PODCAST: Here’s a 1997 interview with Scott Shaw and Donald G. Jackson where they discuss their films and Zen Filmmaking.
By Scott Shaw
Recently, a guy contacted me and wanted to fly me into his city to make a Zen Film. He explained that he really needed my sensibilities in a movie he hoped to create. Initially, I thought that might be fun. Working with an entirely new and unknown group of people who were into Zen Filmmaking. But, then I started to see the flaws in this guy’s hopes and ideology. Though Zen Filmmaking is entirely about freedom—about simply getting out there and doing it, I was being asked to come to a city I had never been to and basically do everything. I mean everything. I decided to pass on the offer and I suggested to the guy, “Why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie.”
In today’s world, you can literarily make a movie with your phone. I have. Or, you can use any number of relatively inexpensive cameras that are on the market. The fact is, it is very doable if you have the focus and the dedication. But, I believe that is the issue, the focus and the dedication. There are a lot of people who want to DO but very few people who will DO.
Sure, I have my advice for budding filmmaking. …Like don’t try to mimic what has already been done. Make your own movie, using your own cinematic philosophy, and so on. But, it can be done. And, it can be done relatively cheaply. Not like in times gone past.
This all kind of struck me as interesting when I gave that guy the advice, “Why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie.” That was something I had said to someone else, way back in the way back when, under entirely different circumstances.
The story, I was making a movie and this guy/my friend (I surmised) was helping me out. He was an actor. I had met him working on the set of someone else’s film. And, like so many others, he wanted to break into the Hollywood game. Me, being me, I was charting my own course to achieve that goal. In any case, we were filming one day and I was realizing that we were running late and we were having some technical issues and we should not film this girl he was crushing on very hard that day. He completely freaked out and started yelling and screaming. This obviously really messed with my small cast and crew. It wasn’t that I was not going to use the girl. It was just that I realized her scenes would be better filmed at a better location I had in mind and on a different day. In any case, we finished the day. Once home, I left him the message, “Why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie.”
Though he apologized, we finished the movie, and remained in contact over the next several years; I knew I could never trust him again. That style of reactive behavior is just not healthy for the emulation of art: cinematic or otherwise.
Certainly, on sets, I have seen this style of behavior before and after that occurrence. But, it is just not good. It poisons the fruit. I mean, in worse case, if you are not liking what is going on, leave. I know I have done that. I have done that even in the case of one big A-film I was cast in and on a TV series. …That one was an interesting one… I was cast to do a role in the last (short-lived) sitcom that the great actor James Garner was doing. In any case, we were on the set, we had done the rehearsals, and then Garner shows up. We started to do rehearsals with him and what an asshole! I mean this guy was a total jerk! That was sad because I had always really liked him as an actor. We shot the scene as Garner continued to go off at me and everyone else. They called lunch. I left and never came back. The production company claimed I ruin the story by leaving. My agent got really pissed and dumped me. But me, good or bad, I stood my ground. I didn’t throw a fit. I just left. …And, you wonder what happened to my career in the A-Market. There’s your answer. 🙂
Anyway… That’s just kind of a side note to the story and the point of all this. If you want to make a movie, why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie. Use your phone. Use whatever it is you have. Get out there and film something everyday. It doesn’t have to have story structure. Lord knows, my films don’t. All it has to have is you doing something. Film it, take it off of your phone or your camera, edit it if you want, and make something! Make art!
This is the same with any art you desire to create. Do it! Draw, paint, write.
Art is based in one person doing one thing. Again, do it! Because if you don’t, all your life will be left with is all of those artistic projects you envisioned in your mind but never created.
Copyright © 2019—All Rights Reserved
By Scott Shaw
I always find it interesting how in the Independent Film Industry people find easy targets for their criticism. This is especially the case in the No and the Low Budget Arena. This lack of understanding and appreciation goes hand-in-hand with something I have talking about literally forever whenever I speak with new filmmakers in my classes, seminars, or face-to-face. …You cannot become lost in attempting to imitate a film with a large budget when you have no budget. …You cannot expect your film to come out looking like a film with a million dollar budget when you have five dollars.
For the actual filmmaker, this concept is much more easily comprehended. For the viewer and the critic, not so much.
Most film viewers go into any film watching experience with preconceived expectation based upon what they have viewed in the past. Most of what they have viewed in the past is based upon a film with a substantial budget. Even most Independent Features are bankrolled with a fairly sizeable budget. But, then there is the whole other area of the film industry, the area of the industry where people are making movies for the love of cinema. Though they may have no money at all, they make their movies anyway.
Now, at this level of the industry some people do attempt to mimic what they have seen in the High Budget Arena. Most fall very short of this. Of course, there have been a few films made with no or a very small budget that have broken though. The most obvious examples of this are perhaps the original Blair Witch Project and El Mariachi. But, it is essential to note, that the versions of these films that went to wide-release were not the original versions of these films. They had major dollars poured into them for reshoots, editing, and sound tracking before they found their way into the mainstream.
All this being said, the viewing of any cinematic project is about the viewing of that particular project itself and it should not be about comparisons. Yes, this is a philosophic concept that most people will never understand or put to practice. But, just because it is not understood does mean that it is not true.
From a personal standpoint, I’ve watched over the years as people have compared my features to other pieces of cinema. They have gaged my work in comparison to the works of other filmmakers. They have tried to make sense of my work by placing labels on it. But, by doing this, in and of itself, they have missed the point. They have tried to place definitions and judgments on my work when they have not possessed the mindset to even understand it.
This does not bother me particularly. That’s just the name of the game in art. People gage things through their own level of realization. They want to find a reason to love or hate a project.
Also, this does not cause me to change. I mean, any artist who adapts their work simply because people criticize it is not an artist.
This being said, artists do evolve. I certainly have. My film work certainly has.
For example, I used to make abstract cinema attached to a verbally driven storyline. But, as I have long said, the stories have all been told. I don’t care about the stories. Leave that to the filmmakers with big bankrolls behind them. Though there may have been a subject matter in my films of the past, the story-driven dialogue was never the focus. And, this is where many critics got what I was doing all wrong. The words were just there as an abstract koan to take the viewer into the mind of Zen. The words never meant anything. They were nonrepresentational. They were just people taking about the nonsense that people normally speak of in life. I mean really, how much of what anyone says really matters?
But then, I left all that talking behind. I moved forward to focusing solely upon images.
The fact is, I have not made a dialogue-driven film since 2009. That’s almost ten years ago. Yet, most the people who talk about my Zen Films are not even aware enough to be aware of that fact. What does that say about them? Yes, I’ve made tons of movies since then, but they are all unspoken. They are simply nonfigurative images moving across the screen. The reason? Again, to guide the viewer into the meditative mindset of Zen.
So, next time you see a film, especially an experimental film, try to move beyond what you already know—what you already think you know. Leave behind your judgment and maybe you can understand what the filmmaker was actually attempting to portray. Maybe you can encounter Zen.
Copyright © 2018—All Rights Reserved.
By Scott Shaw
Ever since I wrote The Stories of the Production for Max Hell Frog Warrior and Guns of El Chupacaba, I have been deluged with requests to write one about The Roller Blade Seven. To begin with, there is a chapter in my book, Zen Filmmaking on the creation of The Roller Blade Seven that I believe provides a lot of insight into what went on behind the scenes and has a bit of a different focus than this discourse. I wrote that when Don was still alive and he really liked it. It was up on scottshaw.com for a while—way back in the way back when. I recommend you read it if you really want some insight into the making of this film.
To be truthful, I have long thought to go back into my production notes and write a detailed book about The Roller Blade Seven as it was such a long, mind-bending experience. In fact, it was complete fucking chaos! And, I may still do that at some point in time. …In the meantime, for all of those of you who have wondered, I will tell you what I can tell you… I imagine that even this piece will end up being fairly lengthy. If you can get through it, I believe you will have a deeper understanding of what this film and this film’s filmmaking process was all about and you will probably see why it would take an entire book to actual detail all of the finite goings-on.
There are a few prerequisites to the telling of this story that you readers should know about at the outset. As all movies are, this film was created based upon a conglomeration of personalities. Some of these personalities were good; some were not. So, I am going to tell this story as truthfully as possible. But, there are a lot of secrets. For those of you out there who are worried about what I might say; don’t be. Though I am going to tell a truthful story here, your secrets are safe with me. And, I imagine as the story of the creation of RB7 is so vast, I will probably be coming back and doing tune-ups on this essay as new remembrances come to mind—which is something that is not uncommon among my web-based articles. Mostly, this piece is a study in psychology more than simply a fact-based dissertation on filmmaking.
To begin, there needs to be a little bit of a backstory about me.
…I truly do not know what caused me to decide to enter the film industry, as an actor, when I was in my early thirties. Having grown up in Hollywood, I had truthfully seen the downside of it all. Throughout the 80s, I had run a martial art studio, went to grad school, played music, painted, wrote poetry and novels, traveled the world, spend many a late night at underground Hollywood nightclubs, and was in relationships with a lot of various psycho bitches of one flavor or another. As the 80s were coming to a close, I had met a nice young lady, who I am still with to this day, and my life’s focus began to change. Again, I cannot give you an absolute reason why.
By the early 1990s, I had thrown my hat into the acting ring. Though my early onscreen appearances were mostly small, they were in the A-Market, I had my SAG Card, and was frequently being hired as a Featured Day Player in Under-Five roles. Thus, I would be given my own trailer, treated very well, and was paid at that time a base-rate of $455.00 for eight. I was what may be called, “A working actor.” Things were moving along in my career… I had been active for less than a year and I was doing pretty well. Out of nowhere one day, I was called on my voice mail, (we all carried pagers back then), by Donald G. Jackson. He had received my headshot and he was about to do a movie.
I have told this story before but we never figured out who sent him that headshot. It was a color 8X10 of me holding two swords. Color headshots, being very expensive back then, were usually not sent out. I had a manager and an agent but they both said that they had not sent it to him. So, I guess our meeting was some weird destiny thing that may never be explained.
In any case, I called him back and he inquired if I could actually use the samurai swords. I, of course, could. So, he asked me to meet him at Gower Gulch in Hollywood the next day. As I was an inexperienced actor, making many of the mistakes that an inexperienced actor does, I agreed to meet him.
The next day, I arrive at Gower Gulch; which is basically just a strip mall on Sunset Blvd. and Gower. I was on time, as I always am. I began to stand there and wait. Sometime later, an African-American man with a jheri curl mullet began standing around, as well. I eventually inquired if he was there to meet Donald G. Jackson. He was. He was a strange little guy who I was told was into Wing Chun.
Normally, I only wait for a person for fifteen minutes. If they are not there by then, I’m gone. But, as I was an aspiring actor and all, I waited… Forty-five minutes late, here comes Don: a balding, portly, middle-aged man, dressed in camouflaged clothing. Every bone in my body told me to walk away. But, I did not.
Don had arrived with two young ladies in tow in a car driven by another man; who I will get to in a moment. He came up to me and the other guy that he knew. His first question to me was, “Where’s your car?” When I pointed out my 1964 Porsche 356 SC his eyes popped out of his head. Don loved vintage cars. Instead of going with the man he came with, he asked me to drive, stuffed the two girls into my very small backseat, climbed in the front, and we were off. We headed to various Hollywood film equipment locations for him to check out some stuff he needed for the upcoming production.
