Zen Filmmaking

Here’s three interesting definitions of Zen Filmmaking I found on-line:

Zen Filmmaking is a term used to describe a style of filmmaking that emphasizes simplicity, minimalism, and a focus on the present moment. It is inspired by the principles and philosophy of Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes mindfulness, self-awareness, and an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.
Zen Filmmaking is characterized by a focus on the present moment, with minimal use of special effects and a preference for natural lighting. Filmmakers who embrace this style often use long takes and static shots, and favor natural sound over added music. They also often take a hands-off approach to directing, allowing the actors to develop their performances in a natural and organic way.
In Zen Filmmaking, the emphasis is on capturing the essence of a moment rather than trying to control or manipulate it. It is about capturing the natural beauty of the world, rather than trying to impose an artificial vision on it. The goal is to create a film that is true to the present moment and reflects the interconnectedness of all things, rather than trying to impose a preconceived idea or message on the audience.
Zen Filmmaking can be seen as a form of mindfulness in cinema, it’s a way to capture the essence of a moment and share it with the audience. It creates a sense of intimacy and connection with the audience, as they are able to experience the present moment in a way that feels authentic.

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Zen filmmaking is a style of filmmaking that emphasizes simplicity, minimalism, and a focus on the present moment. It is often associated with the teachings of Zen Buddhism, which emphasizes mindfulness and being fully present in the moment. In the context of filmmaking, this can manifest in the use of natural lighting, minimal camera movement, and a focus on capturing the essence of a scene rather than trying to create a polished, highly-produced final product. The goal of Zen filmmaking is often to create a sense of authenticity and realism, rather than trying to create a polished, highly-produced final product.

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Zen filmmaking refers to a philosophy or approach to making films that emphasizes simplicity, minimalism, and mindfulness. It is inspired by Zen Buddhism and aims to create a sense of calm and stillness in the audience by removing unnecessary elements and focusing on the essentials. This can manifest in various ways, such as through the use of minimal dialogue, long takes, and natural lighting. The goal of Zen filmmaking is to create a meditative and immersive experience for the viewer, rather than simply telling a story.


Filmmaking: Keeping the Artist from Creating Art

By Scott Shaw

As most of the people reading this blog know, I’ve made a lot of movies. Whether or not the people reading this blog have seen any of them, well that’s a different story…

People often ask me, (because I’ve made so many films), “How long does it take you to make a movie?” The answer is, I have it down to a science. If I have a location, a cast, and a crew, I can shoot a movie in a couple of days, have it edited, and sound tracked in a week or so. So, within a month, the whole film can be in the can. And, in some cases, already released.

The reason I can do this is that I do everything. I do not delegate the jobs. I always have ideas, my equipment is ready to go, I am always working on new soundtracks, and I keep my software for editing functional and up to date.

The problem is, the devil is in the details, as the old saying goes. Ever since 9/11 it has become more and more difficult to find free locations to shoot at. Everybody thinks that you are up to something bad if you show up with a camera. And, you do get shut down. So, my lack of locations, in recent years, has truly hindering my filmmaking.

An ideal and somewhat amusing example of this happened to me when I went to shoot some stock footage in the L.A. Harbor. I didn’t even have a cast or a crew. I was by myself. I was grabbing some shots and The National Guard drove up and before I knew it I was in those plastic handcuff things. I thought I was on my way Gitmo. They were telling me, “We are at war…” Luckily, they checked me out and figured out I was cool, no threat, and just a filmmaker. They let me go with just a stern warning.

The other problem is, as I have detailed in so many articles and books, here in L.A., everybody thinks that they are going to be a star tomorrow. And, this mindset has continued to get worse. So, there is a lot of misplaced ego floating around.

This is not just the case for actors and actresses, as you may expect, but for crew, as well. I cannot tell you how many times I have had an entire shoot day ruined by the cameraman. Yet, they remain all full of themselves.

Though I am personally a very meticulous cameraman, as I appear in many of my films, I need someone to shoot some of the scenes.

From this, the question is often asked, “Why do I appear in many of my own films?” Again it goes back to egos.

With everybody thinking they are going to be a star tomorrow, you never know when somebody is going to get their panties in a bunch and walk off the set. With me in the film, I know I am going to show up and, therefore, can fix any problems with the story if some cast member leaves.

Outside of the industry, people don’t realize all of these subtle particulars. This is how producers get people to invest in a film. Because somebody doesn’t know what to expect, they expect nothing.

I know producers are always promising the investor everything: how much money they will make, how they are part of the greater good, how great the cast, crew, and director is. They are told they will get an executive producer credit and they pull out the checkbook. Everybody wants to be a part of the film industry, don’t they? But, these words are all bullshit. Nobody makes big money on little films. Well, at least not the investors. Maybe the distributors…

The whole essence of my filmmaking style, Zen Filmmaking, is freedom and art. It is about removing as many obstacles as possible from the filmmaking process. But, the unfortunate reality is that times have changed. So, I do not make near as many movies as I could. Or, as some believe, I should. And, it’s sad because all I need is place to shoot a film and a few competent and willing participants. I don’t even need or want money.

By the way, I never take money from investors. It just makes everything too messy…

So, you see, every realm of art has it problems and its own set of unique circumstance that keeps the artist from creating. How long it takes for me to make a film is not the issue. The issue is, do I have a place and a posse.

