Saturday, July 1, 2017

Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Story of the Production



 

By Scott Shaw

FADE IN:

            The Zen Film Toad Warrior, which became Max Hell Frog Warrior, was the third film that Donald G. Jackson and I completed as a filmmaking team. The first two were Roller Blade Seven and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. It is important to note that about a year ago a young journalism student contacted me and I did an extensive interview with him on the creation of Max Hell Frog Warrior titled, Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Facts and The Fiction. There is a lot of interesting information and insights into this film’s creation in that article. But, as we have well passed the twenty-year mark of the inception of Max Hell, I though I would take a few minutes and detail a bit more intimate information about this film’s ideology and its production facts as there is a lot of ongoing interest in this film and there remains a lot of questions and incorrect speculation about what actually took place during its creation.

The Roller Blade Seven
            To begin with, Don and I had parted ways upon the completion of the Roller Blade Seven under less than ideal circumstances. The money had run out on the production budget before we were finished. Don being Don had squandered much of the budget and Don, as he tended to be, was very self-involved. Thus, any remaining money he kept for himself and to spend on his girlfriends. …He kept the money even though I did much of the work on RB7: casting, producing, acting, editing, soundtracking, plus most of the words spoken in the film(s) either came from or were influenced by two books I had authored: Essence: The Zen of Everything and Zen O’clock: Time to Be. But me, I walked away totally broke. In fact, I had to sell my 1930s D’Angelico New Yorker just to survive. That was a terrible loss that I have never been able to replace. (For the record that was one of the Masterpieces created by John D’Angelico himself and not one of the replicas that are on the market today). Plus, my ’64 Porsche 356 SC had blown its transmission and somebody had crashed into my Harley as I was driving it on La Brea in Hollywood; totaling it and injuring me. Thus, it was not a good time for me.
            The fact is, I cannot discus the creation of Max Hell Frog Warrior without referencing Roller Blade Seven as the two have a very close correlation. Roller Blade Seven was a chaotic production. It didn’t have to be. But Don, being Don, made it so.
            Have you ever had one of those life-experiences where someone is so based in a negative mindset that they bring out the worst in you? That happened to me, in association with Don, when we made RB7. This was amplified by the negative, petty actions of our Executive Producer. Though we made a great movie, that is still at the forefront of the Cult Film Hierarchy, it left my life a mess. The fact is, during production and post production both Don and I were constantly carrying Xanax with us as there was so much perpetuated anxiety associated with the production of that film. As I have stated in several places, though I have written an extended chapter about the creation of RB7, which is presented in my book Zen Filmmaking, I really want to write an entire book about the film as so much went on during production that understanding the process may truly help other independent filmmakers overcome obstacles and allow everyone to come to a better understanding about human consciousness.  
            One of the essential things to note is that when Don asked me to come on-board and make RB7 with him, the production was scheduled for one month. One month, I can handle that. So, when I showed up at our production offices at the Hollywood Center Building on Hollywood Boulevard on the first day of pre-production I had no idea the months-upon-months that it would take to complete that movie and its sequel. Now, think about taking months out of your life while making no money. As I am a dedicated, one-pointed person who doesn’t give up, I did not leave the production. But, I did pay a very high price for my involvement with that film.

Moving On
            By the end of Roller Blade Seven, I was ready to set out on my own and make my own films. As the video revolution had just hit and realizing I had the skillset to make it happen, I immediately went up on Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell upon the completion of RB7.  Don being Don, got jealous so he went off to work with Mark Williams who was both a part of the cast and the crew of RB7. Then, the Executive Producer of RB7, to play a petty little power trip, had me kicked out of our production offices and banned from the building. This, after she had already made thousands-upon-thousands of dollars on international sales of RB7 and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. Though Don and I occasionally communicated over the next few years, I did not have good feelings about him or the Executive Producer as they were both prospering off of my vision and my labor.
            Then, in 1995, out of the blue Don contacted me via the Voice Mail system which was the main method of industry communication of the time. We all carried our pagers. He wanted to make another movie and he invited me to his production office in North Hollywood to talk about it. Though I had serious doubts about going, but as I had nothing else on my plate at the time, we set up a meet and I arrived.
            To track backwards a bit… Don felt that Mark Williams, (a good guy), had gotten too dependent on the film financing Don had in place. Don hated people becoming dependent upon him. Though Mark was writing all of Don’s scripts at the time; including: Rollergator, Little Lost Sea Serpent, Baby Ghost, Pocket Ninjas, etc., Don fired Mark in a rage. (Just a note: Don was prone to rages). But, Don was one of those people who couldn’t work alone. So, he paid to have friends. As RB7 was already becoming a Cult Fan Favorite in Europe and as he remembered that we worked well together, he decided we should make make another movie and, thus, he contacted me.
            When I arrived at the production office, I was surprised to see how old Don had become in just the couple of years since I had last seen him.  At the time, I didn’t know that he had been diagnosed with leukemia—which was probably one of his main reasons for contacting me, as he knew I got things done and he wanted to cement his filmmaking legacy and needed someone like me to do that. We spoke for a while, hung out over the next few days, and I finally reluctantly agree to make another movie with him. Keep in mind, I had a lot of trepidation about working with him again. But, we set up a weekly pay scale for me that was reasonable and we moved along.

