Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Zen Filmmaking and Scott Shaw: Speaking with the Zen Film Master

The Entire Three Part Article originally published in Film Fantasy Magazine

Scott Shaw
Speaking with the Zen Film Master
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 don't run in those circles and I do not go around asking people for money to finance my films like a lot of indie filmmakers do. So I am able to stay pretty clear of all of the nonsense and the melodrama.

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

Scott Shaw Zen Films.

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

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

Cori Tate Do most people understand your Zen Filmmaking style?

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

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

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

Cori Tate Then how did you work together?

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

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

Scott Shaw Yes, for the most part that is true. But Don was a very spontaneous guy, if someone wanted to go in a different direction he never forced them to speak only the lines written in the script. But you just expressed a really big point that many people misunderstand.  Everybody seems to think that Zen Filmmaking is simply based on the premise of not using a script. That’s totally wrong. The use of no screenplay in the filmmaking process is simply a tool to open up the filmmaker’s mind to allow spontaneity to be the primary guiding force in a film’s creation.  By allowing artistic freedom to guide you in the filmmaking process you allow magic, and by magic I mean you allow and accept magical things to happen that you would or could never expect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 suppose 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 employes 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 sourcepoint. 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 © 2012 – All Rights Reserved.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Martial Artists in the Movies: The Real Deal.

A new list has just been created on imdb.com, Martial Artists in the Movies: The Real Deal.

Scott Shaw is listed in the Number One position.

Thanks !!!

Click on the link to check out the list.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Zen Filmmaking and the Non-Narrative Film


By Scott Shaw

            At the heart of Zen Filmmaking is the ideology that, “The stories have all been told.” Therefore, why attempt to tell the same story that has been filmed a thousand times, over-and-over again, simply by providing it with a different title?
             This is one of the primary reasons why in Zen Filmmaking we do not use scripts. Though the Zen Filmmaker may begin with an overview of a story concept, they allow the naturalness of non-defined organic, spiritual inspiration to be the only guide in the formation of the Zen Film. As nothing is etched in stone, (i.e., no script), the Zen Film is allowed to develop in a natural and unhindered process. From this, the Zen Filmmaker frees themselves from the constraints of a formalized story and enters into the world of artistic cinematic creation. By allowing the film to evolve in its own naturalness during the filming and particularity the editing process, many a Zen Film has been created.
            There have been many Zen Film created with this technique as a foundation. But, the next evolution of Zen Filmmaking is the non-narrative film.
            What is a non-narrative film? With no need to tell a story, an entire film is simply allowed to be what it is – constructed with film footage the Zen Filmmaker deems appropriate to edit into one cohesive product.
            No story need be told, as all the stories have already been told. No definitions of filmmaking particulars need to be defined: such as a particular filming technique, delineated lighting, specific character development, or formalized editing. The footage that is shot is allowed to be what it is and is then put together via the freedom based, ongoing cinematic vision of the filmmaker.
            Freedom is the essence of Zen. The non-narrative Zen Film is, therefore, the absolute embodiment of Zen.

Copyright © 2011 – All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Film Reviewers: Getting it Right. Getting it Wrong.



