Scott Shaw Speaking with the Zen Film Master

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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 don’t 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 a 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 the advancements in technology 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.

Click Here to read part two of this interview.

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