Copyright © 2011—All Rights Reserved

Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog

Casting the Script of Life

By Scott Shaw

For anyone who has ever thrown their hat into the Hollywood ring of acting they can quickly detail that when someone is casting for a film they provide a fairly detailed view of what they are looking for. For anyone who has ever been on the other side of the camera, creating a movie, they know that when they are casting a character in a film they have an image in their mind of how that character will look and how that character will behave. Look on any of the Breakdown Services that come out from the industry and each character has a name and a description. Filmmakers are looking for what they want that character to look like and actors are trying to become that character.

In traditional industry casting session you will find an untold number of similar looking people vying for the same role. Casting offices are full of them. And, this goes on everyday.

To be cast in a film the generally process is a hopeful actor is given what are known as, “Sides.” This is a limited amount of dialogue taken from the script. The actor then practices those lines, gets into a self-created costume, shows up at the casting office, waits with all of the other actors that look and sound just like them, and finally goes in to, “Read.”

That’s the game. People try to become the character in hopes of getting the role. But, most people do not get the role. In fact, some people go to an untold number of auditions and never get a role. They do this, spending all that time and all that money, until they finally give up. What did it all prove?

In some cases, once an actor has developed a name for himself or herself they are allow to play a role completely off-script. Think about it; think about some of the films you have seen where one of the known Name actors has not looked at all right for the role. Maybe it was their hair. Maybe it was their beard. Maybe it was their size. But, because of the fact that they had a, “Name,” they were asked to portray the role simply to bring buzz to the film. And, that’s all part of the game. The game of casting for life. People try to become while some people have already become. Some people will never become while others have become and do not even realize or care about what they have become.

Think about your life. Think about who you are attempting to become. Think about what you are attempting to portray. Is what you are projecting to the world actually you or is it simply and image of a person created by someone else—a person you are pretending to be?

In life, we all do all kinds of things to be seen the way we wish to be seen. This is what leads to lies, this is what leads to overspreading on clothing, this is what leads to anorexia, this is what leads to bad haircuts.

The thing that most people never take the time to realize—never have the capacity to realize is that what anyone projects is not necessarily a true representation of themselves. It is simply a game they are playing that is then projected to the world. How about you? What do you do to solidify your projection to the world? How does that projection contrast to who you really are? And, who really knows the truth about who you really are? Do you?

We are each two things. We are who and what we are in our minds. And, we are who and what we are that we project to the world. Some people are very true to themselves. But, these people are very few. Most simply lie about the truth that they project. They lie to themselves and they lie to others.

So, here’s the test. Who are you? Who are you really? What are you? What are you really? Who and what do you project to the world? Who knows who and what you truly are? Are you simply an actor attempting to get cast in a film and pretending to be something you are not or are you truly you? If you do not have a clear and honest definition of this you do not have a clear definition of your life.

Copyright © 2019

Buy a Camera and Make Your Own Movie

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

I Make Weird Movies. What?

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.

The Scott Shaw and Zen Filmmaking Documentary: The Truth Be Told

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.

God Bless.

Copyright © 2017 — All Rights Reserved.

Scott Shaw Speaking with the Zen Film Master

   The Entire Three Part Interview

From Film Fantasy Magazine (2013)

Part One

By Cori Tate, M.F.A.

Scott Shaw has spent the past twenty years making some of the wildest no-budget independent films that the world has never seen. With titles such as Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Max Hell Frog Warrior, Super Hero Central, Vampire Blvd., and Count Vlogula, to name just a few, Scott Shaw has etched a niche for himself as one of the most eccentric filmmakers in the industry.

Hailing from Hollywood, California, Shaw is much more than just an independent filmmaker. He is also a respected martial artist who has written an enormous amount of articles and books on the subject as well as being an accomplished musician and photographer.  When he is not making movies he teaches courses on filmmaking at colleges and universities.

Whereas many independent filmmakers try to climb the Hollywood ladder, Shaw has turned his back on the traditional film industry and focused his career upon his self-developed philosophy of Zen Filmmaking. What is Zen Filmmaking? I will let Scott Shaw explain that in his own words.

Cori Tate Before we begin I want to tell you that I have been a fan of your work for some time and I believe I have seen all of your films.

Scott Shaw Thank you. Which one is your favorite?

Cori Tate Undercover X.

Scott Shaw That’s one of my favorites too.

Cori Tate I also really like the editing in Killer: Dead or Alive.

Scott Shaw Yeah, that’s a fun one as well. Which of my films do you like the least?

Cori Tate I don’t want to answer that. Aren’t I the one who is supposed to be asking the questions?

Scott Shaw Sorry. Ask away.

Cori Tate I know in the past you said that while growing up you saw the downside of the film industry and that is what kept you from becoming involved in it until much later in your life. Being from an industry family myself, I too have seen that side of it. Have you been able to stay away from the turmoil?

Scott Shaw For the most part, yes. I really do not run in those circles and I do not go around asking people for money to finance my films like a lot of indie filmmakers do. So I am able to stay pretty clear of all of the nonsense and the melodrama.

Cori Tate As a filmmaker how would you define the kind of films you make?

Scott Shaw Zen Films.

Cori Tate Yes, I know that but your films have a very unique characteristic. Can you explain that?

Scott Shaw That’s just it. They’re Zen Films. There is no definition for a Zen Film.  What they are is what they are. Each one is whole and complete onto itself. Each one is different. There is no formula. There is no dogma. There are no requirements. You just go out there and do it and that is what you do.

Cori Tate Do most people understand your Zen Filmmaking style?

Scott Shaw You know, ever since Don Jackson and I made the first Zen Film, The Roller Blade Seven, we knew that people who had an eye for the cinematically abstract and who really studied the intricacies of what we were doing would understand and like it and the people who expected to see a traditional mainstream film, would not. To answer your question it is 50/50.