Weird! I could not believe I was doing that…
At bit later that afternoon, we arrived at the aforementioned guy’s apartment. He was a recent film school grad and had hooked up with Don somehow??? He had written a script for Don called Roller Blade 3 and he was associate producing it with Don directing. The premise of the script was moving forward from Don’s Roller Blade and Roller Blade Warrior films. We went into the rear small patio area of his apartment where I was asked to demonstrate samurai sword usage. The man with the jheri curl was to be my judge and jury. This both amused me and pissed me off. Again, I thought to leave…
The man impressed… I mean, why wouldn’t he be? From there, within a few minutes, other members of the cast arrived and I was training them how to do combat sword techniques. I had been hired. I was to be the male lead of the film as well as the sword choreographer.
I do not want to get too sidetracked into what went on with that film. I recently did a documentary about it called, Roller Blade 3: The Movie That Never Was. I recommend you check it out as it does provide deep insight into the life and mind of Donald G. Jackson. I will say that it too was complete cluster fuck. The film student seeing this, high-jacked the production, stole Don’s investor, but the movie was never finished. I have written about it in a few essays.
After that, Don continued forward attempting to find financing for his next film. I continued following the path of an actor and did a few roles, which additionally laid the foundation for my evolving career, (if you can to call it that). Don and I communicated over the next year, mostly via voice mail, and we met once or twice. Then, upon the completion of Frogtown 2, Don called me, invited me to his office, and said he really wanted to work with me and I should be in his next film, Roller Blade Seven. My course of destiny was set into motion.
Before I go any farther, I need to say that the moment Don got into my 356, as I was driving him to the hospitable for the final stage of his life in 2003, he said, “I really want to apologize for what happen to you on Roller Blade Seven.” I will get to his reason for saying that near the end of this piece. But, keep that essential statement in mind as it is very revenant to my involvement in RB7. I will continue…
There was not a lot of money backing Roller Blade Seven. It was to be financed by Tanya York who had tapped into financing from an aging Hollywood insider. The first film she Executive Produced was Divine Enforcer, which she asked me to appear in, then Frogtown 2, (which I turned down), and now RB7. Don wanted me to be the lead, do the martial art choreography, write, and produce it with him. The only probably was, as we only had a $30,000.00 dollar budget and the film was to be shot on 16mm film, there was not enough money for me to be paid. He would be paid but I would not… (Though I was promised big money on the back-end.) Initially, that seemed okay, as it would be a good opportunity for me. Don was a known filmmaker. He was a friend of Jim Cameron, which I had confirmed when I had a small role in Terminator 2. His film, Hell Come to Frogtown was frequently on late night TV, and I thought it would be a good progression for my career. As we were only scheduled for a one-month preproduction and production window, I thought I could easily make it through that timeframe without getting paid.
Again, I need to go into a bit into the backstory here… When I signed up to do Roller Blade Seven, I had never seen any of Don’s films. I was not into that style of movie. As a dude, I enjoyed the action-flicks of Seagal and VanDamme, which were big at the Box Office during that moment of time, and the movies that came out of Hong Kong. B-Movies, Cult Movies, and the kind of films Don made, I had no idea about… I was into Film Noir. My mistake, I should have researched what I was getting into.
Anyway… On the very first day we began preproduction, I arrive at what would become our production office and I was ready to go. Niceties were exchanged, we talked about a few things, began to set up casting sessions, discussed ideas for the film, and the like… Around lunchtime, Don doesn’t say anything, gets up, and walks out the door of the office. Initially, I didn’t think anything about it as I thought he might be going to the bathroom or something. Time ticks on… He doesn’t come back. I sat there for over an hour, starring off into space, when Tanya comes by—as our office was in her suite of offices, she inquired as to where was Don. I told her I didn’t know. I told her he got up and just left without saying a word. I could see the anger rising her eyes, “You two are working together! Tell him to stop behaving like that!” Tanya who had a long relationship with Don, knew of his shenanigans, and I guess was trying to warn me.
Here’s the thing… And, something I did not know at the time, Don loved to test people. He would always fuck with people’s mind, just to see the reaction he got out of them. But me, I’m not easily pushed, nor am I easily tested. Though my first thought was to say, “Fuck this,” and leave the production all together, instead, I walked across Hollywood Blvd. and went to Bushido McDonalds, as Don liked to call it, and got a Big Mac combo. Awhile later, Don reemerged in the office after I heard Tanya going off on him from another office. With her as the money, he did not treat me like that again.
The rest of preproduction went as preproduction does. We would meet at the office each day, do casting sessions, and the like. We would go scout locations, check out equipment, and we became closer as friends. But, underlying all of this was this innate tension that Don emanated throughout his career. He was constantly testing and pushing people. He really treated most people like shit. This really worked against my mindset as that is not the kind of person that I am. He would even subtly fuck with me on various levels, during those early days, by bringing in other people and offing them prominent positions in the production or in the cast and so on.
This was one of the major faults of Donald G. Jackson throughout the years that I knew him and something that got him into a lot of trouble with a lot of people. For example, if a person said that they were a screenwriter, Don would tell them to write a script and promise that he would produce it. If they were an actor, he promised them a starring role. As Hollywood is all about dreams and the promise thereof, he made a lot of enemies via this practice.
For me, within a few days of preproduction, I was ready to walk. It was just a mind fuck mess! There was so much unnecessary tension… There are so many stories I could tell and maybe someday I will… But, not today.
The problem with my mindset and who I am is that I am not a quitter. If I say I am going to do something, I am going to finish it. I believe that this (my mindset) was the entire reason that Don and I remained co-filmmakers for all of those years; I got things done, when he could not.
There are a few preproduction stories I can relate to you that may add to your overall spectrum of understanding.
As the movie was based upon Don’s concept of, “Roller Blade.” …It is essential to note that he came up with the title before the Rollerblade skates were even invented… Anyway, we were looking for a cast of people who could skate very well. (Obviously, I could not.) One afternoon, we were out in the back of the building that held our production offices, in the parking lot, testing the skating ability of a few potential cast members. Afterwards, we went back up into the office. Tanya called us into her office, which overlooked the parking lot. Very rudely, she tells us that we are not allowed to do that in the parking lot. I mean, she really went off…
A side not here, I am not dissing her when I say this as in her own book she states she was always a very bossy person. But me, I do not take well to authority. Be nice, and I’m all-good. Be rude and I react. I mean, I was already an accomplished person by that point in my life; okay. She was twenty-one years old. Treat me with the respect I am due!
Again, that is another one of those moments where I almost said, “Fuck it,” and walked out the door. I didn’t need it! But, before the words could even finish coming out of her mouth, Don began to apologize. He went into a whole discourse about how when he worked at an auto factory in Michigan he had a manager and he did what the manager said and so on… The way Don reacted provided me with deep insight into his hidden personality.
Another thing that was going on was that I had developed a number of actor friends in the year or so I had been involved in the industry. As this was my first big-film producer position, I wanted to bring as many of them into the production as possible. I invited them to the office and we would have talks. Some of them decided not to do the film due to their union status. A SAG union actor cannot be in a non-union film. I could skirt that fact because I was a producer and the union cannot keep someone from producing their own movies. Others wanted to get paid but as we had a low budget; payment wasn’t an option. I even contacted my agent and she sent a few people over; one of which we cast. Mostly, what occurred was that through this process, I lost a lot of friends due to Don’s behavior. He just loved to fuck with people and he found a way to fuck with me by messing with the heads of my friends. But, one or two of my peeps did get on board.
Regarding the screen story and its development… It is true that Zen Filmmaking is all about not using a script. But, in the early stages of Roller Blade Seven, Zen Filmmaking was not yet in existence. Don told me that he had shot his then unreleased film, UFO Secret Video without a script and that Roller Blade was largely done without a script but Don truly relied upon a screenplay throughout his career. Plus, Tanya wanted to know what we would be doing. Thus, it was decided that I would be the one to write a script. So yes, Roller Blade Seven did initially have a script, though it was never used. I wrote it!
If you feel like it, you can read the treatment I wrote for Roller Blade Seven in my book, The Screenplays. You will see that what we planned to shoot and what we did shoot were very different.
Preproduction was scheduled to take about a week. By the time we finally got ready to go up, we were over a month into the process. All this time and I had not been paid. Again, I should have seen the writing on the wall and left.
One of the interesting things that occurred, a day or so before we were to go up, was that a young, beautiful actress came in to audition. Before we could get very far in our conversation, she reached her hand across my desk, took my hand, and said, “I’ll do anything to be in this film.” We all understand what that means… Me, being me, I was about to walk her into the closed off back section of our building, where we had production stages, and well… You know… Just at that moment, Claudia, the girl who played Kabuki, literally burst through the door, sees our hands intertwined, and blurts out, “What the fuck is going on here!”
Claudia was a very interesting person. From Germany; she was an outspoken stripper by trade, a smoker and a drinker. She loved the Crazy 8’s, as we call them on the street; Old English 800. A nasty street beer almost universally only partaken of by African-Americans. But me, I was right there with her. I was the only one who would drink that swill with her. Whenever she came by the office, which she did quite a lot, she brought a forty once bottle or two and we would pass it back and forth.
What would have happened between that actress and I given the chance? I guess I will never know??? But, she is in the film. Guess who she is?
On the first day of production, in the early AM hours, I loaded up all my swords, my Rollerblades, and stuff into the back of my 356 and headed over to Mark’s house in Downey. Mark was to be an actor in the film as well as our Art Director. Good guy! He had done a lot of work with Troma. Plus, he was a great rollerblader and had several friends who were also great rollerbladers that he brought onboard.
You have to understand, by the first day of the shoot, I had no idea what was going to happen next. Though I was the only other producer on the set, Don had created such an anxiety-ridden preproduction that I didn’t know if I would quit, be the star of the production that I was promised to be, be replaced, or what was to take place next??? This, even though I had brought some of my friends on board—one in a principal role. But, me being who I am, (the non-quitter) I played along.
The fact is, this was one of the ways Don used to manipulate people—always keep them guessing. But, the truth was, (as I realized later), his mind was so chaotic that he too didn’t know what was going to happen next and due to his very deep rooted insecurities, he was always afraid of being rejected, so he power-tripped to such a degree to keep anyone from having the ability to hurt him. But, that’s life… Creative people are generally the most fucked up.
We had a lot of people there on the first day of production. Mark had a lot of costuming at his home. He handled getting the cast outfitted. Then, Don and I gave the final approval.
Mark lived within very close access to the L.A. Riverbed basin; which is where we planned to shoot. This is why we staged from his home.
Before I go any farther, if you care about the Roller Blade Seven and its behind-the-scenes, you really need to see the documentary I did titled, Roller Blade Seven: The Unseen Scenes. There’s a lot of very revealing stuff in that doc that begins at this point in the production.
Just as we are about to begin shooting, it began to rain. Rain is a great, free, special effect. It is not, however, great for roller-skating. In the aforementioned doc, you can see my character being the first to take a fall on the slick path that we were skating along. For me, who had only been on rollerblades once or twice, it was a scary and dangerous experience. Even our RollerCam guy, a GREAT skater, took a dive with the Bolex in his hand on that day. You can see that in the doc, as well.
The first shots of the day were the Roller Blade Seven skating as a team. Next, were the villains. We finished the day up by doing some of the martial art confrontation. Here is where a lot was revealed to me about Donald G. Jackson…
Obviously, I was a well-trained martial artist. My agent had sent me a well-trained female Kempo stylist that we cast for the film. Plus, I brought on a few other people who knew their stuff. Don suggested I go and set up the fights. I figured I had some time so I was first working with the girl and her opponent. Maybe ten minutes into the session Don walks up, “Okay, let’s shoot.” But…
Here’s the thing, Don didn’t even care that the people weren’t ready. All he cared about was getting something/anything on film. So, all of those one-on-one fights you see in the film were choreographed on the spot. I told them do this or do that, and that was that.