Pre-Production
            For the next few weeks we would meet at the office every day about eleven, scout locations, do casting sessions, hang out with other filmmakers, get drunk at lunch, go to private movie screenings, go and see obscure alt country and bluegrass bands in the evening, hit the occasional strip club, (scouting for talent), and do what industry folk do…
            In terms of the pending production, we toyed with a few ideas prior to settling on Toad Warrior. The reason we finally decided to make Toad Warrior was that Don’s creative vision had been taken away from him on both Hell Comes to Frogtown and to a lessor degree on Return to Frogtown. He never really liked the finished films—though, at least at the time, Hell Comes to Frogtown was frequency playing on TV and that film had really cemented his career as a known filmmaker.  But, as he was never content with the two previous features, he always wanted to make a more free-flowing version of a film with Frogtown as the backdrop. Thus, Toad Warrior.
            Though Don was linked into a company that was financing his films, so money was free-flowing, we decided to keep the production small. And, as we both considered Roller Blade Seven to be a true Zen Film Masterpiece, we hoped to re-invoke the essence of that film in what we were next to create. 
            Another factor to keep in mind about the inception of Toad Warrior was that by this point in my career I had begun to see myself more as a Producer and Director than an Actor. Don, however, wanted me to star in the film as Roller Blade Seven was already gaining Cult Classic status, plus he wanted to capitalize on my martial art notoriety of the time as I was in a lot of magazine, had a very successful Hapkido Video Tape Series on the market, my books were being published, etc... Thus, he suggested that we Co-Produce and Co-Direct the movie, while I star in the film. I agreed and we moved forward with this as our basis.
            As RB7 was already a legacy for us, we wanted to invoke that film’s sensibilities. Thus, my character again wore a black suit, black shirt, and the elbow and knee pads from RB7—minus the skates, of course.

Production Begins
            On the first day of actual production, which was a Saturday, we were scheduled to go up at about noon. We had the entire second floor of offices in a building on Lakershim Boulevard in North Hollywood so we decided to dress the offices and use them as sets to establish the initial character interactions. As for our actors, the first to be cast was Joe Estevez. Also cast was a friend of Don’s, (from the days when they both were working for Roger Corman), to play Humphrey Bullfrog, a couple of girls Don had previously worked with in films, (finished or not), a newly arrived couple from New Jersey who we had just met at a casting session via an ad we placed in Dramalogue the day before, and one or two other new faces.
            The day of the shoot I got up, put on my black suit, and was preparing to go to my storage unit as that is where I kept all of my lighting equipment which I was going to bring to the set as Don only had a couple of cheap photofloods whereas I had a number of Fresnels, C-Stands, etc. As if a warning sign from the great beyond, the first thing that happened to me was I thought I had my keys in my pocket. I walked out of the door of my apartment, carrying some equipment down to my 356, but when I got to my car I realized it wasn’t my keys at all. Thus, I was locked out. A bit nervous about time, I went to find the manager of my building who was always in the office but she was not there. With a bit of freak-out running through my veins, I went on a quest to find her and finally located her in her apartment. She got the pass key, let me in, I got my keys, loaded my stuff, and was on my way. I get to my storage unit but the moment I opened the door I realized somebody had broken in. Someone had rented the storage unit next to mine and had cut a hole through the wall. They stole all of my lighting equipment, all of my costuming, my first guitar, my power tools, and a lot of guitar and amp parts and accessories I kept in the unit. I was upset to say the least…
            With the police report made, I sped to the set. Living in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, I was quite a distance from North Hollywood. As I was driving towards the freeway onramp, I see the train gates up ahead going down.  Damn!  It seemed like the very long train took forever to pass. Again, a sign?
            In the interim of waiting for the train, I called Don on my large flip phone and used some of the very expensive cellular minutes of the day to leave him a message on his Voice Mail and tell him of the situation.
            As I sat there waiting for the train to pass, me, I really felt like I had failed. Though the theft was obviously not my fault, it made me feel like a liar as I could not bring my lights.  And, as a person who is always very punctual, being late made my adrenalin serge. It was starting all over again, the craziness of Roller Blade Seven…  I thought to just call it quits and walk away… I still, to this day, wonder if that was the life-course I should have taken? But, I drove on…

