The Roller Blade Seven: The Story of the Production

By Scott Shaw

Fade In:

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.

FADE OUT.

THE ZEN

Copyright © 2018 — All Rights Reserved

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

The Roller Blade Seven: The Story of the Production

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Guns of El Chupacabra: The Story of the Production

By Scott Shaw

Fade In:

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!

POST SCRIPT:

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.

FADE OUT.

THE ZEN

Copyright © 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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

Guns of El Chupacabra: The Story of the Production

 

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! 🙂

#bepositive

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.

Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and the Fiction

TW S & Jill

 Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and the Fiction

By James Kim

Max Hell Frog Warrior holds a unique place in cult film history. It is both loved and hated, revered and shunned, praised and harshly criticized. There have been reviews, critiques, analysis and evaluations. It has been shown in movie theaters in Japan, the Philippines, and Malaysia, it has played at film festival in the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Ukraine, and Australia. There have been countless showings of the movie in screening rooms and at makeshift backyard and bar film events. It has been bootlegged and released via a stolen Beta Master.  It has been illegally downloaded thousands of times from offshore websites.  There have been articles written about the film. It has been referenced in numerous books and publications. It was even mentioned on the HBO television series The Newsroom. There has been gossip, misnomers and lies told about the film, the filmmakers and the filmmaking process used in the film’s creation. The one thing that no one has done in the twenty years since this film was created is to talk to the last remaining filmmaker of Max Hell Frog Warrior, Scott Shaw about what truly happened during the creation of this movie.

Max Hell Frog Warrior was initially released in its original edit form as Toad Warrior. It was later reedited, retitled and rereleased. The focus of this interview will be to hopefully remove some of the speculation and misconceptions about this film and get to the bottom of what actually took place throughout the entire creation of this movie.  I hope to present the truth and remove the fiction from the facts about Max Hell Frog Warrior.

Nice to meet you Dr. Shaw.

Great to meet you and please call me Scott. I’m not a formal sort of guy.

Okay Scott. You know why I’m here. I want to talk to you about Max Hell Frog Warrior.

Finally.

That’s what I think too. Why has nobody ever interviewed you about this film?

Truthfully I don’t know. Everybody asks me about The Roller Blade Seven, Guns of El Chupacabra, Undercover X, Vampire Blvd., Killer Dead or Alive, Vampire Noir, the Rock n’ Roll Cops and movies like that. I know people talk about this movie a lot but no one ever asks me anything.

I have seen a lot of things written about Max Hell Frog Warrior on the web. Have you seen any of that?

Yeah, I’ve seen some. I’m really not one of those people who wastes my time on the internet seeking out that kind of stuff. I’m really too busy. I’m all about creating new things, not about reading what someone thinks about stuff I’ve created in the past. But some of the stuff has been brought to my attention.

Is it correct?

Mostly what I’ve seen out there are a lot of people’s opinions. As they are people’s opinions, I guess from that point of view they are true. But nobody has asked me. Nobody asked Don. All people do is see the movie, think they know what’s going on and talk about it. From that point of view nobody understands anything about what really took place in the creation of this film and this has been going on for a very long time. I mean we finished Toad Warrior in 1996. That’s twenty years ago. Before it was ever released I sent a screening copy of it to a friend of mine who ran a magazine and he gave it to one of his reviewers. The guy wrote a review and tore the movie apart saying that we were trying to make a copy of Hell Comes to Frogtown. The guy was so stupid that he said we were using cheap imitation Frogtown masks. But those were the same masks actually used in Hell Comes to Frogtown! He tore up the directing making a bunch of insulting comments. The guy didn’t even know that Maximo T. Bird was Donald G. Jackson, the creator of Hell Comes to Frogtown. How stupid is that?

Did that review bother you?

No. It made me laugh. It really pissed Don off though. I mean the guy did compare me to a low budget Kurt Russell. So that made me smile. The thing is I don’t really care about reviews. Love it, hate it, that’s your choice. The thing I don’t like is when someone presents their opinion as fact when their fact is wrong.

Has that happened a lot with this film?

