Rope A Dope 2: Interview with Eric Jacobus
For the release of the much-awaited action short Rope A Dope 2, I caught up with actor, filmmaker and co-founder of The Stunt People, Eric Jacobus, to discuss his latest project.
With the original Rope A Dope picking up numerous festival accolades and awards, fans have eagerly awaited the sequel. The great news is it takes the hilarious concept and style of the first film and raises the stakes, carrying the story, action and comedy to the next level!
Eric and TSP have also brought us the likes of Wake Up Juice, Death Grip and Contour, plus stunt work on A Good Day to Die Hard. Eric even played Kurtis Stryker in Mortal Kombat: Legacy II. His ambitious film projects, alongside YouTube hits such as his popular "Kicktionary" video, have made him a favourite among action audiences.
Alongside the Rope A Dope 2 release, the date also marks the 14th anniversary of The Stunt People. They have acquired a huge international audience and are recognised as one of the most innovative stunt and filmmaking teams, building a strong fan base among both audiences and industry peers. It was great to catch up with Eric. This was the conversation we had...
Eric, how did the idea for the original Rope A Dope emerge?
My business partner Clayton Barber came to me with an idea as we received a script which had a Groundhog Day style, but other than that, wasn't quite what we were looking for. But since we liked the Groundhog Day concept, we figured we could create a story like that featuring Martial Arts. So I went away, wrote the script in a couple of days and, within two months, we were shooting it.
What did you want to do differently with the sequel?
There were two main things we wanted to address in the sequel. Firstly, we'd ended the first film with the villain waking up and finding he has the same powers, the same ability to restart his day, as The Dope. That element brought the house down every time people watched the original so we had to deliver on that. The second thing we wanted to deliver on was the action. I was mostly happy with the action in the first one but didn't feel like we really explored the comedic elements of the big final fight, utilising the training scenes and getting those big jokes to pay off. In the first one, we spent two days on the fight scene. In the sequel, we spent two days again but had a much better game plan. We wanted to use a lot of props, make it funny and not just go hand to hand.
How much time did you have in the schedule?
We did about seven and a half days of filming. There were a lot of hiccups though. We had to re-shoot a training montage, re-shoot a fight scene, we were robbed at gunpoint and had the camera stolen, so it was a tough time. When I look back on 2014, Rope A Dope 2 was all that I worked on. The shooting itself wasn't too bad though. At first, we shot the entire end fight in one day, including the fight with Dennis Ruel, which is insane. We went back three months later and shot an extra day because we wanted it to really shine. That was a smart call from our producer, Clayton. I'd say the shooting process wasn't that difficult but the editing was what took a long time.
How did you find the editing process?
I could go on for days about all the heartache that went into editing it! We've got half a training montage which isn't in there anymore, we had an entirely different cut of the film which was 25 minutes and could've gone a totally different way. One of the big factors was that, for people who hadn't seen the first one, they might not understand that The Dope can restart his day so we had to loop the audience into the logic right away.
When I sit and work on an edit, I'm so immersed in the film that I can't look at it objectively. So what I'd do is complete an edit, send it to Clayton and Pete Lee, my co-director, and they'd give me feedback. They'd also send it to the producers of the first one and, between them, they'd see things we didn't even think of. It's hard to hear comments like "it doesn't make sense" or "I don't get the beginning" but we'd have to put our heads together and work out what to do. When you get feedback from outsiders, you need to unwind it to figure out the truth in what they're saying. Overall, it took about four or five months to edit the finished film.
In this one, you incorporated a lot of new settings, a new style to the fights and really expanded the universe further. What was the inspiration behind this?
I'd say we really wanted to do our Rumble in the Bronx end fight. Jackie Chan is a very clear inspiration for me so we hoped to use that style with the props and comedy. I'm also a big fan of Vaudeville and grew up with Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy so I wanted to use the cane. I wanted a nod to Charlie Chaplin's famous boxing fight. That really sums up my influence and inspiration.
Revisiting it now, what are you happiest with in Rope A Dope 2?
I think the end fight gets a lot of laughs. I felt we lacked that in the first one and I sensed a tension with audiences when it seemed like they wanted to laugh. It's like Edge of Tomorrow, which they renamed Live, Die, Repeat. When you see the movie, it's a funny concept but the last third of the movie had no humour. I wanted to give people a good reason to laugh. In the end fight, Pete came up with this bottle gag idea where several bottles would be smashed over my head. We thought "okay cool" and shot it. In the edit we weren't sure and cut it out for a while but realised that audiences loved that part, which was great, so we put it back in.
What was the hardest aspect about making the sequel?
Shooting the end fight in one day was very hard and I'd never done anything like it before. That was day two of the production and I was throwing myself around pretty hard and getting beaten up. By the end of it I was a wreck and, the very next day, we had to shoot all the alley fight scenes in single takes. I was kind of delirious at that point! In the scene where I'm holding the pan over my head and defending the sticks, a lot of those went through so I broke one of my knuckles and took hits on the head many times. Then, on day three when we shot the pan fight in the alley, I had to drop the pan on my head about 25 times before we got it to bounce correctly! [Laughs] There was pain but it was totally worth it.
You and your team take a lot of ownership of your projects, from conception through to completion and editing. Why is this important for you?
As I said before, I take a lot of inspiration from guys like Jackie Chan, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. They saw their productions through from beginning to end and, in those examples, you can really see them at their peak. Likewise, when they didn't have the power or influence to have that kind of control, it doesn't necessarily mean it turns out to be a bad movie, but it's not the spectacle we know and love.
Even with Jackie's recent efforts in Chinese Zodiac, it's got all his ingredients in there including the big end fight and the results are pretty great. It's an excellent model to follow but also very difficult because, once you enter the major leagues, suddenly the guys with the money don't want the stunt guys, me, to be making those calls. That's why it was so important for me to team up with Clayton. He's someone from the professional action and stunt world with a ton of experience under his belt. He has a lot of experience producing, choreographing and has connections with other action guys who know what they're doing. It's very important because those guys are out there: people with the power to make films happen but also the knowledge to make them good. It's just a matter of assembling the right team and I think we're well on the way to doing that. This film is a big step in that direction.
With Rope A Dope 2 returning to a concept audiences loved, would you plan on doing any more sequels?
Perhaps, but I think we're also wanting to explore new ideas. Rope A Dope was a big culmination of everything we believe in when it comes to action, the shooting style and storytelling. Our deal is making people laugh and delivering solid fight scenes. It's possible we could go back to make sequels for past projects but there's so much fresh material to explore and the chance to create better ideas. I think you need to continue inventing.
On a personal note, I'd love to see a Beard Off sequel!
Yeah, it's been on my mind! [Laughs] I'm not sure how we'd do it, maybe with three guys this time!
This date also marks the 14th anniversary of The Stunt People. How have you found the journey so far?
I've been very lucky to get a team like this. We have a gymnastics gym which has an open door policy so different people show up and, if they work hard and put the training in, they can end up in a film. Rope A Dope 2 had a lot of new faces from people who came to the gym. A lot of people come through, the best stay and a lot of those guys go on to do good things. They can leave if they want, which is fine, and sometimes I call them back. That's kind of been the journey. The Stunt People has had a cycle of around 40 people at this point and it's generated a lot of different flavours.
I think The Stunt People will become our stunt team, whereas the film production side will be more along the lines of "Clayton Barber & Eric Jacobus present" because we're trying to separate the stunt team from the production. We’ve now grown past the point of being a bunch of guys in the gym making cheap films, because now we have talented producers guiding us. That's where I see it moving next: The Stunt People doing the stunts and Barber/Jacobus doing production.
What's next for the Rope A Dope 2 team?
Dennis Ruel, who plays the villain, has a new feature coming out called Unlucky Stars, and that's going to be really exciting. He's screening it in San Francisco in February and it'll be out soon after that. Also, Clayton and I are working on a feature project which may or may not involve the Groundhog Day concept [Laughs], so look out for more on that!
Eric is also interviewed exclusively in my book, "Life of Action", and you can stay up to date on the book's release via the Facebook page here.