Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Roller Blade Seven: The Story of the Production




 
By Scott Shaw

Fade In:

Ever since I wrote The Stories of the Production for Max Hell Frog Warrior and Guns of El Chupacaba, I have been deluged with requests to write one about The Roller Blade Seven. To begin with, there is a chapter in my book, Zen Filmmaking on the creation of The Roller Blade Seven that I believe provides a lot of insight into what went on behind the scenes and has a bit of a different focus than this discourse. I wrote that when Don was still alive and he really liked it. It was up on this website for a while—way back in the way back when. I recommend you read it if you really want some additional insight into the making of this film.
To be truthful, I have long thought to go back into my production notes and write a detailed book about The Roller Blade Seven as it was such a long, mind-bending experience. In fact, it was complete fucking chaos! And, I may still do that at some point in time. …In the meantime, for all of those of you who have wondered, I will tell you what I can tell you… I imagine that even this piece will end up being fairly lengthy. If you can get through it, I believe you will have a deeper understanding of what this film and this film’s filmmaking process was all about and you will probably see why it would take an entire book to actual detail all of the finite goings-on.
There are a few prerequisites to the telling of this story that you readers should know about at the outset. As all movies are, this film was created based upon a conglomeration of personalities. Some of these personalities were good; some were not. So, I am going to tell this story as truthfully as possible. But, there are a lot of secrets. For those of you out there who are worried about what I might say; don’t be. Though I am going to tell a truthful story here, your secrets are safe with me. And, I imagine as the story of the creation of RB7 is so vast, I will probably be coming back and doing tune-ups on this essay as new remembrances come to mind—which is something that is not uncommon among my web-based articles. Mostly, this piece is a study in psychology more than simply a fact-based dissertation on filmmaking.
To begin, there needs to be a little bit of a backstory about me.
…I truly do not know what caused me to decide to enter the film industry, as an actor, when I was in my early thirties. Having grown up in Hollywood, I had truthfully seen the downside of it all. Throughout the 80s, I had run a martial art studio, went to grad school, played music, painted, wrote poetry and novels, traveled the world, spend many a late night at underground Hollywood nightclubs, and was in relationships with a lot of various psycho bitches of one flavor or another. As the 80s were coming to a close, I had met a nice young lady, who I am still with to this day, and my life’s focus began to change. Again, I cannot give you an absolute reason why.
By the early 1990s, I had thrown my hat into the acting ring. Though my early onscreen appearances were mostly small, they were in the A-Market, I had my SAG Card, and was frequently being hired as a Featured Day Player in Under-Five roles. Thus, I would be given my own trailer, treated very well, and was paid at that time a base-rate of $455.00 for eight.  I was what may be called, “A working actor.” Things were moving along in my career… I had been active for less than a year and I was doing pretty well. Out of nowhere one day, I was called on my voice mail, (we all carried pagers back then), by Donald G. Jackson. He had received my headshot and he was about to do a movie.
I have told this story before but we never figured out who sent him that headshot. It was a color 8X10 of me holding two swords. Color headshots, being very expensive back then, were usually not sent out. I had a manager and an agent but they both said that they had not sent it to him. So, I guess our meeting was some weird destiny thing that may never be explained.
In any case, I called him back and he inquired if I could actually use the samurai swords. I, of course, could. So, he asked me to meet him at Gower Gulch in Hollywood the next day. As I was an inexperienced actor, making many of the mistakes that an inexperienced actor does, I agreed to meet him.
The next day, I arrive at Gower Gulch; which is basically just a strip mall on Sunset Blvd. and Gower. I was on time, as I always am. I began to stand there and wait. Sometime later, an African-American man with a jheri curl mullet began standing around, as well. I eventually inquired if he was there to meet Donald G. Jackson. He was. He was a strange little guy who I was told was into Wing Chun.
Normally, I only wait for a person for fifteen minutes. If they are not there by then, I’m gone. But, as I was an aspiring actor and all, I waited… Forty-five minutes late, here comes Don: a balding, portly, middle-aged man, dressed in camouflaged clothing.  Every bone in my body told me to walk away. But, I did not.
Don had arrived with two young ladies in tow in a car driven by another man; who I will get to in a moment. He came up to me and the other guy that he knew. His first question to me was, “Where’s your car?” When I pointed out my 1964 Porsche 356 SC his eyes popped out of his head. Don loved vintage cars. Instead of going with the man he came with, he asked me to drive, stuffed the two girls into my very small backseat, climbed in the front, and we were off. We headed to various Hollywood film equipment locations for him to check out some stuff he needed for the upcoming production.
Weird!  I could not believe I was doing that…
A bit later that afternoon, we arrived at the aforementioned guy’s apartment. He was a recent film school grad and had hooked up with Don somehow??? He had written a script for Don called Roller Blade 3 and he was associate producing it with Don directing. The premise of the script was moving forward from Don’s Roller Blade and Roller Blade Warrior films. We went into the rear small patio area of his apartment where I was asked to demonstrate samurai sword usage. The man with the jheri curl was to be my judge and jury. This both amused me and pissed me off.  Again, I thought to leave…
The man impressed… I mean, why wouldn’t he be? From there, within a few minutes, other members of the cast arrived and I was training them how to do combat sword techniques. I had been hired. I was to be the male lead of the film as well as the sword choreographer.
I do not want to get too sidetracked into what went on with that film. I recently did a documentary about it called, Roller Blade 3: The Movie That Never Was. I recommend you check it out as it does provide deep insight into the life and mind of Donald G. Jackson. I will say that it too was complete cluster fuck. The film student seeing this, high-jacked the production, stole Don’s investor, but the movie was never finished. I have written about it in a few essays. 
After that, Don continued forward attempting to find financing for his next film. I continued following the path of an actor and did a few roles, which additionally laid the foundation for my evolving career. Don and I communicated over the next year, mostly via voice mail, and we met once or twice. Then, upon the completion of Frogtown 2, Don called me, invited me to his office, and said he really wanted to work with me and I should be in his next film, Roller Blade Seven.  My course of destiny was set into motion.
Before I go any farther, I need to say that the moment Don got into my 356, as I was driving him to the hospitable for the final stage of his life in 2003, he said, “I really want to apologize for what happen to you on Roller Blade Seven.” I will get to his reason for saying that near the end of this piece. But, keep that essential statement in mind as it is very revenant to my involvement in RB7. I will continue…
