Friday, January 14, 2022
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Saturday, July 10, 2021
By Scott Shaw
Sadly, the great actor, William Smith has passed away. For those of us who are old enough or for those of us who have watched the evolution of independent cinema, we know that Bill has appeared in so many films and TV shows that it is almost impossible to believe. In the 1960s and into the 1970s he was ultimate badass. He was in so many biker films; it’s not even funny. But, before that he was in westerns. From there he went on to co-star with Clint Eastwood, he fought Kwai Chang Caine in the original TV series Kung Fu, he even took over for Dano on the final season of Hawaii 5-O. The man had a great career!
I was lucky enough to have worked with him a few times. The first time was on, The Roller Blade Seven. I so remember the night Don Jackson and I went to meet him to talk to him about being in the film. He was homeless then; couch surfing at the home of one actor or another. When we asked him to be in the film, he actually cried, as he was so happy to be offered work.
When we took him to the set, several days later, his constant mantra was, “Can I go home now, daddy? Back then, he drank a lot. He had brought an entire gallon jug of vodka with him to the set and continued to drink from it throughout the day. None of this changed his performance, however. He was great.
We shot with him for a few days on the Roller Blade Seven. Each time he as on the set he brought that great William Smith presence.
I also got to act with Bill and direct him in my film, The Rock n’ Roll Cops. This story is told elsewhere, but the night we were to work with him, Don was in one of his major fuck with everyone sort of moods. Don produced the film and shot it for me. Anyway, we had rented a suite at the Bonaventura Hotel in DTLA as a filming location. Don invited everyone to show up. And, I mean everybody. …Telling them they all would be in the film.
Don and I had been messing around all day and well into the night, when we finally got there, and saw an insane number of people in the suite. Don immediately screamed and yelled and threw and general fit; throwing everyone out. He then fired the guy who was managing the talent, blaming him for allowing so many people to show up. Bill just sat there in disbelief while all this was going on. Don then decided that he didn’t like the fact that Bill had brought along his then girlfriend, later wife, Joanne along. But, he didn’t have the balls to tell Bill he didn’t want her there. So, without me knowing, he told Bill I didn’t want her there. But, I was fine with it. I liked her! I noticed she was gone and I asked Bill what happened to her? He said, “Don told me you don’t want her here so she went down to the bar.” When I told him that wasn’t the case, he got up and stormed into bedroom where Don was preparing the camera, jumped on him, and put his hands around his neck in a chokehold. It was just a joke, as he liked Don, but it was a funny sight to see, as he did all that with that pure William Smith intensity. After that, Bill gave a great performance!
Another funny experience I had with Bill was when he invited Don and I to a private screening of a film he was in. Don also invited another of his friends, who I also knew. Anyway, the film was so bad, and Don’s friend kept making jokes and cracking up throughout it, which caused me to also laugh through most of the film. Believe me when I tell you, the movie was bad. After the film, we are talking to Bill outside, he stated, “Who were those assholes who were laughing, I’d like to kick their ass.” Of course, this just caused us to smile.
With the amount of work Bill did, his legacy is set in stone, or should I say on celluloid. …This, even though much of his later work was shot on video.
Overall, he was a great guy, a true badass, a great actor, and a very nice person. As I sadly said not so long ago, in regard to the passing of Julie Strain, the Zen Filmmaking family keeps getting smaller. The original team is almost all gone.
As for Bill, it’s sad. He was a true talent!
Rest in Peace my Zen Filmmaking brother.
Copyright © 2021—All Rights Reserved
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Thursday, January 14, 2021
Sadly, Julie Strain passed away a couple of days ago. She died from complication from dementia that she had been suffering from for the past several years. She believed she got dementia from a traumatic brain injury she incurred when she was in her early twenties after being thrown from a horse. Scary… Julie was four years younger than me and I too suffered a traumatic brain injury when I was in my early twenties when a car hit me while I was riding my motorcycle fracturing my skull in numerous places.
I always liked Julie. She was one of those very nice, very fun people. We spent a lot of time filming Zen Films at her home in Bel Air when she was married to Kevin Eastman. It was a great place. We used to call it the, “Turtle Mansion,” as Kevin is the co-creator to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There was this gigantic painting of Julie that hung on the wall of the living room. I think that painting and its placement truly depicted who she truly was.
Julie was a talented person full of all kinds of fun and even crazy creative ideas. She was pretty much high all day long. She would get up, wake and bake, then smoke dope periodically all day long. I never smoked with her. I don’t like the high, though she always offered. But, some of our cast and crew did partake from time to time. Then, come eight o’clock, she was off to bed. Had to get her beauty sleep.
Her house was always filled with the famous and the beautiful. The list of friends she had was astonishing. When I was there we would be sitting around with some of the A-list of Hollywood royalty or prominent porn stars.