Now, here was Don, a guy who loved the martial arts and samurai films. Though he never trained, he was constantly referencing all things bushido. But, there he was, making a martial arts film but he did not care about the most elemental component of the film we planned to make, the fight scenes. Plus, he had no idea about how to shoot angles so that the fighting techniques looked like they actually connected. Mostly, I think it was once again his insecurity and his fear of someone, (i.e. me), taking his power away.
There was a high point to all this that came later in my filmmaking career, however. From this experience, I realized that on the indie level of making a film that employs the martial arts, it is better to just choreograph one technique at a time; film it, then move on to the next. That way, no elaborate choreography is needed to be learned by the cast members.
The Saturday and Sunday shoot ended.
The following week, we took the film to Fotokem to be developed. We then had it telecined. Don hated what he saw. Being on the other side of the camera, I was a bit more forgiving; understanding that the actors had virtually no direction from Don, the director. Don was like that, he never really directed his actors. But, I too saw the flaws.
We were in the office, discussing the results of the pervious weeks endeavor. Don was fuming as he often did. Blaming others, as he almost always did. We decide that we needed to let go of all the structure and throw all of the plans that we had for the film out the window and just go out there and film. It was then and there that I came up with the title, Zen Filmmaking. “Let’s just be Zen. This is Zen. This is Zen Filmmaking.”
The next weekend, we reconvened at Mark’s house. Again, we had a very large cast; though many of the people, especially the friends I had brought on board, had quit. As we weren’t shooting any dialogue on that first weekend, they felt like they were just being used as an extra. And, Don refused to call all but three of the original Roller Blade Seven back; one was Kabuki, the other was this great rollerblader and friend of Marks who play several roles including the banjo player and Fukasai Ninja, and the other was one of my friends, a highly trained martial artist.
Once everyone was suited up, we went down into the river basin and Don called everyone around him. There and then, he blew up. He began screaming at everyone. Telling them what horrible actors they were, how they had cost him and I thousands of dollars, and that they were total pieces of shit. I was in disbelief. I had never seen a director treat people like that. He went on-and-on insisting that they were all ruining his and my movie. Wow!!!
He went up to one guy, who had been using nunchucks the first weekend, grabbed them away from him, threw them on the ground, and told him he was an fucking idiot and didn’t know how to use them. Now, this guy was a trained martial artist and I expected him to react. I mean if someone had come at me like that the least I would have done is told him, “Fuck you,” and walked away. At the worst, I would have kicked his ass. But, this guy took it. Did nothing but stand there. I could not believe it. The whole scenario I could not believe!
Eventually, Don was finished and we began to film. We shot the first words of dialogue recorded in the film—my character laying on the ground saying, “I can’t believe she made me wear these skates.”
We filmed all day. We did the big skate oncoming, leading to the big fight scene. We also did a little trick that Don suggested—individually killing off all of the main characters so if we saw their face in the final cut, we could show their character dying and thereby keep the story sound.
As the day was coming to a close, there they came, the police officers. Someone had reported us. As we obviously didn’t have a filming permit, this presented a problem, as what often occurred back then is that the police would confiscate your film. Don had actually been arrested once. But, that was because he was filming a naked girl handcuffed to a fence.
What we did was to give all of our exposed film to our RollerCam guy and have him skate off into the distance. Don, Sergio (our AC), and I got the cameras and walked off into the sunset. As the cast was just the cast, we left them there to deal with the repercussions of which there were none. What could they be held responsible for?
That was the last weekend of big production on the Roller Blade Seven. After that, all things were kept smaller and more controlled. Though we did have a fairly large number of cast and crewmembers on several of the shoot days, there was never the massive amount of cast and crew as on those first two weekends.
As we moved farther into the production, we needed dialogue for the cast to speak. Don loved my books: Essence: The Zen of Everything and Time, which was later published by one of the Bigs as Zen O’clock: Time to Be. There it was, our script. People like Joe and Karen took to it immediately. They could just choose their aphorism and that was that. We were set to go…
In the past, I’ve spoken a lot about cast members like Karen, Joe, Bill, and Frank and their involvement in RB7 in interviews, articles, and the like. For Joe, Chris asked me to write the introduction for his book on Joe, Wiping off the Sheen. There, I pretty much spell out our meeting with Joe and his involvement in RB7. The one cast member I have not spoken that much about is Don Stroud. So, I will do it here…
I first met Don Stroud on the set of Divine Enforcer. I could not understand why an actor of his caliber would be doing a movie like that. I mean he had a GREAT career from the 1960s forward. In fact, ever since I saw his film, Angel Unchained, in my early teens, he was my idol. I forever watched his career evolve. So, to get him in RB7 and to get to work with him was a dream come true.
For those of you who have seen RB7 and Return of the RB7 you will know that Don plays the congas in those films. That was all his idea to bring his congas along. And, a great idea it was as that really added a lot to the films and gave us something to really build around. For those of you who have seen the 1978 movie, the Buddy Holly Story, you will know that Don did a great job of playing the drums and bongos in that film.
Though Don did play the congas live in the film I actually had to loop his playing when we were in post. Thus, that is me you are hearing not Don. I will explain the reason for this in a moment.
A funny note, Don is a great and humble person. When I first met him he was living in Brentwood but he later relocated to Manhattan Beach when I was living in nearby Redondo Beach. Every now and then I would bump into him and he would be all excited to see me and say, “Hey Scott! It’s Don… Don Stroud.” Like I didn’t know. In fact, sometimes he would call me up and invite me over to his place or to go out to lunch with him or something. But, I just couldn’t do it. I could not hang out with my idol. It was just too weird for me. Though every time I ran into him, I was very happy to see him.
Anyway, with my two books as a basis for dialogue, the movies got made. There are a million stories I could tell you. But, that would take a book…
It is essential that before I get any farther, I detail a known fact about Don… At least, known to those of us who knew him. Don was a very dark individual. Though he referred to himself as, “The Master of Light,” and he could quote you biblical passages left and right, he truly embraced a negative energy. An energy that spread to all of those around him if you were not very careful. Basically, he was one of those spoiled children who never really grew up. He was probably allowed to throw temper tantrums as a child with no discipline as that is how he behaved as an adult. If he wasn’t getting his own way, he went off. While we were doing RB7, I allowed his negativity to enter my life and I was doing things completely against my nature like barking orders at cast and crew and just not caring about people and life. Being involved with this movie truly took me to a really dark place. But, I ended up paying the price. Read on…
Anyway, we went into postproduction. But, not without a terrible toll having been taken on both Don and I. Due to all the chaos he invoked in our lives by the time we got to that stage we were both eating Xanax like baby aspirin—stressing massively. Me, who has had chronic anxiety problems from my adolescences forward, due to living through one of those childhoods that you never quite get over, was particularly susceptible. So, it was bad…
Plus, I went to the doctor somewhere around this time period. I had gone into the production weighting my standard weight of one hundred and fifty-five pounds. When I got on the scale and the doctor told me I was one and eighty-five pounds I could not believe it! …The thing was, Don ate all the time. We were constantly eating burgers, candy, chips and junk. With no time to work out, as RB7 was pretty much twenty-four-seven, I had put on the pound. Plus, Don had a hiatal hernia that he never had treated. Thus, he barfed all the time when he was eating. It just all added to the fucking mess that was this production.
As detailed, in my earlier writing on this subject, we went into the editing of RB7 expecting to have one of Don’s previous editors do the job. Each day we would show up and try to guide him but he just wasn’t onboard for what we were trying to achieve. We wanted something really crazy, artsy, psychedelic, and abstract. But, he was trying to take it mainstream. He just didn’t understand our vision. As stated in the past, he taught me how to use the editing equipment and I instantly took to it. Thus, we fired him, moved to a large editing suit, and I got down to business.
A side note here… Don made one of the cardinal mistakes of filmmaking while we were at the original editing facility. He arrived one morning. With him was all of our original audiotapes from the production where we had recorded our dialogue. We were recording our sound for the film on the then new DAT tape system. He went to the bathroom en route to the studio. There, he forgot the tapes. They were all in a paper bag. I was already guiding our editor when he arrived at the editing studio. He sat down for a time and then remembered he forgot the tapes. He went back to the bathroom to get them but they were gone. Someone had stolen them. He, of course, massively freaked out. We searched for them, asked people for them, put up notes, but nothing. They were gone. You have to admit, that is a pretty fucked up thing to do—to steal something that important from somebody. But, that was all just part and parcel to the RB7 experience.
The only thing that saved us was the fact that we had much of the dialogue recorded on our ¾ inch edit tapes. Without that, we would have been fucked beyond belief. The whole movie would have had to have been looped.
You can see, in the aforementioned doc, Roller Blade Seven: The Unseen Scenes, several of the scenes that did not make it into the final cut of the film due to the fact that we did not have the original audio recordings.
Big mistake on Don’s part! In any case…
We moved to a new editing facility. It was a fun and interesting time at our editing suite. There were drugs, alcohol, and women in there all the time. It was a massive orgy. True hedonism.
Though we partied, I did do the edit.
One of the things that I realized doing the edit on RB7 was, though I have edited a lot of movies throughout the years, editing is not good for my brain. For after I would spend a whole day in the editing suite, looking at and cutting footage, I began to see life as an edit. It really messed with my psyche.
In terms of the footage used, we put all the best of the best into RB7 except for one very good fight scene. The rest of the footage we used for Return of the RB7.
Once we were done with the off-line edit, as it is called, we took it to an on-line editing facility. For those of you who may not know, making a movie on film is a complicated and expensive process. First, you have to buy the film, shoot it, develop it, telecine it, sync the dialogue, transfer it to time coded tape, do the edit, then take the footage to a facility where they can match the time code numbers to the original masters, and then create the final edit of the film. This final stage is called on-line editing. Though on-line has a very different meaning in today’s mind.
We went to the on-line facility and did our final edit. By the time we had gotten there, we still had no soundtrack. I don’t know what Don was thinking but he seemed like he had a plan. As was commonly the case, he did not. As we were closing in on the final construction of the movie, I was handed the task of creating the soundtrack as the budget had all been spent. I was given one weekend. That was it. I had two days to create an entire soundtrack for two feature films and Don wanted music to be laid over every element of the movies.
My girlfriend and I lived in a small flat right on the water in Redondo Beach. Though the location was beyond great, the place was fairly small. And, as it was an apartment, it was not like I could jam out with loud drums and guitars and stuff. And, this was long before the computer age of music when everything got easy. Thus, I came home on that Friday night bewildered; what would I do? The answer, I just did it. I sat down with what I had: guitars, a sitar, a sarod, tablas, a banjo, a drum machine, and synthesizers, and just got it done. I created and recorded the soundtrack on a Teac 4-Track Cassette Recorder that I had picked up in Tokyo. Monday morning, I arrived with the soundtrack and we laid it down.
One of the truly philosophic elements I learned while we watched the final playback of the final edit of RB7, in the on-line studio was, in filmmaking, sometimes you have to accept what you get. There is a scene in RB7 where Alison’s characters skates up to Don Stroud, talks to him, and then skates away as Don laughs. When original laid down, we had Don’s laugh loudly echoing as Alison skated away. It was really cool. In the final playback, the laugh was gone. The on-line editor had messed up. The on-line editor looks at us. Don looks at me. I look at him. To go back in and redo that track would not only mean a lot of time but a lot of money. Though I thought it was essential; Don just let it go. And, that is one of the sad facts of filmmaking—you may want something to be someway but sometimes you just have to let it go…
That was it. The films were done.
With the films done, it was time to shoot the poster…
As we progressed through the months, pretty much all of the original cast members had fallen away. As they weren’t getting paid, they were all gone. I got it. Even by the end, Kabuki was gone and she took her leather jacket with her. Thus, we had to buy another one of the expensive jackets she wears in the film from a shop on Hollywood Blvd. so we could imitate her character in the final poster shoot—which was photographed at a high-end facility in Santa Monica.
