Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Zen Filmmaking: The Good, The Bad, and The People That Don’t Know What the F**k They’re Talking About

By Scott Shaw

            Ever since the inception of Zen Filmmaking, that was heralded with the release of The Roller Blade Seven, people have contacted me about my method of filmmaking. In the early days, it was largely via letters but soon after that everybody climbed onto the internet and then everybody had a lot to say.
            There have been a lot of people, over the years, who have actually contacted me and questioned, how do I do what I do. Those are the people I respect. Love my films or hate my films, they are the ones who cared enough to ask me what was actually going on. They came to the source and inquired. And, going to the source is the only way to gain true knowledge.
            Some of these people contacted me because they wanted to follow the path of Zen Filmmaking. That’s great! Make it your own…
            Early in my filmmaking career, (which you have to keep in mind did not begin until I was thirty-two years old so I had a lot of life-experience prior to that), I also began to see people coming to conclusions about what I did, how I did it, and why I did it. These discourses where then mostly entered into magazines that discussed the low budget, no budget, and cult level of filmmaking. In some cases, they got it right. But, in many, (in fact most), cases they were simply wrong. Yet, these people had a pulpit and from that pulpit they broadcasted their thoughts about Zen Filmmaking, Zen Films, and me out to the world.   
            As a professional researcher, I always found this method to be suspect, as these people were simply discussing their feelings that were not based in fact. Yet, they were presenting their opinions, observations, and speculations as if they were fact. This is truly the wrong way to put forward information to the world and this mindset is what has given birth to the whole culture of, “Fake News,” we are currently living within—as from these inaccurate depictions further counterfactual statements and misunderstandings are given birth to. People heard, “This,” and, thus, they believed, “That.” But, it is all based on bullshit. It is all based on somebody putting what they think they know out there but they do not have the true facts as they have not done any actual research. I know… I get it… Research is hard to do. It is time-consuming and it often costs money. It is so much easier to just read or hear something and then believe what you want to believe. But, the fact is, if you want to know the truth about a subject, (any subject), research is the only way to arrive at a factual and valid conclusion. And, you must enter into any research gathering with an open mind and not use it as simply a way to justify what you think you already know.
            Personally, in virtually all of the aforementioned cases, I found the discourses to be amusing. But, that’s just who I am. I easily poke fun at myself. If they weren’t flat out defamatory lies or someone making money off of one of my creations when they had no responsibility for its actualization, I was good.
            On the larger scale, I have always wondered why do people do this? Why do people want to spread their feelings about something or someone and, moreover, why do they want to transmit something out to the world when what they are saying is not based in fact but is solely based upon personal opinion, second-hand knowledge, and/or speculation? Sure, I understand, most people like something or someone for some nondescript reason but that reason is generally based upon them not possessing a true understanding about anything. Thus, what does that reason for like or dislike truly mean? Do you ever think about that when you form your opinions and from your opinions make your judgments which leads to your statements?
            As Zen Filmmaking is a defined form of filmmaking, many people have also taken aim at the craft. They have taken aim at it but all they know about it is that in Zen Filmmaking we do not use a script.  But, there is a lot more to it than that. And no, Zen Filmmaking is not just about showing up somewhere and seeing what happens next. So, if you’ve heard that, if you’ve believed that, if you’ve rebroadcast that, YOU ARE WRONG!
            Also, there have been a lot of people who have seen Roller Blade Seven or some clips from it and decided that was the epitome of Zen Filmmaking and all of my films are just like RB7. The fact is, a lot of people don’t get what Donald G. Jackson and I were trying to do with The Roller Blade Seven and they hate it. I get it! That movie is weird! If you don’t like weird movies you probably will hate it. But, think about this, we made that movie over twenty-five years ago—whatever you think about it: love it or hate; we did something right because people are still discussing it.
            On a more personal note, occasionally I have seen some people say, “Scott Shaw makes shitty movies,” and stuff like that. Okay… That’s what you think… But, how many of my movies have you actually seen? Many people make this comment after only seeing maybe Roller Blade Seven or Max Hell Frog Warrior. I have made a lot of movies! Honestly, how many of them have you seen? Have you seen any of my documentaries? Have you seen any of my music videos? Have you followed my filmmaking evolution and watched any of my Non-Narrative Zen Films, my Zen Film Art Captures, my Zen Film Movies in the Moment, or my Zen Film Mind Rides?  If you haven’t, then you have no idea what I’m doing. Moreover, if you have not read my written words on the subject of filmmaking, if you have not seen my interviews, if you have not met me, again, you are basing your opinion on a preconceived notion that you have no factual bases to possess. Love my movies, hate my movies, I get it… But, if you haven’t seen my films, if you don’t know my philosophy about filmmaking, if you have not actually spoken to me, then how can you judge anything?
            And, this goes to the whole point of this piece… Sure, you’re just a screen name out there in the nowhere of cyberspace. You will never have to pay for your cyber crimes. But, no matter what moniker you use, you should be whole enough to know the facts about what you’re talking about before you ever spew your misunderstandings out to the world. In other words, BE MORE. For me, that is the key to life. That is how the people who have truly excelled and made a contribution to the world have done it.  Care enough to care. Learn the true facts. Go to the source and ask before you speak. Be more than someone who talks about someone else, go out there and create your own something.