During the time I was working with Julie she had a very high-end publicist. Via this pathway she invited Don and I to be on a couple of big TV shows she did. I remember this one time she was at an event called, “Dragonfest,” back in the late 90s. This was a martial arts meet and greet thing. I was invited, as obviously I’ve written a lot of stuff on the martial arts and have been involved forever but Julie and Kevin also had a signing table there that year. It was crazy, sure people knew about the Ninja Turtles and were waiting to get a signed photo of Kevin with the Turtles but most did not even know what Julie had or had not done but there was a mile long line to get her autographed photo. She was quite a presence. This, when just the year before, Kevin and I walked around the event and I had to tell people who he was. Kevin is also a great human being!!! I was always so thankful for what they both brought to our productions.
Julie was truly a one of a kind individual. With her passing, gone is one more piece of the puzzle to the original Zen Filmmaking troupe. First was Don, (Donald G. Jackson), then Karen (Black), Z’Dar, Conrad (Brooks), and now Julie. There is almost none of the original team left. Very sad! Julie was a great, beautiful (inside and out), talented individual and will truly be missed.
Copyright © 2021—All Rights Reserved
Friday, December 18, 2020
By Scott Shaw
For anyone who has ever created a movie, or any creative project for that matter, there are things that take place that only the people who were there truly understand. For everyone else, it is simply speculation, projection, or guessing, at best. This is why I forever find it troubling when someone describes what took place on the set of one of my films when they were not on the set. They don’t know! Yet, there they are, telling the world what they believed happened. But, it did not.
People believe. That is one of the realities of life. They hear and they think it to be true. But, look around at life. Look at all the things you have listened to. Think of all the things you have heard. How many of those things were the truth spoken by someone who lived it verses how many of those words were simply someone’s interpretation of what they believed might have happened? Me, personally, whenever I hear someone talking about something they have no true experiential knowledge about, I tune out. Why listen to them? They know nothing!
I think to some of the movies I have created or been a part of. There is the completed product. There is what the audience sees. There is what the critics interpret and judge. But, so many times I am confronted with the fact that what people construe, what people think they know about what took place behind the scenes is so far off the mark that it is almost impossible to calculate.
I can think of one film that I have rarely spoken or written about to use as an example…
In the world of independent filmmaking, there has long been this seeming need to bring people onto a project that have some name recognition. This is most commonly done in order to hopefully boost potential sales. I have never been a fan of this process. For me, as a filmmaker, I have always been much more happy to introduce the unknown actor to the world. Yes, in some cases, I have become friends with, “Name talent,” so that is a completely other ballgame. But, “The Name,” for name sake, in independent filmmaking, has always proved problematic.
I remember my Zen Filmmaking brother, Donald G. Jackson, was at the helm of this one film we created. The shooting title for the film was, “It’s Showtime,” but Don never liked that title so I changed it to, “Strip Club Nights.” The script was written by Mark Williams (RIP).
Don was always a bit Star Struck. Me, growing up in Hollywood and all that… …Seen it all before… Anyway, Don decided to cast Don Stroud. Great guy! Great choice! Plus, the actor who become famous from the movie, Grease and the TV show, Taxi, Jeff Conway for the, “Name talent,” of the film. Now, by this point in time, Jeff had a sorted past and was known to be a problem on the set. Yet, Don wanted him even though I questioned his judgment. On the set, it’s time for Jeff to come on and do his part. He refused to leave his trailer even though he was a paid a lot of money to be there. Everyone was trying to coax him out, to little avail. The guy was obviously high as that is what he did. Don even ended up being a totally dick and yelling at the great actor Don Stroud due to his frustration. If I was Don (Stroud) I would have told him, “Fuck you,” and walked off the set. But, he was a total professional. Conway, on the other hand…
Anyway, Don finally talked Conway out of his trailer. He delivered a piss-poor performance, constantly forgetting his lines, but that is what you get when you hire a person of his mentality. He wanted to be treated like a star. He wanted to be pampered and babied. He was in the film, he was a, “Name talent,” but at what cost?
Now, this is a very obscure film. I could go into what happened with the master copies of it and all that but, again, that is just something that if you weren’t there you would never truly understand. In the past, I have been pointed to people who actually viewed the film and have spoken about this film. All I can take is a moment or two of that kind of stuff because immediately I realize they are totally wrong in what they say. They weren’t there! They don’t know! Yet, they talk…
So, what is all this discourse about? It is about the fact that what YOU live is what YOU live. If you have not lived it, why are you even thinking about it? It was not your life. What you think you know about it is only speculation at best. Why waste your Life Time contemplating anything that you were not a true part of?
Life is about experiencing. Life is about living your life. If you are attempting to live your life via the doings of someone else, all you have done is to turn your life over to them. You are attempting to live your life through them. What is accomplished by interpreting the experiences of someone else? …Experience you have not and cannot ever truly understanding.
