The Terminator searched for Sarah Connor’s address in a phonebook. Somehow he didn’t have a photo of her nor knew what she looked like. A mistake like this would not pass today, but did this bother anyone in 1984? I don’t think it did. Photos weren’t very important then – we took a few of them, they wore out, and we threw them away. We felt fine relying on personal memory or stories to recall information, so we comfortable forgetting things and letting them die. As I was watching The Terminator tonight, I remembered thinking this way too, and how long it’s been since I thought that way.
Technological innovation has allowed us to resist human forgetfulness and death. We take millions of photos, keep our files forever, and we seem convinced that immortality is not only possible, but that it’s a moral imperative. Cameron imagined a future where even robots let memories die, which is a window into seeing how people thought in 1984. Show this film to your children and grandchildren.
Yesterday I shot the first fight scene I’ve done since finishing Death Grip. It’s a videogame parody where I play a Karate man taking on two other players played by fellow Stunt People and Death Grip actors Shaun Finney and Yun Lujhei Yang.
Stunt practices have paid off: I could still kick and punch pretty quick, and my bones took a decent amount of damage whenever hitting my forearm or shin against an elbow, but the lagging part was the later choreography, which came slowly once we hit the 4-hour point. In the past, I’ve usually muscled through these moments. The choreography gets more experimental, efficiency plummets, and suddenly one shot takes 45 minutes to accomplish. By the third shot I’m mentally drained and often cranky.
Instead, we played it safe. Rather than draining ourselves on two or three extra shots, trying to make weird choreography look good, we just did something fun and character-related, which ended the shoot on a good note. Now rather than dwelling on the frustration of a little test shoot, I get to remember how fun choreography can be. This makes me wanna jump back into doing short videos again, which will allow me to exercise that choreography muscle again in time for the next big project.
The latest series of events in Stunt People history have made it painfully obvious to me that you have to be a huge player to get any momentum in the entertainment world.
Materials – Getting a printing company to make 1,000 DVDs on time when their regular clients print 50,000 is like pulling teeth. Printing 1,000 units through a smaller printing company will cost you far more since it’s not as streamlined and requires more man-hours.For example, I’m trying to make DVDs and the people at the press are utterly unresponsive after running into multiple errors with the discs and hard drives I sent. I’m not convinced these are my errors and I’ve seen no attempt on their parts to figure out what to do next, but since they’re not making much money from this deal compared to the 50,000 disc runs they’re used to, they have no incentive to respond to my emails very quickly. I’ll end up on the phone with them today, probably a lot.
I recommend kunaki if you’re doing single-layer DVDs or CDs. Quick, cheap, and easy.
Distribution – If you’re indie, you rely on a core, fan audience, but once your film is done, sales agents tell you not to make too much noise, for fear of hurting international sales. If international distributors get word that your film is “old” or has been released already, they may drop their deal. The alternative is to stay silent and avoid getting too much press for your film, and avoid showing it to people until some distributor picks it up, which these days might take years. Getting people to review your film and showing it to the world before its eventual release requires stealth and will result in a lot of aches and pains.
For example, I went ahead and edited the IMDB listing for my last feature film (starts with “cont” ends with “or” … see that shit? stealth, though don’t be surprised if I have to edit this damn blog too now) to give it its new alternate title. An hour later, our distributor contacted me saying, “Hey just a quick note, just in case you’ve been telling people about the old title of the movie, don’t give out that information, because it will kill the film.” When I told him about the IMDB update I made, I think he had a heart attack. Currently I’m trying to cancel that, which is incredibly difficult if, again, you’re a small fish.
This isn’t meant to be a bitter blog post. It’s a snapshot of how the industry works, and why only the hugest conglomerates survive. Conglomerates are no more evil than Manzanita in California or killer whales in the Pacific, or mold on your bread, they’re just the things that survive. And I’ve got no interest in fighting the system because, like it or not, we’re all knee-deep in it. In fact I like the system. It made many of the world’s best action films.
The big guys are, however, sweating. The market is volatile as ever, and the people in high positions are clinging to their spots, which explains why nobody would ever just GIVE Evans and Uwais starring parts in a new film. Since the studios can’t make action films like The Raid, they just co-opt the people who can. And being co-opted is a valid decision, because the alternative is a lot of cancelling IMDb changes, sneaking around while trying to release your film to your fans, fighting with disc printers to get your stuff done on time, and making roughly 25% of the salary of a stuntman. It’s not glamorous by any means.