Oh yeah. On the internet people can say anything they want. True or false they don’t even care. The sad thing is people have come to believe that people’s opinions are the truth and just because somebody is saying something it must be true. I think that’s really sad. Before you believe anything, find out the facts.

Yes, I agree with you. Do you think bad reviews have hurt Max Hell Frog Warrior?

I don’t know about that. In some cases, I think people watch a film like Max Hell Frog Warrior because of the bad reviews.

Why do you think some reviewers attack a film like Max Hell Frog Warrior?

Who knows? People do what they do for any number of personal reasons. What I do think is that before anybody becomes a film reviewer they should get out there and actually create their own film, which takes a lot of time and energy. Then they should go through the process to find distribution for it and see how they feel when people tear it apart. Talking about a film is easy, creating one is very hard. If someone has never actually made a movie they have no idea about what is involved so they shouldn’t be saying anything unless they have walked down that road. Moreover, I believe that you have to look at a person’s motivation for reviewing anything at all. You have to ask why are they doing it? In the case of reviewing films on the internet it is usually that they are trying to make a name for themselves without actually doing anything. My opinion is everybody has an opinion but your opinion only matters if it adds to the greater good. Telling people your opinion means nothing unless it makes everything better. Negativity only equals negativity, just as positivity only equals positivity.

That’s deep.

Not really.  It’s just common sense.

Let’s get to the inception of the movie.

Let’s go.

Why did you decide to make this movie?

That was actually kind of a long process.  I hadn’t seen Don for a few years after we finished Roller Blade Seven. I got pretty screwed over during the making of that film.  In fact, the very first thing Don said to me when he got into my car when I drove him to the hospitable shortly before he died was, I’m really sorry about what happened to you with Roller Blade Seven.

If I can interrupt. What happened?

It was basically a financial thing. Don got paid a lot. I got paid zero for all of my time and involvement with that film and in many ways I did way more than Don.

If I can interrupt again?

Sure. This is your show.

I understand your books gave words to the dialogue and you did the acting, editing and the music.

Yes. All that and a lot more.

What actually happened?

Well, the executive producer totally cheated me, broke our contracts, reedited the film for U.S. release, pulled my screen credits, and the list goes on. But Don continued to work with her and get financed by her after we finished Roller Blade Seven. So it was basically a backstabbing sort of thing. I walked away from that film beyond broke after not getting paid for months. Someday I’m going to write a book about the Roller Blade Seven and I’ll tell the whole story as so many things took place during the filming of that movie both good and bad.

That’s nice he apologized. It must have been on his mind for all those years.

Yeah, I guess. But by then I was so over it. Had he apologized ten years earlier it probably would have mattered more to me but by that point it didn’t really mean anything anymore.

So what brought you two back together?

Don called me out of nowhere. He had continued to make films. I had continued to make films. The thing was I had pretty much given up on acting and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My plan was to get fat and just produce and direct movies.

Get fat. That’s a strange desire.

Yeah, I guess it is. For me it was just a way to put out to the world the new and different space I was living in. I wanted to be seen differently.

What happened when Don called you?

We set up a meet and he immediately threw out to me that he wanted to make another film with me as the star. I gave in.

Why do you think Don called you out of the blue? 

I don’t realize it then but I think what it was is that he found out he only had a few more years to live as he was dying from leukemia. He remembered how well we worked together and that I was one of those people who gets things done. I think he wanted to leave a legacy and without someone like me that wasn’t going to happen.

Why?

Don was one of those guys who had a million great ideas but he couldn’t get things done. He would start something and never finish it. He had to pay a lot of people big money or all his projects would just fall away. The fact is, that’s why so many more of his films were released after he died than while he was alive. When he was on his death bed he finally gave me all of the footage and I completed the films for him. The truth be told without me all of Don’s films and his legacy would have been lost.

How did you two come up with Max Hell Frog Warrior?

That’s a complicated and long story. It really took us quite a while. Once we decided to work together again we toyed with several ideas. The main focus was we hoped to rekindle what we had achieved with Roller Blade Seven because by that point in time that film was already a big cult hit in Europe. We were getting fan letters and later emails all the time. There were several ideas we played around with but we finally decided upon a film called Hell Comes to Hog Town.

