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Rope-a-Dope I&II

the Rope-a-dope series

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My first job out of college was a fight choreographer. It was all I wanted to be growing up. At age 16, my cousin loaned me a bootlegged VCD called Jackie Chan: My Stunts, which taught me the fundamentals of staging fight scenes, editing, composition, and discerning the difference between good and bad acting in a fight scene. In the early 2000s, I found a group of aspiring stuntpeople and filmmakers, who all saw the same DVD. Eventually San Francisco became a little hub for many of these stuntpeople. I flocked to the Bay around then as well, it was glorious. We made shorts and features constantly, and it became a fertile breeding ground for some of the best fight choreographers working today. The Rope-a-Dope series was a tribute to those times.

I co-directed Rope-a-Dope I with Eric Jacobus, who also choreographed, wrote, edited and of course starred in it. It came from an idea given to him by producer and stunt extraordinaire Clayton Barber: Groundhog Day, but with fighting. It was shot in West Oakland, Emeryville, and Treasure Island, with lots of familiar faces if you've been following either Eric's work with The Stuntpeople or mine. My best buddy Drew Daniels, who shot Eric's feature Death Grip, and probably 90% of my music videos, was the cinematographer. Boots Riley donated both his house and his hit single for the film. Little Jacob, who, along with his backyard, were first seen in Aesop Rock's Cycles to Gehenna, had a fun supporting role. His father, a real life boxer, agreed to play the boxing coach. I think this was Jacob's sixth role with me, I’ve known him since he was 2-years old when I worked as a youth worker in San Francisco. Big shoutout to The Bay for embracing us wherever we went. Nowadays we’ve got professional thieves stealing a camera a week and the days where the entire neighborhood comes out to greet you seems like a distant warm memory. All of the bad guys were Stuntpeople troupe members. Dennis, the main villain, has been fighting Eric for ten years, and even taught him a great deal of martial arts. the whole thing took four days to shoot, and was extremely organized, though the set ups and variations were dazzlingly complicated. Eric and producer Rebecca knew exactly what went on each "day" within the story, and it made for very easy shooting. The only curveball was the weather. The last half of the fight was met with some heavy rain, which killed lots of momentum. But the stunt guys powered through. Eric, carrying new and old injuries, more than set the tone for the rest of the guys. Full on Jackie Chan. That's enough words. Take a peep. Stay thru the credits. We had bloopers because, like I said, Full On Jackie Chan. for a more detailed account from Eric, check out his blog: www.ericjacobus.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/groundhog-day-meets-jackie-chan-rope-a-dope-watch-now/

In the Rope a Dope sequel we upped the ante. I get what’s so fun about sequels now, minus the making a ton of cash part. Sometimes you find a theme you’re not done playing variations of yet, and sometimes the severe limitations in terms of budget, equipment, time, talent, location, and all these other constraints get out of your way just one quick year later. That’s what happened during Rope a Dope 2. (Check out Rope a Dope 1 here if you ain’t familiar.) It was weird to see that Tom Cruise movie come out (unnoticed?) with many of the same jokes, gags, and plot points as our humble little movie. When Clayton, the producer/ stunt coordinator asked us to make the sequel, we knew we had to really top it. Eric elaborated on the idea he already had a year ago - to double down on the Groundhog Day premise and to create a dual timeline, and we spent some months cleaning it up and making sure that it actually works. We assembled the crew and just never looked back. The production itself was quite a journey. Some scenes went through four re-shoots (well three and a half considering one of them was interrupted by an armed robbery in which our $60k Red Epic was forever taken from us at gunpoint). But one of the most brutal decisions the stunt team made was the the decision to re-shoot the last fight inside the ring. We had a perfectly good fight that worked with all the moves and the story in there. But it was done in a rush and the stunt team was just not satisfied with the results. We went back to the ring to spend 14 more hours beating our two leads up. Our aim was to create something that was spectacular, beautiful, and full of drama and humor - something that you can appreciate even if you were not remotely interested in the genre.

Behind the scenes

Did you know more than 20 stuntmen were killed in the making of this film?

Ok fine I don’t think we even had 20 stuntpeople in the film, but here are some true facts:

Projectile gags always take the most time. The opening newspaper gag took as much time to execute as some of our fight scenes. It took forever to aim for Eric’s head, and then it took just as long for him to not blink right as the paper hits him square in the face.

Projectile gags always take the most time. The opening newspaper gag took as much time to execute as some of our fight scenes. It took forever to aim for Eric’s head, and then it took just as long for him to not blink right as the paper hits him square in the face.

Eric and Dennis have incredible chemistry, having worked together for over a decade. In musical terms, they “play in the pocket” with each other, in complete sync. When you watch Dennis’s hands, you can see that he’s always counting and sub-dividing the beats, allowing him to strike with precise timing and rhythm. They also carried this approach into their comedy, which is absolutely necessary when crafting a film that’s entirely dialogue free.

Eric and Dennis have incredible chemistry, having worked together for over a decade. In musical terms, they “play in the pocket” with each other, in complete sync. When you watch Dennis’s hands, you can see that he’s always counting and sub-dividing the beats, allowing him to strike with precise timing and rhythm. They also carried this approach into their comedy, which is absolutely necessary when crafting a film that’s entirely dialogue free.

We had already shot the the final fight once. It was 90 seconds of fury and comedy, but the stunt team, in particular Eric, Dennis, and producer/ stunt coordinator Clayton Barber (Creed, Black Panther) felt like they didn’t go all out, so they called for a re-shoot. It was one of the toughest days of shootings in my short career up to that point, as every shot featured a gag, stunt or a special move of some sort, and as injuries piled on (especially for Dennis, who re-aggravated a hamstring injury). But the duo, along with cinematographer Drew, who had to hand operate the bulky camera setup with next to no support, were soldiers and toughed through the incredible amount of pain.

In this little behind the scene video, taken by stunt performer Leonard, you get to witness how in-sync Eric and Dennis are with each other, and how quickly they and Drew Daniels’s camera, which is essentially the third fighter in the scene, are able to make adjustments on the fly, in spite of my rambling directions.

We shot the series out of director Boots Riley’s old house in West Oakland. He was beloved by the neighborhood and as a result, the entire block was extremely hospitable to us (until years later when we were robbed at

We shot the series out of director Boots Riley’s old house in West Oakland. He was beloved by the neighborhood and as a result, the entire block was extremely hospitable to us (until years later when we were robbed at

Our shooting started around the time Sorry to Bother You first went into development, where Boots was eager to consume as much filmmaking as possible to prep himself for his spectacular debut years later.

Our shooting started around the time Sorry to Bother You first went into development, where Boots was eager to consume as much filmmaking as possible to prep himself for his spectacular debut years later.

One of our earlier collaborations between Eric and Japanese stuntman Hiroshi Adachi.

ZZZ Top, an Aesop Rock music video starring the famed martial artist Patti Li and featuring a murderer’s row of performers from our collective, The Stuntpeople.

Thank you!

Thank you!