On the Set
            By the time I finally got to the offices, a lot had already been accomplished. Don had brought in a camera guy, Jonathan Quade, that he had previously worked with. Jonathan was actually a gaffer in the big budget industry but he did a great job of set design, lighting, and low budget camera work. (We went onto work with him on a number of films). He, in association with a Production Assistant, had already created the set where Joe Estevez’s character is revealed with the parachute covering the walls. But, with my lights stolen, all we had to light the set with was Don’s two photofloods.
            Most of the cast was wandering around the offices as Jonathan, the PA, and I continued the staging. Don sat in his office, as he liked to do, talking on the phone, joking with the girls, and generally screwing around. Finally, Joe arrives and we get underway.
            We took Joe to the set where he was to be seated upon his thrown. Don asks him what he wanted to use as a character name. Joe suggested Mickey O’Malley, as he saw the green, thought of frogs, and wanted to reference his Irish roots. Don immediately hated the name. But, Don being Don, he didn’t say anything. Me, I also saw the problem… We had hoped Joe to be a very fierce and domineering character. But, with a name like that…

Taking a Turn for the Worst
            There is a point in every film where if you are an observant filmmaker you can take note of where the film all falls into place or where it all goes awry. This was that moment in Toad Warrior… Joe deciding on his name and Don or I not wanting to force a change. Thus, the production took a wrong turn that it never recovered from. This, before the first scene was ever shot.
            …That’s the problem when you are working with someone you really like and who is a really good guy like Joe—you don’t want to come off as harsh or condescending. You want to keep them happy.
            In any case, the first scene(s) to be shot were Joe interacting with the character Cricket AKA Sandra Purpuro, (the newly arrived actress from New Jersey). We immediately realized that she was a very good actress. In fact, immediately after Toad Warrior she moved onto having a very successful acting career.
            We also added a couple of adult film starlets to the scene to give it some depth.

The Hierarchy
            I was a bit in question about how Don was going to react to my co-directing the scenes as this was the first time we worked together in that manner. Though I obviously had a lot to say during the filming of RB7, I never felt like I was the director and I never crossed Don’s boundaries. But, he was totally cool. The thing to note about Don, as a director, is that he never really directed the talent. He just let them do whatever they wanted to do and say whatever they wanted to say—the way they wanted to say it. Me, on the other hand, I think natural inspiration is great but you need to give guidance to the actors, at certain points, so the storyline will stay on track. That’s what I did…
            We shot the scenes with Cricket and Joe. We then brought in his two minions: the boyfriend from New Jersey (Kent Dalian) and a Japanese actor, Tom Tom Typhoon. Don wanted the Japanese guy to communicate in English but as I speak Japanese I directed him to speak in his native language as he spoke very poor English. When you see him totally going off at Joe, that was totally his idea. He really got the essence of Zen Filmmaking and took it to the next, necessary level. Joe’s reactions to him are great. Those are probably some of the best scenes in the film.
            We then went and did the Humphrey Bullfrog stuff which I just do not like. That character and those scenes were developed by Don and his friend. They are just stupid and they don’t play well. Again, within the first few hours of filming, Toad Warrior was set on a wayward course.
            As evening was coming on, we decided to go to this nearby park that is linked to an overpass above the 170 freeway. There, we filmed the park fight scenes and the various characters crossing the bridge. While we were filming, we left the Production Assistant to create additional sets in the offices. 
            Returning, we then filmed the scene where the two girls are in jail: Agent Banner (Camille Solari) and Dr. Trixi T. (Elizabeth Mehr). This set was actually just an enclosed deck outside of one of the office windows. I thought they did a great job constructing that whole dialogue driven scene. And, they did it with no guidance. They were both talented actresses. 
            After that, we filmed my character’s interaction with Joe. We then brought in Selina Jayne, (the Spirit Guide from RB7), who I had remained friends with, to do a Fortune Teller thing with Joe. Though I love Selina and Joe, that scene just did not work. Then, Joe goes into the scene where he does the hokey-pokey with the one actress portraying Dr. Trixie T. Terrible! Terrible! Terrible! So bad, I could not even watch it being filmed. Though, for the record, it was totally improved. 
            We then filmed the scene with the girl singing in the club where my character gets a drink thrown in his face. That club scene was set up in the waiting room of our offices.
            We finished that evening by doing the inner-office fight scenes where my character and the actress playing Agent Banner fights a couple of frogs.