By Scott Shaw
            When you create something, it is always curiously interesting to find out how other people view it. When you create something with art as a basis; be it a painting, a piece of literature, a photograph, or a movie, mostly people describe how they feel about it – if they like it or if they do not.
            As we all come at art from our own preconceived notions and personal tastes, I always find it curious how other people come to define my work. Sometimes they get it right. They understand what I was doing. Other times they get it totally wrong.
            I guess that is the basis of art, at the sourcepoint the creator understands what they are doing and why they are doing it. And, in most cases, the creator likes what they have created. Someone who was not involved in the creation – someone who has no vested interest in the work, may not understand the creative source-process and they may not like it. That’s just life. That’s just art and the interpretation thereof.
            As I have written in various places in the past, and even in an article I wrote, “Film Reviews: Fact or Fiction,” as many of my films have been reviewed in magazines, books, and on the Internet over the years, I find it very interesting when the reviewer gets things right and more particularly when a reviewer get things wrong but presents their words as facts.
            Now, I’m not speaking about when people hate my films and totally rip them. That’s fine with me. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Whatever… I’m speaking more of when someone does not possess all of the facts, but writes as if they do, and presents the overall process incorrectly.
            Recently someone sent me a copy of a book where the author mentions a couple of my films and one film made, (at least in part), by my Zen Filmmaking friend, Donald G. Jackson (RIP). The book was pretty good. My stuff got discussed in the, “Honorable (and Dishonorable) Mention,” chapter. That was fun and amusing. But, the author got a few things wrong. Let me explain…
            In one chapter, he discussed Don’s film, Pocket Ninjas. I believe he got his source information from the Internet, because he states that Don and the executive producer were trying to make The Roller Blade Seven for kids. This is not true. This was not at all the basis for that film – though I have seen it detailed as such on the Internet. Don was simply obsessed with roller skates and later roller blades from the 1970s forward. He came up in the era of pretty girls on skates. So, he would integrate that into his films whenever possible. Plus, though he never personally trained, he loved the martial arts. As such, he would also feature the martial arts in his movies wherever possible. Thus, was the basis of Pocket Ninjas.
            The author also attempts to detail the relationship between the executive producer and Don in the book. Again, I guess he got the information from the Internet because it mirrors what I have seen but it is essentially wrong. The executive producer did not come to Don; Don had our friend Mark Williams (RIP) write a script based on an idea he had. He then took the script to the executive producer.
            I had previously worked with the executive producer and he is a very nice guy. Don had also known him for years.
            The executive producer was a formalized filmmaker; he had no intention of making a Zen Film. Pocket Ninjas was in no way a Zen Film. Bad, yes. But, not bad because it was a Zen Film.
            In the book, the author details Don’s removal from the film. But, he gets it wrong. The reason for the relationship collapse and Don being pulled was that the executive producer felt Don was letting production fall behind. Don, on the other hand, blamed the producer, who became the credited director. It was one of those common Hollywood dilemmas. Nothing new here… But, we all still remained friends.
            That’s the story. I hope the world will finally get it right.
            The author also discusses The Roller Blade Seven and Max Hell Frog Warrior in his book; explaining that they are two of the best-known Zen Films. Maybe…
            Roller Blade Seven is certainly, without a doubt, the most well known Zen Film, as it was released theatrically, on T.V., and by other methods around the world. Actually, Max Hell is somewhat lowered down the list. Here in the U.S. there has been a certain amount of talk about the film. They even mentioned it on the HBO T.V. show, The Newsroom. Thanks! But, the fact is, other Zen Films such as: Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Guns of El Chupacabra, Undercover X, Hitman City, Vampire Blvd., Vampire Noir, and Super Hero Central have all been much more widely distributed. But, that fact would be impossible to know unless someone asked me. ...Which no one did.
            The author also makes an attempting at describing Zen Filmmaking. Certainly, I realize that is a bit of a complicated matter. :-)
            And, the problem is, most people who talk about it, don’t really get it. But, this author provides a fairly good overview. Good job!
            In his description of Zen Filmmaking, however, the author details that in Zen Filmmaking shots are often repeated. The fact is, to date, this is only true in the two films he mentions. It is not a common trait of Zen Filmmaking. The basis for this technique being used in the two discussed films is, Roller Blade Seven was the first Zen Film. We set up that film-style in that movie which we created in 1991 and 1992. Don and I did not make another film together until 1996 when we created Toad Warrior, which later became Max Hell Frog Warrior.
            When we reconvened as filmmakers, we decided we wanted to capture some of the essence and energy of Roller Blade Seven, which is why I wore basically the same outfit and we again employed that editing style. But, no other Zen Film that Don and I made as a team or that I have made employs that editing technique.
            This is one of the things that those who watch a Zen Film commonly misunderstand – particularly the two films that were detailed in the book; Zen Filmmaking is constantly evolving; it is never a stagnant art form. Each film brings with it its own unique sense of creativity and artistic expression. And, the two discussed films are very different from every other Zen Film ever made. Ultimately, that is the essence of Zen Filmmaking, embracing the moment and allowing the creative environment of each film to guide you down the road to cinematic enlightenment.
            But, as was embraced by P.T. Barnum and Andy Warhol, “You may have gotten a few things wrong but thanks for the publicity Mr. Author.”