Copyright © 2017 – All Rights Reserved

Friday, March 24, 2017

Film Distribution: Understanding the Rights and the Rules

By Scott Shaw

            As a filmmaking who has created a large number of feature films and has written about the subject of filmmaking quite frequently, I am often either asked about film distribution or confronted with the fact that someone is illegally distributing one of my films via the internet. To the average film watching individual, they may never even question where, why, or how they are receiving the film they are watching. In fact, in many cases, they do not even care. But, to the filmmaker, this subject matters as illegal distribution truly robs the income of a film’s creator.
            Again, as a filmmaker, having created a lot of films, I am also frequently contacting by people who want to distribute a film that I own the rights to. I appreciate those people who have the honor and the business prowess to realize that they must first legally obtain the rights to a film before they can sell it. Therefore, this piece is geared towards those individuals, as well, as they understand and appreciate that to legally distribute a film, without any worry of legal repercussions, they must obtain the assigned rights.
            To begin, it must be stated, in this age of the internet, all rules have gone out the window. This was first illustrated by Napster in association with the music industry. But, Napster was a company with a name and a location. Though the owner did encounter legal objections to what he was doing, he was a person and there was a place. Thus, it all played out in front of a judge. In many cases, however, the person who grabs another person’s film to distribute is either a non-existence entity or a business located in some country where copyright laws are not enforced. Moreover, they are a person who does not care about the repercussions on the filmmaker. I would say, “This is wrong and a person should not behave in that manner,” but I am sure that statement would fall to deaf ears as a person who follows the path of illegal film distribution only cares about themselves and the money they are making.
            This also is an important fact to keep in mind if you are one of those people who scours the internet to find a movie for free. The people who are offering those movies did not create that movie—they did not pay to have that film created, yet, they have stolen it from some source and are offering it to the world.  Many sites claim they are free but they are never free. If they were not making money, they would not be in existence. Thus, that film thief is making money off of another person’s creation and another individual’s financial outlay. This, in and of itself, should make you think about where you get your movies. But again, I imagine, to the uncaring individual, all they care about is watching a film they want to watch. But, you should be more than that and think before you watch.
            Okay, with all of the foreboding forewarnings out of the way, let’s get down to the business of film distribution… A person comes up with an idea for a movie. They create the movie. Who owns the rights to that movie?
            This question is both simple and complicated. For if a person comes up with a movie idea and then creates that movie with their own money, they own all the rights. But, if a person seeks money from an investor, depending on the contract, there can be more than one person who owns the rights to that film. This is why contracts are essentially important during the creation of any film as it defines whom owns what—whether this is by percentage or partial or whole ownership.  I have seen many a filmmaker begin a film, run out of money from one investor, and then turn to another financier. From this, ownership becomes very convoluted if everyone involved was not present and in agreement every step of the way. This has caused many a completed movie to be lost from distribution as the legal implications of ownership are so convoluted.
            Therefore, to a film’s creator, be very conscious of whom you bring into your production and be very precise of any contractual agreements you enter into as it can truly affect your ability to distribute your film. 
            This brings us to the subject of formal film distribution. You have created a film; how do you get it out the viewing audience? First of all, it is important to look at the times gone past.
            There used to be only one way to get your film out to the viewing public and that was via a film distributor. What a filmmaker would do was to get a copy of their completed movie out to the various distributors and then make a deal with the distributor that offered them the most upfront money.
            In no uncertain terms, film distributors have always been notorious creatures. In times gone past, they would at least pay you for your film upfront. From this, at least some of the financial outlay would be repaid.  But, that would generally be it. Though you very possibly would have a contract promising you a percentage of the film’s sales, receiving a penny was virtually impossible. It fact, many times a distributor would give the filmmaker a, “Charge back,” claiming that the filmmaker owed them money for distributing their movie. As most filmmaker, (especially independent filmmakers), do not have the finances to employee savvy legal representation, the distributor would simply keep all the profits.