Live your own life. Experience what you experience. Don’t attempt to chart the anything of anyone else because you were not there. Don’t waste your time attempting to understand it, because you can’t. All you can do is live your own moment as fully as possible. This is the place/the space; the state of mind where living a GOOD life is formed. Forming the Pure Mind is not out there. …Thinking you know and telling the world about something that you never personally experienced. It is found by living a good life as inquisitively and as positively as possible.
Live your own life. Talk about what you know. Speak about what you have personally experienced. Then your truly knowledge, your inner-realization may be rightly exhibited to the world.
Copyright © 2020—All Rights Reserved
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Scott Shaw is a martial arts expert, author, actor and filmmaker who grew up in Hollywood and spent many years in Asia, including China, Korea, Japan, India, and Thailand. He holds an eighth-degree black belt in both hapkido and taekwondo and is one of the few actors in Hollywood that can expertly wield a samurai sword. Shaw began acting in Hong Kong and Japanese films in the late 80s and early 90s, and also nabbed small roles in major American television shows and films such as Seinfeld and The Player. In 1990, Shaw teamed up with the filmmaker Donald G. Jackson, the notorious director of low-budget cult classics such as Hell Comes To Frogtown, on a new production called The Roller Blade Seven.
The shoot was marred by all sorts of headaches, mostly due to interference from the producer, who made the Hollywood bottom-feeders in Elmore Leonard's novel Get Shorty seem like cinematic geniuses. The producer spent most of the budget hiring "name" actors; in this case, Frank Stallone, which meant that Shaw had to edit and score the film on his own. From this experience, Shaw and Jackson developed a new style of independent production that Shaw dubbed "zen filmmaking." In this approach, there are no scripts or sets. All rules are thrown out the window. The filmmakers have an idea of what they want to do, show up at a location, and feed lines to the actors just before the cameras roll. Actors are encouraged to improvise and experiment, and this often creates very natural and spontaneous dialog. The main problem with most low-budget movies is that the screenplays are written by untalented hacks. The producers are not going to hire someone like David Mamet or Charlie Kaufman to write a genre film, so sometimes it makes more sense to allow the actors to be creative and see where it goes. Zen filmmaking often comes together in the editing process, something that has become much easier and cost efficient in recent years.
The most interesting Shaw/Jackson collaboration is Guns of El Chupacabra (1997), a film that has been described as "Fellini meets the Coen Brothers." It's an acid-tinged spaghetti western about a space sheriff named James B. Quick who has come to earth to kill mythical creatures in the desert. The cast includes B-movie legends Joe Estevez (brother of Martin Sheen) and Robert Z'Dar (Samurai Cop), Penthouse Pet Julie Strain and her husband, Teenage Mutant Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, and Conrad Brooks, an actor who appeared in the films of legendary director Ed Wood (Plan 9 From Outer Space). All of these actors were quick to embrace the creativity that Zen filmmaking allows and have appeared in many Scott Shaw films over the years. The first film that Scott Shaw directed on his own was Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell (the title says it all), which was made in 1992 and took only two days to film. Several Japanese actors are in the cast, including Nakamura Saemi, who later appeared in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. Samurai Vampire Bikers From Hell was one of the first feature films to be shot on video and won an award at the 1993 Tokyo Experimental Film Festival.
In the 2001 film Undercover X (aka No Boundaries), Shaw plays an undercover LAPD detective named Truck Baker, a cross between action star Chuck Norris and The Dude from The Big Lebowski. He's laid-back, but he can also tear your head off with his bare hands. Newcomer Richard Magram plays Shaw's hyperactive partner Torino, who rambles on and on like Joe Pesci after four cups of espresso. The two actors work very well together and there's some priceless improvised dialog in the film, most notably in a scene in which Torino gets into an argument in a bar about whether drinking beer straight from the bottle is more manly than using a glass.
Undercover X was partially filmed in Seoul and Tokyo, and the natural lighting and backdrop of these "exotic locales," shot with handheld digital cameras, come across as more authentic than the faux Asia seen in Hollywood films like Fast & The Furious: Tokyo Drift. In the past few years, several major directors have started to incorporate elements of Zen filmmaking into their work, such as Sofia Coppola, who filmed a great deal of Lost in Translation on location without a script; Gus Van Sant (Gerry); Steven Soderbergh (Full Frontal and Bubble); and Brian DePalma (Redacted). There are also a few similarities (and some major differences) between Zen filmmaking and the Dogme 95 movement created by Lars Von Trier.
Scott Shaw can make a film that costs next to nothing and if it doesn't come out the way he expected; who cares? He'll just move on to the next one. Hollywood types, on the other hand, are always lecturing us about supporting important causes like the Amazon Rainforest, but then they go ahead and waste obscene amounts of money making incredibly bad films like the recent All The Kings Men remake, which starred Sean Penn and Jude Law. The screenplay, written by Academy Award winner Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List), didn't help either because the film lost over $55 million. They should have just made a Zen film over the weekend and given the rest of the money to charity.
You can also find this article at:
Scott Shaw and the Art of Zen Filmmaking
Hollywood File Japan