What was the story?

Basically I was going to ride in on my Harley with an electric guitar over my shoulder and do battle with the bad guy who was referred to as The Hog. There was going to be a lot of music, me playing guitar, fighting, etc.

Why did you change your minds?

We realized that it was just going to be too hard to do. Too Big.  We wanted motorcycle gangs, bands to be playing in an old western town and stuff like that. All that would cost a lot of money.  A lot of money we didn’t have.

It was budget that had you make a smaller film?

Yeah, I guess you can say that.

So what caused you to focus on Frogtown?

Don never liked the previous two Frogtown films he made. His creative control had been taken away from him on both of them. One day it was like an epiphany we just decided to make Frogtown the way we made Roller Blade Seven, no script, just go out and do what we do. Keep the whole process really simply and really pure.

Once you decided on the film you were going to make how did you cast it?

We had our offices in North Hollywood. We put out casting notices and did all that traditional nonsense.  We found a few good people. We also knew we wanted to work with Joe Estevez and Jill Kelly. Don brought in a couple of girls he had worked with previously and I brought in Roger Ellis who had been in Roller Blade Seven but I had used him in much bigger roles in Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein. I wanted my friend Ken Kim to be in the film as well. He was also in RB7 and we had made a couple of films together since then but he came in one day right before we started shooting and remembered how much he hated Don and walked out.

Why did he hate Don?

Don rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. He really messed with people. He made a lot of enemies. Basically he was a complete asshole unless he liked you, feared you or wanted something from you. A total power tripper.

Which one of those were you?

I guess a little of all three.

It sounds like you two had a crazy relationship.

To put it mildly.

Did you pay your actors?

Oh sure.  Joe and Jill were professionals so they had their established day rates. The rest of the cast varied but the average was about $100.00 per day plus food and gas and that kind of stuff.

Did you get paid this time?

Oh yeah. I had learned by lesson.

When you started filming did you have a script?

Nope.

Did you have any idea what you were going to do when you started shooting?

Not really. We just knew that we were going to start the shoot and lay the foundations for the film at our offices. We had the whole second floor of a building so we put together some makeshift sets.

How do you work? I have read a lot about Zen Filmmaking but can you tell me about the process?

The main thing to know is to never hold yourself to a preconceived notion. Just let it flow. If you have an idea, great. If you have no idea, great. Just do it. Get it done. Start out, get the cast doing what they are doing and let whatever happens be captured on film.

That is really mindboggling. How you make movies with no idea about what you are going to do?

Is it mindboggling? Think about this, how many bad movies have you seen? I’m not just talking low budget, I’m talking high budget as well.  Everyone of those movies had an idea. The filmmakers knew what they wanted, had a script and tried to get what they had in their mind on film. Maybe they tried and tried again.  You hear stories of people shooting thousands of feet of footage just to get one scene the way they want it. I remember Dennis Hopper talking about working with Francis Ford Coppola on Apocalypse Now. He said Coppola shot as much footage trying to get the first scene with Hopper as Hopper had used in making the entire film Easy Rider. Apocalypse Now is a great film but do you need to go to that extreme? I don’t think so. Yes, you can make each scene as good as you can make it. But it is only going to be as good as it is going to be. Free yourself and art takes hold and the magic takes over.

What do you mean by magic?

For example, in the opening scene of Max Hell where my character flies in on an ultralight, we had no idea we were going to do that. We just drove out to the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed with our cast and crew planning to film. When we got there we saw this couple with their ultralights and we asked them if we could use them. They said yes and the rest is history. That ultralight scene really added a big beginning to the film and we had no idea that we were going to do that.

That is magic.

Yes it is. That’s Zen Filmmaking.

What was your crew like?

There was Don and me. He shot most of the film, I shot some of it and we had another great cameraman Jonathan Quade. We had a few production assistants and that was pretty much it.

What kind of equipment did you use?