Cori Tate Now that you brought up Donald G. Jackson how did you two function as a filmmaking team?

Scott Shaw As artists, Don and I had a very similar mind. He, like I, appreciated the bizarre and the abstract. As people, we had very different personalities. He was very explosive. He liked to yell and scream at people and mess with their heads. Me, I am the total opposite. I’m all about making people comfortable and making the world a more calm and peaceful place.

Cori Tate Then how did you work together?

Scott Shaw When we worked together we were of one mind. We never questioned the other’s insights. Whichever one of us had the inspiration, the other one just flowed along.

Cori Tate In the past you have stated that Donald G. Jackson used a script for all of the films he created when you were not involved in the project. Is that true? Isn’t that against the primary premise of Zen Filmmaking?

Scott Shaw Yes, for the most part that is true. But Don was a very spontaneous guy, if someone wanted to go in a different direction he never forced them to speak only the lines written in the script.

But you just expressed a really big point that many people misunderstand.  Everybody seems to think that Zen Filmmaking is simply based on the premise of not using a script. That’s totally wrong. The use of no screenplay in the filmmaking process is simply a tool to open up the filmmaker’s mind to allow spontaneity to be the primary guiding force in a film’s creation.  By allowing artistic freedom to guide you in the filmmaking process you allow magic, and by magic I mean you allow and accept magical things to happen that you would or could never expect.

Cori Tate So far you’ve written two books on filmmaking, Zen Filmmaking and Independent Filmmaking: Secrets of the Craft. What are the differences between the two books and what information do they provide?

Scott Shaw You know, I’ve been making films for a long time now and not only have I been teaching classes and seminars on the subject for years upon years but I receive a lot of questions about filmmaking all the time. What I realized a long time ago is that everybody has the same questions and everybody, including myself, runs into the same problems. The two books spell all of the problems that I have run into and the problems that other indie filmmakers have run into and then the books provide answers and ways to avoid these problems as much as possible. The difference between the two books is that Zen Filmmaking is more of an illustration of my personal filmmaking journey in association with a lot of how-to. Independent Filmmaking is more of an overall nuts and bolts discussion and how-to for the independent film industry.

Cori Tate Having seen most of your films I realize that you are constantly changing as a filmmaker from how you tell a story onto editing and all the various visuals. How and why has your filmmaking evolved?

Scott Shaw The main component is that technology is constantly making things easier. I couldn’t do, or maybe better put, I couldn’t afford to do a lot of things, particularly in editing, that I wanted to do in years gone past. Now it’s all on your PC. You can do pretty much anything. From that I have been allowed to continually expand and push the barriers within my visions for artistic filmmaking.

Cori Tate You say there are no mistakes in filmmaking. What does that mean?

Scott Shaw Most people who want to make a film have the hope and the desire that their film, made with no money, will come out looking like a hundred million dollar feature. Moreover, the people who view independent, low and no budget features expect them to look like they had a hundred million dollar budget.  That is just not the reality of making an indie film, especially when you have limited financial resources. What I mean by there are no mistakes is that you have to enter the process with the understanding that your film is going to turn out the way your film is going to turn out. That is not to say that you don’t try to make it look good. But you have to accept your limitations. And the viewers should also be of that same mindset if they are planning to watch a film of this genre. By entering the filmmaking process with this mindset, the freedom of Zen is experienced.

Scott Shaw
Speaking with the Zen Film Master: Part Two
Zen Filmmaking: The Process

By Cori Tate, M.F.A.

As detailed in Part One of this article, Scott Shaw has spent the past twenty years making some of the wildest independent films that the world has never seen. With titles such as Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Max Hell Frog Warrior, Super Hero Central, Vampire Blvd., and Count Vlogula, to name just a few, Scott Shaw has etched a name for himself as one of the most eccentric filmmakers in the industry. He has created these films while employing a method of filmmaking that he calls Zen Filmmaking. In this segment of the article we will delve into the actual process of Zen Filmmaking and allow Scott Shaw to explain how to make a Zen Film.

Cori Tate For this part of the interview I would like to speak to you about some of the practical aspects of Zen Filmmaking and how you make your Zen Films.

Scott Shaw Let’s do it.

Cori Tate Why no script?

Scott Shaw Like I have discussed for many years, when someone writes a screenplay they believe they have a great idea. And, maybe they do. When they move forward to creating their film they believe it will be filmed with precise camera techniques, in perfect locations, with excellent actors portraying the characters.  The fact of the matter is, unless you have a lot of money, which most new filmmakers do not possess, that is just not going to happen. Things are not going to turn out perfectly. This is one of the main reasons that many new filmmakers throw in towel and do not complete their films — because they cannot equal what’s in their mind’s eyes. But, if you take away the obstacle of a script and remove what is supposed to happen, you become free, you are not forcing yourself to equal what you have conceived in your mind. If a filmmaker operates at this level there is a much greater chance that the film will be completed.

Cori Tate Without a script, how do you get your stories told?

Scott Shaw For each person it is a little different. What I do is to start out with a story idea. Then I get my cast together and have a few places in mind that I plan to shoot. For each day I construct a shot list that will explain the characters and the story, and then I go out there and do it.

Cori Tate So you guide your actors on the set?

Scott Shaw Exactly. But they are not gong out there blind. Before we ever begin to film I discus each character with each actor so they know what they are going to portray and how they are going to achieve that portrayal. If we have the time I allow actors to meet the other actors in the film. Then when we get on the set, I tell them the basics of the information that they need to discuss for a particular scene, and I let them have at it. This keeps the performances very natural.

