Eric Jacobus & Clayton J. Barber have a new short film which is getting released online tomorrow called Blindsided. I watched it last week and it’s a massively entertaining and fast paced action comedy. I chat with Eric and Clayton about the movie and what they want audiences to take away from it.
How did the idea of Blindsided come up initially and who came up with it?
Clayton: The idea for Blindsided came very mutually; Eric and I thought about collaborating on many ideas but we were very intrigued about tackling the blind character because of the physicality and the way you have to approach the character. So we talked about it and asked how we can take that kind of archetypal character into a sort of contemporary world like Zatoichi and Blind Fury. We pondered for a while and then left it; then we were working on a movie in China. I was there directing and Eric was fight coordinating and camera operating and we said the next thing we have to do after Rope-A-Dope was a more mature movie because we wanted to go from a silent film approach to comedy to a narrative of dialogue. So that’s when we decided to do the blind character and that’s how it kind of started. We didn’t really have a story or a method of approach to it; we just wanted to start with the character itself. That was basically the origin of how we wanted to tackle this type of film.
Why did you particularly want to direct?
Clayton: Nothing in particular other than I like to tell stories. Eric is a director, writer, and actor so we started collaborating because we’re both stuntmen and we wondered how we could best tell these stories. We wanted to maximize our abilities and what we wanted to do as storytellers. I was producing a bunch of things that Eric was doing and I was intrigued as a producer and him as a performer. I thought it was difficult to find directors who wanted to tell our stories and I said I would step into the director’s chair and he can do the action directing and we’ll write the stories together. It ended up just being a very natural fit with what we were trying to do.
Eric, over the end credits of Blindsided we watched you training to get into the character of Walter; how long was that process?
Eric: I would say maybe a few months where we initially were writing this using our knowledge of Zatoichi and Blind Fury, then when I got to train with real-life Walter (who happened to have the same name as the character we had been creating) it really opened up my eyes (no pun intended) to the way the blind perceive the world. This was very different from sighted people because there’s very little in the way of reciprocity; it’s hard to offend a blind person visually. If you give a blind person the middle finger they don’t really care and if you look intimidating to a blind person they also don’t care. The way that you walk matters, the way that you smell and how you sit down next to them. Things like that matter; perceptiveness among the blind is not supernatural. You don’t have to go to Daredevil lengths to hone sensory perception with this character because it naturally happens. I can tell you within a half hour of blindfolding myself, walking around San Francisco with Walter I was feeling buildings. It was very strange and it’s difficult to explain because you actually get a different idea about how sound works. It just completely changed how I perceived the world in general but it made playing Walter much easier. I feel like that day was one of the most valuable pieces of training in my life.
Was it the toughest you’ve had to prepare for?
Eric: I think so but it was also the most rewarding and the most fun because you have clear rules. For example, if a director comes to you and says “I want you to play a badass assassin, you have no family etc” then it’s kind of hard to know what your limitations are and what the rules are exactly. When you are told you’re a blind man who is really good in a fix then you’ve got your parameters set out for you so now you just have to master that small set of parameters. You can go as deep into that rabbit hole as you want; there was a lot of inspiration out there with movies like Blind Fury, Zatoichi and even Daredevil even though we didn’t go that route. So yeah it was very difficult but it was very rewarding because we kept on discovering the character every day. I’ve been sending videos to Clayton of me training in the garage with new moves, pre-vizzing and he’d say things like “I don’t like that, let’s not make you as low down, we’re not gonna make you crouched and have you upright and more dangerous.” That process was very fun and very rewarding.
I won’t lie, that apple pie in the opening looks really nice. Was it real?
Eric: (laughs) The apple pie was real! I actually made an apple pie blindfolded too just for the crew… it didn’t look so good but it was edible.
I loved that Blind Fury is a big influence on the film as I’ve always been a fan. Would ever like to bring on Rutger Hauer in future stories?
Clayton: Yes, in tackling this type of character it would be a dream and Eric and I thought long and hard about it when we were playing about with this character like his backstory or the enigma and it could be that someone like the Blind Fury character could have taught him everything he knows. So yeah, we’ve played with the idea but at the end of the day who knows? As cool as it would be to have a character like that we also wanted to in a weird kind of way get away from that and create our own version of that character. I think that Eric’s portrayal of the character is very reminiscent of Zatoichi as well as Blind Fury because he’s kind of a guy who knows a lot but he’s bumbling though. He’s kind of a normal dude when he’s not in his Zatoichi mode. He’ll forget his keys, he’ll drink the wrong milk, so he’ll do these things but if you push him into a corner then you’ll turn him into Zatoichi. That’s kind of the beauty of the character where we wanted to borrow from the masters, transfer it over to our world try to find a unique way to portray the archetype of a blind guy.
Do you have any stories in mind for future films featuring Walter?
Clayton: Definitely! The ulterior motive in experimenting with a character like this is that we want to turn it into a long form film or a feature film. I feel like we had to go into this moment where we can play with a character like this; it’s a character you have to respect because of the principles and the rules that it warrants. You can’t just do a one dimensional, superficial approach to it where you have a guy going around kicking ass. There has to be something unique about the character so that’s why the world of what we’re trying to tell evolves from the character.
So that’s why when Eric and I tried to approach the thing we decided we can’t develop the story first, we have to develop the character and then the story will come after.