There was not a lot of money backing Roller Blade Seven. It was to be financed by Tanya York who had tapped into financing from an aging Hollywood insider. The first film she Executive Produced was Divine Enforcer, which she asked me to appear in, then Frogtown 2, (which I turned down), and now RB7.  Don wanted me to be the lead, do the martial art choreography, write, and produce it with him. The only probably was, as we only had a $30,000.00 dollar budget and the film was to be shot on 16mm film, there was not enough money for me to be paid. He would be paid but I would not… (Though I was promised big money on the back-end.) Initially, that seemed okay, as it would be a good opportunity for me. Don was a known filmmaker. He was a friend of Jim Cameron, which I had confirmed when I had a small role in Terminator 2. His film, Hell Come to Frogtown was frequently on late night TV, and I thought it would be a good progression for my career. As we were only scheduled for a one-month preproduction and production window, I thought I could easily make it through that timeframe without getting paid.
Again, I need to go into a bit into the backstory here… When I signed up to do Roller Blade Seven, I had never seen any of Don’s films. I was not into that style of movie. As a dude, I enjoyed the action-flicks of Seagal and VanDamme, which were big at the Box Office during that moment of time, and the movies that came out of Hong Kong. B-Movies, Cult Movies, and the kind of films Don made, I had no idea about… I was into Film Noir. My mistake, I should have researched what I was getting into.
Anyway… On the very first day we began preproduction, I arrive at what would become our production office and I was ready to go. Niceties were exchanged, we talked about a few things, began to set up casting sessions, discussed ideas for the film, and the like… Around lunchtime, Don doesn’t say anything, gets up, and walks out the door of the office. Initially, I didn’t think anything about it as I thought he might be going to the bathroom or something. Time ticks on… He doesn’t come back. I sat there for over an hour, starring off into space, when Tanya comes by—as our office was in her suite of offices, she inquired as to where was Don. I told her I didn’t know. I told her he got up and just left without saying a word. I could see the anger rising her eyes, “You two are working together! Tell him to stop behaving like that!”  Tanya who had a long relationship with Don, knew of his shenanigans, and I guess was trying to warn me.
Here’s the thing… And, something I did not know at the time, Don loved to test people. He would always fuck with people’s mind, just to see the reaction he got out of them. But me, I’m not easily pushed, nor am I easily tested. Though my first thought was to say, “Fuck this,” and leave the production all together, instead, I walked across Hollywood Blvd. and went to Bushido McDonalds, as Don liked to call it, and got a Big Mac combo. Awhile later, Don reemerged in the office after I heard Tanya going off on him from another office. With her as the money, he did not treat me like that again.
The rest of preproduction went as preproduction does. We would meet at the office each day, do casting sessions, and the like. We would go scout locations, check out equipment, and we became closer as friends. But, underlying all of this was this innate tension that Don emanated throughout his career. He was constantly testing and pushing people. He really treated most people like shit. This really worked against my mindset as that is not the kind of person that I am. He would even subtly fuck with me on various levels, during those early days, by bringing in other people and offing them prominent positions in the production or in the cast and so on.
This was one of the major faults of Donald G. Jackson throughout the years that I knew him and something that got him into a lot of trouble with a lot of people. For example, if a person said that they were a screenwriter, Don would tell them to write a script and promise that he would produce it. If they were an actor, he promised them a starring role. As Hollywood is all about dreams and the promise thereof, he made a lot of enemies via this practice.
For me, within a few days of preproduction, I was ready to walk. It was just a mind fuck mess! There was so much unnecessary tension… There are so many stories I could tell and maybe someday I will… But, not today.
The problem with my mindset and who I am is that I am not a quitter. If I say I am going to do something, I am going to finish it. I believe that this (my mindset) was the entire reason that Don and I remained co-filmmakers for all of those years; I got things done, when he could not.
There are a few preproduction stories I can relate to you that may add to your overall spectrum of understanding.
As the movie was based upon Don’s concept of, “Roller Blade.” …It is essential to note that he came up with the title before the Rollerblade skates were even invented… Anyway, we were looking for a cast of people who could skate very well. (Obviously, I could not.) One afternoon, we were out in the back of the building that held our production offices, in the parking lot, testing the skating ability of a few potential cast members. Afterwards, we went back up into the office. Tanya called us into her office, which overlooked the parking lot. Very rudely, she tells us that we are not allowed to do that in the parking lot. I mean, she really went off…
A side not here, I am not dissing her when I say this as in her own book she states she was always a very bossy person. But me, I do not take well to authority. Be nice, and I’m all-good. Be rude and I react. I mean, I was already an accomplished person by that point in my life; okay. She was twenty-one years old. Treat me with the respect I am due!
Again, that is another one of those moments where I almost said, “Fuck it,” and walked out the door. I didn’t need it! But, before the words could even finish coming out of her mouth, Don began to apologize. He went into a whole discourse about how when he worked at an auto factory in Michigan he had a manager and he did what the manager said and so on… The way Don reacted provided me with deep insight into his hidden personality.
Another thing that was going on was that I had developed a number of actor friends in the year or so I had been involved in the industry. As this was my first big-film producer position, I wanted to bring as many of them into the production as possible. I invited them to the office and we would have talks. Some of them decided not to do the film due to their union status. A SAG union actor cannot be in a non-union film. I could skirt that fact because I was a producer and the union cannot keep someone from producing their own movies.  Others wanted to get paid but as we had a low budget; payment wasn’t an option.  I even contacted my agent and she sent a few people over; one of which we cast. Mostly, what occurred was that through this process, I lost a lot of friends due to Don’s behavior. He just loved to fuck with people and he found a way to fuck with me by messing with the heads of my friends. But, one or two of my peeps did get on board.
Regarding the screen story and its development… It is true that Zen Filmmaking is all about not using a script. But, in the early stages of Roller Blade Seven, Zen Filmmaking was not yet in existence. Don told me that he had shot his then unreleased film, UFO Secret Video without a script and that Roller Blade was largely done without a script but Don truly relied upon a screenplay throughout his career.  Plus, Tanya wanted to know what we would be doing. Thus, it was decided that I would be the one to write a script. So yes, Roller Blade Seven did initially have a script, though it was never used. I wrote it!
If you feel like it, you can read the treatment I wrote for Roller Blade Seven in my book, The Screenplays. You will see that what we planned to shoot and what we did shoot were very different.