Cori Tate You generally work with unknown actors. Why is that?

Scott Shaw Hollywood is an impossible game to win. Yet tons of people come here all the time hoping to be stars. The reason I invite new people to be in my films is I want to offer them the opportunity to actually get in front of the camera and get their feet wet. What I am providing them with is a stepping-stone. They are going to be in a film that will be completed. If they never do anything else in the film industry at least they can say I was in that film. But some of them have actually gone on to become very successful actors and actresses.

Cori Tate What is the average budget for your films?

Scott Shaw I try to stay right around $300.00.

Cori Tate $300.00! I have seen your films. You mean to tell me films like Hitman City and Vampire Noir only cost $300.00 to make?

Scott Shaw Yup.

Cori Tate How do you do that?

Scott Shaw Well, first of all you have to know what you’re doing. Then you have to have the right equipment and know how to use it. Like I tell my students, if you can’t make a movie using only natural light then you have no business being in the film industry.

Cori Tate How does someone learn how to use equipment and make quality films like you have with such a low amount of money?

Scott Shaw It is all about practice and getting out there and doing it.

Cori Tate So you suggest people practice making films?

Scott Shaw Absolutely. You don’t have to go out there and make a feature film your first time out like I did. Just get out there with a camera everyday and make film shorts or just practice with it seeing how it captures images and how it reacts to light. From this, when you actually get ready to make a film you will have the techniques in place to do it right.

Cori Tate What kind of equipment do you use?

Scott Shaw That really depends on what I’m doing. Over the years I have used pretty much every camera and every format ever created. I own a lot of equipment. Which is one of the ways I can keep my production costs down. But I always like to tell people; you can even shoot movies with your phone. I mean phones shoot 1080 HD, which has a much better image quality than Super 8 and even some 16mm cameras. If the phones had a mic input, because they have pretty lousy audio, you could shoot a whole movie on your phone. I imagine someday some phone company will add a mic jack and then there will never be a need for full-on cameras anymore.

Cori Tate Have you ever used your phone to shoot a scene that made it into one of your films?

Scott Shaw Of course. Like most people I always have my phone with me and I have used it several times to capture footage. But personally what I do is I always carry a small Nikon or Canon with me. Then not only can I take a photograph if I see something but I can also shoot high quality footage for my films if an interesting situation presents itself.

Cori Tate You are against getting film permits. Is that true?

Scott Shaw It’s not that I am against film permits. It is simply that most indie film people do not have the money to rent a location and pay for film permits. The other problem is, once you lock into a single location then your options are severely limited. You have to stay there and that really holds back spontaneous creativity.

The fact is some people believe that it is illegal to shoot a movie without a permit. That is not true. If it is a public place you have just as much right to be there, doing whatever you want to do, as anyone else. You can’t go in there with a Panavision camera, 10-K’s and a big crew, but if you stay low key you are usually fine.

Cori Tate Have you ever been asked to leave a location you were filming at?

Scott Shaw A couple of times, but it’s rare.

Cori Tate What do you do then?

Scott Shaw Just go and shoot somewhere else.

Cori Tate In you films you’ve shot in places like Tokyo, Taipei and Hong Kong. Why do you film there?

Scott Shaw Interesting locations are one of the number one things you need to add to your film if you want to make it look big and give it depth. Whether you film in your community or whatever, the more interesting your locations the better your film with look.

As I spend a lot of time in Asia, I add those locations into my films whenever I can. Tokyo is great. It is a very visually spectacular place and nobody cares if you film there. You can film anywhere and nobody even takes notice. Everybody from the Beasty Boys to Katy Perry have filmed in Tokyo just by showing up and doing it.

Cori Tate How do you respond to film critics? Which is something that each filmmaker must be prepared for.

Scott Shaw I don’t. I don’t care what any negative person thinks. First, let them make a movie and then we’ll talk about it.

The fact is, the minute you get into any of the arts you are going to have your critics. That’s just the way it is. The sad thing is, their voices always seem to be the loudest. It would be great if the people who had positive things to say would be more vocal but it doesn’t seem like that is going to happen. Positive people always seem to be the quiet ones.

Cori Tate Why do you think some people are so critical?

Scott Shaw I don’t know. There’s a lot of reasons, I guess. Some people want to make a name for themselves and critiquing and criticizing the work of someone else is an easy way to do it. Some people may not like a person or what they stand for and that is their reason. The one thing I do know is that negativity only equals negativity and that is never a good thing.

Cori Tate Do you ever think you will return to acting on the A level or directing a big film?

Scott Shaw Well Cameron, Spielberg, Tarantino or Rodriguez aren’t knocking down my door. And Weinstein or Lion’s Gate isn’t ringing the phone of my agent off the hook. So I don’t know? But that is really not important to me. I think I have made a niche for myself in the film industry, doing what I do. I make films for the love of the craft. And the reason I teach filmmaking and talk to people like you is that I want to help other filmmakers get out there and live their dreams of making a film. That’s the whole basis of Zen Filmmaking and that’s why I have continued to keep my focus on it. In simple terms, Zen Filmmaking removes a lot of the obstacles from the filmmaking process so that films will get completed and filmmakers will get their films made.

Remember the main mantra of Zen Filmmaking, Fun is what it’s all about.

Scott Shaw
Speaking with the Zen Film Master: Part Three
Scott Shaw: The Filmmaker

By Cori Tate, M.F.A.