But that hasn’t been the decision for me and I don’t plan for it to be in the future, despite opportunities that have presented themselves. I like the stuff I do, I like my audience, and through all this I’m still convinced that this is the best way to do it.
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 artafter 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
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
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.
Color: 98% – Finish on Friday. Sound: 95% – Finish next week. Music: Done.
Behind the scenes featurette: 40%. Finish by June 13th. This is taking the bulk of my time right now. DVD and BD authoring: 10% (art only). Finish by June 15th. Commentary: 0%, but will only take a total of 4 hours. I’d like to do a more technical track with Rebecca while Drew is in town, and the track with my mom should be done in 10 days or so. I promise it will be hilarious. Other special features: 90%. Just need to tweak the outtakes and export some deleted scenes. Original compound scene should be a nice feature, since it’s a big action scene that’s completely different from the final version. Plus there’s the extra fight with Johnny Yong Bosch that’s not in the final film.
There’s a chance the Blu-Ray version will have fewer features since it’s going to be single-layer, with the upside being it’ll have a gorgeous print of Death Grip. I’ll favor image quality over special features for that version. If you’re a special features junkie, the dual-layer DVD will be a good option. Or you can buy both!
I’ve been knee-deep in editing the Death Grip making-of video. Like the Tour of Contour video, I opted for talking heads-style interviews with cutaways to behind-the-scenes video and film footage.
While shooting Death Grip I had at least one extra video camera on hand, one that was easy to use. We used a Flip Video camera, Flip HD, whoever’s DSLR we had that day, even crappy cell phone cameras. Some days Alex Ng would do very intense behind-the-scenes shooting, but when he wasn’t there I would just entrust someone with the extra camera to shoot stuff. We’ve done all the talking heads interviews, including one with J.J. Perry, so what I’ve got is something like 40 hours of footage. So I’m basically editing another feature-length film!
The first edit is going to be long, probably on the order of 3 hours in length, and I’ll pare it down to an hour or so. Then I’ll do some pop-up-video-style titles, overlay tons of behind the scenes and film footage, and package the thing up in time to get the DVD and BD authored, sent to press, and ready to sell by the June 30th premiere. The next month is going to be insane. Maybe I’ll take an actual vacation after that.
Here are a couple BTS videos I exported last night while taking a break from editing. That’s right, I consider exporting and uploading videos a “break”.
Painting the “Lair”, Benny Hill-style.
A stuntman is always a stuntman, even in his sleep.
Tuesday, May 22 – Our time in Italy was short but sweet, punctuated with our sound designer Matteo and a stunt team called D-Unit. We went into the fashion capital of Milano, where we went to the only coffee place that resembled Starbucks called Arnold Coffee. Italy is the only European country that doesn’t have Starbucks, so instead they have Arnold Coffee, where they sell huge drinks and pancakes and all that crap. Like France, Italy doesn’t seem to offer “large” coffee sizes, or any sizes for that matter, but rather those tiny cups you drink at the bar, so it was a relief for two Americans to get a big drink for once.
The galleria was massive, with chairs lining the sides that cost 20 € to sit in. The whole place was a tourist trap, a gorgeous tourist trap, and we got out before the twentieth Senegalian tried to sell us another bracelet. There was the Duomo, a massive Catholic church which was like a step up from a “Cathedral”. The outside was tiled entirely with marble, which is incredible if you think about how much a marble countertop costs these days. Police and a Father were teamed up at the front door, making sure nobody desecrated the Duomo by wearing revealing clothes inside. One woman was wearing a low tanktop, and the father shook his head and cast her away. The inside was lined with gigantic paintings and confession booths, some multilingual, carved from wood. Something like the Duomo simply couldn’t be built today. America never even had these kinds of things because it just wasn’t around before 300 years ago. And it never will. So I did what any intelligent person would do and took a bunch of pictures.