Preproduction was scheduled to take about a week. By the time we finally got ready to go up, we were over a month into the process. All this time and I had not been paid. Again, I should have seen the writing on the wall and left.
One of the interesting things that occurred, a day or so before we were to go up, was that a young, beautiful actress came in to audition. Before we could get very far in our conversation, she reached her hand across my desk, took my hand, and said, “I’ll do anything to be in this film.” We all understand what that means… Me, being me, I was about to walk her into the closed off back section of our building, where we had production stages, and well… You know… Just at that moment, Claudia, the girl who played Kabuki, literally burst through the door, sees our hands intertwined, and blurts out, “What the fuck is going on here!”
Claudia was a very interesting person. From Germany; she was an outspoken stripper by trade, a smoker and a drinker. She loved the Crazy 8’s, as we call them on the street; Old English 800. A nasty street beer almost universally only partaken of by African-Americans.  But me, I was right there with her. I was the only one who would drink that swill with her. Whenever she came by the office, which she did quite a lot, she brought a forty once bottle or two and we would pass it back and forth.
What would have happened between that actress and I given the chance? I guess I will never know??? But, she is in the film. Guess who she is?
On the first day of production, in the early AM hours, I loaded up all my swords, my Rollerblades, and stuff into the back of my 356 and headed over to Mark’s house in Downey. Mark was to be an actor in the film as well as our Art Director. Good guy! He had done a lot of work with Troma. Plus, he was a great rollerblader and had several friends who were also great rollerbladers that he brought onboard. 
You have to understand, by the first day of the shoot, I had no idea what was going to happen next. Though I was the only other producer on the set, Don had created such an anxiety-ridden preproduction that I didn’t know if I would quit, be the star of the production that I was promised to be, be replaced, or what was to take place next??? This, even though I had brought some of my friends on board—one in a principal role.  But, me being who I am, (the non-quitter) I played along.
The fact is, this was one of the ways Don used to manipulate people—always keep them guessing. But, the truth was, (as I realized later), his mind was so chaotic that he too didn’t know what was going to happen next and due to his very deep rooted insecurities, he was always afraid of being rejected, so he power-tripped to such a degree to keep anyone from having the ability to hurt him. But, that’s life… Creative people are generally the most fucked up.
We had a lot of people there on the first day of production. Mark had a lot of costuming at his home. He handled getting the cast outfitted. Then, Don and I gave the final approval.
Mark lived within very close access to the L.A. Riverbed basin; which is where we planned to shoot. This is why we staged from his home.
Before I go any farther, if you care about the Roller Blade Seven and its behind-the-scenes, you really need to see the documentary I did titled, Roller Blade Seven: The Unseen Scenes. There’s a lot of very revealing stuff in that doc that begins at this point in the production.
Just as we are about to begin shooting, it began to rain. Rain is a great, free, special effect. It is not, however, great for roller-skating. In the aforementioned doc, you can see my character being the first to take a fall on the slick path that we were skating along. For me, who had only been on rollerblades once or twice, it was a scary and dangerous experience. Even our RollerCam guy, a GREAT skater, took a dive with the Bolex in his hand on that day. You can see that in the doc, as well.
The first shots of the day were the Roller Blade Seven skating as a team. Next, were the villains. We finished the day up by doing some of the martial art confrontation. Here is where a lot was revealed to me about Donald G. Jackson…
Obviously, I was a well-trained martial artist. My agent had sent me a well-trained female Kempo stylist that we cast for the film. Plus, I brought on a few other people who knew their stuff.  Don suggested I go and set up the fights. I figured I had some time so I was first working with the girl and her opponent. Maybe ten minutes into the session Don walks up, “Okay, let’s shoot.” But…
Here’s the thing, Don didn’t even care that the people weren’t ready. All he cared about was getting something/anything on film. So, all of those one-on-one fights you see in the film were choreographed on the spot. I told them do this or do that, and that was that.
Now, here was Don, a guy who loved the martial arts and samurai films. Though he never trained, he was constantly referencing all things bushido. But, there he was, making a martial arts film but he did not care about the most elemental component of the film we planned to make, the fight scenes. Plus, he had no idea about how to shoot angles so that the fighting techniques looked like they actually connected. Mostly, I think it was once again his insecurity and his fear of someone, (i.e. me), taking his power away.
There was a high point to all this that came later in my filmmaking career, however. From this experience, I realized that on the indie level of making a film that employs the martial arts, it is better to just choreograph one technique at a time; film it, then move on to the next. That way, no elaborate choreography is needed to be learned by the cast members.
The Saturday and Sunday shoot ended.
The following week, we took the film to Fotokem to be developed. We then had it telecined. Don hated what he saw. Being on the other side of the camera, I was a bit more forgiving; understanding that the actors had virtually no direction from Don, the director. Don was like that, he never really directed his actors. But, I too saw the flaws.
We were in the office, discussing the results of the pervious weeks endeavor. Don was fuming as he often did. Blaming others, as he almost always did. We decide that we needed to let go of all the structure and throw all of the plans that we had for the film out the window and just go out there and film. It was then and there that I came up with the title, Zen Filmmaking. “Let’s just be Zen. This is Zen. This is Zen Filmmaking.”
The next weekend, we reconvened at Mark’s house. Again, we had a very large cast; though many of the people, especially the friends I had brought on board, had quit. As we weren’t shooting any dialogue on that first weekend, they felt like they were just being used as an extra. And, Don refused to call all but three of the original Roller Blade Seven back; one was Kabuki, the other was this great rollerblader and friend of Marks who play several roles including the banjo player and Fukasai Ninja, and the other was one of my friends, a highly trained martial artist.
Once everyone was suited up, we went down into the river basin and Don called everyone around him. There and then, he blew up. He began screaming at everyone. Telling them what horrible actors they were, how they had cost him and I thousands of dollars, and that they were total pieces of shit. I was in disbelief. I had never seen a director treat people like that. He went on-and-on insisting that they were all ruining his and my movie. Wow!!!
He went up to one guy, who had been using nunchucks the first weekend, grabbed them away from him, threw them on the ground, and told him he was an fucking idiot and didn’t know how to use them. Now, this guy was a trained martial artist and I expected him to react. I mean if someone had come at me like that the least I would have done is told him, “Fuck you,” and walked away. At the worst, I would have kicked his ass. But, this guy took it. Did nothing but stand there. I could not believe it. The whole scenario I could not believe!