As was revealed in Part One and Part Two of this interview, Scott Shaw is a truly unique individual and revolutionary filmmaker, creating films via the style of filmmaking he created, Zen Filmmaking. Hailing from Hollywood, California, Scott Shaw has spent over twenty years making some of the most cutting-edge no-budget independent feature films, documentaries, and music videos that the world has never seen. After detailing the foundations for (and the techniques of) Zen Filmmaking in the previous two segments, in this final section we are going to peer into the mind of Scott Shaw and see just what makes this filmmaker tick.

Cori Tate In this part of the interview I want to peer into Scott Shaw the filmmaker and ask you why you do what you do.

Scott Shaw That’s scary. But let’s go.

Cori Tate One of the main things I have noticed about your films is that there is always movement. The character you play or your other actors portray are either riding on a motorcycle, driving in a car, riding on a ferry in Hong Kong, on a subway in Tokyo or on a ship in Canada. If you or your actors are not on some vessel then the characters are frequently seen walking or running. In fact, one of your recent films I saw, The Drive, revolves around a constant state of movement. Why is that?

Scott Shaw First of all, thank you for realizing this, most people don’t.

Cori Tate You’re welcome.

Scott Shaw At its root, the simple answer is, all of life is about movement. That movement may be small or it may be large but it is constant. Everything in this universe is in a continual state of flux. I want my films to represent that understanding on a subtle, subliminal level.  That is why I always have movement in my films. From a less philosophic aspect, movement adds a great level of visual stimuli for the audience. It draws them it. For example, on a subtle level the audience begins to study what is going on outside the windows of a car as the character drives it down the street. Life and the world we live in is very unique. It is a work of art. I like to bring that art into my films as much as possible.

Cori Tate I understand that you shoot your films wherever your inspiration guides you. Yet where you shoot your films and the sets you use have a very common theme, namely the old or the dilapidated. Why is that?

Scott Shaw I’m a city kid. I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in L.A. In terms of the cityscapes I use, I have forever been drawn to the rundown parts of the city. There is simply something very artistic and beautiful about structures that are in decay and an area that is in its latter stages of existence. In terms of my internal sets, my inspiration is the same. But, they are more of a creation than where I film outside. A good example is, I was watching an old episode of the T.V. series Adam-12 the other day. Malloy and Reed were supposed to be at three different apartments in a rundown building. But all the production team did was to shift the camera to the other side of the hall. In each scene you could see the same spots on the walls and the team entering the same apartment but they were supposed to be three different apartments on three different floors. I love the cinematic ridiculousness of stuff like that. So I embrace it. I recreate it.

Cori Tate You have said that there are hidden elements in all of your films. Is that an example?

Scott Shaw Yes. But it is more than simply the sets and how they are used. Like you realized about the movement in my films, the items I place for the camera to see: the things on the walls, the floors, and in the distance are all very revealing. There are hidden objects in all of my films and abstract expressions in the dialogue. It is the viewer that must find them and decide what they mean.

Cori Tate Why do you do that?

Scott Shaw That is one of the things that makes watching a Zen Film so interesting. Once you understand this, figuring out the underlying meaning of the locations, the dialogue and the scenes become part of the whole process of watching the film.

Cori Tate In terms of your editing style you have always used exaggerated edits. Why?

Scott Shaw Some filmmakers believe that they can draw the audience into the film. They think that they can cause the audience to lose themselves in a film. That’s just not what I’m about. First of all, I don’t believe that you can do that. A movie may emotionally affect you but you never forget that you are watching a movie. It’s not real. So I don’t even try to do that. In fact, I do just the opposite. I want the audience of my films to have a unique experience. Something jarring. Something different. I want them to say, “Wow, that’s a cool edit. How’d he do that?” Or, “I didn’t expect that. That really changed the mood of everything.” This is also why I either have myself or one of my actors glance directly into the camera during each film. As I am sure you know, this is something that is forbidden in all realms of traditional filmmaking. I do this very subtly. You really need to look for it. This is just a subtle reminder to the audience that they are watching a film and the film is not real. It’s also based in the fact; we’re watching you watching us. Look out!

Cori Tate The next question is rhythm. You always have very rhythmic soundtracks. Why is that?

Scott Shaw Again, there is the deeper level and there is the more mundane answer to that question. Rhythm is so primal. It is so at the root of humanity. It touches something deeply inside of everyone. I want the audience to feel the movement in my films. So I use rhythm based soundtracks. The other side of the issue is, I like that style of music.

Cori Tate In the past people always seemed to try to draw parallels between Zen Filmmaking and other forms of nontraditional filmmaking. That seems to have stopped. Why do you think that is?

Scott Shaw I think it is due to the amount of product that has been released using this unique brand of filmmaking. New Zen Films are made all the time, not only by me but also by other filmmakers who are employing various aspects of the philosophy. From this, it has carved out its own entity.

Cori Tate When I was in film school some of the instructors discussed Zen Filmmaking. It interested a few people like myself but others said it could never work.

Scott Shaw Obviously those people were wrong. There have been a lot of Zen Films created. That’s the thing about school, I know because I have spent many years in colleges and universities, first as a student and then as an instructor. The thing is, students say a lot of things all based on the fact that they believe they are soon to be the master of the universe. They believe that all of their dreams are going to come true. They think that they know everything and whatever they believe is right. This is especially the case in a subject like filmmaking where a few people have become the king of the world. But it is rare. Most people do not become that successful. That’s one of the main reason I created Zen Filmmaking and have continued to focus on it. Not only does it remove many of the obstacles from the filmmaking process but it also allows films to be created that are perfect within their own perfection. They can be whatever they turn out to be. No judgment. That’s Zen.