We started out filming with a Canon L1. That’s a Hi8 camera. The DV revolution hit right about the time we were making the movie so we bought a Sony VX1000. Our mic was a Sennheiser ME66. In terms of lighting that’s kind of an interesting story. On the first day of the shoot I went to my storage unit to pick up my lights. When I got there I found that someone had cut a hole through the wall of the storage unit next to mine and had stolen all of my lights, my c-stands, my extension cords and a bunch of my amps and guitar equipment. So we ended up shooting most of the movie with available light. We did have two very low end Smith Victor photofloods that Don owned and a couple of his minicool lights for the outdoor night shots.

That was it?

That was it.

That’s impressive what you captured with that limited amount of equipment.

You gotta know what you’re doing, then the doing is easy.

In terms of actors, with no script how did you do the character development for the movie?

It’s really very simply, we let people be who they are.  If they have an idea for a character that will play into the film, we use it. Most newbie actors need more guidance so we give it to them. We had a bunch of wardrobe so if someone needed something, we suited them up.

Was there a reason that you didn’t have the people who played the frogs fully covered in frog costumes?  You can see their hands in some of the scenes.

That’s funny you say that. Fred Olin Ray said the exact same thing when he saw the film. It was just one of those things, we did what we did. Suspension of belief that’s what going to the movies is all about, isn’t it? Let the audience slip into the realms of the abstract. In a movie like Max Hell Frog Warrior why do the frogs need to be completely frogged out anyway?

I know everybody asks you this but when you have no script how do your actors know what to say?

As the years have gone on I now only work with people who are great at improv. but back then if someone didn’t know what to say Don or I would feed them their lines. They would say it and we would shoot it a few times until they got it right and we felt the camera captured the scene correctly and that was that.

Did you tell Joe Estevez what to say?

Not really. Joe’s a great talker. He’s a great improvisational actor. You just give him a little direction and he runs with it. Same with Roger Ellis. Another great talker.

With no script did you know where you were going to shoot?

Yeah, of course. We wanted to reference some of the locations we used in Roller Blade Seven plus add a lot of new locations we had discovered. When we were planning to shoot exteriors we always had a destination in mine but sometimes we would find new places en route.

How did you come up with your character Max Hell?

Don and I had talked about it and we really wanted to bring back some of the essence from Roller Blade Seven. I still had the rollerblade elbow and knee pads from RB7. I had a black suit and a sword. My character was born.

If you wanted to reference Roller Blade Seven, why wasn’t Donald G. Jackson in the film?

He didn’t want to be.

How many days did it take you to film the whole movie?

It actually went on for a few months.  We would meet at our offices everyday around 11:00 AM and do what needed to be done. We continued to do casting sessions, we had lunch, drank beers with our friends, went to other people’s sets, hung out with other filmmakers, scouted locations, and went out to music clubs at night. We filmed when we felt like filming.

So you were not like a formal movie production team?

Yes and no. The number one rule of Zen Filmmaking is that fun is what it’s all about. So our main focus was fun while make a movie in the process. The thing to understand is the minute Don and I started working together again it wasn’t just about Max Hell Frog Warrior. Though that was the first movie on the schedule we immediately began to make several more films as well. Hand in hand with Max Hell we laid the foundations for and began filming Shotgun Blvd., which later became Armageddon Blvd., Ghost Taxi and several others.

Let’s go scene by scene and talk about the film.

Let’s go.

In the opening scene Jill Kelly is running from the frogs. How did that scene come about?

It was just a thought we came up with in the moment. We got out to El Mirage very early in the morning. We did the ultralight scene and then we needed to introduce Jill’s character. There has to be tension in every film so it was an obvious choice that Jill had to be chased by the frogs. We needed to set the storyline in motion so we had them take something from her, the frog serum.

During that scene is where you first introduce martial arts into the movie. Did you chorography that?

No, not really. That was just a spur of the moment thing. That was the thing with Don as the cinematographer, he would become so obsessed with filming certain scenes over and over again. I document his cinematographic OCD in the Zen Documentary Cinematografia Obsesion. For scenes like fight scenes he just didn’t care. So there was only like two quick takes of each kick.  As an editor that kind of stuff really drove me nuts. One of things that did happen when I was kicking a frog with a jumping side kick is that Jill was standing right there to be in the shot and due to the lack of any forethought my sword smacked her right in the teeth. She had just gotten her teeth caped so she was obviously a bit worried but luckily no damage was done. She was way nicer about that than she should have been.