Matteo talked about Apple stores in Milan. I brought it up because it’s a hip town, but I didn’t see one. Apparently the nearest Apple store is dozens of miles away, they just don’t have many of them, but when the iPad 3 came out, eager artists and students all flocked to that Apple store to buy it. A critical thinking citizen said, “But the other electronics shops all have it too, and there’s no line! Let’s go there!” and the people responded, “We want to get it in the true Apple way!” Like Americans, Italians crave an experience, however banal it may be. They also seek the prestige not just of owning an Apple product, of but associating with other Apple customers, lined up for hours with equally fanatical consumers to get the latest and coolest. Buckingham said that modern audiences don’t just want what they pay for now. It’s all about the “added experience”. Anything a company can do, be they a production company or an electronics manufacturer, to give the audience more than just a product, makes them that much more marketable. Plus, Apple doesn’t just sell a product, they sell “creativity”. If you buy Apple, you’re buying into a cool marketplace that sets you apart. If as filmmakers we can tap into that extra selling point, in the form of a “movement” on top of the film’s basic premise, it’ll really set us apart. Seems to work for Apple, even when there are almost no Apple stores.
After a lunch of mozzerella and prociutto, we passed through a castle, which was another tourist trap. We made our way to Monza to meet with Loris Rippamonti of D-Unit. There were signs for Monza everywhere, so we assumed it was close. Big mistake. We ended up on the freeway, walking for what felt like miles trying to navigate the Italian bus system. My broken Italian got us to a train, which turned out not to go to Monza anyway. Loris told us where to find a McDonald’s, where we waited for him. McDonald’s in Italy, obviously, looks nothing like a McDonald’s in Oakland. There aren’t even trash cans in the bathroom. I bought another tiny but super-strong coffee (at this point I had really started to hate these) and Loris arrived.
It felt as if I had met a long-lost brother. Loris, Mirco, and Ivan of D-Unit have been taking gigs in Italy for years, trying to break into the action scene like any of us, except of course with the added disadvantage that the independent film market in Italy is skewed toward certain films that get government funding, and D-Unit, God bless them, don’t turn to dramas and documentaries to take advantage of that. They’re action people, and Rebecca and I joined them for their stunt practice session at a big gym in Monza. Loris gave us some D-Unit shirts, we practiced tricks and taught each other new stuff that I’m excited to take back with me to SP practice, and shot a little fight scene, which I’ll post here soon along with photos.
At a pub we got a better handle on D-Unit’s situation in Italy. Apparently the Italian action film market is embarrassingly bad, and I started feeling guilty for my frequent thrashing of America’s market. Differing standards aside, they are face with an action film market that, like all the others, requires a name actor. They have the writing, directing, editing, and action, all key elements of the Action Kickback model, but they don’t have the name, which means they don’t have the complete marketing parkage, therefore they don’t have the funding. It’s the catch-22 we all know: to get a star, you need money, and to get money, you need a star. Meanwhile they all keep their day jobs and do stunt gigs, the latest of which had fallen through without their even being told. Hopefully on one of these gigs they can meet an actor who can bring them some financing, and Loris can become the Luc Besson of Italy.
We parted ways that night after they drove us back to Matteo’s. The next day was spent entirely on the train, traveling back to Cannes, where we’ll spend one more day checking out what we missed at the market and maybe catch another screening.
Check out D-Unit’s Facebook page here and their YouTube channel here. Thanks Matteo and D-Unit’s Loris, Mirco, and Ivan for introducing us to the best of Italy.
Sunday May 20. An early start today was necessary to catch the 7:45 am train to bordighera, which would lead us to our final destination of Seborga, the independent principality that was celebrating its second anniversary of the election of their prince. The euro rail was smooth, the tray tables long, and we hopped off at Bordighera to find the bus to Seborga. Our combined knowledge of Spanish and about three pages out of the Italian phrase book was enough to find the bus stop, and we caught the next bus to Seborga three hours later, climbing the twisting road to the scene of the party.
We searched for where the ceremony might be. The entire town is a series of small corridors, centuries old, with feral cats running every which way. I had managed to get a hold of Her Serene Highness Mrs. Nina Menegatto and secure an informal meeting to talk about Seborga’s independence and other sovereignty-related topics, since this relates to my day job at The Seasteading Institute. So we had an invitation to the anniversary party, we just had to find it and then get past her Italian entourage to say “Hey, remember us?”
We found the party at a quaint restaurant, which was packed. We asked if there was seating in more bastardized Italian, and the waitress looked at us like we were crazy. Rebecca added, “Princess Menegatto invited us!” and the waitress glowed and brought us to the only remaining table and showered us with a four course meal. We could only eat half of it. Meanwhile the room was all stares. Who are these strange non-Italians walking into our small town and getting quick service?