Eventually, Don was finished and we began to film. We shot the first words of dialogue recorded in the film—my character laying on the ground saying, “I can’t believe she made me wear these skates.”
We filmed all day. We did the big skate oncoming, leading to the big fight scene. We also did a little trick that Don suggested—individually killing off all of the main characters so if we saw their face in the final cut, we could show their character dying and thereby keep the story sound.
As the day was coming to a close, there they came, the police officers. Someone had reported us. As we obviously didn’t have a filming permit, this presented a problem, as what often occurred back then is that the police would confiscate your film.  Don had actually been arrested once. But, that was because he was filming a naked girl handcuffed to a fence.
What we did was to give all of our exposed film to our RollerCam guy and have him skate off into the distance. Don, Sergio (our AC), and I got the cameras and walked off into the sunset. As the cast was just the cast, we left them there to deal with the repercussions of which there were none. What could they be held responsible for?
That was the last weekend of big production on the Roller Blade Seven. After that, all things were kept smaller and more controlled.  Though we did have a fairly large number of cast and crew members on several of the shoot days, there was never the massive amount of cast and crew as on those first two weekends.
As we moved farther into the production, we needed dialogue for the cast to speak. Don loved my books: Essence: The Zen of Everything and Time, which was later published by one of the Bigs as Zen O’clock: Time to Be. There it was, our script. People like Joe and Karen took to it immediately. They could just choose their aphorism and that was that. We were set to go…
In the past, I’ve spoken a lot about cast members like Karen, Joe, Bill, and Frank and their involvement in RB7 in interviews, articles, and the like. For Joe, Chris asked me to write the introduction for his book on Joe, Wiping off the Sheen. There, I pretty much spell out our meeting with Joe and his involvement in RB7. The one cast member I have not spoken that much about is Don Stroud. So, I will do it here…
I first met Don Stroud on the set of Divine Enforcer. I could not understand why an actor of his caliber would be doing a movie like that. I mean he had a GREAT career from the 1960s forward. In fact, ever since I saw his film, Angel Unchained, in my early teens, he was my idol. I forever watched his career evolve. So, to get him in RB7 and to get to work with him was a dream come true.
For those of you who have seen RB7 and Return of the RB7 you will know that Don plays the congas in those films. That was all his idea to bring his congas along. And, a great idea it was as that really added a lot to the films and gave us something to really build around. For those of you who have seen the 1978 movie, the Buddy Holly Story, you will know that Don did a great job of playing the drums and bongos in that film.
Though Don did play the congas live in the film I actually had to loop his playing when we were in post. Thus, that is me you are hearing not Don. I will explain the reason for this in a moment.
A funny note, Don is a great and humble person. When I first met him he was living in Brentwood but he later relocated to Manhattan Beach when I was living in nearby Redondo Beach.  Every now and then I would bump into him and he would be all excited to see me and say, “Hey Scott! It’s Don… Don Stroud.” Like I didn’t know. In fact, sometimes he would call me up and invite me over to his place or to go out to lunch with him or something. But, I just couldn’t do it. I could not hang out with my idol. It was just too weird for me.  Though every time I ran into him, I was very happy to see him.
Anyway, with my two books as a basis for dialogue, the movies got made. There are a million stories I could tell you. But, that would take a book…
It is essential that before I get any farther, I detail a known fact about Don… At least, known to those of us who knew him. Don was a very dark individual. Though he referred to himself as, “The Master of Light,” and he could quote you biblical passages left and right, he truly embraced a negative energy. An energy that spread to all of those around him if you were not very careful. Basically, he was one of those spoiled children who never really grew up. He was probably allowed to throw temper tantrums as a child with no discipline as that is how he behaved as an adult. If he wasn’t getting his own way, he went off. While we were doing RB7, I allowed his negativity to enter my life and I was doing things completely against my nature like barking orders at cast and crew and just not caring about people and life. Being involved with this movie truly took me to a really dark place. But, I ended up paying the price. Read on…
Anyway, we went into postproduction. But, not without a terrible toll having been taken on both Don and I. Due to all the chaos he invoked in our lives by the time we got to that stage we were both eating Xanax like baby aspirin—stressing massively. Me, who has had chronic anxiety problems from my adolescences forward, due to living through one of those childhoods that you never quite get over, was particularly susceptible. So, it was bad…  
Plus, I went to the doctor somewhere around this time period. I had gone into the production weighting my standard weight of one hundred and fifty-five pounds. When I got on the scale and the doctor told me I was one and eighty-five pounds I could not believe it!  …The thing was, Don ate all the time. We were constantly eating burgers, candy, chips and junk. With no time to work out, as RB7 was pretty much twenty-four-seven, I had put on the pound. Plus, Don had a hiatal hernia that he never had treated. Thus, he barfed all the time when he was eating. It just all added to the fucking mess that was this production.
As detailed, in my earlier writing on this subject, we went into the editing of RB7 expecting to have one of Don’s previous editors do the job.  Each day we would show up and try to guide him but he just wasn’t onboard for what we were trying to achieve. We wanted something really crazy, artsy, psychedelic, and abstract. But, he was trying to take it mainstream. He just didn’t understand our vision. As stated in the past, he taught me how to use the editing equipment and I instantly took to it. Thus, we fired him, moved to a large editing suit, and I got down to business.
A side note here… Don made one of the cardinal mistakes of filmmaking while we were at the original editing facility. He arrived one morning. With him was all of our original audiotapes from the production where we had recorded our dialogue. We were recording our sound for the film on the then new DAT tape system. He went to the bathroom en route to the studio. There, he forgot the tapes. They were all in a paper bag. I was already guiding our editor when he arrived at the editing studio. He sat down for a time and then remembered he forgot the tapes. He went back to the bathroom to get them but they were gone. Someone had stolen them. He, of course, massively freaked out. We searched for them, asked people for them, put up notes, but nothing. They were gone. You have to admit, that is a pretty fucked up thing to do—to steal something that important from somebody. But, that was all just part and parcel to the RB7 experience.
The only thing that saved us was the fact that we had much of the dialogue recorded on our ¾ inch edit tapes. Without that, we would have been fucked beyond belief. The whole movie would have had to have been looped.
You can see, in the aforementioned doc, Roller Blade Seven: The Unseen Scenes, several of the scenes that did not make it into the final cut of the film due to the fact that we did not have the original audio recordings.
Big mistake on Don’s part! In any case…