After the frogs gets away you and Jill Kelly get into a truck and ride off. What was the inspiration for that scene?

No real inspiration. Just Zen Filmmaking. One of our people on the set had the truck. It just happened. The guy wasn’t a professional actor, he just had a good look and a cool old truck.  I had to feed him every line over and over again. He was so nervous he couldn’t remember anything. I sat in the bed of his truck with the rear window open and told him what to say one sentence at at time. Jill was fine. She’s a pro.

You had a fight scene in the back of that truck. Was that frog a stunt man?

No. He was actually a production assistant. Nice guy.  All he cared about was getting paid his $100.00 cash at the end of every day and he would happily do anything. He actually was a frog in several scenes throughout the film.

After those introductory scenes you started to introduce other characters into the film. Tell me about the early Joe Estevez scenes.

We actually shot the stuff with Joe and Humphrey Bullfrog on the first day of production. Joe’s a great actor. We pared him with a girl named Sandra Purpuro who played the character Cricket. Her and her boyfriend had just moved to L.A. from New York and were looking for some roles. We had cast them through Dramalogue. I think we cast them that same day. They were both very talented actors. Sandra went on to have a great career.

How did you set up the scenes on that fist day of shooting?

Totally off the cuff. We started with the Bullfrog character and then built on the storyline with Joe.

How did you come up with the name Mickey O’Malley for Joe’s character?

That was totally Joe. Don actually hated that name but he didn’t want to offend Joe so he just let it ride.

I too thought that was a strange name for the character. Who is the crazy guy in those scenes with Joe Estevez speaking Japanese?

He’s a great guy from Japan named Tom Tom Typhoon. Whatever happened to him I have no idea. Don had met him at a casting sessions a little bit before we had started working together again and he pulled him onto the film.

Did you tell him to be that dynamic?

Oh yeah. You know he spoke some English but he didn’t speak it very well so his character speaking in Japanese was the obvious choice. I communicated with him in Japanese. But he was just one of those great guy who could really take that style of insane character to the limit and really sell it. I kept telling him bigger, bigger. He went bigger.

In the progression of the film, after those initial scenes you start to introduce other characters into the movie. One of the first things I notice is that in Toad Warrior there is a scene in a laboratory with a woman talking about the fog concoction. In Max Hell Frog Warrior that scene is all but gone. Why is that?

To tell you that story I’m going to have to take you away from your scene by scene analysis a little bit. I never edited Toad Warrior. I had gone to Thailand to prepare for a documentary I was going to shoot in Cambodia.  The film needed to be done so Don gave the editing to his friend named Chris Roth. Chris is a great guy and a professional editor. The thing is, both Don and I never really like the final cut of the film. It was a little too normal for our tastes. In fact, one of the documentaries I did about Don shortly before he died shows Chris in Don’s office and they are talking about the editing process for the film. Don was saying that I should probably reedit the movie. Chris said if I did that it probably wouldn’t make much sense. Don said that’s probably better. That’s the mindset Don and I came from. Though Chris did a great job of making sense out of the footage when there was no script and he also did a good job of trying to reference some of the editing elements of Roller Blade Seven in the movie but he just approached the editing from a different state of mind than Don and me. He came at it from a mindset of formula and normality. Don and I liked the abstract. To answer your question, I didn’t like that scene so it was gone.

But you did edit Max Hell Frog Warrior?

Yes and no. What I did was to go back into movie take out some scenes, add a few more, and shorten or elongate others. I never actually started from scratch for the edit that became Max Hell Frog Warrior

I have read that you plan to reedit the entire movie at some point.

Yes. That’s true. The fact is over the past ten or fifteen years I have started to do that three or four times. I get maybe thirty minutes into the film and stop. Then I eventually dump it.

Why?

I don’t really have an answer. There is so much great footage that wasn’t used in the original edit that really should be.  I need to do it but for some reason something has stopped me. Hopefully someday I’ll do it.