Cori Tate Will you always be a Zen Filmmaker?

Scott Shaw I believe that every filmmaker must base the creation of their films upon a philosophy. Mine is obviously the philosophy of Zen Filmmaking. If you don’t have a philosophy then your film simply becomes an attempt to mimic what others have done in order to gain fame or financial success. So to answer your question, yes, I will always be a Zen Filmmaker.

Cori Tate Recently you’ve been discussing how Zen Filmmaking has evolved to the non-narrative film. What does that mean?

Scott Shaw As I said to you previously, there is no dogma within Zen Filmmaking. It is as free and as creative as the filmmaker chooses it to be. For me, I realized that it was time to move away from story structure altogether. As you know, one of the main concepts of Zen Filmmaking is that the stories have all been told. So why try to retell a story that has been told a thousand times before? Thus came the non-narrative Zen Film.

Cori Tate What does that mean and how do you create a non-narrative film?

Scott Shaw You mentioned you saw the Zen Film, The Drive. That is a non-narrative film. To create a non-narrative Zen Film the inspiration comes from everywhere, anywhere. I don’t know? Where does inspiration come from? But how you create a non-narrative Zen Film is that you capture a series of shots and then weave them together to make a cinematic collage of images that draw the viewer into the space of the abstract, into the space of Zen.

Cori Tate Will you ever go back to making a dialogue driven film?

Scott Shaw First of all, my films have never been dialogue driven. Yes, there is dialogue but they are driven by the essence of pure cinema, artistic cinematic images brought together to shape a collective whole. But sure, if and when the inspiration strikes, I will make another film that employees dialogue.

Cori Tate You mention Pure Cinema. Was that an inspiration to you?

Scott Shaw Think about this, Cinéma Pur (Pure Cinema) was created by filmmakers like Chomette, Léger, and Clair in the early part of the twentieth century. Filmmaking was new at that point in history and these people were already attempting to step back and make it a more pure and organic process. Those people lived in a different age than we live in. They possessed a different set of available tools and influences, yet they sought to bring filmmaking back to an artistic source-point. Me too.  That’s what Zen Filmmaking is all about. Is Zen Filmmaking based on Pure Cinema? No. Am I influenced by it? No. But, I do appreciate their ideologies as I have walked a similar path of inspiration.

Cori Tate What made you become an independent filmmaker?

Scott Shaw Wow, that is a deep question and there are probably a million answers. Mostly I’ve always been an artist. Since a very young age I was also a photographer. At a certain point it just become a natural progression for me.

Cori Tate Most independent filmmakers seek out production companies to finance their films. Why haven’t you followed that path?

Scott Shaw Because I don’t want anybody controlling what I do. If somebody is paying you then they control what you create. If someone is controlling you, if someone is telling you what you must do and when you should do it, then it is no longer art. I am an artist. You may love my art, you may hate my art, but my films are made with art as their focus. If someone is financing you, they have one goal and that is to make money. To make money you have to supply a product that the masses will appreciate. You’ve seen my films; do you think the masses can appreciate them?

Cori Tate Yes, I do.

Scott Shaw Wow, that’s a first. Thanks.

With this I end the interview with Scott Shaw the Zen Filmmaker.

Scott Shaw is a truly unique believer in art and the art of filmmaking. Though his words may have a certain seriousness to them, there was never a moment that he did not possess a big smile on his face. As we parted company he said, “If you ever need any help making a film, don’t hesitate to call.” I think this is probably the biggest revealer about Scott Shaw. He is a truly helpful individual who does what he does not only to create art as he sees it but also to lend a hand to all of us who are attempting to climb the ladder in the filmmaking industry. Thank you Scott Shaw.

Copyright © 2013 — All Rights Reserved

You can also find this article on Scott Shaw.com at:

Scott Shaw: Speaking with the Zen Film Master.

Everybody Talks About the Films but Nobody Studies the Films

By Scott Shaw

I forever find it curious that whenever I hear or read about what people are saying about the Zen Films of Scott Shaw they are virtually always completely wrong. Some have gone to extended lengths to describe and discuss the films I have made but they are completely missing the point. Some love them, some hate them, and, all that is fine with me — that is their opinion. But, no one ever studies the films.

From a personal perspective, I can tell you that from the time I was young I would watch films very carefully. I would notice things about them that I would later realize were completely missed by others. There are mistakes in continuity, changes in lighting between the various takes, wardrobe differences, actors looking at the camera, and the list goes on. But, I never saw those as filmmaking flaws, I simply saw them as part and parcel of the filmmaking process. By observing a film in this manner, it truly makes the watching of that movie very intriguing to me.

Again, from a personal perspective, I can categorically state that I have never attempted to make a traditional film. From my experience, a traditional film, that will play well to a traditional film going audience, costs a lot of money as you have to play to their preconceived notions about what a film is supposed to be. As I have never had a high budget in my filmmaking endeavors, I have never attempted to walk down that road — though some of the people I have worked with have attempted to guide me in a more traditional direction in my filmmaking practices. But, that is just not who I am.

All this being stated, what I can say is that within the spontaneity, freedom, and magic of Zen Filmmaking every film that I have ever created has been done so with a very clear focus of message, (based upon budgetary constrains, of course). You may love what I do. You may hate what I do. You may issue praise or cast criticism. That’s all fine with me. But, what most people never seems to do is to actually study the films I make. They never look for the subtleties. They simply look to the obvious. And, by viewing my Zen Films in this manner, they are really missing the whole point.