One of the funny stories about that photo session is that if you look at the RB7 page on my site or in the Photo Book I create on Roller Blade Seven, The Roller Blade Seven: A Photographic Exploration, you will see that there is a poster shoot with Don (Jackson) in the shot. Tanya hated it. She made us go back and get shots were he and the guy who played Heavy Metal were not in the picture. Awh, the power of power…
By this point, we had been up on RB7 for months. I was dead broke. As I have detailed in the past, I had to sell my 1934 D’Angelico New Yorker and other vintage guitars I owned just to survive. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever truly recovered from the financial loss I took on RB7 for after all of these years I still have not been able to replace that D’Angelico.
Though the movie was finally completed, the problem after all of this toil and turmoil was, I was about to have salt poured into my wounds. I found out that Don had been paying Alison, our female lead, throughout the entire production. (I wonder why?) Now, it is not that she didn’t deserve it. But, there I was: the producer, the casting agent, the location scout, the still photographer, the choreographer, the screenwriter, the star, the soundman, the editor, the soundtracker, the…, getting paid zero.
The back-end money I was promised… I was paid zero. Plus, the movies were released without me signing a release for anything: not the words from my books, not the music I created, not my producing, not my acting; zero, nothing, nada… How illegal and immoral is that?
Then, Tanya stepped in… She didn’t like the fact that my name was all over the films. Thus, after she had made in the mid six figures, (that is in the mid hundred thousand dollar range for all of you people in other countries), in other words—a lot of money by releasing the original versions of the films internationally at the 1992 American Film Market, she then had a re-do edit done for U.S. release where virtually all of my screen credits were wiped from the films. I got a lawyer involved. But, lawyers cost big money. Money, I didn’t have back then. So, I was fucked. Fucked beyond belief. Thus, answering the question of why Don said on the way to his deathbed, “I really want to apologize for what happen to you on Roller Blade Seven.”
Don and I fell away from each other after that for a time. I was obviously very pissed. Plus, he liked people he could control and I had already set about making my own films. But me, I was the one who got fucked. Not him. He continued to get financing from Tanya. …In my life, my Porsche had blown its transmission while we were doing the on-line edit and that would cost big money to be fixed. I had none. And, that is just one elemental example of what was going on in my life. …Don or Tanya, they were flush, thus they did not care. I was the source of not only their money but a film that has been in public discussion for decades and I was not paid a dime.
I guess the final blow came when I was on my way to pick up this girl on my Harley to go and see Soundgarden at the Roxy. I had just found out that Tanya had me thrown out of our production offices and ban me from entering the building. This, after she had made all of that money off of my creative vision. Me, I was driving and a car hit me from behind. The guy didn’t have any insurance, so my fully customized Harley Davidson was toast—gone forever; totaled. I was taken in an ambulance to the emergency room at Cedars Sinai. They wanted to check me in but I wasn’t down for that. So, I checked myself out. This was obviously before the age of instant communication with everyone via the smartphones that exists today. Back then, if you didn’t have the number memorized, you were out of luck. I called all the numbers I could remember to get picked up but nobody answered. I called my girlfriend but she was at work and didn’t feel it was right for her to leave—she’s that kind of person: work before love. So me, my life in ruins, my body broken, bruised, and bleeding, I sat there on the steps of the emergency room of Cedars Sinai hospital for five hours waiting until I was finally picked up.
That’s the story of The Roller Blade Seven.
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By Scott Shaw
As we have recently passed the twenty-year mark of the beginning of the creation of the Zen Film, Guns of El Chupacabra and as I continue to receive a lot of questions about the process of filmmaking used in making that movie, I thought I would take a few minutes and write a little bit about this Zen Film. I should begin this piece by stating that there is a chapter devoted to the creation of Guns of El Chupacabra in my book, Zen Filmmaking. That chapter is a great source for a lot of the inside-inside and the philosophy about what went on during filming. But here, I thought I would spell out more of the A to Z about the film, to give all of you who have wondered a bit more insight into the film’s actual creation.
To begin with, Donald G. Jackson and I were friends. That is the best way I can describe our relationship. Being friends, sometimes you are more forgiving of a person’s behavior than you would be of someone with whom you are not friends. In brief, Don was a psychologically complicated guy who had a lot of inner-demons. I say this to illustration how and why he and I had a bit of an on-again/off-again turbulent relationship, even during the filming of Guns of El Chupacabra. …We were two very different people. I guess that he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder as one minute he would be fine and the next moment he would be completely freaking out. For anyone who knew him they will instantaneously confirm this fact. With this stated, he always treated me with the utmost respect. From this relationship, even amidst Don’s chaotic mindset, we made a number of seminal films together, including what eventually became Guns of El Chupacabra. This film is one of the two films that we made together that Don and I both considered to be Zen Filmmaking masterpieces. The other being, The Roller Blade Seven. Though I would add The Rock n’ Roll Cops to that list, as well, but Don never got to see the finalized version of that film.
The reason I begin by discussing the mindset of Donald G. Jackson is to illustrate what it was like to work with Don. It was not easy. Moreover, it is also important to note that Don was a horrible confiscator of other people’s creative ideas: i.e. my idea about doing a film about the Chupacabra or a similar creature which I had relayed to him a few months previous to the beginning of filming. We even started to do my film, Surf Samurai from Atlantis, which was to highlight a Sea Monster—artistically referencing films like Creature from the Black Lagoon and Return of the Creature. But, we got sidetracked and that film was never completed… In any case, I hadn’t seen Don in a few months before we began filming. I had gone off to Southeast Asia and, as I tend to be, was very happy living in Thailand. But, I had gotten attacked by a few knife wielding foes one night. Bangkok can be a very dangerous place. Though I overcame my five attackers fairly readily, I did have a serious cut down the center of my face which brought me back to L.A. in a rush to see a plastic surgeon. I had been home maybe a week or so and one day, out of the blue, nearing the end of 1996, Don called me up and tells me that talk of the Chupacabra is all over the internet and we should do a film about it. Okay, but didn’t I already suggest that a few months ago… In any case, we got together and we started preproduction. The only missing fact was, he had already taken my idea and had started filming. I guess he had hoped to grab my idea and create a film about the Chupacabra without me. But, I didn’t find this out until later.
The problem was, as was always the case with Don, he had great creative ideas but he couldn’t get anything done. He always surrounded himself with a less than ideal cast and crew. So, in essence, due to his lack of precision crewing, everything he had previously filmed was basically uselessly. …At least in terms of the technology that was available at the time. And, he had filmed it on 16mm so that process wasn’t cheap. Enter, me… My acute focus and my ability to get things done is what made Guns of El Chupacabra move forward and finally get finished.
Initially, we called the movie, El Chupacabra. With that as our inspiration we went out and began to film.
A friend of Don’s, Bob Mizrahi, was living at this great ranch north of L.A. I am told that it was originally owned by Hoyt Axton. The great thing about this ranch was that not only was it secluded but it had hills surrounding the property. From this, we could fire live ammo, (of which a lot was shot during filming), with no worry of stray bullets traveling onto other people’s property. Moreover, there were several abandoned bulldozer and other heavy machinery that gave the place a great look. We filmed many scenes at this location over several visits.
Initially, I was not sure about who my character would be or how I wanted to guide that character’s development. Originally, I had thought about doing a professor sort of thing. From this, on the first day of shooting, I brought along some old-school desert expedition sort of wardrobe. But, as I always wear a sport coat, slacks, and tennis shoes, I just kind of ended up in front of the camera wearing what I wear. It was shortly after that Don and I realized that we really needed to take the storyline to the next level and not make it simply Earth based but intergalactic. Thus, it was Don who came up with my character’s name, Jack B. Quick, Space Sheriff.
As was the case whenever Don and I worked together, we would meet at the office everyday at about eleven, do preproduction, location scouting, casting, and other stuff during the week and film mostly at night or on the weekends. Those were always fun and fulfilling days. This was the same path we followed with El Chupacabra.
When we began filming the movie we didn’t have a monster. We simply did character development. It was Don who contacted the Executive Producer of Roller Blade Seven, knowing that she was in possession of a monster costume. This suit was originally made for a movie that never was filmed. One Saturday morning we went over to her house and picked up the costume. El Chupacabra was born.
While we were there she made Don promise her that he would not damage the creature costume as she wanted to use it in an upcoming film. He, of course, promised her that he would keep it safe and sound. But, I will discuss what came next in a moment…
For anyone who has seen the movie I am sure you will agree that it is a really great monster costume. When it was created, it cost a lot of money. The problem was, it was made for a fairly small and thin person. So, none of the men we knew could fit into the suit. But, the girl who was playing the character Linda Marshall was willing to climb into that costume. Me, I would have been way too claustrophobic to have ever gotten into a monster suit like that, as there was no self-way in and no self-way out. It had to be put on and taken off by someone else. As such, on the first day we filmed with her in the costume, she brought along a friend of hers whom we dubbed, The Monster Wrangler.
The first day we used the suit was a few months into production. We took our skeleton crew, our monster, her Monster Wrangler, and we went to Bronson Cave—which is a great Hollywood landmark that has been used in an untold number of films and TV shows. We filmed the reveal of the monster and my character fighting the creature.
An important note to keep in mind is that in the traditional Monster Flick, the monster is never revealed in broad daylight. The monster is always kept somewhat hidden and allusive to the seeing eye. We totally broke that rule with Guns of El Chupacabra, however, and let the monster be right in the face of the audience.
Filming went along for several months. Don and I also did a few other films in the interim. I was also very active in writing books and article about the Martial Arts and Zen at that time, so those projects took up a lot of my time when I wasn’t working on the film. I also completed another Master’s Degree during this period so it was a busy and productive period of time for me.
Filming on Guns of El Chupacabra took us over a year. In fact, it took us close to two years to actually finish the film. I have one of those very prominent memories etched into my mind where Don and I were on the roof of the Broadway Building on the corner of Hollywood and Vine, where we filmed many a scene, and Don looked at me, shook his head and said, “We’ve been filming this for over a year…” Yeah, we had… Pretty scary… Where did the time go?
Speaking of the Broadway Building, that is where my character encounters the crew of ninjas and martial artists. That team was brought on by a guy who Don had met several years the previous who wanted to make martial art movies. As Don told it, that guy simply walked into his office unannounced one day and said he had money from a guy in prison who could finance films. But, the money never came through but that guy, like so many people who inhabited the world of Donald G. Jackson, continued to pop up hoping to break into the game.
This is one of the things that needs to be said about Don—he promised everybody everything. He told people what they wanted to hear. If they were an actor, he promised them a starring role. If they were a writer, he promised them he would produce their script. But, he never did… Hollywood is a cutthroat place where everyone expects to be a star and when someone promises you this dream… Well, when they don’t follow through, things can get sketchy. Don made a lot of enemies.
The martial art troupe that the aforementioned guy brought into the production were all great martial artists and very professional. I think they added a lot to the overall presentation of the film. They guy himself, however… Well, I guess he suffered from a Napoleon Complex as he was very short. The day we filmed those scenes he kept insinuating that he wanted to fight me. Oh please… Get a life…
I only saw him one time after that, a couple of years later, when Don had an office in Santa Monica. He showed up out of the blue, was friendly and kept saying, “You’re like Don’s son. Look at you two. That’s why you never wanted to work with me, Don. You have a son…” Again, Oh please… I’m told that guy died soon after that. Though much younger, he died even before Don passed away. RIP.
If I sound all over the place in talking about this film, that is because that is how it was created; very randomly. If I looked at my notes, I could tell you exactly happened when but that is not at all how I remember the creation of Guns of El Chupacabra. It went in spurts. We worked on it and then we didn’t.