Where did you film that laboratory scene?

That was at the home of one of our actresses. The blonde girl Elizabeth Mayer. Her character’s name was Dr. Trixi T. She’s a great actress and a really nice person. She also a great musician.

Though this is jumping forward a little bit there was a great scene with her and Joe Estevez where they break into a dance and do the hooky pokey.

Yeah, that’s a scene I really don’t like. It’s just humor for humor sake. I hate that kind of stuff.

If you don’t like it how did a scene like that come about?

That’s the problem when you let actors step away and develop their own story ideas.  I don’t really let that happen on my sets anymore. I maintain story control. Back then it was different and it was Joe Estevez. We always gave him the benefit of the doubt. Who knew Elizabeth and Joe would come up with that? He was Joe so we let the cameras run and that’s what we came away with.

I think I need to explain something here and this is all part and parcel with the evolution of Zen Filmmaking. Back then we did that. We needed filmed footage as our movies had to be a minimum of 82 minutes to get international distribution. Now I don’t care. I own my own distribution company and I make film art the way I see film art. A full length feature or a short film, it just is what it is. I let it become what it becomes. I just let it be perfect onto itself. Yes, my films are based on improv. But it is guided improv. As long as I like what’s going on I let the actors run with it. If I don’t like it then I stop the scene and readjust the flow and the direction.

Trixie T. also has a fight with another actress over your character when they are in a jail cell.

Yes. That was a scene she did with Camille Solari. Another great actress. See there’s an example of how the two girls went off and created what they created all on their own and it worked great. No direction needed. So as you see, when that style of unguided improv. takes place it can go either direction. It can work or maybe it doesn’t.

One of the other main charters in the film is Overload War Toad.

Yeah, that was Roger Ellis.

That is really a strange name. How did you come up with that character?

It was combination of letting an actor be who they are and then giving them just a bit of direction. We choose the name and Roger ran with it. Roger was a West Point grad who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, retired, got into the Native American movement, grew his hair long, and came to Hollywood to be an actor.

That’s crazy.

Yeah it is. But that’s the story I was told.

Did you give him his dialogue?

Some. But like I said before he was one of those guys who was just a great talker.

Speaking of talking. He has a female sidekick in the film who keeps trying to talk but he continues to tell her to be silent. What is that about?

That was just a little inside joke. In acting everybody wants to talk. They think that’s what acting is all about. But real acting is far more than that. This was Don and my way of telling the actors to just shut up and be. I think those scenes play really well.

On the set you called the Bridge of Broken Dreams your character also keeps a girl from talking.

Yeah, same deal. That’s the thing when you make a Zen Film. You can get the scene while having fun and adding a little philosophic commentary to it.

You did have a lot of interesting exterior locations in the movie. How did you find them and did you have to pay to shoot at them?

We would find them just by looking. Pretty much anywhere you live there are interesting locations if you keep your eyes open and seek them out. In terms of payment, no we never paid to shoot at any of them. We just showed up and shot the scenes. It’s not really in the rules of Zen Filmmaking but it probably should be, no filming permits, no location rentals.

Let’s talk about a couple of the recurring scenes throughout the film.

Okay.

In three different screens you have the same interaction with three different girls where they kiss you and say they’ve been hurt. How did that come about?

Just Zen.  We actually did the interior shot of that scene first and I really didn’t like it. I thought we wouldn’t use it. So we did it again later, outdoors with Camille. A bit later in the filming we needed a scene to do with an actress Robin Kimberly and I was really tired. I had been up partying all night the night before and it was getting late in the day. I just grabbed at something to do. So we shot it again. At the time I figured when we put the movie together we would choose between one of the three. It was actually Chris when he was editing Toad Warrior that he put all three of the scenes in the film. I thought that was genius.

There are also several times in the movie where you face off with an opponent and you charge at each other with swords on top of a hilltop at sunset. Why was that scene used multiple times?

