THE UNDERCUTTING EDGE: An Interview With Stephen Reedy

The past few weeks have been a little draining. I've had to let go of a few people while tending to some much-needed downtime over the weekend while balancing work on all ends, so if you're reading this, thank you for bearing with me. Part of that rest period was spent on a nice, brisk thirty-some odd minute-long jewel of a shortfilm that I have been in love with for up to thirteen years. My feelings haven't waned and it served as a nice refresher reminding me why it is I started this site in the first place.

That movie finally garnered my own viewing of its behind-the-scenes featurette just this month, showcasing the antics and shenanigans of The Stunt People - one of the independent film and stunt troupes that bred my earlier interest in the world of online martial arts action filmmaking; The group even accrued its own chat forum as their popularity arose as did their ambitions. Furthermore, said footage, and in timely fashion, likely fills in some blanks that might-have-been in the course of assembling this interview with none other than filmmaker Stephen Reedy, who directed The Stunt People short, Undercut, to perpetual fan acclaim.

Reedy is one of the many people I had wished to build a rapport with sooner back when I first staked an interest in the online action film community and was looking for a way to be an avenue for it. I had already written a bunch of things on a previous site I was running which is now defunct and by then, with no computer, I was forehead-deep into repeat-watching rising action star Eric Jacobus's hit movie, Contour:

Remarkably, there are people in the world calling themselves martial arts movie fans and still haven't yet seen Contour. I formally cast aspersions on these heathenous miscreants of the genre and implore these wayward heretics to click here and buy the DVD right goddamn now before I start naming names. And I will! The same goes for the Undercut DVD which you can also link to in this paragraph. And I don't care that it's online for free!!!

(Please note the alternative version of Contour which I discuss with Reedy in the interview below is not the one I recommemd. From an artistic and creative perspective, it falls terribly short compared to its director's cut.)

...Moving on.

So, yes. Give The Stunt People your money! That has pretty much been my message for the last twelve years or more when it came to my interest in niche titles and stunt groups like The Stunt People and having been hungry and curious for cinema outside of my purview. Reedy co-starred as well as lensed Contour which further helped put Eric Jacobus, among many in the world of online action on the radar for fans.

Stephen Reedy, cast on the set of UNDERCUT
For this, along with my appreciation for Undercut, I attribute the great and good ways my life has been affected by Film Combat Syndicate on both sides of its lifespan, in part, to people like Reedy. Collecting DVDs and spending up to $100.00 on sites like HKFlix and currently-running YesAsia (...back when I had money. Ha.) may have cost me at times, but I honestly wouldn't change a thing. Projects like Undercut and Contour are two of silliest and wackiest films in existence today, and all while made, in their entirety, with ample and equal amounts of balls and heart by some of the hardest working people I have ever crossed virtual paths with as a fan.

Such a path graced me a few years ago with the opportunity to interview Jacobus to finally get a leg up on one of the major interviews I had been hoping to do as a fan in more than a decade and someone itching to be a part of something I had watched grow and evolve before my eyes. Unfortunately this discounts the period between 2008 and 2011 when I hardly had any internet access to even so much as look at a YouTube video.

It was a really, REALLY bad time.

And...I got through it. This, among all the hopes - many of which are ongoing - that I would get do a little more than just a mere passing mention about Reedy...To actually trade emails, chats and blurbs with him is another milestone achievement for me and particularly since he's not on Facebook, which made reaching out to him a bit more challenging.

Thank goodness for Instagram and you can follow him here at @stephenreedy. I don't blame him for avoiding Facebook as cluttered and stifling as it feels sometimes in a lot of ways. Really, all I want is for Reedy to continue to grow and prosper as he has with projects like The Forge and his latest psychedelic Western fantasy action romp, The Man From Death which is...just... bananas!

Reedy (far left) directing the cast on the set of UNDERCUT, courtesy of Eric Jacobus
I love that a guy like Reedy exists. I think he represents a multitude of just the kind of people that movies need, particularly for the idiosyncratic style he brings to the table and the people he knows. I believe production companies would be so very lucky to be affiliated with his work and I have approximately ZERO shame in gushing as much as I have been in this intro. I think it's a crime that projects like Undercut and Contour may very well go unnoticed by people who otherwise love the genre as much as I do and may be missing out. And they shouldn't.

Reedy needs all the support he can find. I'm just glad he found some in me to help amplify it. And I'm equally thankful for the past few weeks in which I've finally been able to achieve and put forward this interview. It was done between days via e-mail, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless along with some of the gems I've included - plus that really sick reel at the top of this page - and if it gets Contour 2 going as much as I hope it does, or if it successfully triggers another project, then all the sweeter.

Here is my interview, for which Reedy and Jacobus helped to contribute. Thanks guys!