What do you think the best way is to establish a character generally speaking?
Eric: I think that the story has to be right but there is an element of culture in there where you obviously can’t just write the character based on yourself. You really have to write something that touches the general audience. The Zatoichi/Blind Fury characters are out there already and we just had to grab for him. I think that when we are writing these characters it is a matter of copying the masters, seeing what worked in the past and then finding those characters that we like. For example the slacker from Rope-A-Dope who is kind of like The Big Lebowski or Walter, the Blindsided guy; you take that from culture and then we add our own little spin on it. I think that’s where true innovation comes from; it’s not creating stuff out of thin air, you copy the masters and you put your own spin on it and make it your own. That’s something I think Clayton and I share where we admire the masters; we like paying homage to these great characters.
Your films have always had a sense of humour; would you ever be interested in doing something 100% serious?
Eric: I think comedy is something that we’ve gravitated towards but there’s nothing really stopping us from being a little more serious. You can have serious with comedy too; there’s nothing wrong with that.
How did you plan the fight scenes?
Clayton: It’s a combination of everything; you have to pre-viz it and storyboard it so it minimizes your room for error. When you get there you have to allow improvisation and leeway to bend. You don’t know when magic happens; you can’t define comedy when comedy happens. Moments happen by an accident; I think Eric and I allow ourselves to build a structure and as something evolves and develops then we kind of run with it. I look at the way Jackie Chan does an action scene. You look at an environment and you say “OK there’s a trashcan here, etc” and we’ll have you bounced off of this and that so you never know what someone is going to throw you. The one thing you can’t deny is the way you portray the character. Walter in this movie stays the same no matter what he responds to around him and that’s the beauty of the world we create.
It was great to see Roger Yuan in the film; how long have you known him for?
Clayton: I’ve known him for a long time; I call him my big brother. When I first got to Hollywood he was there for me and he was already fight coordinating and trying to star in movies. I was a young stuntman and over the last 20 years we’ve stayed in close contact and he’s a wonderful friend. When we got this part we were just trying to cast this guy who was a store clerk so Eric and I said “OK, what about Roger?” so I called him up and he says “Sure! I like this character, I like this world so I’m in!”
It was fun because it’s nice to have some experienced acting to kind of push Eric and validate the work that we’re doing. He’s a recognizable face and is a big time fight coordinator and a good actor and I just want to surround myself with people like that when it comes to action, especially for pushing Eric as a performer. I thought the two had a beautiful chemistry so it made me happy.
Eric, how tough is it to make a fight scene look unique and something we haven’t sen before?
Eric: I think Blindsided really taught us a lot about developing fight scenes because we start it from the character and we’re not starting from a blank slate. Nobody’s saying “OK we’ve got two guys fighting in the woods, let’s come up with some moves.”
Clayton’s impetus on this short was to have the story first which is something that rings through my ears since we did a film in China called Heart of a Champion and Clayton would always say “Story first!” and that’s how we created the fight scenes so that was a guiding light on Blindsided. We didn’t even go into the fight scenes thinking we want to do a hook kick here or there, we just let the story dictate everything and one might think that having parameters like that might limits you but it’s actually the opposite. When you can find yourself like that, when you have rules, they can in a sense set you free and you can work from that framework and it becomes very easy to be creative in that world. On the one hand you’re borrowing concepts from Zatoichi but on the other side instead of sword he’s got a blind cane and that just has an infinite number of possibilities now. That kind of development of fight choreography using the character and telling the story is what really breeds creativity and allows fights to be vastly different.
What do you both want audiences to take away from Blindsided?
Clayton: Well, I hope they enjoy it and have fun with the journey of the character of Walter because his journey is very simplistic; he just wants to make his apple pie. In the process he encounters a few obstacles that we expose so he entertains the audience by his skills. I hope they understand what we’re trying to do; we don’t want to over-complicate things, we just want to make it very simplistic. Eric and I talked about making things very PG because he and I both have children and we wanted to make something for our kids and not make it about blood. We wanted to make it about a lesson in life but we’re very interested in taking it up to the next level too. Our approach was we wanted to make it Coors Light and not Heineken (laughs).
Eric: Clayton and I share a philosophy that we make films for the audience; we’re not trying to mess with people and we’re not trying to confuse the audience or show them that we’re better than them. We’re taking ideas like Zatoichi that the audience loves and we’re just giving it a sort of new once over. Instead of saying we’re better, we’re just a different kind of Zatoichi. We’re really doing this to entertain the audience and that’s going to be the ultimate message for us. We’re not looking to send any kind of message or anything like that and we really like being in a room with people and hearing their response to our film. With comedy you get laughs, with horror you get the screams and that’s kind of the ultimate payoff. No matter what kind of film you’re making you can’t deny that that is the ultimate response when the audience enjoys your film. That’s what we’re really trying to do and we hope that people get invested in the character and learn a healthy life lesson… about apple pie.
Any future projects you’d like to discuss?
Clayton: The ultimate goal is to take the short films we’ve been working on and graduate them into long form films that can reach a mainstream audience as opposed to an independent audience. We want to hone our skills on an independent level and do the best we can in creating good stories and good action.
Blindsided will be online tomorrow but for now you can check out some of Eric’s other short films: