are now packaging with financing and cast. So it’s onward and upward for us!

Win an Autographed Death Grip DVD – and I’ll send you JYB’s autograph

Short on change and don’t feel like buying Death Grip? No problem! Check out Kung Fu Magazine’s latest sweepstakes –  a DVD of Death Grip signed by me and co-star and producer Rebecca Ahn. I’ll even add an incentive: if you’re a reader on this blog and you win one of the DVDs they’re giving away, I’ll send you an additional autographed page which has our signatures plus those of the other main cast including Johnny Yong Bosch. Winners can just email me and I’ll send it off after I double check with KFM that you’re actually a winner and not just trying to get free schwag. So make sure you enter to win!

Speical thanks to Gene Ching and Tiger Claw for the promotion.

Death Grip Reviews – Round 2

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!

First Impressions of an Indie Action Exhibitor at Comic-Con 2012 – Bigger and Better than Ever

When we walked into the exhibit hall today to begin our Comic-Con 2012 adventure, the initial impression was: holy sh*t. Not only is Comic-Con bigger, but it’s louder, thicker, longer, and faster. Legendary is two hundred yards from us with a Dolby Surround system and a 130-inch LED TV near the ceiling playing every trailer since 2009, and Konami is around the corner with a booth that looks less like a booth and more like a castle.

The Stunt People exhibited the first day with an all-new booth design by Chelsea and Rebecca that drew a solid crowd. Sales were better than the last three years combined for preview night, when the exhibit hall opens for only three hours to a more select group of attendees who want to get in and buy the collectibles before the big crowd arrives on Thursday. The Stunt People banner is missing, so we’re showcasing the Action Pact Entertainment logo above the booth. People are less likely to assume we’re a stuntmen trade association this way. Once we get the SP banner we’ll put it in back above the TV for those who engage our booth.

Ric Meyers prepped me for his Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza panel with him tomorrow night, where I’ll be featuring some action from Death Grip. it. I probably shouldn’t tell you exactly what he said about the fights in Death Grip, but I can say that of the six or so other film snippets playing, Death Grip will be the last one for a reason.

We’re going to do our best to get into other people’s panels, including one with an appearance by Jackie Chan and the cast of Expendables 2. To be honest, there’s no way in high hell we’re going to get into these, let alone meet the stars, and least of all hand them a DVD. The fanfare at Comic-Con is utterly super-human. There’s still a line around the building waiting to see a cast appearance at the Twilight panel on Thursday, and get this: the line started on Monday. These kinds of waits are common, and we simply aren’t hardcore enough to do it. Plus, we’ve got a movie to sell, and so far people are really, really digging Death Grip.

Enjoy these pics from the show. We’re stoked about tomorrow, and we’ll post plenty more pics from then too!

Death Grip Reviews Start Rolling In – Get your DVD and Write One Too!

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.