We spotted the princess, surrounded by about seven men all three feet taller than me, and this was our only chance. With about eight seconds before she left the restaurant for the maze-like corridors of Seborga, I walked up, said “Nina, I’m Eric” and she remembered me, shook my hand, and said she’d meet me at ten am the next morning.
We started searching for the local bed and breakfast, and the owner just happened to be walking out with her dog. In another mix of Italian and English and hand gestures we convinced her we had made a reservation. She believed us and took us upstairs to a small room. I was skeptical though, and told her that we had talked to someone else when making the reservation. I showed her the phone number, and she recognized it, except the reservation was at a bed and breakfast a mile away. Rather than giving the room to the wrong people she called the owner to pick us up.
A constant struggle for introverts like myself and other directors is building up the guts to approach people, be they a princess or a film financier or a celebrity, despite feeling completely alien to the situation. This opportunity was too good to pass up, so swallowing my insecurities paid off, and we had arranged a meeting. They say the more you do this kind of thing, the easier it becomes in the future. I hope that’s true.
Watched Bangkok Dangerous in Italian, The Shining in Italian, and other stuff in Italian, and took advantage of the free food in our room.
Monday May 21. After a much-needed 9+ hour sleep, I woke up at 7am to attempt to make coffee with a metallic contraption that I believe is a “French press.” It didn’t work, or I’m too stupid to use one, so I heated up some water on the stove and dipped a hand-made coffee filter made out of a napkin filled with grounds into the hot water to make some extremely strong coffee that sent me into cardiac arrest.
We met the Princess in her office at ten, where she told us some Seborgan history and detailed the situation with Seborga. Basically, Seborga is its own country within Italy. When the Italian states united in the 1800s, Seborga was the only one that wanted to maintain its independence and has succeeded in being independent to this date. They’ve successfully turned Italian police away, and judges have noted in proceedings that their independence is valid. It’s all very Zen-like. I asked, “What did you guys do to avoid unification with Italy?” Her reply was, “Nothing, we didn’t agree to it.” There’s a very good chance that Italy will officially recognize this small Principality’s independence, which can only result in good things for this small community.
There’s also a chance that we’ll look at Seborga as a filming location some day. As Rebecca and I talked about our work as action filmmakers and producers, Princess Menegatto openly advocated making a film in Seborga. I pitched a kind ofIn Bruges style fish-out-of-water film. We’d have to is figure out where to keep all the cast and crew, since the two bed and breakfasts only have about 6 rooms each, and devise some content that would sit well with the locals, since they’re mostly Catholics who want their town to look good. Logistics aside, all we need is a killer concept. So, consider that an open call for concept pitches, if you’ve got any!
We toured Seborga for the next hour, visiting their church, musical instrument museum, and convenience store. The B&B owner was nice enough to drive us back down the mountain to Bordighera so we could withdraw enough money to cover the room. Went to a bar nearby, took a long train ride to Milan, met with our sound mixer Matteo, and had dinner at his place.
We shared our experience in Cannes, and Matteo reciprocated our “Euro-shock” with a surprise that we just didn’t know these basic facts about art film financing in Europe. We talked about Italian cinema, and apparently Italian films are all dubbed, and it’s just the traditional way it’s done here. And it seems films are more about “the director’s vision”, ala Frederico Fellini, where he writes a script that is less story and more “idea”. The film is a bit abstract in the end (is that unbiased enough?). Not exactly a winning formula for action film.
There are also no Italian action films, though not because of the reasons above. Basically, there’s no Luc Besson of Italy. I’m no expert on Italian culture, but they seem to dig action, and I’m pretty sure they dig Italians. Talk about a gaping hole in the market. But I guess if you’re convinced your film industry needs to follow in the footsteps of the art-house film, and your action concept doesn’t stand a chance of being funded with public money, it’s easy to see why this hole wouldn’t easily be filled.
Then again, apparently Milan’s the money place right now. Makes you wonder whether it’s difficult to invest in film here. The guys at D-Unit could certainly use a budget.
Matteo’s been nice enough to let us stay at his place and cook us dinner. Tomorrow we check out downtown Milan, train with D-Unit, and experience some night life!