At the 1997 American Film Market (AFM) Don showed up having created a twenty-minute trailer for the film. I had been in Hawaii with my lady for a time and returned the day before the ’97 AFM was to begin. Don had the tendency of being jealous and vindictive. Thus, he created the trailer without my input and I, the star of the film, was barely in it. Though I suppose I should have been angry, knowing Don I found that very-very amusing.
Don was one of those people who like to subtlety mind-fuck people. He thought that was how he could get over on them. Me, I was at one of those points, that happened several times throughout our partnership, where I was just going to tell Don to, “Fuck off.” But, he kept insisting that I needed to be at AFM as I was the star of several films and he was distributing a couple of my Zen Film… So, I showed up. Though we didn’t offer El Chupacabra for sale, we test-screened it to several buyers and they were all very impressed and interested.
Sometime soon after the ’97 AFM we went into our second segment of filming. We changed the name of the film to Guns of El Chupacabra and we had recruited a few new interesting cast members. This is where the Santiago Kid as well as Maria-Maria came into play. This is also where we recruited a few porn girls to take part in the movie. Which I guess is an interesting story in and of itself to tell…
Don and I wanted to add some nudity to the film. Like the creature, we wanted this nudity to be in your face with no explanation or reasoning. We tried casting actresses for these roles but it just did not work out. In one case, the cast, the crew, he and I arrived at the office early on Saturday morning, we packed up all the equipment, but the girl who was scheduled to do the nude role did not show up. We called and called but nothing… So, all that time and energy had been wasted.
It was at that point Don came up with the idea that we should go to the major adult film casting agency here in L.A., where he was sure we would easily be able to get some female talent who were willing to work in the nude. As there was no on-screen sex involved, something that these girls did for a living, he was certain we could find the right actresses. We went there, paid the two-hundred dollar casting fee, looked through their books, chose some girls, and got their numbers. Over the next week, we had them come by our offices, take off their clothes, and see how well we would be able to work together. A few girls were decided upon.
As Zen Filmmaking is all about living in the moment, we rarely planned what we would do next. On the day we were scheduled to work with the first two (nude) girls, both high-end adult stars of the time, we had them meet us at our North Hollywood offices along with other cast members such as the Santiago Kid and Maria-Maria very early on a Saturday morning. We planned to go to Bronson Cave to shoot. With a few cars of cast and crew following us, we arrived. But, the Power Rangers TV series was filming there. There was tons of star trailers and crew trucks. …Couldn’t film there…
Next stop, we thought to go out to the Mizrahi Movie Ranch as we called it. Don’s friend’s place. We drive all the way out there, cast and crew following us. We pull in and a new owner of the property had taken over. He had evicted Bob. He tells us, “Get off my property!” Wow… Okay, now what?
Finally, the Santiago Kid, who lived out in the Palmdale area, suggested the desert ranch of one of his friends. Having already paid for the talent, and with no where else to film, we had no choice but to check it out. Again, with several cars in tow, we made our way a hundred miles northeast out to the desert.
Arriving at that desert ranch, it was a visual very nice location. It reminded me of an old run down chicken farm, though I do not actually know what it once was. But, we were free to shoot there.
With no real storyline in mind, we looked around and noticed a few chicken wire cages. Don and I decided that would be a great place to put the girls, detailing that they had been capture by El Chupacabra to be eaten later. Then, my character would arrive to rescue them. Finally, filming was underway.
I can only imagine what the porn girls and their manager were thinking with all of the running around. Zen Filmmaking and all… But, they were getting paid their day rate so I guess they really didn’t care. Overall, we became friends and used the team in a few other films.
Filming went well at that ranch. We shot there a couple of times. Like the Mizrahi Movie Ranch, it was isolated and cinematically very interesting. We did have a problem when we were firing some AKs out there one time, however. Not realizing how far a bullet will actually travel, I guess one of the distant neighbors had a few shells flying by his head and had to drive over and ask us to stop firing in that direction. Luckily, nobody got shot.
The third phase of filming Guns of El Chupacabra came about when Don enlisted Julie Strain and her then husband Kevin Eastman, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to get on the bus. They were and are both very nice, very talented people. And, at the time, Julie had a great PR team behind her. From her being a part of the production we got interviewed on a couple of TV shows and a few magazines wrote articles about the film due to her being a part of the cast.
The majority of the scenes involving Julie and Kevin were shot at a location close to the L.A. River not far from Downtown. This space was owned by an artist who did some great gothic paintings. You can see some of them in the background of their scenes.
All of Julie and Kevin’s dialogue was created a few moments before filming by Don or myself. We would roll camera and Don or I would feed them their lines, one line at a time. Then, cut. They did a great job. This is also the place where Julie knights my character, the Revered Doctor Saint Francis Blade.
This is a character evolution that was developed by Don. He thought my character should have some reward upon the completion of his mission. And, that was it, being knighted. Don, who was very Christian and very religious in his later years, wanted to evoke the power of Christianity in all of our films whenever he could.
It would be impossible to discuss the making of Guns of El Chupacabra without mentioning Conrad Brooks. Though he did not end up having a large role in the film, he was elemental to several important moments.
First of all, Conrad is a great guy. He comes from that old-school of acting (or should I say overacting) and I simply love his performances.
Conrad is a very nice guy and perhaps that was his downfall—at least in terms of working with Donald G. Jackson. For if Don found someone he could vent his anger upon, look out. Conrad often served that purpose as Don would just scream and scream at him. For example, when we were filming at the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed and my character was driving up to meet Conrad and a female cohort, Conrad kept missing his mark as he walked into the scene. Don just let loose on him several times. But finally, Conrad explained that he had cataracts and, as such, the high light of the desert made everything just a blur. From this, he was unable to see where his mark actually was. In the next take, as Don filmed from the backseat and my character drove into the scene, Don said, “I guess I shouldn’t have been so hard on him.” But, he never apologized. That’s just who he was.
I believe this abusive mindset was one of the key downfalls to the overall career of Donald G. Jackson. He would test people and if he would find them venerable, he would go after them nonstop. Conrad was often on the wrong side of this abuse.
Though Don was certainly one of the most instrumental figures in relaunching the career of Conrad Brooks, why Conrad put up with it, I do not know? But, he did. In fact, Conrad loved Don. I think back to a time when I was teaching a course on filmmaking at U.C.L.A. and one of my students needed an actor for a scene he was shooting for his class project so I suggested Conrad as his day rate was only $100.00 and, hey, he was in Plan 9 from Outer Space. The moment Conrad got on set he thanked Donald G. Jackson. This made me smile, “Hey Conrad, it was me who got you the gig!” But Conrad, like so many other people, simply assumed that Donald G. Jackson and myself were one inseparable team, but we were not.
I know I have told this story somewhere before but when Don and I were filming The Rock n’ Roll Cop, just after Chupacabra, we had brought on this one guy who was the godson of actor William Smith. Good guy. I really like him. But, he pissed Don off for some nondescript reason and Don just went off. I was driving in the car behind them and for nearly an hour I could hear Don screaming at the top of his lungs at this guy. When we finally got to the shooting location the guy gets out and asked me if Don treated me like that. “Hell no,” I said, “I’d kick the shit out of him if he did.” But, here was this guy; my age, healthy, and I’m sure he could fight, but he let Don treat him like that. But, Don behaved like this all the time as long as someone would let him get away with it. Again, Don made a lot of enemies. That’s why he always needed someone like me around—someone who was willing to fight. There was more than a couple of times when I had to step in to keep Don from getting his ass kicked.
In fact, near the end of filming Chupacabra, it had gotten so bad, as Don was getting so many treats, that we both ended up carrying loaded guns with us all the time. Don had his Smith & Wesson and I had my Glock. I thought then and it makes me think now back to that Rappin’ 4-Tay song, Playaz Club, “I don’t need a Glock but I bought one just incase some sucka tries to stop me from pursuing my paper chase.” Don was really afraid that someone was going to burst into the office and shoot him. He always told me if that happened to please just shoot the guy and then give him my gun, he would say he pulled the trigger. As you can see, things got very strange, chaotic, and dangerous due to the behavior of Donald G. Jackson during the filming of Guns of El Chupacabra.
But, I have gotten off point… Another interesting moment, during the filming of Chupacabra, involving Conrad came when we were filming at the aforementioned space of the artist near the L.A. River. One of our crew had brought his girlfriend along. She was a showgirl from Vegas. This being Zen Filmmaking, we, of course, offered her a part in the movie. We put her in a scene with Conrad. Now Conrad, any time he had the chance took advantage of it and shoved his tongue down the throat of any actress in a scene with him. Thus, the showgirl got initiated into the acting technique of Conrad Brooks. The crew guy was fuming. I told him to step in and stop the scene. She wasn’t my girlfriend and, as such, it wasn’t my call to make. But, he did nothing. Thus, Conrad got the kiss, the showgirl got her major motion picture film debut, and the filming of Guns of El Chupacabra moved forward.
As stated, Don promised to keep the monster costume in good shape. As we got near the end of this period of filming, this is where my character kills the creature. For those of you who have seen the film you know that, among other things, I shoot arrows into El Chupacabra. That does not keep a monster safe, sound, or intact. Thus, by the time we were done filming with the monster that costume was pretty much trashed.
Don being Don, as we were about to shoot that scene, he told me that he wanted to, “Fuck up,” the costume up so that the person who gave it to us could never use it in another film. Not cool. But again, this goes back to mindset and code of conduct that Donald G. Jackson inhabited.
With the completion of this segment of filming we telecined the film, time coded it, and I sat down to edit the movie. Now, this became a very interesting process. Don and I had a full floor of offices in a North Hollywood office building at the time. We set up one of them to be my editing suite. Don rented an editing bay from one of his friends. It was made by Sony and was not dissimilar to the editing controller I used on Roller Blade Seven. The problem was, this system had been developed in some weird way, for some weird reason, in that it only worked in reverse. Meaning, whenever I put the various cuts of a scene together I had to do it in reverse. Therefore, every scene in Guns of El Chupacabra was cut not editing from start to finish but from finish to start. Believe me when I tell you, that was not easy to do…
During the editing, one of my sweetheart’s from Bangkok came to L.A. I took her by the editing suite and showed her some footage from the film one evening. She immediately assumed that Z’Man (Robert Z’Dar) was wearing a prosthetic jaw. Nope, that’s just him… Awh Z’man, you are missed!
I did the first cut and we let the film sit for awhile. The 1998 AFM was still a few months off and we were working on other projects. During that period of time Don and I did The Rock n’ Roll Cops, Lingerie Kickboxer, Mimes: Silent But Deadly and a few individual films. As the ’98 AFM approached, Don had the idea to add our Zen Filmmaking buddy Joe Estevez to the cast which took us to the last stage of filming Guns of El Chupacabra. Don envisioned Joe as being the story teller that comes on and interrupts the movie like in the 1950s and 1960s TV shows in order to narrate and fill in any story gaps. Thus was born, Rocket Ranger Dan Danger.
A funny story here is that Don and I watched the movie and discussed where we needed Joe to fill in the story gaps. I went home and actually wrote out the dialogue that Joe was to say in full screenplay fashion. And, there was a lot of it. I gave it to Joe.
On the day of filming we went to pick Joe up at his place in Hollywood and we headed over to Bronson Cave. Don was doing the camera and I was doing the sound but Joe… Joe didn’t learn his lines. He didn’t even bring the script that I took all that time to write. …I am smiling as I write this as it was so amusing. Me, Mr. Zen Filmmaking, writing and giving someone a script and them not even bringing it. Zen Filmmaking Forever!!! Don and I did the best we could at feeding him lines that would patch up any story flaws.