Film Combat Syndicate:
Thank you for joining me for this intervew Stephen. How has the year been for you so far up until now?
Stephen Reedy: This year has been AMAZING. Never before have we set up so many projects, almost all of them built to redefine the action genre as we know it. 💪👊

How has your year been?
FCSyndicate: I'm alive and hopefully - preferably - working toward my purpose I suppose. It's a rarity to be asked in turn by my interview subjects and thank you for asking!

Your earlier projects with The Stunt People were some of the most mind blowing pieces of work I'd seen. I own one of the first Contour DVDs and I actually had a chance to see the rebranded version titled "The Agent", which pales in comparison. Have you seen it?
SR: I haven't! Wow - you realize we were essentially teenagers while we made that. You just did the cinematic version of opening up a high school yearbook. What should I know about this?
FCSyndicate: It's actually been a long, long while since I peeped it but the film is a shorter duration than yours for certain. There were a few cuts from the scene leading up to Baseball Bat fight with Dennis and Ray, and the sequences involving Alfonso were either recut or removed, and Eric's monologue at the end is also recut. A LOT has been recut. You'd need to see it to see what I meant. I was wondering what your thoughts might had been if you'd seen it by now.
SR: No, but what all this nostalgia bubbles up is how talented all these fighters are and how great the action was. It's making me hungry for a martial arts action rebirth! But not just a normal rebirth- a genetically mutated cosmic radiation infused super baby with all the powers.
FCSyndicate: I'm glad all this reflecting is stirring up motivation for you. I miss the heyday of Contour and I'd been waiting for years to see how you'd top it.

Reedy & cast on the set of Undercut, courtesy of Eric Jacobus
Before we go any further, just for those among my readership who are just getting to know you, tell us your story, where you're from, how you got into this crazy business of film and things that inspired you early on.
SR: Since early childhood, I had wanted wanted to make movies with amazing never-before-seen spectacle and emotional reasons to do so. I was in awe of Jackie Chan's abilities mixed with his human performances. I went nuts over the energy and style of Trainspotting and Kill Bill. I learned things about human nature via Requiem for a Dream and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I wondered how these different flavors could be put together.

So I experimented and grew until I knew what I was doing enough to gain collaborators. Some of these collaborators were The Stunt People up in the bay. That gave me a greater understanding of martial arts cinema, what's great about it and where it could go.

I made a short film called Undercut with them and it went well. We mixed Eric Jacobus' ridiculously super amazing choreography and execution with a political satire story and a simple heartfelt story about a pug. It led to all kinds of jobs: comic writing, television development, directing commercials and music videos and funding for future short films of every flavor.
FCSyndicate: I did read that there was some kind of controversy regarding votes ahead the 2006 MTV Movie Awards for Undercut - It was nominated, didn't win but it earned a great following online. That being said - your debut shortfilm and the prospects of an MTV award must have been exciting for you... What was going on in your mind around this time?

SR: Yes! So what happened was that the winner of the MTV Movie Award was funneled down to a few finalists, then determine by votes. I really really promoted Undercut with various ad campaigns across the internet. It worked. MTV called me and said I had too many votes. So I was disqualified by selling my movie too hard!

Aside from that interesting controversy, what was going through my head?

"Awesome, this is cool!"
FCSyndicate: Promoting your movie "too hard"... that sounds like an insane parameter to take heed to. Your work certainly speaks in similar volumes, especially with Contour - which I LOVE to pieces...I'm sincere about this - and believe it or not, I'm still putting people on to that movie to this day.

What are some of your favorite takeaways and anythings from working on that movie?
SR: [laughs] Contour- well that was absolutely a team effort with Father and Captain (a.k.a. Director) Eric Jacobus.  
What I learned about that was that creativity and inspiration is magnified by a group of like-minded people. Genius is effortlessly born while just goofing around between shots. I think that is a rare gift to be able to sit amongst fun people who are brilliant and in alignment with the greater goal of the creativity. 

Dennis Ruel and I basically made each other laugh every possible moment, coming up with the awesomest, dumbest brainstorms. 

The funniest sorry might be when Dennis and I were at a convention. A random booth was selling the DVD, which we are on the cover of. The booth dude started selling us the movie, not knowing our relation to it. He kept making up all these epic stories about the making of the film, about the fight team. He told us the action was so savage that it killed several of the stuntmen. He LITERALLY POINTED TO THE PEOPLE ON THE COVER (us) AND SAID WE DIED WHILE FILMIMG IT!
FCSyndicate: Now I'm dying!

Did he ever figure it out? Or did you guys let him in on who you two were? I know if it were me, I would've been like "That's ME you asshole!" 🤣
SR: I don't know. I'm dead. My actions would have been inconsequential on the physical realm in which he inhabited.
FCSyndicate: Amazing 🤣

Stephen Reedy and Eric Jacobus in CONTOUR, courtesy of Eric Jacobus
I've wondered for ages a few things about Contour and your work with Eric and I know we're talking more than a decade since then. I know you both have moved on to your own things - Eric is partnering with Clayton Barber on some projects and I know you're busy with a few things including The Man From Death with Eric Lim.