…I mean, come on! These are Zen Films, what do you expect to see when you sit down to watch them?

As the filmmaker, I could point to each element of what one should be looking for in each scene of my films. But, what would be the fun of that? This is Zen Filmmaking and that is all part of the process; finding the hidden meaning, revealing to yourself what is hiding beneath the surface and what it means to you. It is essential to know, however, that every scene in every one of my Zen Films has a Some Thing that is there for a reason which guides the overall vision of the film and projects an ideology to the audience whether they consciously notice it or not. This is why they are each titled a, “Zen Film.”

So, I want to call out all you, (oh so knowledgeable), film reviewers. I want to tell you, “You missed the point.” Simply by looking to the storyline, the sets, the acting, and the character development for guidance in your reviews you have completely overlooked what is actually going on.

As a Film Watcher and as a Film Maker I can say that to truly understand any film you have to look beyond the obvious. This is especially the case with Zen Films. So, the next time you want to find something to cast your judgment upon at least have the foresight to see what you are missing by studying the subtitles instead of simply sitting there with your mind already made up and casting judgment.

Copyright (C) 2016 — All Rights Reserved.

Scott Shaw: The High Priest of Zen Filmmaking

By Kelty O’Bannon

This is an interview with Scott Shaw conduced in 2006 and originally published in a European film magazine. It can also be found in Scott Shaw’s book, Zen Filmmaking.

Scott Shaw, the creator of Zen Filmmaking, has continued to change the way filmmakers view their process of creation. He has been writing about this style of filmmaking for the better part of twenty years and has taken-in many converts to his realms of understanding.

Shaw is much more than a filmmaker with a unique set of ideals about filmmaking, however. In fact, he came to the art form of filmmaking rather late in life — at the age of thirty-two. Prior to his emersion into the craft, he was a well-known martial artist and a well-published author on the subject of eastern religion. Each of these factors helped Shaw to create a unique and new understanding of the art and craft of filmmaking.

Though Scott Shaw was not the first film director to employ improvisational acting as a tool in the creation of a film, he was the first to formalize a method where each filmmaker can embrace the most natural elements of improv and Zen Buddhism and then integrate them into a method where they can utilize these foundational assets and create a truly unique piece of filmmaking. He has created this new style of filmmaking with such precision that many noted filmmakers have borrowed from his ideology and integrated this method into their own.

For this article, I speak to Scott Shaw in a restaurant in Beverly Hills, California. Beverly Hills is a city that flanks Hollywood. We sit at a table surrounded by many of the Hollywood A-list players, who are having lunch. Due to our surrounding, I cannot help but be motivated to ask Scott Shaw my first question.

What do you think of Hollywood?
I think it’s all bullshit.

What do you mean?
If your are referring to the generic term, “Hollywood,” where all the films are made and all the people get famous, and everyone thinks this is the place to be, then it’s all bullshit. Most people who come here to be famous leave very disappointed. Hollywood has nothing to do with art. And, fame has nothing to do with talent.

What does it have to do with?
Luck and who you know.

Why then did you get involved in the filmmaking profession?
Like I always say, I hope to be a beacon of light in a sea of darkness.

What do you mean by that?
Well, first of all, I didn’t come from a family based in the Hollywood industry. I didn’t grow up rich. And, I didn’t have friends who could walk me though the door and get me inside the industry. So, I had no easy way in. Plus, I wasn’t a pretty girl or a man willing to fulfill the desire of other men to get whatever I wanted. And, believe me, that is the ticket that many successful actors, actresses, and filmmakers have used to become successful in the industry.

So, what did you do?
I simply embraced my art.

What do you mean?
When I first stated out, I had the same aspirations as most of the people who come to Hollywood to get into the industry. The only difference with me was, I was born here. Just like everybody, I hoped to be a star overnight. Which caused me to turn down a lot of roles that probably could have actually helped my career. But, I was also lucky. I got my SAG card really quickly. Actually, I was cast for a role in a union film on like my second audition and I began to move my way through the industry.

What happened next?
I quickly saw that most of the industry, particularly the independent sector of the industry, where new actors get their feet wet, was full of a lot of wanta-bes who waste everybody’s time making promises about films they will never complete.

What happened to you next?
Well, I met Donald G. Jackson and I created Zen Filmmaking.

Wow, what a jump.
Yeah, I guess it was. But, you have to understand, all of life, not just being in the film industry, is based upon foundations. By the time I met Don, I had been a serious photographer for almost twenty years. I had been very involved in eastern mysticism virtually my whole life, and martial arts since I was six years old. I had my photographs shown in galleries around the world and used in tons of publications. In addition, I had made several documentaries in Asia. So, when Don and I started working together, I was ready.

I have to ask you because I have seen it written in several places. Is it true that you were a monk?
Yes, it is. I was first a Bramacharaya and then a Sanyass (a Swami) for several years.

How did that affect your life?
It is pretty simple and straightforward — though I no longer wear the orange robes, the essence of who that person was has never left me. I simply am more interactive with modern society.

Your early filmmaking is closely linked to Donald G. Jackson. How did you two work together? Was it a democracy?
No. A democracy indicates that there are two or more points of view. This was not the case with the films Don and I created. We worked together as a single-minded team. Sometimes he would have the idea. Sometimes I would have it. But, we never doubted each other’s end results.