Post that, I edited the scenes into the film. We then took the movie to online post. And, that was that, the movie was done. It premiered at the 1998 American Film Market.
Guns of El Chupacabra!
From the footage we shot during this period of time I was able to construct three individual films making up the Guns of El Chupacabra Trilogy. Though the title figurehead of this film group is the most relevant feature, the other films each offer a unique view into the Zen Filmmaking legacy of El Chupacabra.
A couple of year before he passed away, Don’s father died. With this, Don retuned to his hometown of Adrian, Michigan. While there he fell in with a group of Christian zealots who preached, “A bible in one hand, a gun in the other.” As he was the hometown boy who had made good in Hollywood they heartily embraced him. They even gave him a radio show on their pirate radio station. …This, until the FCC shut them down and confiscated their equipment. Don was rebaptized and believed he had been cleansed of all his sins. I don’t know about that but while he was there he wanted to show the congregation Guns of El Chupacabra. The only problem was, there was all that nudity in the film and he believed that the nudity would not be acceptable to a Christian audience. As such, he asked me to edit it out. I did so and sent him that version. This is the PG version of the film that was released much later as, Crimes of the Chupacabra. He was very happy with his new group of friends and remained in Adrian for a time until the strain of the relationship with his step mother got too intense and he was forced to leave. I picked him at LAX. This period, and his interactions in Adrian, truly defined the last years of Don’s life.
When Don passed away I knew that he was still in possession of the El Chupacabra creature costume. Though I hoped to get it, have it repaired, and do another film featuring it—resurrecting El Chupacabra, Don’s wife had discarded it before I had the chance to retrieve it. She did this knowing how much Don disliked the executive producer whom had given it to us as she had sued Don shortly before his death due to an unfulfilled movie contract. This, in association with the fact that Don’s wife and his daughter moved out of the house they had lived in for over twenty years in Canoga Park shortly after his passing, left them in the mode of rapidly discarding all nonessential items. Thus, El Chupacabra is lost forever.
Copyright © 2017 – All Rights Reserved
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From the Scott Shaw Zen Blog.
By Scott Shaw
Like I always say, You know you’re famous when people you’ve never met say things about you that aren’t true…
I am sitting here at my studio this afternoon, waiting to run a class with a few of my advanced students/friends and a couple of people have contacted me about the fact that Allison Pregler AKA Obscurus Lupa has put her so-called reedited documentary about me up on YouTube. This makes me smile, kinda. I remember when she first released that documentary and all of a sudden I was getting tons-and-tons of hate email. Hate email for a guy like me… That was a first… Believe me when I tell you, I’m a nice guy. Just ask anyone who actually knows me.
Anyway, as I have a little bit of time before my class, I just took a moment to glance at YouTube and to read some of the comments regarding this supposed Scott Shaw Zen Filmmaking documentary and, as the internet promises, her documentary is once again provoking a lot of negativity being sent my direction. In fact, my web guy, who handles all my emails, told me I have already received a couple of very negative comments and one death threat over the past week since the piece has been up. Not cool… But, I am trying to stay positive.
Regarding the negative YouTube comments… Most everything, everyone is saying is not true! Just like in Allison’s piece, the interpretation of me, who I am, how I feel, and what I think is totally wrong. And, this is the problem when somebody creates a documentary like this. It invokes negativity. And, negativity is never, under any circumstance, a good thing.
Let’s get a couple of things out of the way for those of you who may not know… In a very short period of time, about five or six years ago, Allison did a couple of things, regarding me, without ever contacting me or speaking with me. In fact, to this day, she has never met or spoken with me. So, how can she know anything about me? But, to the point…
- She stole ASCAP Registered, Copyrighted music I had created and used it to soundtrack a film her boyfriend, (I think his name is Phelous), and she created. Had she just asked if she could use it, I probably would have said, “Yes.” But, she did not. I didn’t even know who she was and I still wouldn’t if she hadn’t forced her way into my life. The fact is, I had worked long and hard to create that music. Have you ever created something and had someone steal it from you? If you have, you will know what I’m speaking about and why it was a problem for me.
- She made the aforementioned FU documentary about me and used footage from my films that were under U.S. Copyright Protection to illustrate it. This, in association with her Trademark Infringement as she confiscated and used Zen Filmmaking in her title to gain notoriety for the piece. If you are going to create an FU documentary at least have the decency to film your own footage like Joe DeMott and Jeff Kreines did when they created the documentary about Donald G. Jackson, Demon Lover Diary. Here’s the thing, and the truth about her so-called Scott Shaw documentary, she takes a word here or a passage there from what I have written and makes it all sound very negative, like I’m a total asshole. I am not. If you read the books she took those words from, Zen Filmmaking and Independent Filmmaking: Secrets of the Craft or anything else I have written about filmmaking, they are all designed to help the indie filmmaker. But, by using limited passages and putting her own spin on it, all she does is invoke a big misunderstanding about my philosophy; how I think and what I do. That is just not cool! How many budding independent filmmakers has she hurt by turning them off to what I have to teach?
- She did a highly footage heavy review of Max Hell Frog Warrior, (which she has also uploaded to YouTube). Due to the amount of footage used, my lawyer documented that her review damaged the sales of the movie and its ability to be further marketed. But personally, I thought it was marginally amusing, even though, like in her documentary, she does get several facts wrong. In fact, as I am not a big fan of that movie, when she removed the footage and added her created images to her presentation, I thought it was actually more interesting than when she was only using the film’s footage that was protected under U.S. Copyright Law.
It is important to note, believing that she was simply a young woman who did not understand the ramifications of her actions, I personally stopped my attorney, who was also the CEO of my Production Company, from suing her in Federal and Civil Court (he had the papers all drawn up). This action caused us to have a major falling out which ultimately ended our business partnership and cost me a lot of money. But, did Allison thank me for that? Nope. Thus, lesson learned…
In fact, one of her minions posted a highly distorted discourse on what took place between her and I, with Max Hell Frog Warrior, on a website that does not allow rebuttals. Did she do anything about that? Not a thing. It is still up there to this day.
As it was a total hatchet piece and his facts were totally wrong and speculation at best, he also damaged my reputation. Yet, here she is again, re-releasing the documentary and creating all this negative energy being sent my direction. For someone like myself who is all about helping people, this is just not cool.
Ultimately, one must question, what is the point? So she can make a little bit of money off of her YouTube Channel and develop a few more fans? This, while she hurts the career and reputation of another person. Again, not cool!
Keep in mind, I am not the only person this has happened to. Alison has apparently made an entire career based upon stealing the creative film work of other people and then placing her opinions upon those movies. This, without ever gaining the legally required permission to use copyrighted material and/or paying the creators of the films one cent for the use of their footage. From a moral perspective, that is just not right. And, as we all understand, that is one of the main reasons that there are copyright laws in the first place, so people can’t just steal the intellectual or creative property of someone else and make money off of it. But, there she is, doing just that. At least she took the footage from my movies out of the YouTube re-release of her so-called documentary.
Loving or hating my films is fine, that’s personal opinion. Not understating what I’m doing or why I’m doing it is not a problem, that’s just the human condition. But, making money and a name for yourself off of misrepresenting who and what I am and what Zen Filmmaking is all about is just wrong.
From a personal perspective, I find her misplaced interpretation of my life and my philosophy and her altered dissemination of my writings almost amusing. But, being on the receiving end of what she is saying I also understand the negative ramifications of what she has invoked. Ask yourself, how would you feel if you began receiving hate mail and even death threats because of a highly bias so-called documentary somebody made about you? I thought with the demise of Blip.tv a few years ago, where her presentations were originally posted, all this melodrama was over, but now it has begun again.
Furthermore, here’s a fact that you may find interesting in regard to this matter… As stated, in the documentary Allison quoted from two of my books on filmmaking. I guess at some point she got pissed off at me and took those books and some of my films and sold them to a local used bookshop. A university student who was into what I do noticed the transaction, alerted me to it, and I own the aforementioned books. Looking at them it was very enlightening in that I could see what passages Allison had highlighted in yellow. Again, those books were designed to help the independent filmmaker but what she had done was to remove passages from the greater text, which not only made me look bad but completely distorted Zen Filmmaking and what I was hoping to present in those writings. Looking at her highlights, I could totally see what she was doing. She was not reading the book(s) as a method to learn new knowledge or to be helped in the practice of filmmaking but as a means to find a method to use my own words to make her preconceived notions about me a reality and to make me look bad. Not cool! But, it was/is truly interesting to witness how her mind works.
I imagine Allison may post a slanted rebuttal to this piece somewhere, as that is what she has done in the past; justifying her actions. But, I didn’t ask to be dragged into any of this. Allison, you should really choose to be more than someone who creates and inflames negative situations.
As I always discuss in this blog and elsewhere, if you are doing anything that creates negativity in the life of anybody, what do you think the ultimate result of that chosen action will be on your life and the lives of others? As I always say, put your personal judgments in check and only say and do positive things! That is the key to living a good life!
And, to all you naysayers out there, at least find out who I truly am and what I am actually about before you cast your judgment.
That’s the story… It is so stupid to be put through this again. But, what can I do? I just hope those of you who read this will add a little truth and positivity to a negative situation that I had nothing to do with creating.
Anyway, I have to go teach a class.
As always, get out there and meet negativity with positivity.
Be Positive and Smile! 🙂
Follow-up: Somebody asked me an interesting question this morning. They asked, why did I mention Allison’s name and her Scott Shaw Zen Filmmaking documentary in this blog, as didn’t that just give her and it more publicity?
The answer: Because one of the things that I do in this blog is detail my life experiences, how they affect me, how I feel about them, and how I react to them. From this, I hope it provides the reader with a deeper insight into life and human behavior—perhaps even giving them some new insight into how they should interact with other people as they pass through their life. Certainly, I would have preferred to never be made part and parcel to any of this. And though I rarely mention names in this blog, but if she or anyone else gets some publicity from what I write; great—good for them!
Ultimately, do I care what Allison or anybody else thinks about me? Absolutely not. My life accomplishments speak for themselves. If they didn’t, people like Allison would not be making documentaries about me in the first place.
At the end of the day I am just a very simple person. I hope to keep my family and friends safe and happy and hopefully make this world just a little bit better place with everything that I do. Hope that answers the question and gives everyone else a bit more insight into Scott Shaw, Zen Filmmaking, and the Scott Shaw Zen Blog.
Copyright © 2017 — All Rights Reserved.
By Scott Shaw
The Zen Film Toad Warrior, which became Max Hell Frog Warrior, was the third film that Donald G. Jackson and I completed as a filmmaking team. The first two were Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. It is important to note that about a year ago a young journalism student contacted me and I did an extensive interview with him on the creation of Max Hell Frog Warrior titled, Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and The Fiction. There is a lot of interesting information and insights into this film’s creation in that article. But, as we have well passed the twenty-year mark of the inception of Max Hell, I though I would take a few minutes and detail a bit more intimate information about this film’s ideology and its production facts as there is a lot of ongoing interest in this film and there remains a lot of questions and incorrect speculation about what actually took place during its creation.
The Roller Blade Seven
To begin with, Don and I had parted ways upon the completion of the Roller Blade Seven under less than ideal circumstances. The money had run out on the production budget before we were finished. Don being Don had squandered much of the budget and Don, as he tended to be, was very self-involved. Thus, any remaining money he kept for himself and to spend on his girlfriends. …He kept the money even though I did much of the work on RB7: casting, producing, acting, editing, soundtracking, plus most of the words spoken in the film(s) either came from or were influenced by two books I had authored: Essence: The Zen of Everything and Zen O’clock: Time to Be. But me, I walked away totally broke. In fact, I had to sell my 1930s D’Angelico New Yorker just to survive. That was a terrible loss that I have never been able to replace. (For the record that was one of the Masterpieces created by John D’Angelico himself and not one of the replicas that are on the market today). Plus, my ’64 Porsche 356 SC had blown its transmission and somebody had crashed into my Harley as I was driving it on La Brea in Hollywood; totaling it and injuring me. Thus, it was not a good time for me.
The fact is, I cannot discus the creation of Max Hell Frog Warrior without referencing Roller Blade Seven as the two have a very close correlation. Roller Blade Seven was a chaotic production. It didn’t have to be. But Don, being Don, made it so.
Have you ever had one of those life-experiences where someone is so based in a negative mindset that they bring out the worst in you? That happened to me, in association with Don, when we made RB7. This was amplified by the negative, petty actions of our Executive Producer. Though we made a great movie, that is still at the forefront of the Cult Film Hierarchy, it left my life a mess. The fact is, during production and post production both Don and I were constantly carrying Xanax with us as there was so much perpetuated anxiety associated with the production of that film. As I have stated in several places, though I have written an extended chapter about the creation of RB7, which is presented in my book Zen Filmmaking, I really want to write an entire book about the film as so much went on during production that understanding the process may truly help other independent filmmakers overcome obstacles and allow everyone to come to a better understanding about human consciousness.
One of the essential things to note is that when Don asked me to come on-board and make RB7 with him, the production was scheduled for one month. One month, I can handle that. So, when I showed up at our production offices at the Hollywood Center Building on Hollywood Boulevard on the first day of pre-production I had no idea the months-upon-months that it would take to complete that movie and its sequel. Now, think about taking months out of your life while making no money. As I am a dedicated, one-pointed person who doesn’t give up, I did not leave the production. But, I did pay a very high price for my involvement with that film.
By the end of Roller Blade Seven, I was ready to set out on my own and make my own films. As the video revolution had just hit and realizing I had the skillset to make it happen, I immediately went up on Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell upon the completion of RB7. Don being Don, got jealous so he went off to work with Mark Williams who was both a part of the cast and the crew of RB7. Then, the Executive Producer of RB7, to play a petty little power trip, had me kicked out of our production offices and banned from the building. This, after she had already made thousands-upon-thousands of dollars on international sales of RB7 and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. Though Don and I occasionally communicated over the next few years, I did not have good feelings about him or the Executive Producer as they were both prospering off of my vision and my labor.
Then, in 1995, out of the blue Don contacted me via the Voice Mail system which was the main method of industry communication of the time. We all carried our pagers. He wanted to make another movie and he invited me to his production office in North Hollywood to talk about it. Though I had serious doubts about going, but as I had nothing else on my plate at the time, we set up a meet and I arrived.
To track backwards a bit… Don felt that Mark Williams, (a good guy), had gotten too dependent on the film financing Don had in place. Don hated people becoming dependent upon him. Though Mark was writing all of Don’s scripts at the time; including: Rollergator, Little Lost Sea Serpent, Baby Ghost, Pocket Ninjas, etc., Don fired Mark in a rage. (Just a note: Don was prone to rages). But, Don was one of those people who couldn’t work alone. So, he paid to have friends. As RB7 was already becoming a Cult Fan Favorite in Europe and as he remembered that we worked well together, he decided we should make make another movie and, thus, he contacted me.
When I arrived at the production office, I was surprised to see how old Don had become in just the couple of years since I had last seen him. At the time, I didn’t know that he had been diagnosed with leukemia—which was probably one of his main reasons for contacting me, as he knew I got things done and he wanted to cement his filmmaking legacy and needed someone like me to do that. We spoke for a while, hung out over the next few days, and I finally reluctantly agree to make another movie with him. Keep in mind, I had a lot of trepidation about working with him again. But, we set up a weekly pay scale for me that was reasonable and we moved along.
For the next few weeks we would meet at the office every day about eleven, scout locations, do casting sessions, hang out with other filmmakers, get drunk at lunch, go to private movie screenings, go and see obscure alt country and bluegrass bands in the evening, hit the occasional strip club, (scouting for talent), and do what industry folk do…
In terms of the pending production, we toyed with a few ideas prior to settling on Toad Warrior. The reason we finally decided to make Toad Warrior was that Don’s creative vision had been taken away from him on both Hell Comes to Frogtown and to a lessor degree on Return to Frogtown. He never really liked the finished films—though, at least at the time, Hell Comes to Frogtown was frequency playing on TV and that film had really cemented his career as a known filmmaker. But, as he was never content with the two previous features, he always wanted to make a more free-flowing version of a film with Frogtown as the backdrop. Thus, Toad Warrior.
Though Don was linked into a company that was financing his films, so money was free-flowing, we decided to keep the production small. And, as we both considered Roller Blade Seven to be a true Zen Film Masterpiece, we hoped to re-invoke the essence of that film in what we were next to create.
Another factor to keep in mind about the inception of Toad Warrior was that by this point in my career I had begun to see myself more as a Producer and Director than an Actor. Don, however, wanted me to star in the film as Roller Blade Seven was already gaining Cult Classic status, plus he wanted to capitalize on my martial art notoriety of the time as I was in a lot of magazine, had a very successful Hapkido Video Tape Series on the market, my books were being published, etc… Thus, he suggested that we Co-Produce and Co-Direct the movie, while I star in the film. I agreed and we moved forward with this as our basis.
As RB7 was already a legacy for us, we wanted to invoke that film’s sensibilities. Thus, my character again wore a black suit, black shirt, and the elbow and knee pads from RB7—minus the skates, of course.
On the first day of actual production, which was a Saturday, we were scheduled to go up at about noon. We had the entire second floor of offices in a building on Lakershim Boulevard in North Hollywood so we decided to dress the offices and use them as sets to establish the initial character interactions. As for our actors, the first to be cast was Joe Estevez. Also cast was a friend of Don’s, (from the days when they both were working for Roger Corman), to play Humphrey Bullfrog, a couple of girls Don had previously worked with in films, (finished or not), a newly arrived couple from New Jersey who we had just met at a casting session via an ad we placed in Dramalogue the day before, and one or two other new faces.
The day of the shoot I got up, put on my black suit, and was preparing to go to my storage unit as that is where I kept all of my lighting equipment which I was going to bring to the set as Don only had a couple of cheap photofloods whereas I had a number of Fresnels, C-Stands, etc. As if a warning sign from the great beyond, the first thing that happened to me was I thought I had my keys in my pocket. I walked out of the door of my apartment, carrying some equipment down to my 356, but when I got to my car I realized it wasn’t my keys at all. Thus, I was locked out. A bit nervous about time, I went to find the manager of my building who was always in the office but she was not there. With a bit of freak-out running through my veins, I went on a quest to find her and finally located her in her apartment. She got the pass key, let me in, I got my keys, loaded my stuff, and was on my way. I get to my storage unit but the moment I opened the door I realized somebody had broken in. Someone had rented the storage unit next to mine and had cut a hole through the wall. They stole all of my lighting equipment, all of my costuming, my first guitar, my power tools, and a lot of guitar and amp parts and accessories I kept in the unit. I was upset to say the least…
With the police report made, I sped to the set. Living in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, I was quite a distance from North Hollywood. As I was driving towards the freeway onramp, I see the train gates up ahead going down. Damn! It seemed like the very long train took forever to pass. Again, a sign?
In the interim of waiting for the train, I called Don on my large flip phone and used some of the very expensive cellular minutes of the day to leave him a message on his Voice Mail and tell him of the situation.
As I sat there waiting for the train to pass, me, I really felt like I had failed. Though the theft was obviously not my fault, it made me feel like a liar as I could not bring my lights. And, as a person who is always very punctual, being late made my adrenalin serge. It was starting all over again, the craziness of Roller Blade Seven… I thought to just call it quits and walk away… I still, to this day, wonder if that was the life-course I should have taken? But, I drove on…
On the Set
By the time I finally got to the offices, a lot had already been accomplished. Don had brought in a camera guy, Jonathan Quade, that he had previously worked with. Jonathan was actually a gaffer in the big budget industry but he did a great job of set design, lighting, and low budget camera work. (We went onto work with him on a number of films). He, in association with a Production Assistant, had already created the set where Joe Estevez’s character is revealed with the parachute covering the walls. But, with my lights stolen, all we had to light the set with was Don’s two photofloods.
Most of the cast was wandering around the offices as Jonathan, the PA, and I continued the staging. Don sat in his office, as he liked to do, talking on the phone, joking with the girls, and generally screwing around. Finally, Joe arrives and we get underway.
We took Joe to the set where he was to be seated upon his thrown. Don asks him what he wanted to use as a character name. Joe suggested Mickey O’Malley, as he saw the green, thought of frogs, and wanted to reference his Irish roots. Don immediately hated the name. But, Don being Don, he didn’t say anything. Me, I also saw the problem… We had hoped Joe to be a very fierce and domineering character. But, with a name like that…
Taking a Turn for the Worst
There is a point in every film where if you are an observant filmmaker you can take note of where the film all falls into place or where it all goes awry. This was that moment in Toad Warrior… Joe deciding on his name and Don or I not wanting to force a change. Thus, the production took a wrong turn that it never recovered from. This, before the first scene was ever shot.
…That’s the problem when you are working with someone you really like and who is a really good guy like Joe—you don’t want to come off as harsh or condescending. You want to keep them happy.
In any case, the first scene(s) to be shot were Joe interacting with the character Cricket AKA Sandra Purpuro, (the newly arrived actress from New Jersey). We immediately realized that she was a very good actress. In fact, immediately after Toad Warrior she moved onto having a very successful acting career.
We also added a couple of adult film starlets to the scene to give it some depth.
I was a bit in question about how Don was going to react to my co-directing the scenes as this was the first time we worked together in that manner. Though I obviously had a lot to say during the filming of RB7, I never felt like I was the director and I never crossed Don’s boundaries. But, he was totally cool. The thing to note about Don, as a director, is that he never really directed the talent. He just let them do whatever they wanted to do and say whatever they wanted to say—the way they wanted to say it. Me, on the other hand, I think natural inspiration is great but you need to give guidance to the actors, at certain points, so the storyline will stay on track. That’s what I did…
We shot the scenes with Cricket and Joe. We then brought in his two minions: the boyfriend from New Jersey (Kent Dalian) and a Japanese actor, Tom Tom Typhoon. Don wanted the Japanese guy to communicate in English but as I speak Japanese I directed him to speak in his native language as he spoke very poor English. When you see him totally going off at Joe, that was totally his idea. He really got the essence of Zen Filmmaking and took it to the next, necessary level. Joe’s reactions to him are great. Those are probably some of the best scenes in the film.
We then went and did the Humphrey Bullfrog stuff which I just do not like. That character and those scenes were developed by Don and his friend. They are just stupid and they don’t play well. Again, within the first few hours of filming, Toad Warrior was set on a wayward course.
As evening was coming on, we decided to go to this nearby park that is linked to an overpass above the 170 freeway. There, we filmed the park fight scenes and the various characters crossing the bridge. While we were filming, we left the Production Assistant to create additional sets in the offices.
Returning, we then filmed the scene where the two girls are in jail: Agent Banner (Camille Solari) and Dr. Trixi T. (Elizabeth Mehr). This set was actually just an enclosed deck outside of one of the office windows. I thought they did a great job constructing that whole dialogue driven scene. And, they did it with no guidance. They were both talented actresses.