I've only ever dreamed of a Contour sequel and seeing the return of Tae Pho master Tuoc Van Tuong. Has anything come of it since that you know of?
SR[Laughs] Tuoc is one with all of us. Let him into your heart. And your soup!

As for a next thing, yes, we are in the verge of making several movies, all taking the action genre to another level with new flavors and styles. Eric Jacobus is one of the best fighters on the planet so I'd be really missing out to not collaborate again.
FCSyndicate: Can you confirm if one of those projects will be The Man From Death?

I last heard that there was a crowdfunder being pushed for a stage reading to help get some backing. Tell us about that.
SRI developed a pretty fun feature of The Man From Death which went out to writers and is being pitched around. Additionally- wouldn't that be the most fun T.V. show? Like Charlie's Angels, but Charlie is an abstract fortune telling to-do list that doesn't make sense until after preforming it's daring leap-of-faith? What a great episodic format. 

The reason I did not write The Man From Death script myself is because I was off writing several other really fun martial arts scripts, filled with Balls, Heart and action we have all been dreaming of our whole lives.
FCSyndicate: Were there any other elements you might have wanted to throw in with making the shortfilm but couldn't due to things like time or budget? How far down the rabbit hole did some of the ideas go, if any?
SR: As a proof-of-concept, the piece was structured differently than a normal short. I would have loved to have installed an emotion based character journey in there and kept it about that, with action multiplying that journey's flavors. 

Fight wise, oh boy do I have great ideas that couldn't make it. You'll have to wait to find out!

Story and character - same!
FCSyndicate: What's it like working with the incomparable Vlad Rimburg in all these years from Contour up to now?
SR: Incomparable!

Vlad’s one of my best friends, so it’s basically hanging out with family. It is very easy, very fun and amazing to be excited by the insane talent he injects. The dude is a poet of kicking and punching and bloody death.
FCSyndicate: Between the early two-thousandsies and now, how would you summarize the current state of independent film with respect to the action genre - and possibly other genres, as you look toward the future with your Balls+Heart banner?

SR: Oh man, a gigantic shift. Making an image look good used to be impossible on an indie budget. Now everything looks good. So the real infinitely perfectible task will be using the tools of beauty, action, energy and craft to serve stories and characters that in themselves are a spectacle in a human way. People are inherently scared to look at their own shadow. They will kill any other humans who challenge the potential flaws in their worldview. Thus, perhaps entertainment is the only way to truly cram that in there. And there, it can resonate as rewarding truth and "ah-ha" moments.

If we want to be less deep, the art of cinematic kicking and punching has a long ways to go before all it's ideas are expended. 

Do people want these things? Yes. Is the only route indie? No. What's the best route to take? It seems to depend on exactly who is behind it and what machine is throwing it out as wide as possible, be it small or large.
FCSyndicate: Are you free to divulge the next stop on your current route?
SR: How about this...

We have written 4 action features, as well as eveloped TV shows and movies, and even written a few shorts. They're all fun, full of NEW candy and vitamins and will resonate super hard! 😀
FCSyndicate: Is there anyone you specifically wish to work with in the coming months?
SR: Here’s what we’re doing: Taking the action genre to another level. How? Using more tools and using them in a very clever way. Tools like: Emotion, social message and energetic manipulation. That doesn’t mean every movie will be a full-on fight buffet nor does it mean that every film will have a mandatory set of emotional or message based weight. However, these elements are heavily unused engines in modern storytelling, yet have proven themselves to be powerful in ages past. To engage in an audiences ideology opens up new passion in them to care. Suddenly a fight is more than a fight. Tools like editing and camera are spices that have barely been explored by most filmmakers, why play with them more? 
So, who cares about that? That’s who we wish to work with. 
Perhaps Blumhouse? GET OUT was an incredible example of mixing genres in a new way AND reflecting culture onto us. I also love their small budget, simple high concept, good profit margin thing. So smart. 
Elijah Woods also has a company that is innovation friendly.
FCSyndicate: I know you're pretty wrapped up in pitching and other labors right now. We're coming into the Fall season and so I'm curious as to what moviegoing plans you might have at current. Anything stick out?
SR: Mother! Darren Aronofsky is a Lord Genius of inner space meets outer space ideas and mood. 

Twin Peaks' finale was last Sunday! I'm obsessively in love with season 3 here cause David Lynch keeps finding new ways to mess with us. 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi because Rian Johnson is so awesome. 

Rick and Morty is the smartest funniest show around.
Taken at Wondercon 07, courtesy of Eric Jacobus
FCSyndicate: Do you have any closing thoughts to share with our readers?
SR: I am excited for the future and I hope you keep showing it to people with your journalism!
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