Calculating the Consequences
            If you look at the amount of scenes filmed in just one afternoon and evening, and if you know the film, you will understand that a good portion of Toad Warrior was actually created in that one day. Though we captured a lot of footage, the essence of what I hoped the film would become, was lost. It had become nothing more than a poorly acted, un-comedic (though it was trying hard to be a comedy), stupid storylined, production that was destine to just remain a mess. Yet, we continued… 
            Over the next couple of weeks, we filmed additional scenes. Next up was Conrad Brooks. I had never met Conrad prior to the day we first filmed him but I did, of course, know of his previous work with Ed Wood. I immediately realized he was a really nice guy. I liked him a lot. And, I loved his style of acting.
            We took Conrad to a location by the L.A. River where he and I interact with a couple of frogs. We then went back to the office and shot the scene in his tent. A tent that was constructed from the same parachute used to line the walls of Joe’s lair.
            For some reason, Don wanted to bring Conrad back as the character Swamp Farmer from another of Don’s films, Rollergator and have the talking Baby Gator in the scene with him, as well. I like Conrad’s performance but Baby Gator just added additional, unnecessary, stupidity to the film. That is the thing when you are working as a team member with someone, you may not always like their choices but you have to allow them their creativity.
            A day or so later we went to do an evening shoot at an old bridge that Don had titled, “The Bridge of Broken Dreams.” There, we took an actress we had just cast that afternoon. As she was new to L.A. I warned her about doing what she did; i.e. getting in a car at night with men she did not know and was not even aware of where she was being taken. In any case, she is the character that my character continually tells to, “Shuuu,” every time she tries to speak. We also did the scene where my character kills a frog at night with the bridge in the background.
            Referencing the anxiety that took place during the filming of RB7 and how this same style of emotion engulfs other people… Don had this Production Assistant who had been working with him for a year or so. He did the voice of Baby Gator during the filming of Conrad and myself in the tent. He was also the one wearing the frog mask that my character kills in the aforementioned scene on the bridge.
            Don had begun to get increasingly annoyed by this man. I thought he was fine but, again, Don found him becoming too dependent on his money. I suppose this change of heart had a lot to do with my now being part of the team as I was a fully functioning filmmaker and there was a lot of things that I could do that this man could not. As he had begun to annoy Don, Don had become more and more short with him. At one point that evening he yelled at the guy to get something out of the car. Instead of taking the frog mask off, he ran all the way to the car and back with it on. Thus, equaling a massive anxiety attack. It was the next day that Don, in a rage, fired him. The man called me up that night wondering what had happened and if I could ask Don to let him come back to work. I told Don the story but Don was the source of the money for this project so there was nothing that I could do as Don did not want him back.

The Lies Actors Tell
            Don and I continued forward hanging out everyday and occasionally filming over the next few weeks. One of the interesting stories, that I have told elsewhere, happened when we cast this girl because she told us she was an avid motocross rider and owned her own dirt bike. We though this would be a great addition to add to the film. We called her character, Road Toad. We meet her up on the dirt section of Mulholland Highway, where she promptly fell off of her bike and broke her clutch handle. Every time she got on, she fell off. Finally, to save any hope of making the entire situation equal anything, my character asks her if I can borrow her motorcycle. From this, we film me riding it for a bit. Keep in mind, I was shifting with no clutch. After that, the girl rode off. (I hope she made it home safely). But, we never heard from her again.
            Though we periodically shot a scene here or there, we only did serious filming maybe three or four additional days to create Toad Warrior. …Compared to the days-upon-days-upon-days of full-on production we had previously done on RB7, Toad Warrior had very few actual days of production. 