First of all, check it out, that is not always the same scene used over and over again. There were several takes of that scene. That’s the thing about Zen Filmmaking there is always tons of subtle elements that you really need to look for if you hope to truly understand the movie. In terms of why we filmed that scene it was a combination of a tribute to Kurosawa and a throwback to Roller Blade Seven where we have that great scene where my character charges towards the ninja and once I cut him he spurts all that blood high into the air. The reason why the scene is used multiple times is that it was a great transitional element between other scenes.

There is the scene where Sergeant Shiva interrogates a frog and then two of your female costars. Where was that scene filmed and what made it come about?

The cameraman I mentioned Jonathan Quade had a studio set up in his garage. That’s where the scenes were filmed. Sergeant Shiva was an actor named Kent Dalian. He was the boyfriend of Sandra Purpuro that I mentions earlier. In terms of dialogue we just gave him a bit of direction and let him run with it. He was another great actor.

Where did the comments about your mother come from when he asks Agent Banner about where she got the information?

When I grew up it was one of those ongoing jokes to insult a person’s mother. It just came out of nowhere. They were just looking for an exchange of dialogue and I gave that to them and they ran with it. That’s a great and very amusing exchange I think.

I notice that the three primary female leads in the film are named Agent Star, Agent Spangle and Agent Banner. How did that come about?

The star spangled banner. That’s pretty obvious.

Does that have a meaning?

The star spangled banner, man. Don’t you love America?

When your character breaks the girls out of their captivity you get into a car. I think it was a Porsche. How does that tie into the storyline? Isn’t this movie set after the apocalypse?

Yeah. That’s my baby, a 1964 Porsche 356 SC. To your question, why do things have to make sense? This is Zen Filmmaking. Things don’t have make sense. A scene just has to be whole and complete onto itself. People really need to stop thinking so hard when they see a Zen Film. Just let it happen. Just let it be what it is.

I have one more question about your scenes. It’s about the spanking scene. In Toad Warrior it’s just a quick flash. In Max Hell Frog Warrior, it’s much longer. Why is that?

That’s a fun scene don’t you think? Robin Kimberly was a great sport, really fun to work with. Great girl. When Chris edited the film I think he wanted to tone down on that kind of stuff. Make it more of a kid’s films. Me, I love presenting something that you don’t see in films everyday. That’s why when I went for the reedit I added most of the footage that we shot for that scene. It’s just for fun.

I would like to talk to you a little about what happened to this film after it was finished.

Sure.

How was it originally released?

Don had a company that sold films that he created and that he purchased. It was called called Donald G. Jackson and Company. I always thought that was a little bit vain. Anyway, back then the internet was not the primary source for independent film distribution as it is today. You had to go to formal functions like the American Film Market. Back then it was a major event held once a year. People came from all over the world. If you made independent films you’d paid a lot of money to rent a room at the hotel on the beach in Santa Monica where it was held. The buyers would come, see what you had and maybe buy the rights to one of your movies for distribution in their country. As I told you Don and I never really liked the final edit for Toad Warrior so it was for sale but we weren’t really pushing it. We got a lot of offers but we only took the ones for theatrically only release in Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The market came and went. Don took all of the money we made from Toad Warrior and our other films and spent it on himself almost immediately. Again, he screwed me over financially and that was that.

He sounds like a real jerk.

Yeah, he could be.

Then what happened?

We buried the movie and went off and did other things.  A few years passed, Don got sicker and sicker. I had reedited the film down to a Zen Speed Flick called Max Hell Comes to Frogtown.

What’s a Zen Speed Flick?

Basically taking a movie down to its most essential elements. Don loved it. He wanted me to get back into the footage and redo the whole film but it never happened before he died. As we talked about it still hasn’t happened. Though I did do the reedit of Toad Warrior into Max Hell Frog Warrior and that was the one I wanted released.

When was Max Hell Frog Warrior released?

In the late 1990s. It first came out on video tape. Remember those? Then the DVD revolution hit and it was released on DVD and later via download.

You never planned to release Toad Warrior?

No. But then somebody somehow got a hold of a Beta Master and released it on a compilation DVD.

Did you have to sue that company?

No. They were very cool about it. After I contacted them and they found out that I had the copyright and that I owned all the rights, title and interest to the film they took it off the market. But the damage had been done. It was out there.