Copyright © 2012 – All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Zen Filmmaking: Now and Zen


By Scott Shaw

            Zen Filmmaking  has gone through a lot of evolution since I first came up with the title and concept while Donald G. Jackson and I were making, The Roller Blade Seven back in 1991.
            Though there has been a lot of criticism of that movie, I think all that is very-very funny. Some people just don't get that we knew what we were doing. And, as I have stated time-and-time again, we did what we did very consciously. We meant to make that movie and the sequel the way we did.
            One the other side, there are a lot of people, who really dig the film. They get what we were doing. That's life...
            Anyway, as many of you know, at the heart of Zen Filmmaking is allowing actors to deliver their lines and develop their characters via guided improv. One of the main things to realize about Zen Filmmaking, particularly in regard to Roller Blade Seven, is that there was very little improv in that movie. That is accept for much of the dialogue delivered by Joe Estevez and Don Stroud. In fact, most of the lines spoken were fed to the actors by Don or myself.  Back then, Don and I didn't trust that most of the people could deliver their lines with any believability, if they were allowed to improv. So, we told them what to say.
            One of the greatest exchanges of the film, “You mean my sister that became your sister? Yes, our sister, sister...” Don and I had come up with while eating burgers at Tommy's in Granada Hills just prior to filming Frank Stallone. We had gone there to write down what dialogue he should deliver and we came up with the scene where Don and my character interact in the film for the first time.
            This trend of feeding lines followed through to Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell. There was very little actual improv. in that film.  My friend and co-filmmaker on that feature, Kenneth H. Kim, and I came up with virtually all of the dialogue in that movie and then I pretty much fed everyone, everything.
            Ken, who was a budding screenwriter, wanted to write some of the dialogue. Though that is not in the tradition of Zen Filmmaking; as a friend, I let him have at it. And then, I let some of the more experienced actors in the film work from that premises.
            The greatest dialogue exchange of that film, I believe, is when in the opening of the film an actress, Kimberly Bolin, exclaims, “I thought you guys were going to take me to Hollywood!”  The response, “Hollywood... Hollywood's just a state of mind.”  That was a little ditty I had come up with on the spot and gave it to the actors.
            A memorable line, that I think really sets the tone of the film...
            Don liked to call himself a Zen Filmmaker. And, certainly without our interaction, Zen Filmmaking may never have occurred. But, in the films he made, where I was not involved, he virtually always based the film upon a script. Then, he would let some of the actors add their own interpretation.
            As I’ve continued as a filmmaker, since the days of RB7 and SV, I have continued to evolve the concept of Zen Filmmaking. What I have found is that if I surround myself with actors who can do what they do very believably – if they can be themselves. Then, they can really deliver a very natural performance. From this, the concept of improv. has continued to grow in my films. I get good people and then I let them run with it...
            Recently, when I was speaking with a potential actress, she asked me, “Does it always work?” No, it does not. There have been a few times when, mostly due to a person's ego, I have had to pull the plug and recast. But, it is rare.
            The funny think about Zen Filmmaking and its evolution is, most people have never seen my films that I believe are ideal examples of Zen Filmmaking. Films like: The Hard Edge of Hollywood, Blood on the Guitar, Killer: Dead or Alive, Undercover X, Hitman City, Super Hero Central, Vampire Blvd., or Vampire Noir. Most, have based all of their appraisal of Zen Filmmaking upon seeing, The Roller Blade Seven. Which, even I will tell you, was designed to be STRANGE.
            I guess, whatever... That's life. But, FYI, Zen Filmmaking has, and continues, to evolve.

Copyright © 2008 – All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Zen Filmmaking: The Definition