Expanding the Cast
            I had brought on Roger Ellis who had played the roll of Stealth in RB7 and I had used in much bigger roles in Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell and Samurai Johnny Frankenstein. He became Overload War Toad. Roger was a great actor and really added some good stuff to a very faltering film. We did all of Roger’s interior scenes at the garage/stage of Jonathan Quade, the aforementioned cameraman, who worked with us throughout the entire production. This is where the infamous spank scene(s) take place, which was the idea of yours truly.
            The girl in those scenes was a great up-and-comer named Robin Kimberly. She made her living as an exotic dancer. I remember her telling me she hailed from Alaska and I really liked her as a person and an actress. But, she was one of those people that we never heard from again after her days on the set. She played the roll of Agent Spangle. And yes, the female agents in the film were intentionally named: Agent Star, Agent Spangle, and Agent Banner.  That was on Don. …A sign of his abstract patriotisms.
            Next up was Adrianne Moore AKA Jill Kelly, a girl who did her first onscreen performance in RB7 before becoming a major force in the Adult Industry. In the opening scene we find her character being chased by frogs out at the El Mirage Dry Lake Bed. The work we did with her character really adds positive aspects to the overall film.
            El Mirage is one of the places where the, “Magic,” that I often speak of in association Zen Filmmaking, took place. We went there with only a basic idea about what we would film. But, when we got there we noticed a couple with their pair of ultra light aircraft. Don asked if we could use them. They said, “Yes.” With this, we added the entire opening scene to the film, providing a lot of production value.
            …We had no idea this would take place but we allowed the spontaneity of Zen to be our guide and, thus, True Cinematic Magic occurred.  

Something to Scream About
            Elizabeth, the girl who played Dr. Trixie T., was soon to be moving and she invited us over to her large house to film. Here, we created the lab set. Overall, she is a great girl and a good actress; I really liked her but many of her scene were too comedic and just added, in my opinion, to the overall failure of this film. This is the case with the lab scene that we filmed at her home. Her and another girl, (one of her friends that we never met before or after that moment in time), go into this whole fake British accent thing, talking about the development of the frog plague. Again, both very nice people, but the scene just did not work!
            One of the now-funny occurrences that took place that night was Don had left the set as he had something else to do. We had been there for awhile and I asked if anybody wanted something to eat. Some did, so we sent out. One girl who I had cast earlier that week, a new arrival from Japan, initially said she wasn’t hungry but then, all of a sudden, after we had recommenced filming, she completely started freaking about the fact that she was hungry and she wanted something to eat. I told her we were busy and reminded her that she said she didn’t want anything but this did not stop her. I told her I would give her some money if she wanted to walk over to a local fast food place but she would have none of it. She really was causing a scene. Finally, I took her outside and firmly explained to her in Japanese how unprofessional she was behaving. She calmed down, told me she was sorry, and she kind-of shut up. This is just a reminded to you filmmakers out there, sometime the people you cast can become a real problem to your production.

Going Nuclear
            We also shot exteriors at this one location in the West San Fernando Valley that used to house nuclear silos. That is where you see Sargent Shiva and my character do the Kurosawa influenced, long lens, sword fighting scene(s). I know a lot of people have discussed this scene in their reviews, incorrectly claiming there was only one take that was reused. But, if you actually take the time to study the film you will see there were several takes. We also shot some of the other additional exterior scenes out there that day.
            Though there were a few more days of filming small things, here or there, that’s what it took to create Toad Warrior.
            It is essential to note that the moment Don and I began working together again, we did not wholly focus on Toad Warrior. We, almost immediately began to formulate, come up with other projects, and begin filming them, as well. Most notable filmed around this same period of time were the films that became Shotgun Blvd. and Ghost Taxi. Though none of these first, “Next Generation Zen Films,” rose to the cult status of Max Hell Frog Warrior, at least in my opinion, they were all better films than Toad Warrior.