You released Toad Warrior as well?

What else could I do? I don’t like the cut. Don didn’t like the cut. But to kept that unauthorized version from being the only version of Toad Warrior out there I had to release the authorized version.

I know there has been a lot of websites offering Max Hell Frog Warrior for free download? They are not authorized to do so, are they?

Nope. That’s the nature of the world everybody wants to make money off of the creations of other people. Personally, I think it’s really sad. I mean I certainly realize that everybody wants everything for free these days and they make all kinds of excuses and justifications to themselves for why they should get it. But the fact is the big studio make major dollars off of their films, independent filmmakers like myself do not. When people download movies off of these free sites they really are hurting the independent film creators. I know nobody cares but that is the fact.

Can’t you do anything about those companies?

Here’s the thing, I have always been an outspoken advocate about stopping copyright infringement and intellectual property theft. Some people don’t like my opinion but I believe if you are the actual creator of something, that you really care about, then you do understand. You care about your creation. If you are just somebody out there who doesn’t give a shit about other people or what happens to them as long as you get what you want for free then you obviously don’t care. Here’s the fact, if a person makes one cent off of using anything you created then they are in volition of international copyright laws. You can sue them and you will win.  But these companies are all offshore. If they were in the U.S. you could go after them but how can you even find them? If they were in the U.S. the FBI would shut them down. The main thing for everybody to remember is that these supposedly free download companies are making money. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. They are just doing it by stealing the creations of others. So what are you going to do? You just have to believe in people and hope that they will make the right choices.

Max Hell Frog Warrior has remained one of the most talked about cult films. Did Max Hell Frog Warrior become all you hoped it would become?

That’s a hard question and you may not like the answer.  Did we create what we hoped to create when we set out to make the movie. Yes, kind of. Did it become the movie I hoped it would become when we first began production? No. Do I like the movie? No, not really.

Oh my god that’s scary.

You asked. I answered.

In closing can you tell me any funny stories that occurred during the filming of Max Hell Frog Warrior?

Don and I generally had a lot of fun when we worked together. Could he be a self-centered jerk? As we talked about, yes he could. As I say there was always a price to pay in association with anything Don. But mostly we had a lot of fun. Overall the making of Max Hell was a fun process. I guess one story that comes to mind is that he used to love to set call times really early so we could catch the golden hour light when the sun came up in the morning. On one of those shoot days we met at the office at like 4:00 AM. We went to Camille Solari’s house to pick her up. It was cold and the heater in my Porsche didn’t work, plus it is a really small car. Don’s car wasn’t running well so we decided to take Camille’s car. It was really early, she hadn’t gotten much sleep, and she asked if Don would drive so she could sleep in the backseat. We took off to pick up Jill at her house in Simi Valley. We’re driving along on this windy road and Don falls asleep at the wheel and almost trashes the car. Camille obviously freaked out. Me, I’ve been so close to death so many times I thought it was funny as nothing actually happened. But Camille begged that I drive. Don didn’t want to let go of the wheel but he finally turned over the keys to me. We got to Jill’s house. Don nicely paid Camille her $100.00 and told her to go home and get some sleep. We got into Jill’s car and went out to the desert to film. I’ve never seen Camille again.

I don’t know if that was the kind of funny story I had hoped for but this has been a great interview.

No problem.

Let me ask you one more question.

Sure.

I have heard that you are going to film another Max Hell Frog Warrior movie. Is that true?

Yeah. I actually filmed most of it a couple of years ago. Some weird things started to happen in association with Max Hell Frog Warrior and I begin to question if I wanted to do another one as I had really begun to shift my focus to creating non-narrative Zen Films.  So it’s basically there. It would just take a couple of more shots to finish it up. If I get the right inspiration I will probably finish it someday.  If not, it can just be one of the mystical Zen Film lost in never never land that no one will ever see like Lingerie Kickboxer.

Thanks so much for this interview Scott.

Thanks for doing it. You wanted to know the truth about what took place and the kind of things that took place, I think you actually got it.

Yes, I did. Thank you.

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For more information about Max Hell Frog Warrior read:

Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Story of the Production.