We moved to a new editing facility. It was a fun and interesting time at our editing suite. There were drugs, alcohol, and women in there all the time.  It was a massive orgy. True hedonism.
Though we partied, I did do the edit.
One of the things that I realized doing the edit on RB7 was, though I have edited a lot of movies throughout the years, editing is not good for my brain. For after I would spend a whole day in the editing suite, looking at and cutting footage, I began to see life as an edit. It really messed with my psyche.
In terms of the footage used, we put all the best of the best into RB7 except for one very good fight scene. The rest of the footage we used for Return of the RB7.
Once we were done with the off-line edit, as it is called, we took it to an on-line editing facility. For those of you who may not know, making a movie on film is a complicated and expensive process. First, you have to buy the film, shoot it, develop it, telecine it, sync the dialogue, transfer it to time coded tape, do the edit, then take the footage to a facility where they can match the time code numbers to the original masters, and then create the final edit of the film. This final stage is called on-line editing. Though on-line has a very different meaning in today’s mind.
We went to the on-line facility and did our final edit. By the time we had gotten there, we still had no soundtrack. I don’t know what Don was thinking but he seemed like he had a plan. As was commonly the case, he did not. As we were closing in on the final construction of the movie, I was handed the task of creating the soundtrack as the budget had all been spent. I was given one weekend. That was it. I had two days to create an entire soundtrack for two feature films and Don wanted music to be laid over every element of the movies. 
My girlfriend and I lived in a small flat right on the water in Redondo Beach. Though the location was beyond great, the place was fairly small. And, as it was an apartment, it was not like I could jam out with loud drums and guitars and stuff. And, this was long before the computer age of music when everything got easy. Thus, I came home on that Friday night bewildered; what would I do? The answer, I just did it. I sat down with what I had: guitars, a sitar, a sarod, tablas, a banjo, a drum machine, and synthesizers, and just got it done. I created and recorded the soundtrack on a Teac 4-Track Cassette Recorder that I had picked up in Tokyo.  Monday morning, I arrived with the soundtrack and we laid it down.
One of the truly philosophic elements I learned while we watched the final playback of the final edit of RB7, in the on-line studio was, in filmmaking, sometimes you have to accept what you get. There is a scene in RB7 where Alison’s characters skates up to Don Stroud, talks to him, and then skates away as Don laughs. When original laid down, we had Don’s laugh loudly echoing as Alison skated away. It was really cool. In the final playback, the laugh was gone. The on-line editor had messed up. The on-line editor looks at us. Don looks at me. I look at him. To go back in and redo that track would not only mean a lot of time but a lot of money. Though I thought it was essential; Don just let it go. And, that is one of the sad facts of filmmaking—you may want something to be someway but sometimes you just have to let it go…  
That was it. The films were done.
With the films done, it was time to shoot the poster…
As we progressed through the months, pretty much all of the original cast members had fallen away. As they weren’t getting paid, they were all gone. I got it. Even by the end, Kabuki was gone and she took her leather jacket with her. Thus, we had to buy another one of the expensive jackets she wears in the film from a shop on Hollywood Blvd. so we could imitate her character in the final poster shoot—which was photographed at a high-end facility in Santa Monica.
One of the funny stories about that photo session is that if you look at the RB7 page on my site or in the Photo Book I create on Roller Blade Seven, The Roller Blade Seven: A Photographic Exploration, you will see that there is a poster shoot with Don (Jackson) in the shot. Tanya hated it. She made us go back and get shots were he and the guy who played Heavy Metal were not in the picture. Awh, the power of power…
By this point, we had been up on RB7 for months. I was dead broke. As I have detailed in the past, I had to sell my 1934 D’Angelico New Yorker and other vintage guitars I owned just to survive. In fact, I don’t know that I have ever truly recovered from the financial loss I took on RB7 for after all of these years I still have not been able to replace that D’Angelico.
Though the movie was finally completed, the problem after all of this toil and turmoil was, I was about to have salt poured into my wounds. I found out that Don had been paying Alison, our female lead, throughout the entire production. (I wonder why?) Now, it is not that she didn’t deserve it. But, there I was: the producer, the casting agent, the location scout, the still photographer, the choreographer, the screenwriter, the star, the soundman, the editor, the soundtracker, the…, getting paid zero.
The back-end money I was promised… I was paid zero. Plus, the movies were released without me signing a release for anything: not the words from my books, not the music I created, not my producing, not my acting; zero, nothing, nada… How illegal and immoral is that?
Then, Tanya stepped in… She didn’t like the fact that my name was all over the films. Thus, after she had made in the mid six figures, (that is in the mid hundred thousand dollar range for all of you people in other countries), in other words—a lot of money by releasing the original versions of the films internationally at the 1992 American Film Market, she then had a re-do edit done for U.S. release where virtually all of my screen credits were wiped from the films. I got a lawyer involved. But, lawyers cost big money. Money, I didn’t have back then. So, I was fucked. Fucked beyond belief. Thus, answering the question of why Don said on the way to his deathbed, “I really want to apologize for what happen to you on Roller Blade Seven.”
Don and I fell away from each other after that for a time. I was obviously very pissed. Plus, he liked people he could control and I had already set about making my own films. But me, I was the one who got fucked. Not him. He continued to get financing from Tanya. …In my life, my Porsche had blown its transmission while we were doing the on-line edit and that would cost big money to be fixed. I had none. And, that is just one elemental example of what was going on in my life. …Don or Tanya, they were flush, thus they did not care. I was the source of not only their money but a film that has been in public discussion for decades and I was not paid a dime.
I guess the final blow came when I was on my way to pick up this girl on my Harley to go and see Soundgarden at the Roxy. I had just found out that Tanya had me thrown out of our production offices and ban me from entering the building. This, after she had made all of that money off of my creative vision. Me, I was driving and a car hit me from behind. The guy didn’t have any insurance, so my fully customized Harley Davidson was toast—gone forever; totaled. I was taken in an ambulance to the emergency room at Cedars Sinai. They wanted to check me in but I wasn’t down for that.
So, I checked myself out. This was obviously before the age of instant communication with everyone via the smartphones that exists today. Back then, if you didn’t have the number memorized, you were out of luck. I called all the numbers I could remember to get picked up but nobody answered. I called my girlfriend but she was at work and didn’t feel it was right for her to leave—she’s that kind of person: work before love. So me, my life in ruins, my body broken, bruised, and bleeding, I sat there on the steps of the emergency room of Cedars Sinai hospital for five hours waiting until I was finally picked up.
That’s the story of The Roller Blade Seven.

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.

This article can also be found on scottshaw.com with additional links @  The Roller Blade Seven: The Story of the Production.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Zen Filmmaking: Beyond The Roller Blade Seven


As I frequently discuss, hardly a week goes by that someone does not contact me about The Roller Blade Seven and wants to discuss some aspect of that Zen Film. Which is great! That’s fine! I get it… It’s a bizarre film. And, that is exactly what we had in mind when we created it. Though, in all honesty, that was never the vision I had for my film career when I first entered the industry. But, I’ve said all this before…
The thing about Roller Blade Seven and all the turmoil that surrounded its creation is, so many people see that film and believe that is where Zen Filmmaking ended. They think that somehow RB7 is the end-all culmination of Zen Filmmaking. It is not. In fact, due to all of the craziness during the Production, the Post Production, and the initial Distribution of RB7, one can conclude that RB7 is anything but true Zen Filmmaking. Yes, it is crazy. Yes, it is weird. Yes, we had a lot of fun making it. Yes, it has etched a place for itself in Cult Film History but did Zen Filmmaking begin and end with that film? No.
As each production possesses its own set of criteria and definitions, RB7 had its own, as well. And, that is what defines that film. But again, was what took place and what was presented on the screen in that film the end-all of Zen Filmmaking? No, not at all. That film just was what that film was. Nothing more, nothing less.
As I always tell everybody, Zen Filmmaking is never about the story. …The stories have all been told… Zen Filmmaking is about a visual cinematic experience. It is about invoking emotions and thoughts in the mind of the viewer. As each person brings their own set of standards and ideologies to every/any film that they watch, anyone who ever sees a Zen Film will come away with something different. …As they should…
FYI: I haven't made a narrative-driven Zen Film since 2009 so what most people who discuss Zen Filmmaking are talking about is actually ancient history.
The fact is, Zen Filmmaking is more about philosophy that about actual cinema. And, this is where so many critics and movie watchers get it wrong. It is about embracing a philosophic vision on the screen. As such, even if you project one never-ending single image on the screen, that can be Zen Filmmaking, if Zen Filmmaking is what you hope to invoke with that single image.
I know there are a couple of film schools that teach courses on Zen Filmmaking. Of course, none of them, (at least not yet), have invited me to come and give a seminar or be the actual instructor… But, that’s okay. I get it. They want to control the message—even though I am the one invented the message. Yeah sure, I own the Trademark. Yeah sure, I instigated and formalized the understanding. But, like I always say, “Make it your own…” You don’t have to do what I do to make a Zen Film. You simply have to do what you do.
Zen Filmmaking is about the freedom of naturalness. It is not about following any film formula that I may have used in the past. From this very definition it gives rise to the understanding that there are no definitions. …Not even the definition of no definition. …As isn’t that the ultimate understanding of Zen?
So, for all you people out there writing and talking about RB7, remember that was the beginning of Zen Filmmaking, it was not the end. It keeps changing. It keeps evolving. So please, don’t hold myself, my filmmaking, or other Zen Filmmakers locked into that place in time. That was there. That was then. Now, I am here. Where are you?

Copyright © 2018—All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Zen Filmmaking: The Manifesto

By Scott Shaw

I created Zen Filmmaking in 1991 as a way to make the filmmaking process as easy, as creative, and as pain free as possible. To do that, at the heart of Zen Filmmaking is the fact that a Zen Filmmaker does not use a script or a screenplay in the creation of a film.

The Screenplay
Many people base all of their filmmaking creativity around a screenplay and they question, “How can you create a movie without a screenplay?”
To answer, the reality of it is; in your mind’s eye, you can write a great script. And, in that script, you have great locations, great sets, and your actors act out every word perfectly. But, the truth of independent filmmaking is, it is usually not like that.
First of all, as an independent filmmaker, you commonly do not have the money to get the locations and/or the sets that you have detailed in your screenplay. This is particularly the case if you have written an elaborate script. But, more importantly, it is quite common that due to the fact you will mostly likely be working with novice actors, they will not possess the developed ability to memorize dialogue and then speak those lines with any convincing realism. This is the reason that a large percentage of independent films are seen as unprofessional—the actors portraying their characters come off as unreal.
But now, think about this… If you have a story in mind, and I am not saying don’t have a story. Because when I create a movie, I always have a story in mind. But, once you have that general storyline, instead of writing an elaborate screenplay; simply put together a cast that can bring out the essence of the characters you have in mind for your movie, and then move forward and create that film.

Casting
One of the main, and most essential points of Zen Filmmaking to remember is, “Your cast does not have to be professionally trained actors” As they will not be required to memorize dialogue, (and then recite those written words with conviction), all you have to do is to gather a group of people together who look the way you want your characters to look and who can portray the emotions of the characters you have in mind for your story in the most natural manner possible.
By creating your movie with this as a basis, once you have your story, and have put together your cast, you can simply go out and find one or more locations, bring your cast to the set, and shoot your movie. It’s as simple as that!
No rehearsals. Just filmmaking in its purest sense.

The Cast
I am often asked about how to best acquire a cast for a Zen Film. The main thing about casting your Zen Film is to remember, “Some actors get it—they intrinsically understand the process of Spontaneous Creativity, and some do not.”
Most true actors actually want to improv. Why? Because by improving they get to add their own creative signature to the film.
Then, there are the ones who don’t get it—the actors who must have a script. Those are the people who are really locked into different era and style of filmmaking.  They want things to be fed to them. They don’t want to be naturally creative.
Many people have asked me, “What do you do with an actor or an actress who is resistant on the set?”
To answer, “I don’t use ‘em!”
In short, find actors who are open minded to this style of natural, spontaneous creativity. If they become resistant on your set, simply ask them to leave.
As previous stated, you don’t have to use professional actors!
In terms of my filmmaking, many times I’ll meet a person and they have a really interesting look or possess a very interesting personality. From this alone, I bring them on a movie and put them in the film.  
…Because they don’t have to memorize dialogue, they don’t have to be locked into a character—they can simply be themselves. And, as stated, from this, the overall presentation of the movie, (to the audience), is much more natural.

The Crew
This, “Naturalness,” is the same ideology I use with my crew. You want to surround yourself with people who are creative, can think on their feet, and are not dominate by structure. You need people who are willing to change their minds at a moment’s notice.
Just as with the true actor, true cinematographers and true filmmakers are always open to change and make themselves available and open to new and different inspiration.
In defining whom you should work with, the best thing to do is to meet with your crew and discuss this philosophy before you actually get out there in the trenches and are filming.  Because, the fact of the matter is, you want to know that your crew is going to stand behind you once your production is in motion.

Guiding the Actor
The question is also often asked, “If I don’t use a script, how do I get my story told?”
First of all… One of the primary understandings of Zen Filmmaking is, “The stories have all been told.” If you think the story in your movie is totally original, you are lying to yourself.  With this as the elemental basis, to answer the question, what I do is I get my actors on the set, I tell them what the scene is about, and I describe to them the essence of what I want them to portray or discuss in that scene.  Then, I let them go at it.  Many times, that is all the guidance they need and they develop the storyline with their own unique flavor.
If, on the other hand, they need any tuning-up about the story development, I stop the scene and guide them in the direction I want the story to go. Then, I recommence shooting.
Ultimately, what happens by letting an actor be themselves is that you get a very-very natural performance. Two people, three people, four people, or however many people are in the scene, you let them talk the way they talk, and develop their characters the way they develop their characters.  From this, you get a very natural performance that is then presented to your audience.

Critiquing
A lot of people want to criticize independent features; whether they’re No-Budget, Low-Budget, B-Movies, Cult Films, Zen Films, or whatever… But, like I always say, “What is a film critic?  With very few exceptions, a film critic is somebody who doesn’t have the talent or the dedication to actually go out and make a movie.”
Because, let’s face facts… Making a movie is not easy.  Even with Zen Filmmaking, it takes a lot of focus and creative energy.
As far as the critics go, it’s easy for someone to sit around and criticize films. I mean, even in the highest budget films, you can find flaws, and you can find things to criticize.
Criticizing filmmaking is very easy. But, to actually make a movie, is not easy! In fact, it’s very complicated. Which again is where Zen Filmmaking comes into play and one of the primary reasons I created it.
Zen Filmmaking is about removing as many obstacles as possible from the filmmaking process.

Make the Mistakes Your Friend
It is essential to note, “Obstacles,” are the primary reason many would-be filmmakers want to start a film but never do. This is also the reason many filmmakers start to create a movie but do not complete it.
Many people start a film. But, as anybody who has ever begun walking down the road to a film’s creation knows, “There will be problems!” In fact, every movie I’ve ever made, (and I’ve made a lot of ‘em), there have been problems that have occurred with every single one of them. Some have been small. Some have been big. But, no film is every created without encountering some level of problems.
The fact of the matter is, you will never be able to create a movie without encountering some level of obstacles. There are going to be problems. But, Zen Filmmaking teaches that what you need to do is to make those obstacles part of your creative process. Like I always say, “Make the mistakes your friend.” Because, if you, “Make the mistakes your friend,” then you can work within those parameters and make them part of your overall creative process.
This gets us back to the topic of other people criticizing films and, in fact, you, criticizing your own movie…
You must remember that no movie is every going to turn out exactly the way you want it to turn out. For example, as an artist, I’ve painted for most of my life. And, I can tell you; no painting ever turns out exactly the way I had planned.
What you need to do, regarding the filmmaking process is, you need to understand that you have to allow a movie to be what it is. Let it be, within itself.
We all want any film we make to look a certain way and to turn out a certain way. As such, we work towards that end. That’s fine. But, you cannot allow what you hope something will be, to define your movie. Things are going to happen that you are not going to like. And, if you hope to actually complete your film, instead of shutting it down and throwing in the towel during production, you have to learn to accept and live within that understanding.