By Scott Shaw
            When I first coined the term, Zen Filmmaking, during the period when Donald G. Jackson and I were making, The Roller Blade Seven, it was simply a means to categorize and loosely define what we were doing -- based upon our metaphysical perception of reality and filmmaking.  Give it a name for those who were working with us and wondered what we were doing. I never assumed that over two-decades later there would still be a need to be clarifying the subject.  That being said, when people saw The Roller Blade Seven that was when the discussion of Zen Filmmaking truly began…
            Don was very big on interacting on the Internet prior to his passing in 2003. That kind of stuff never interested me. He would go around the various chat rooms and newsgroups that were up at the time and, in many cases, get into on-line confrontations with people about what and how we were doing what we were doing. In those chat rooms he discussed Zen Filmmaking, which really set its concept into Internet motion.
            After RB7 and with the creation of films such as Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell, Samurai Johnny Frankenstein, Samurai Ballet, Max Hell Frog Warrior, Ride with the Devil, Guns of El Chupacabra, The Rock n’ Roll Cops, and my writings on the subject being published, people then began to further form their own opinions about Zen Filmmaking. The word spread… Some wrote that what we were doing was Direct Cinema or Cinema Verite.’ But, that wasn’t the case. We were doing what we were doing, based upon nothing done before. It was completely organic.
            As the discussion continued, some filmmakers begin to move forward, using elements of the Zen Filmmaking philosophy, and they began to make their own Zen Films. All good…
            As Don’s health faded and I moved forward with Zen Films such as Hollywood P.D. Undercover, Undercover X, Hitman City, Super Hero Central, and Vampire Blvd. the word of Zen Filmmaking spread further. And it has continued to spread.  People have continued their discussion about Zen Filmmaking. It is written about in several books, numerous articles, detailed in courses at a number of universities, and even a few documentaries have been made on the subject. All this being the case, the reason I was, (in some-ways), forced to formally define Zen Filmmaking is all the talk that has taken place and a lot of the misunderstandings about what a Zen Film is or is not. In actually, it was never my plan. I just wanted to let the concept remain wholly (or holy) Zen. But…
            For better or for worse, with the passing of Donald G. Jackson, it was left to only me to define and explain the art form and philosophy known as Zen Filmmaking. But, the more I have written and spoken on the subject, the more I realized that people continued to use my words to feed into their own misunderstandings. From the moment I first discussed it; some people immediately got it. That was great.  Others only wanted to take my words and use them as a means to criticize Zen Filmmaking and Zen Films. But, that’s life… People like to talk and say nothing about philosophies they do not understand.
            Which brings me to the point of this discourse. Finally… The ultimate truth of Zen Filmmaking is there are NO DEFINITIONS. A Zen Film is what it is in its own moment of time and space. Just as each film begins in the mind of the filmmaker and follows its path to creation, there is no definition or logical explanations for creativity. There is no definable reason why one person wants to create a film and another person doesn’t. There is no definition for art. There is no definition for satori. As such, art and enlightenment should simply be allowed to exist within their own perfection. It is only the mind of the unenlightened that attempts to draw conclusions so that they may find a reason to love or hate a creation.
            Criticizing a creation is criticizing life. Criticizing a philosophy is simply a person attempting to find fault with the spiritual understandings of another person based upon their own preconceived notions of reality.
            Freedom of spirit is the true soul of Zen Filmmaking. Zen Filmmaking has no ultimate definition.

Copyright © 2005 – All Rights Reserved.