            As first the video age and then the digital age came upon us, and everybody became a filmmaker, distributors ran away with this. As there was so many films being offered, they no longer had to pay the filmmaker anything upfront to represent a movie. I cannot tell you how many filmmakers I know (including myself) that have made a movie, witness it be released on VHS, DVD, and offered via established download and streaming services, and have never made a dime. Yes, they were promised money but they never saw anything. The distributor obviously kept all the money. For the most part, distributors are snakes. So, if you are a filmmaker and are lost in the dream of making millions from of your film, and you give it to a distributor, think again.
            Today, there are so many services where you can distribute your own movie and get it out there without employing a formal distributor—for the indie filmmaker that is absolutely the best way to go if you hope to make any money from your movie. CreateSpace and Amazon Direct are currently two of the best options. You can monitor sales in real time and they pay you at the end of every month.
            Now, to the modern distributors… I have encountered both the unscrupulous and the honorable distributor who have crossed my path. I have watched as some people have attempted to just take a movie that they liked as a teenager and believed it was out of print so they digitized it and released it. From this, they got sued big time.
            It is essential to note that just because a movie does not have current distribution does not mean that the title is not owned by somebody.  If it is owned by somebody, they own all the rights to that title. Maybe, they simply no longer want it to be in formal distribution. Maybe there are other factors attached. But, these are all factors that a distributor who just grabs an old VHS and runs it through their computer cannot know or understand. All I can say is don’t do it! I have witnessed more than a few people, even one very successful filmmaker/distributor, be driven to financial ruin by this practice.
            If you do not formally own the rights, you have no right to release a film. Just because you like it or believe you want to get that film out to the public who has never seen it, or just because you believe you can make some money off of it, you do not own the rights. Thus, you have no right to release it.
            A side note here for the new breed of internet film reviewer who takes small or large amounts of footage from a film and then discusses it in an on-line presentation. Though some of your productions may be fun to watch, you do not own any rights to that film or to that footage. Thus, it is illegal for you, under U.S. Copyright law, to use that footage in your review. If the owner of that footage chooses to do so, they can take legal action against you, and you will lose. 
            This brings us to the scrupulous distributor who has the same motivations for getting a film out to the public and actually contacts the filmmaker. I salute you. You are doing the right thing.
            There are some filmmakers who do not have the technological or the business savvy to get their film out there. This, particularly, may be the case if they are from a previous generation and are not up on what is going on technologically.  To those individuals, a distributor may be able to get their film out to the public.
            To the honest distributor, they must be very careful in whom they approach to gain the release rights to a film, however. If a film is no longer in distribution, there is generally a reason for this. This is especially the case if a film was fairly successful, once upon a time. The thing is, if the rights were signed away to a production or a distribution company in the past, then the rights or ownership to that particular film have become convoluted. From a personal perspective, in years gone past, I have had people steal the masters for a couple of my films and sell the rights. They did this with no release from me but they did it anyway. Then, they disappeared with the money. Which caused me to have to take legal action. But, legal action is something nobody wants to do. It is expensive and it is time consuming. It is just not worth it. So, to the honest distributor, be sure you are contacting the person who actually owns the whole and complete rights to a film before you take on the distribution of that film because it could lead to legal consequences.
            When it comes to money, it always gets complicated. Have you ever noticed that when you play the game Monopoly with some friends, the person who is the banker always wins? Why? Because they are cheating. They have access to the money, you do not. This is very much the case with distributors. To the honest ones, sure you may plan to pay out money to the person from whom you got the rights to a film. But, then comes your rent, your expenses, and the things you desire… Then what? You may plan to be honest but in most cases honesty and the film business do not go hand-in-hand.  So, all I can say to everyone, on all sides of the distribution issues, is be careful as any deal you make will probably not turn out the way you hoped that deal would be actualized.
            In closing, filmmaking should be solely about art. The fact is, it is not. Filmmaking, is based, (as is so often stated), in the, “Film Business.” Filmmaking is a business. From the low/no budget filmmaker to the ultra high-end production, people are in it to make money. And, for the artistic and the honest, they are commonly the ones who come out on the low end of the equation.

Copyright © 2017 – All Rights Reserved.
No part of this can be used without the expressed written permission of Scott Shaw or his representative.

Friday, March 3, 2017

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—at least to my face. 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 of the car a bit shell shocked and asked me if Don treated me like that. “Hell no,” I said, “I’d kick the shit out of him if he did.” But, here was this guy; my age, healthy, and I’m sure he could fight, but he let Don treat him like that. But, Don behaved like this all the time as long as someone would let him get away with it. Again, Don made a lot of enemies. That’s why he always needed someone like me around—someone who was willing to fight. There was more than a couple of times when I had to step in to keep Don from getting his ass kicked.
            In fact, near the end of filming Chupacabra, it had gotten so bad, as Don was getting so many treats, that we both ended up carrying loaded guns with us all the time. Don had his Smith & Wesson and I had my Glock. I thought then and it makes me think now back to that Rappin’ 4-Tay song, Playaz Club, “I don’t need a Glock but I bought one just incase some sucka tries to stop me from pursuing my paper chase.” Don was really afraid that someone was going to burst into the office and shoot him. He always told me if that happened to please just shoot the guy and then give him my gun, he would say he pulled the trigger. As you can see, things got very strange, chaotic, and dangerous due to the behavior of Donald G. Jackson during the filming of Guns of El Chupacabra.
            But, I have gotten off point… Another interesting moment, during the filming of Chupacabra, involving Conrad came when we were filming at the aforementioned space of the artist near the L.A. River.  One of our crew had brought his girlfriend along. She was a showgirl from Vegas. This being Zen Filmmaking, we, of course, offered her a part in the movie. We put her in a scene with Conrad. Now Conrad, any time he had the chance took advantage of it and shoved his tongue down the throat of any actress in a scene with him. Thus, the showgirl got initiated into the acting technique of Conrad Brooks. The crew guy was fuming. I told him to step in and stop the scene. She wasn’t my girlfriend and, as such, it wasn’t my call to make. But, he did nothing. Thus, Conrad got the kiss, the showgirl got her major motion picture film debut, and the filming of Guns of El Chupacabra moved forward.   
            As stated, Don promised to keep the monster costume in good shape. As we got near the end of this period of filming, this is where my character kills the creature. For those of you who have seen the film you know that, among other things, I shoot arrows into El Chupacabra. That does not keep a monster safe, sound, or intact. Thus, by the time we were done filming with the monster that costume was pretty much trashed.
            Don being Don, as we were about to shoot that scene, he told me that he wanted to, “Fuck up,” the costume up so that the person who gave it to us could never use it in another film. Not cool. But again, this goes back to mindset and code of conduct that Donald G. Jackson inhabited.  
            With the completion of this segment of filming we telecined the film, time coded it, and I sat down to edit the movie. Now, this became a very interesting process. Don and I had a full floor of offices in a North Hollywood office building at the time. We set up one of them to be my editing suite.  Don rented an editing bay from one of his friends. It was made by Sony and was not dissimilar to the editing controller I used on Roller Blade Seven. The problem was, this system had been developed in some weird way, for some weird reason, in that it only worked in reverse.  Meaning, whenever I put the various cuts of a scene together I had to do it in reverse. Therefore, every scene in Guns of El Chupacabra was cut not editing from start to finish but from finish to start. Believe me when I tell you, that was not easy to do…
            During the editing, one of my sweetheart’s from Bangkok came to L.A. I took her by the editing suite and showed her some footage from the film one evening. She immediately assumed that Z’Man (Robert Z’Dar) was wearing a prosthetic jaw. Nope, that’s just him… Awh Z’man, you are missed! 
            I did the first cut and we let the film sit for awhile. The 1998 AFM was still a few months off and we were working on other projects. During that period of time Don and I did The Rock n’ Roll Cops, Lingerie Kickboxer, Mimes: Silent But Deadly and a few individual films.  As the ’98 AFM approached, Don had the idea to add our Zen Filmmaking buddy Joe Estevez to the cast which took us to the last stage of filming Guns of El Chupacabra. Don envisioned Joe as being the story teller that comes on and interrupts the movie like in the 1950s and 1960s TV shows in order to narrate and fill in any story gaps.  Thus was born, Rocket Ranger Dan Danger.
            A funny story here is that Don and I watched the movie and discussed where we needed Joe to fill in the story gaps. I went home and actually wrote out the dialogue that Joe was to say in full screenplay fashion. And, there was a lot of it.  I gave it to Joe.
            On the day of filming we went to pick Joe up at his place in Hollywood and we headed over to Bronson Cave.  Don was doing the camera and I was doing the sound but Joe… Joe didn’t learn his lines. He didn’t even bring the script that I took all that time to write. …I am smiling as I write this as it was so amusing. Me, Mr. Zen Filmmaking, writing and giving someone a script and them not even bringing it. Zen Filmmaking Forever!!!  Don and I did the best we could at feeding him lines that would patch up any story flaws.
            Post that, I edited the scenes into the film.  We then took the movie to online post. And, that was that, the movie was done. It premiered at the 1998 American Film Market.
            Guns of El Chupacabra!

            From the footage we shot during this period of time I was able to construct three individual films making up the Guns of El Chupacabra Trilogy. Though the title figurehead of this film group is the most relevant feature, the other films each offer a unique view into the Zen Filmmaking legacy of El Chupacabra.
            A couple of year before he passed away, Don’s father died. With this, Don retuned to his hometown of Adrian, Michigan. While there he fell in with a group of Christian zealots who preached, “A bible in one hand, a gun in the other.”  As he was the hometown boy who had made good in Hollywood they heartily embraced him. They even gave him a radio show on their pirate radio station. …This, until the FCC shut them down and confiscated their equipment. Don was rebaptized and believed he had been cleansed of all his sins. I don’t know about that but while he was there he wanted to show the congregation Guns of El Chupacabra. The only problem was, there was all that nudity in the film and he believed that the nudity would not be acceptable to a Christian audience. As such, he asked me to edit it out. I did so and sent him that version. This is the PG version of the film that was released much later as, Crimes of the Chupacabra. He was very happy with his new group of friends and remained in Adrian for a time until the strain of the relationship with his step mother got too intense and he was forced to leave. I picked him at LAX. This period, and his interactions in Adrian, truly defined the last years of Don’s life.   
            When Don passed away I knew that he was still in possession of the El Chupacabra creature costume. Though I hoped to get it, have it repaired, and do another film featuring it—resurrecting El Chupacabra, Don’s wife had discarded it before I had the chance to retrieve it. She did this knowing how much Don disliked the executive producer whom had given it to us as she had sued Don shortly before his death due to an unfulfilled movie contract. This, in association with the fact that Don’s wife and his daughter moved out of the house they had lived in for over twenty years in Canoga Park shortly after his passing, as such they were in the mode of rapidly discarding all nonessential items. Thus, El Chupacabra is lost forever.  



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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Zen Filmmaking Understanding the Cinematic Art

Author’s Note: It never ceases to amaze me—the ongoing discussion people have regarding the birth, ideology, and the techniques of Zen Filmmaking. …I get questions all the time. To provide some basic answers, here is an article I wrote about a decade ago on the subject—for those of you who have wondered…

 By Scott Shaw

            I think it is almost essential that I write a few words about Zen Filmmaking, its origin, and just what is or is not a Zen Film. This is due to the fact that over the past few years I have been deluged with questions about the essence and the truth of Zen Filmmaking.
            Mostly, these few words are for those of you who have heard about Zen Filmmaking somewhere on the internet, or from a friend, and have not read my book on the subject, Zen Filmmaking, which pretty much spells it all out from A to Z.

            The birth of Zen Filmmaking came about when Donald G. Jackson and I were making the film The Roller Blade Seven in 1991. The Roller Blade Seven began in much the same way as most films. Don had obtained financing for a film and he wanted to continue the concept he had developed in his film Roller Blade and its sequel Roller Blade Warriors. He wanted to take the concept to the next level and create a martial art driven epic film. He asked me to come on board, co-produce, co-write, choreograph the martial arts, and star in the film. Upon our entering into pre-production, our Executive Producer wanted to see what we planned to film. So, Don asked me to write a screenplay—which I did. If you would like to read this screenplay you can pick up my book, The Screenplays.
            The impetus for the birth of Zen Filmmaking occurred after the first weekend of production on The Roller Blade Seven. Don and I were very disappointed with the performances of the massive cast we had hired to take part in the film. We looked at each other and realized that the majority of them did not have the talent to truly pull-off the roll of the character they had been assigned. With this, we came to a realization to just go out and film the movie, not expect anything from our cast and crew, and make up the story as we went along. After a few days of this style of production, I had a realization, based in my lifelong involvement with eastern mysticism. I looked at Don and said, “This is Zen. This is Zen Filmmaking.” And, that was it. That was the creation of the term, the title, and the style. Zen Filmmaking was born. And, from that moment forward, I began to define and refine Zen Filmmaking—making it both an Art Form and a Science. From that point onward I have moved forward and continued to refine the process of Zen Filmmaking.
            After we completed The Roller Blade Seven and its sequel Return of the Roller Blade Seven, Don and I went our separate ways for several years. I immediately went into production on the Zen Film, Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell. Don returned to predominantly screenplay—based productions. In 1995 we reconnected and again set on the path of Zen Filmmaking, as a team. From this, we created a number of Zen Films together.

Just What is a Zen Film?
            Many people believe that Zen Filmmaking is simply based upon the fact that no screenplay is used in the creation of a Zen Film. Though this is the basis for Zen Filmmaking, in reality it is much more than this.
            Many people ask, “Why no script?” Well, there are a few reasons for this. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, from a philosophic perspective, screenplays keep you locked into a stagnate mindset. If your film is created around a screenplay, then your cast and crew are very reluctant to allow things to change. But, if you go into a project with simply an overview of a story idea, then your project becomes free and new inspiration is allowed to occur at any moment. And, believe me, from someone who has made a lot of films, you never know what new inspiration will strike or what GREAT unexpected situation will present itself when you get to your location, have your cast in place, and are open minded about what you will actually film.
            The other reason to not use a screenplay is based upon the fact that in your mind’s eye you can write a great story, have it set in elaborate locations, and acted out by great actors. For anyone who has ever been on a low-budget movie set, you quickly see that this is not the case. So, what occurs by writing an elaborate screenplay is that you are only setting yourself up for disappointment. But, with no screenplay, you are free. Any production is allowed to happen as it happens and become what it becomes.

The Six Tenets of Zen Filmmaking:
            Though Zen Filmmaking is based upon the concepts of creative freedom and cinematic spontaneity, this does not mean that Zen Filmmaking has no foundational elements. To help define Zen Filmmaking, I designed, The Six Tenets of Zen Filmmaking. They are:

1. Make all unpredicted situations work to your advantage.

2. Don't waste time, money, and energy attempting to create your sets when you don't have to. Instead, travel to them and allow their natural aesthetics to become a part of your film.