Use What’s Available
This brings us back to the point of, “Make the mistakes your friend.”  
With the dawning of creative and artistic movie making everything changed. Certainly, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, the realms of filmmaking were definitely pushed forward into the areas of the artistic and the abstract.  But, I believe it was more exemplified with the dawning of the age of music videos.  
What happened was, with the birth of artistic filmmaking, (and music videos are just that), there came to be a new and expanded understanding that a film can be as abstract as you want it to be. Colors can be anything. Scenes can be anything. Your cuts can be as erratic as you desire them to be.  So, instead of becoming upset with your project if you find unexpected flaws, make all of that a part of your filmmaking process and use it as an actual signature for the film you are creating.
Certainly, you try to get a scene looking the way you want it to look.  But, if it doesn’t happen, allow yourself to be free and creative enough to be able to use the elements and the things that are available to us now in order to complete your film.

Early in the Game
When I first began making films, we were shooting on actual film and it was very-very expensive.  You had to buy the film. You had to develop the film. Then, you had to make copies of the film so you could edit the movie. This was done because you did not want to damage your original footage. So, you either copied the film to a work-print or you transferred the film to video with timecode where it was then edited on Three Quarter Inch Masters or Beta Masters. Then, after you completed the edit, you would Telecine the film to correct minor color or lighting imperfections. This process, at its cheapest, cost one-hundred dollars an hour.
With Telecine you could somewhat change the overall look of the film. If it was a little dark, you could bring up the light.  If it was little light, you could bring it down.  And, you could change the overall color texture of the film to a certain degree. But, for the most part, you were left with what you had shot.
Today, you can do all of these lighting and color correction and more on your computer. But, even with this ability, your film is probably not going to be the exact way you may have envisioned it to be. Your D.P. may have shot certain scenes a little dark. He, (or she), may have shot them a little light. The scenes may be out of focus. Or, there may be some audio problems. But, these factors should not be a reason to stop you or stop the film!
What I am saying is to take all of those elements: out of focus, poor lighting, color variations, whatever, make them a part of your creative, finished product.
If you have to add coloration to your film or if you have to make it black and white instead of color, do it!  Use all of the things at your disposal to get your finished product out there!
That is the ultimate lesson of Zen Filmmaking. Make a movie and get it out there!

Make the Process Happen
In short, in Zen Filmmaking, what you do is to start out with a story. Then, you go out there and film it. When you look at your competed footage, if it’s not quite what you expected, that’s fine.  It’s all part of the process.
From making a movie in this manner you can learn while you get a new film out there. Then, in your next movie, you will understand, “Well… I made a little miscalculation doing that on my last film, so I won’t do it again. I didn’t like what happened when I did that, so I’m going to do it a different way this time.”
From all of these experiences, the next time you make a film, it will be so much better. And that’s the ultimate thing about filmmaking—doing it, completing a project, and getting it out there as a calling card.  Getting it out there to entertain the masses.

Removing the Obstacles
As stated, the main thing about Zen Filmmaking is that it’s about removing as many obstacles as possible from the filmmaking process. It’s about being as spontaneous as possible.  
What that means is that you don’t want to lock yourself into a highly defined mindset—full of preconceived definitions. You want to leave your mind open so that you can adapt to new creative ideas and experiences when they present themselves to you.
For example, when I go out and shoot a movie, I have my cast and I have some ideas of where I am going to shoot.  But, if I see a new location while driving and think, “Wow, this would really work in the film,” we get out of the car and we go and do one or more scenes at the location.  
And, the fact of the matter is, you never know what’s going to happen. This is why in Zen Filmmaking we don’t use scripts.  Because with no script, you are allowed to be free in your own, “Spontaneous Creation.” So, if I see a location, my cast and crew are allowed to go there and film. That’s where the magic of Zen Filmmaking happens.  You don’t lock yourself into a structured process.

Structure
For the filmmakers who still desire some form and structure in the filmmaking process, I can tell them what I do while creating one of my Zen Films. First, I have a shot list.  Each day, I create a shot list of the scenes I want to have happen for the movie. Then, I allow freedom and the magic of Zen to take over.  So, if we are driving along, we see a location, we get out, and we’ll film a scene or two. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But, what I come away with is at least a few more minutes of footage that will add to the overall production value of the film.
In independent filmmaking, you commonly don’t have the money to go out and reshoot a scene if it does not come out as you had planned. On multi-million dollar films, (and as an actor I’ve worked on several of them), the filmmakers can go back to the location; they can bring back the entire cast and crew, and re-film scenes if they don’t like the way they turned out. In fact, I have been in movies where million dollar scenes were completely cut out of the final film.  But, on the independent level, you really can’t do that.  So, what you want to do is to be as free, as spontaneous, as creative, and as in-the-moment as possible.  From this, you allow yourself to take advantage of whatever is happening. If you see a location, go film there. If the sun is setting and the light’s getting low; okay, you add that to your movie. If the sun’s coming up or if it’s a bright sunny day or if it starts to rain, add all that to the story development of your film.
From shooting a film in this fashion you add to the overall production value and presentation of your movie. Plus, you present your audience with additional depth to your stories and your character’s development.

There are three man points to remember in Zen Filmmaking:
1. Don’t lock yourself into a script
2. Don’t lock yourself into locations.
3. Bring a cast and a crew on board who get the idea of, “Spontaneous Creativity.”

From this, everything becomes free.  It becomes easy. It becomes, for lack of a better term, “A spiritual process of filmmaking.”
Like I always say, “Zen Filmmaking leads to Cinematic Enlightenment.”  What does that mean?  It means by being free, by allowing the natural flow of creativity to guide you and your process, your film become as natural, as free, and as spiritual as possible. And from that, true art can be lived and created.

Zen Filmmaking is a Registered Trademark
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