Post Production
            Post Production on Toad Warrior did not happen right away. As stated, we began working on other films. Finally, as the 1996 American Film Market (AFM) was approaching, we set about editing the movies we had in the can. I did Shotgun Blvd. and Ghost Taxi and one of Don’s friends began to work on Toad Warrior. But, he was using some weird system that did not output in a high enough quality format so Don went into one of his rages and fired the guy. He then gave the footage to one of his long time friends, Chris—a true film editor and a man who had edited some of Don’s previous features.  Don and he sat down and they did what they did.
            I don’t know if it was the lack of technology at the time, laziness, or just the fact that the editor was more locked into a sense of Traditional Filmmaking than Zen Filmmaking but he and Don really missed the mark on the original edit of Toad Warrior. The fact is, though they probably grabbed the best of the footage there was, so much more great footage was left unused. More than simply not liking the the finished product, the fact is, the film really bothered me. It bothered me that so much footage was left on the preverbal cutting room floor. Plus, the story construction was shoddy. And, Chris knew it. He didn’t like the edit either. He asked me if I wanted to redo it. But, there wasn't time. To me, the edited film kind of felt like they were just filling in the required eighty-two minutes that it takes to make a movie viable for international sales.

AFM
            As AFM was coming up fast, Don and I gave the edited Toad Warrior to a sound design company to finish up the soundscape. We both watched the final product and didn’t like it. But, as the hotel rooms that they turn into AFM selling suits on the Santa Monica coastline are expensive, we had to have product. Thus, posters were created, a selling staff was hired, and Don and I hung out at AFM, did some interviews, and watched a lot of movies.
            One of the funny experiences we had at the 1996 AFM is when Jill Kelly came by one evening. We walked around the expansive hotel, full of buyers from all over the world, and all eyes were on us. Well… They were actually on Jill. She was a beautiful sight with her long blonde hair, her big platform shoes, and the white, virtually see though clothing she was wearing.
            Though we didn’t like Toad Warrior, three countries did buy the limited theatrical rights we were offering to be shown only in theaters in their country. Japan, Malaysia, and the Philippines being the buyers. After AFM, Don being Don absconded with all of the money from the sales. Lesson: people never really change.

Post, Post Productions
            Post the 1996 AFM Don and I buried the film. We planned to reedit it but we were busy and we never got around to it.
            By the early 2000s, Don was in his late fifties, getting very sick, and wasn’t really able to do too much. Me, I did take the original film and created a Zen Speed Flick Version of Toad Warrior titled, Max Hell in Frogtown.
            For those of you who don’t know, a Zen Speed Flick is a film cut down to its most essential elements. This re-edit really gave the film a new vision. Gone was all the bad implied humor, leaving only the best of the best. Don loved it and I liked it a lot better than the original version.

Max Hell Frog Warrior
            In 2001, as computer editing had become a realistic possibility, I pulled the original edit of Toad Warrior into my MAC G4. I begin the process of a re-cut in an attempt to make it a better movie. I removed some of the scenes that really bothered me, tuned-up some of the others, and added a bit of unused footage. I did not, however, go into a full blown reedit. What emerged was Max Hell Frog Warrior.  Better than Toad Warrior? I think so. As good as this movie can be? No.

The Next, Better Version
            I have personally sat down, looked through the footage, and started to do a completely new, better edit of the film four times over the past fifteen years or so.  I do this, because as stated, there is a lot of great, unused, never before seen footage that could reveal an entirely different and better movie. Each time I have sat down to do this, however, I get maybe a half hour or so into the storyline development and something stops me. …I don’t finish. Then, I dump the edit. Though I know I really should complete the process something has always stopped me from doing so. What, I don’t know?
            Perhaps at some point, I will compete this process as I know there is a better film hidden within the footage.
            Though I suppose there is a million subtle stories I could tell about the creation of this film, in this piece I have provided you with an overview of the All and the Everything of Toad Warrior AKA Max Hell in Frogtown AKA Max Hell Frog Warrior. I hope this provides you with some factual insight into the actual goings-on.  Any specific questions, you can always ask…

Be positive and smile.

FADE OUT.
THE ZEN

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No part of this may be used without the expressed permission of Scott Shaw or his representatives.

You can also find this article on Scott Shaw.com at: Max Hell Frog Warrior: The Story of the Production.

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!

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

FADE OUT.

THE ZEN

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