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)