After that, we filmed my character’s interaction with Joe. We then brought in Selina Jayne, (the Spirit Guide from RB7), who I had remained friends with, to do a Fortune Teller thing with Joe. Though I love Selina and Joe, that scene just did not work. Then, Joe goes into the scene where he does the hokey-pokey with the one actress portraying Dr. Trixie T. Terrible! Terrible! Terrible! So bad, I could not even watch it being filmed. Though, for the record, it was totally improved.
We then filmed the scene with the girl singing in the club where my character gets a drink thrown in his face. That club scene was set up in the waiting room of our offices.
We finished that evening by doing the inner-office fight scenes where my character and the actress playing Agent Banner fights a couple of frogs.
Calculating the Consequences
If you look at the amount of scenes filmed in just one afternoon and evening, and if you know the film, you will understand that a good portion of Toad Warrior was actually created in that one day. Though we captured a lot of footage, the essence of what I hoped the film would become, was lost. It had become nothing more than a poorly acted, un-comedic (though it was trying hard to be a comedy), stupid storylined, production that was destine to just remain a mess. Yet, we continued…
Over the next couple of weeks, we filmed additional scenes. Next up was Conrad Brooks. I had never met Conrad prior to the day we first filmed him but I did, of course, know of his previous work with Ed Wood. I immediately realized he was a really nice guy. I liked him a lot. And, I loved his style of acting.
We took Conrad to a location by the L.A. River where he and I interact with a couple of frogs. We then went back to the office and shot the scene in his tent. A tent that was constructed from the same parachute used to line the walls of Joe’s lair.
For some reason, Don wanted to bring Conrad back as the character Swamp Farmer from another of Don’s films, Rollergator and have the talking Baby Gator in the scene with him, as well. I like Conrad’s performance but Baby Gator just added additional, unnecessary, stupidity to the film. That is the thing when you are working as a team member with someone, you may not always like their choices but you have to allow them their creativity.
A day or so later we went to do an evening shoot at an old bridge that Don had titled, “The Bridge of Broken Dreams.” There, we took an actress we had just cast that afternoon. As she was new to L.A. I warned her about doing what she did; i.e. getting in a car at night with men she did not know and was not even aware of where she was being taken. In any case, she is the character that my character continually tells to, “Shuuu,” every time she tries to speak. We also did the scene where my character kills a frog at night with the bridge in the background.
Referencing the anxiety that took place during the filming of RB7 and how this same style of emotion engulfs other people… Don had this Production Assistant who had been working with him for a year or so. He did the voice of Baby Gator during the filming of Conrad and myself in the tent. He was also the one wearing the frog mask that my character kills in the aforementioned scene on the bridge.
Don had begun to get increasingly annoyed by this man. I thought he was fine but, again, Don found him becoming too dependent on his money. I suppose this change of heart had a lot to do with my now being part of the team as I was a fully functioning filmmaker and there was a lot of things that I could do that this man could not. As he had begun to annoy Don, Don had become more and more short with him. At one point that evening he yelled at the guy to get something out of the car. Instead of taking the frog mask off, he ran all the way to the car and back with it on. Thus, equaling a massive anxiety attack. It was the next day that Don, in a rage, fired him. The man called me up that night wondering what had happened and if I could ask Don to let him come back to work. I told Don the story but Don was the source of the money for this project so there was nothing that I could do as Don did not want him back.
The Lies Actors Tell
Don and I continued forward hanging out everyday and occasionally filming over the next few weeks. One of the interesting stories, that I have told elsewhere, happened when we cast this girl because she told us she was an avid motocross rider and owned her own dirt bike. We though this would be a great addition to add to the film. We called her character, Road Toad. We meet her up on the dirt section of Mulholland Highway, where she promptly fell off of her bike and broke her clutch handle. Every time she got on, she fell off. Finally, to save any hope of making the entire situation equal anything, my character asks her if I can borrow her motorcycle. From this, we film me riding it for a bit. Keep in mind, I was shifting with no clutch. After that, the girl rode off. (I hope she made it home safely). But, we never heard from her again.
Though we periodically shot a scene here or there, we only did serious filming maybe three or four additional days to create Toad Warrior. …Compared to the days-upon-days-upon-days of full-on production we had previously done on RB7, Toad Warrior had very few actual days of production.
Expanding the Cast
I had brought on Roger Ellis who had played the roll of Stealth in RB7 and I had used in much bigger roles in Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein. He became Overload War Toad. Roger was a great actor and really added some good stuff to a very faltering film. We did all of Roger’s interior scenes at the garage/stage of Jonathan Quade, the aforementioned cameraman, who worked with us throughout the entire production. This is where the infamous spank scene(s) take place, which was the idea of yours truly.
The girl in those scenes was a great up-and-comer named Robin Kimberly. She made her living as an exotic dancer. I remember her telling me she hailed from Alaska and I really liked her as a person and an actress. But, she was one of those people that we never heard from again after her days on the set. She played the roll of Agent Spangle. And yes, the female agents in the film were intentionally named: Agent Star, Agent Spangle, and Agent Banner. That was on Don. …A sign of his abstract patriotisms.
Next up was Adrianne Moore AKA Jill Kelly, a girl who did her first onscreen performance in RB7 before becoming a major force in the Adult Industry. In the opening scene we find her character being chased by frogs out at the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed. The work we did with her character really adds positive aspects to the overall film.
El Mirage is one of the places where the, “Magic,” that I often speak of in association Zen Filmmaking, took place. We went there with only a basic idea about what we would film. But, when we got there we noticed a couple with their pair of ultra light aircraft. Don asked if we could use them. They said, “Yes.” With this, we added the entire opening scene to the film, providing a lot of production value.
…We had no idea this would take place but we allowed the spontaneity of Zen to be our guide and, thus, True Cinematic Magic occurred.
Something to Scream About
Elizabeth, the girl who played Dr. Trixie T., was soon to be moving and she invited us over to her large house to film. Here, we created the lab set. Overall, she is a great girl and a good actress; I really liked her but many of her scene were too comedic and just added, in my opinion, to the overall failure of this film. This is the case with the lab scene that we filmed at her home. Her and another girl, (one of her friends that we never met before or after that moment in time), go into this whole fake British accent thing, talking about the development of the frog plague. Again, both very nice people, but the scene just did not work!
One of the now-funny occurrences that took place that night was Don had left the set as he had something else to do. We had been there for awhile and I asked if anybody wanted something to eat. Some did, so we sent out. One girl who I had cast earlier that week, a new arrival from Japan, initially said she wasn’t hungry but then, all of a sudden, after we had recommenced filming, she completely started freaking about the fact that she was hungry and she wanted something to eat. I told her we were busy and reminded her that she said she didn’t want anything but this did not stop her. I told her I would give her some money if she wanted to walk over to a local fast food place but she would have none of it. She really was causing a scene. Finally, I took her outside and firmly explained to her in Japanese how unprofessional she was behaving. She calmed down, told me she was sorry, and she kind-of shut up. This is just a reminded to you filmmakers out there, sometime the people you cast can become a real problem to your production.
We also shot exteriors at this one location in the West San Fernando Valley that used to house nuclear silos. That is where you see Sargent Shiva and my character do the Kurosawa influenced, long lens, sword fighting scene(s). I know a lot of people have discussed this scene in their reviews, incorrectly claiming there was only one take that was reused. But, if you actually take the time to study the film you will see there were several takes. We also shot some of the other additional exterior scenes out there that day.
Though there were a few more days of filming small things, here or there, that’s what it took to create Toad Warrior.
It is essential to note that the moment Don and I began working together again, we did not wholly focus on Toad Warrior. We, almost immediately began to formulate, come up with other projects, and begin filming them, as well. Most notable filmed around this same period of time were the films that became Shotgun Blvd. AKA Armageddon Blvd. and Ghost Taxi AKA Ride with the Devil. Though none of these first, “Next Generation Zen Films,” rose to the cult status of Max Hell Frog Warrior, at least in my opinion, they were all better films than Toad Warrior.
Post Production on Toad Warrior did not happen right away. As stated, we began working on other films. Finally, as the 1996 American Film Market (AFM) was approaching, we set about editing the movies we had in the can. I did Shotgun Blvd. and Ghost Taxi and one of Don’s friends began to work on Toad Warrior. But, he was using some weird system that did not output in a high enough quality format so Don went into one of his rages and fired the guy. He then gave the footage to one of his long time friends, Chris—a true film editor and a man who had edited some of Don’s previous features. Don and he sat down and they did what they did.
I don’t know if it was the lack of technology at the time, laziness, or just the fact that the editor was more locked into a sense of Traditional Filmmaking than Zen Filmmaking but he and Don really missed the mark on the original edit of Toad Warrior. The fact is, though they probably grabbed the best of the footage there was, so much more great footage was left unused. More than simply not liking the the finished product, the fact is, the film really bothered me. It bothered me that so much footage was left on the preverbal cutting room floor. Plus, the story construction was shoddy. And, Chris knew it. He didn’t like the edit either. He asked me if I wanted to redo it. But, there wasn’t time. To me, the edited film kind of felt like they were just filling in the required eighty-two minutes that it takes to make a movie viable for international sales.
As AFM was coming up fast, Don and I gave the edited Toad Warrior to a sound design company to finish up the soundscape. We both watched the final product and didn’t like it. But, as the hotel rooms that they turn into AFM selling suits on the Santa Monica coastline are expensive, we had to have product. Thus, posters were created, a selling staff was hired, and Don and I hung out at AFM, did some interviews, and watched a lot of movies.
One of the funny experiences we had at the 1996 AFM is when Jill Kelly came by one evening. We walked around the expansive hotel, full of buyers from all over the world, and all eyes were on us. Well… They were actually on Jill. She was a beautiful sight with her long blonde hair, her big platform shoes, and the white, virtually see though clothing she was wearing.
Though we didn’t like Toad Warrior, three countries did buy the limited theatrical rights we were offering to be shown only in theaters in their country. Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines being the buyers. After AFM, Don being Don absconded with all of the money from the sales. Lesson: people never really change.
Post, Post Productions
Post the 1996 AFM Don and I buried the film. We planned to reedit it but we were busy and we never got around to it.
By the early 2000s, Don was in his late fifties, getting very sick, and wasn’t really able to do too much. Me, I did take the original film and created a Zen Speed Flick Version of Toad Warrior titled, Max Hell in Frogtown.
For those of you who don’t know, a Zen Speed Flick is a film cut down to its most essential elements. This re-edit really gave the film a new vision. Gone was all the bad implied humor, leaving only the best of the best. Don loved it and I liked it a lot better than the original version.
Max Hell Frog Warrior
In 2001, as computer editing had become a realistic possibility, I pulled the original edit of Toad Warrior into my MAC G4. I begin the process of a re-cut in an attempt to make it a better movie. I removed some of the scenes that really bothered me, tuned-up some of the others, and added a bit of unused footage. I did not, however, go into a full blown reedit. What emerged was Max Hell Frog Warrior. Better than Toad Warrior? I think so. As good as this movie can be? No.
The Next, Better Version
I have personally sat down, looked through the footage, and started to do a completely new, better edit of the film four times over the past fifteen years or so. I do this, because as stated, there is a lot of great, unused, never before seen footage that could reveal an entirely different and better movie. Each time I have sat down to do this, however, I get maybe a half hour or so into the storyline development and something stops me. …I don’t finish. Then, I dump the edit. Though I know I really should complete the process something has always stopped me from doing so. What, I don’t know?
Perhaps at some point, I will compete this process as I know there is a better film hidden within the footage.
Though I suppose there is a million subtle stories I could tell about the creation of this film, in this piece I have provided you with an overview of the All and the Everything of Toad Warrior AKA Max Hell in Frogtown AKA Max Hell Frog Warrior. I hope this provides you with some factual insight into the actual goings-on. Any specific questions, you can always ask…
Be positive and smile.
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