Some people refer to Donald G. Jackson as your mentor. Is this true?
Creatively, we were an equal team. But, when I first met Don, he certainly had much more experience in the independent film industry than I did. So, in that regard, yes, it is true. In fact, when he was living the last few months of his life in the hospital, before he died, he would introduce me to all of his doctors and nurses as his son. So, I guess he viewed me as a son. But, in reality, I was the computer guy. So, when the digital age hit, it was me who was guiding the ship. But also, if you look at my life prior to meeting Don, what I had accomplished stands clearly on its own merits. Plus, the minute Don and I finished the first two films we made together: The Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven, I immediately went off to make my own films. So, I see the early time of our collaboration as Don was the technical end and I was the creative and spiritual side — as he always would turn to me for spiritual advice. Later in his life he would always say about me, “The student has become the master.” So, make of that what you will.

There have been many critics of Donald G. Jackson. Was there a downside to working with him?
Yeah, there were many. To put it kindly, Don was a complicated guy. But, he always treated me with the utmost respect. And, we made some great films together. So, even though there was always a price to pay, that was attached to working with him, what we created would not have been created had we not teamed up.

Where did he get inspiration for films?
In regards to filmmaking, he had an interesting characteristic. Some may call it undesirable. In that he was a lot like Quentin Tarantino. He could view previously created projects — whether they be comic books, movies, or whatever, and then reinterpret them to suit his own ends. Don was notorious for confiscation, or at least attempting to confiscate, other people’s ideas. He tried to do that with me a few times.

What happened?
No comment.

How do the films you made with Donald G. Jackson differ from the films you have made without him?
Don was a comic book orientated guy. Much of his inspiration came from that genre. Me, I am an urban kid. I was born and raised in some of the worst parts of L.A. So, that’s my inspiration. I love the abstract beauty of the inner city and the stories the city has to tell.

What is the symbolism of the Happy Face emblem that is seen in the films you made with Donald G. Jackson?
That was basically Don’s creation. You have to look back to the 1970s to see the inception of this. In the 1970s the Happy Face was everywhere. So, Don took this and made it a commentary on society and a signature in his films. It was one of those things that each of us, as we get older, hold on to in order to remember a specific era that meant something to us. And, that was Don’s.

In virtually all of your films, there is at least one image of the Buddha. How does that tie into your overall filmmaking message?
Don had the Happy Face, mine is the Buddha. It is just my way of subtly suggesting that the audience stay conscious and embrace the mystical.

You have filmed several of your movies in Asia and virtually all of your films, at least partially, in Hollywood. What can you tell us about that?
That is my yin and yang. I was born in Hollywood and grew up in South-central L.A. and Hollywood. Hollywood is the center of the universe for filmmaking. But, Asia is where my heart is. Asia’s abstract mystical nature, its beauty – that is who I am. So, I film there whenever I have the chance and then come back to Hollywood to add the structure to the story. The other side of it is, I am from Hollywood, and so I know it inside and out. But, the rest of the world does not. They see Hollywood as this grand illusion — the place to be. In my films I try to show the more gritty side of Hollywood, to illustrate the true nature of this city.

There are certain people, other than Donald G. Jackson, that have worked in a production capacity with you on several of your films, most noticeably Hae Won Shin, Kenneth H. Kim and Kevin Thompson. What can you tell us about that?
Well, Hae Won has worked with me since I first got into the industry. She has helped me in many ways — in virtually every capacity. She has a degree in photography, so she has been my cinematographer; she has helped me in production and has been an actress in my films when I need to fill in the storylines. Ken, I met early in my emersion into the industry. In fact, I met him when we were actors on one of the first films I was cast in. After that, he helped me put some of my early projects together and we did another film together a couple of years ago. I was introduced to Kevin when I was about to begin production on Undercover X. We needed one final lead-actor and Richard Magram, who was producing the L.A. portion of the film with me, suggested Kevin. And, he was perfect. Kevin is one of those people who just, “Gets it.” He completely understands my style of filmmaking. I call him up and tell him I am putting a new project together. He doesn’t even ask what his character will be. He just asks, “When and where.” He is a great guy and a great actor to work with.

Do you think it is important to work with people like that?
Absolutely. I think every filmmaker; whether they are in the low or the high budget side of the industry finds cast and crewmembers that they work with over-and-over again. By working with someone you know, you understand what to expect and this just makes every project easier and better.

It seems that your early films were martial art orientated. That has seemed to change. Can you tell the readers about that?
You have to understand, I have been a martial artist since I was six years old and watching people beat each other up on film has just gotten boring. But, more than that, most martial artists who are actors have really bad attitudes. I just don’t want to deal with them anymore.

Another thing I have noticed about the evolution of your films is that you have begun to use much smaller casts.
Yes, that’s true.

Can you tell us about that?
Again, it has just been an evolution for me. I used to like to add a lot of character-driven texture to my films. That meant there were a lot of people in my films. Some had large parts and some roles were much smaller. Now, I see my films much more as intense character studies. So, I keep the number of cast members way down.

What is next on the horizon for Zen Filmmaking?
Zen Filmmaking will forever evolve. It is not a static entity that cannot move forward or be reinterpreted. Each filmmaker who uses Zen Filmmaking, as a basis for their filmmaking, will find and evolve their own method of using it as a foundational factor for a freer style of filmmaking.

What advice do you have for filmmakers?
Drink a bottle of Italian red wine every night. Go out and a have a latte or cappuccino at least once a day at a coffee house. Workout in a gym several times a week. And. Live. Because this is where all the inspiration for filmmaking comes from — living!

Copyright © 2007—All Rights Reserved.

This interview can also be found on scottshaw.com @ Scott Shaw: The High Priest of Zen Filmmaking.