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.

A Few Thoughts On The Roller Blade Seven

By Scott Shaw

            It always amazes me that a week virtually never goes by that somebody doesn’t contact me regarding the film, The Roller Blade Seven. Some love it, some hate it, but everybody wants to talk about it.
            As most of you know, I have made well over fifty films. The Roller Blade Seven was made twenty years ago. As I have mentioned in so many interviews, books, and articles, it amazes me how many people are still watching and talking about that movie. I mean books and Master Degree Thesis’ have been written about the film!
            As I have also mentioned many times, everything Don Jackson and I did in that movie, its sequel, Return of the Roller Blade Seven, and its off-shoot, Hawk: Warrior of the Wheelzone, was done very consciously: from the casting, to lighting, to the cinematography, onto the acting. Some people have called it bad-acting. But that too was a choice. For those of you who want to reference the acting style, all you have to do is watch some of the Sci-Fi Republic Series from the 1940s and 1950s. Plus, I mean look at the careers of some of the actors that took part in the film(s): Golden Globe Winner and Academy Award Nominee, Karen Black. Don Stroud who had a phenomenal acting career. And, the list goes on... Even the locations were very consciously chosen. I mean just look at some of those locations in the film. They are spectacular!  This, “Choice,” went onto the editing and the music. 
            We knew what we were doing! We were very consciously pushing the envelope of modern cinema and presenting an expression of abstract art upon film. If someone doesn’t understand Film Art then they may not like the film. For those who are cinematically refined enough to appreciate Film Art, they love it!
            So, whatever we did, I guess we did the right thing. If you ever want to read more about the making of the film, check out my book, Zen Filmmaking. There is a chapter on the film in there.
            But, people, believe me, I have made a lot of other films!!!  Some better, some worse. But, few have been talked about as much.

Copyright © 2009 – All Rights Reserved.