Max Hell Frog Warrior: The History and the Evolution


            The film, Max Hell Frog Warrior has an interesting set of circumstance that set its creations into motion. Certainly, its evolution goes back to the cult film classic, Hell Come to Frogtown.
            In brief, Frogtown is a geographic region of Los Angeles, California that skirts the Los Angeles River. It first gained this name when it was overrun with frogs in the 1930s. A friend of Donald G. Jackson’s, Sam Mann, lived in this area. As the story goes, one day the two men were driving around discussing movie ideas and Mann came up with the title, Hell Comes to Frogtown. As he had already starred in Jackson’s films, Roller Blade and Roller Blade Warriors, he was the obvious choice to perform the roll of Sam Hell, the lead character of the film.
            Jackson initially planned to finance the movie with his credit cards as he had done with his film, Roller Blade. In the interim, however, he had become involved with New World Pictures. They liked the concept and they offered to finance it for him. The only problem was, he had to add a completely different cast than was his intention. His actor/friends were to be replaced by, “Name Actors.” Sam Mann, the actual inspiration for Sam Hell, was to be replaced by the then very famous wrestler, Rowdy Roddy Piper. Don asked Sam for his approval, which he gave.
            Until his dying day, Donald G. Jackson regretted this decision. He was not only sorry that Mann had been replaced but the movie was eventually taken away from his creative control and it lost much of the visual landscaped he had hoped to create with it.
            Approximately five years after Hell Comes to Frogtown was released; Don had formed a filmmaking alliance with Tanya York. She had a financier in place that was wiling to bankroll her first feature films as an executive producer. As she had a longstanding relationship with Don, the two moved forward and created Frogtown II. For Jackson, the only problem was, again, much of the creative control was taken away from him. Ultimately, he again, was left with a film that he did not like.
            During this same period, just after the completion of Frogtown II, York wanted to finance another Jackson film. He offered up his Roller Blade series. The 1991/1992 outcome was the first and second Zen Films, The Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven, created by Donald G. Jackson and Scott Shaw.
            After the completion of those two films, Shaw took the foundations for the Zen Filmmaking concept he had originated and went off on his own and immediately created, Samurai Vampire Bikers From Hell and several other films.  Jackson also moved forward to create several script based feature films.
            In 1995, Shaw was in Thailand. Jackson contacted him to reconnect and make another feature film. When Shaw returned, the two set about creating the next Jackson/Shaw Zen Film.
            Initially, the team toyed with the idea of creating a humorous filmed based on Jackson and Mann’s, Hell Comes to Frogtown theme, titled, Road Toad. This film was to star Scott Shaw and co-star Julie Strain.  The team eventually discarded this concept and then set about on the idea of, Hell Comes to Hog Town. This film was to be based on the intent of the film, Zachariah, the First Electric Western, which starred a young Don Johnson. This film would have Shaw ridding in, (with an electric guitar strapped over his shoulder), on his 1966, bright yellow, Harley Davidson, Electra-Glide. He would then battle the forces of evil that were controlled by an evil warlord known as, The Hog. Eventually, this storyline was also put to rest.
            What emerged from this period of creative interaction was Jackson’s desire to do the story he had hoped to present with the original, Hell Comes to Frogtown — the story of a frog plague unleashed on the earth by an evil overseer who would eventually be destroyed by the antihero. Enter, Toad Warrior.
            Toad Warrior went up in the winter of 1996. In association with Jackson as the Producer/Director, Shaw was to perform the lead role as well as Co-Produce and Co-Direct the film. The team of Jackson and Shaw brought on their friend and frequent collaborator, Joe Estevez, to play the bad guy. They also brought on Jill Kelly, who had initially appeared in the Roller Blade Seven and had since gone on to become a major force in the adult film industry. In addition, the team brought into the production: Selina Jayne and Roger Ellis — both of whom had appeared in the Roller Blade Seven and had gone on to co-star in Shaw’s, Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein.
            Jackson and Shaw filmed, Toad Warrior in the high desert of California and various other locations throughout Hollywood, Los Angeles, and at their production offices in North Hollywood. Quickly, the production began to express and represent all the aspects of the bizarre Zen Filmmaking minds of the Jackson/Shaw team.
            When production was complete on Toad Warrior, the team quickly moved forward onto other filmmaking projects. The next on the production schedule was Shotgun Blvd., AKA, Armageddon Blvd., immediately followed by Ghost Taxi, AKA, Ride with Devil.
            As the 1997 American Film Market was quickly approaching, the production team of Jackson/Shaw knew that they had to compete several projects. Shaw took on the role of editor for Armageddon Blvd. and Ride with the Devil, while they turned Toad Warrior over to a long time friend of Jackson — the editor of a number of his films, Christopher Blade.
            The 1997 American Film Market premiered several Jackson/Shaw films. They included the one’s named above and a thirty minute, long-form trailer, of a film they had not yet completed, Guns of El Chupacabra.
            Though the Jackson/Shaw team was happy to have Toad Warrior edited and available, it was never the film that they had hoped to make. Though the needed footage and scenes were all there, they were not constructed in a manner the filmmakers had hoped.
            At the 1997 American Film Market buyers from Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines purchased the rights to release Toad Warrior theatrically and show it in movie theaters. Shaw attended the Tokyo premiere of the film. Jackson and Shaw held back on U.S. sales, however, as they wanted to reedit the movie.
            The following few years proved to be a very busy time for the filmmaking team of Jackson/Shaw. Though they had hoped to get back to the film Toad Warrior and re-edited it, this never came to pass. Shaw did, however, condense the originally edited footage of the film into what the team called, a Zen Speed Film, and released it with the title, Max Hell in Frogtown.
            By the early part of the twenty-first century, Jackson had become very ill from his battle with leukemia. He passed away in 2003.  Soon after this, a distribution company somehow came upon a beta master of the film, Toad Warrior, and released it in a compilation DVD. Let alone the fact that Jackson/Shaw never wanted this version of the film released in the West, many of the titles and screen credits of this version were incorrect.
            Due to copyright infringements, this DVD was eventually removed from the market. By this point in time, Shaw had already revamped the film and had released it as, Max Hell Frog Warrior.
            As the unauthorized bootlegged version of the film had already been released, Shaw decided it was best to release an authorized version of Toad Warrior in order to help in countermanding any further unlawful distribution of the film’s unauthorized version. He did this in 2007.
            As of 2012, Shaw still plans to go back into the original footage of the film, reedit it, and create the film that Jackson and he had initially hoped for.
            In recent years, there has been an ongoing interest in the film. Similar to the Jackson/Shaw creation of, the Roller Blade Seven, Max Hell Frog Warrior has continued to draw interest from critics and cult movie aficionados. So much so, that the writers of the HBO television series, Newsroom, mentioned Max Hell in an episode of their show broadcast in August of 2012.
            Growing from the minds of Sam Mann, Donald G. Jackson, and Scott Shaw, the Frogtown series shows no signs of being forgotten in the near future.

Copyright © 2012 – All Rights Reserved.