3. Just do it! Ninety-nine percent of the time you can get away with it.

4. Never let your storyline dominate your artistic vision. Too many would be filmmakers attempt to write what they believe is a, “Good Script,” and then try to film it. Without an unlimited budget it is virtually impossible to get what is on the page on the stage.

5. Zen Filmmaking is a spontaneous process. Just as the Zen understanding of enlightenment teaches that though you may meditate for years, it is not until the moment when you step beyond your thinking mind and realize that you are already enlightened that you achieve Satori. Thus, if you acutely plan your productions, with screenplays, storyboards, and locations, there is no room for the instantaneousness of Cinematic Enlightenment to occur and you will always be lost between the way your mind desired a scene to be and the way it actually turns out.

6. Ultimately, in Zen Filmmaking nothing is desired and, thus, all outcomes are perfect.

Make it Your Own!
            I am continually asked, “What do I think about other people making films and calling them Zen Films?” Or, “What do I think about people using my concept of Zen Filmmaking.” To answer, I think it's great! The entire reason I have continued to focus on Zen Filmmaking, for so many years, is to make the process of filmmaking easier, more joyous, and provide all filmmakers, (not only myself), with a means of creating a film while encountering the minimal amount of disappointments with the finished product.
            So, if you want to call your film a Zen Film, do it! That's fine with me. Moreover, make Zen Filmmaking your own. There are no hard and fast rules in Zen Filmmaking. I frequently receive questions asking if it is okay to change the process a little bit. As I always answer, “Of course, do what works for you. Make Zen Filmmaking your own! Take my philosophies and alter them to work for you, your film, and your filmmaking situation.”

Donald G. Jackson and Me
            I often receive e-mails from people assuming that all of the films Donald G. Jackson were Zen Films. This is not the case. Though my meeting and filmmaking collaborations with Donald G. Jackson set the course of Zen Filmmaking into motion, he was not the creator of Zen Filmmaking. That was me. In fact, virtually all of the films he created, that I was not directly associated with, were screenplay-based productions. And, this is in direct contrast to the primary premise of Zen Filmmaking—that no screenplay should be used in the creation of a film. So, all of you people out there who are discussing the fact that films like Hell Comes to Frogtown, Return to Frogtown, Roller Blade, Roller Blade Warriors, and even such obscure Donald G. Jackson films such as Rollergator and Big Sister 2000 are Zen Films, you are incorrect. These films were all script-based films that were written by one of Donald G. Jackson's friends, most notably Randy Frakes or Mark Williams.

            From the questions I receive about Zen Filmmaking, I have come to realize that there is a big misconception about the reasoning behind Zen Filmmaking and the actual method used in this style of cinematic creation. Mostly I have come to understand that many people just don't get it. Most people assume that simply because the process of Zen Filmmaking is a script-less form of cinematic creation, that means that a Zen Film is simply a mishmash of image and scenes strung together. And, people have used this misunderstanding as a means for criticizing Zen Films. They are really missing the point. Though there are no scripts used in a Zen Film, the process of creating a Zen Film is a very conscious process—a process that very few filmmakers could, in fact, ever employ due to the fact that it is a very refined method of filmmaking that is complicated in its simplicity. That is a very Zen statement, I know. But, the abstract nature of Zen is at the heart of Zen Filmmaking. Most people need structure and guidelines but structure and guidelines are never relied upon in Zen Filmmaking.
            Imagine, having the mental focus, as a filmmaker, to create a film that tells a story and do so without any written dialogue or scene descriptions. Just like Zazen, (Zen meditation), the focus it takes to create a Zen Film is a refined/developed ability that few people have the mental wherewithal to achieve.
            Though the essence of Zen Filmmaking is based upon the understanding of never relaying upon the formalized structure of using a script, or any other limiting method of story dissemination to create a film for that matter, there is much more to Zen Filmmaking than simply that. At the heart of Zen Filmmaking is the spiritual essence of Zen—understanding that all life is a pathway to Nirvana. And, that we ALL are already enlightened—we simply need to realize it. Therefore, in truth, Zen Filmmaking is not simply a process of filmmaking. It is, in fact, a formalized practice of meditation leading to cinematic enlightenment. How do you achieve this? Let go and you will know.
            This being stated, if you want to read a more nuts-and-bolts on-line article about Zen Filmmaking, you can click over to an article I wrote, Just do it! The Art of Zen Filmmaking or view a discussion that is up on YouTube where Don and I detail the basics about Zen Filmmaking during an interview. Also, here is a link to a fun little improv piece Don did on Zen Filmmaking. I discovered this piece about a year after his passing. Finally, here is Donald G. Jackson embracing his feelings about his filmmaking in the purest sense.
            I trust these words will more precisely explain the essence of Zen Filmmaking for those of you have wondered. For everyone else, either read the book or keep the questions coming. I will try to answer them as best as I can…

Copyright © 2007 — All Rights Reserve

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Would Your Ever Make Another Roller Blade Seven?

By Scott Shaw

Here is an article I wrote a couple of years ago. As I have recently been asked this question several times I thought I would repost it here.

            “Would you ever make another Roller Blade Seven?” I get asked this question fairly frequently. In fact, as RB7 was recently named number twenty- seven of, “The One-Hundred Best B-Movies of All Time,” by Pulse Magazine, (thanks guys), I have been asked that question several times this week. Last year the question was asked a lot when I was named number ten on the list, The Best Movie Trash Creators on
            To answer, “Yes, I would.” In fact, I would love to make another film of that caliber. The problem is, what we did then, for relatively little money, would be very-very expensive to do today.
            Don Jackson and I made Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven for about thirty-thousand dollars. We shot it on 16mm and doing that, in itself, is not cheap. During the production our executive producer had us add extra, “Name Talent,” which wasn’t in the original deal. We had set the Name Talent standard at two: Don Stroud and William Smith. But, she kept getting new ideas so the money went out: Karen Black (RIP) was $3,000.00 and Frank Stallone was $6,000.00. Now, I was happy to work with both of these people, as they are both very talented actor, but they did cost money.
            More than that though, when we made RB7 it was a different time in the film industry. People wanted to be a part of something. So, virtually every person who was in the film, including myself, was paid no money for his or her participation. But, they were happy to do it. I mean if you look at some of the scenes, there were upwards of over fifty people in one shot. They were all great and very nice people. I say, “Thank you,” to each and every one of them.
            Also, we shot RB7 with no filming permits. We would simply go to the locations we had picked and film.
            It was a different time. You could do things like that. At one point, when we were shooting out in the desert, a sheriff’s helicopter landed to check us out. As long as we had no guns, which we didn’t, they were all good. They flew off and filming continued...
            Since 911, everything has gotten sketchy, however. It is much harder, if not impossible, to shoot with that many people with out getting filming permits, renting the location, and all that entails... Hell, it’s hard to shoot with even a couple of people nowadays. Which means, it would cost a lot of money to bring a film like RB7 up again.
            Now, RB7 was not without its problems. Though I wrote a long chapter about the production of the film in my book, Zen Filmmaking, I plan to write another article, “Roller Blade Seven: Darkness in the Light,” or maybe even an entire book on the subject about all the positive and all the negative things that took place during filming and post production of the film; including the fact, I was totally broke by the end of the production, so much so that I had to sell my 1934 D’Angelico New Yorker, just to survive. A guitar I have never been able to replace. And, that’s just one story... A lot of shit went down before, during, and after production. There are a lot of untold stories to tell…
            But... All this being said, people still watch and talk about the film and that is great! Many hate it, calling it one of the worst films ever made. Maybe... But, many also like it. They love the bizarre, psychedelic, abstract nature of the first Zen Film.
            In closing, “Would I ever make another Roller Blade Seven?” Sure, I would love to do another Roller Blade Seven. In fact, Don and I planned to do the next chapter as, Wheelzone Rangers. But, we got distracted and made other films; both individually and as a team and never got around to doing it. Then, he passed away and all that is left of the Zen Filmmaking team is myself.
            All this being said, if someone out there has the money, a lot of it, (I know I don’t), and would like to finance another bizarre wild ride into the Wheelzone, give me a call. I am willing and I am available. :-)

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