Thursday, January 23, 2020

The Unauthorized Biography of Donald G. Jackson

By Scott Shaw

Life forever amuses me. The actions of other people also amuse me. Though, in truth, I forever find myself questioning why some people do some of the things that they do…
More often than not I find that when people contact me to tell me of some of the goings-on out there in the world, I wish that they had not done so. Really people, I just don’t want to know. I live this very simple (semi reclusive) life. I focus on art, spirituality, meditation, and helping others whenever I can. All the nonsense that goes on out in the world, I just find distracting.
Anyway, before I get too far off target, let me get to the point. Somebody told me that someone had written a biography about Donald G. Jackson and published it on Amazon. The title, “From Roller Blade to Frogtown: The Strange Film Journey of Donald G. Jackson.” Interesting title.
So, I popped over to Amazon to check it out. The cover, a photo of Don that I had taken and the author had altered and used without my permission. Does no one care about copyright laws? There’s also a frog from Frogtown on the cover, a little silhouette shot of me near the bottom from Max Hell Frog Warrior, and a screen grab of one of the nuns from Roller Blade Warriors. The Kindle version of the book was only ninety-nine cents so what could I do? I had to read it.
To be fair, the author, Matthew Skelly, clearly states in the introduction to the book, “Mind you, I didn’t write this book to reveal some hidden bombshell that will set the world on fire. There is nothing new or secret here. Everything written here was already out in the open where anyone with a web browser or a library card could unearth it. My goal here is to simply consolidate all of the information about Jackson’s life and work, so I can lay it out in a clear timeline.”
Basically, what he did was to scour this website (, throw in a brief passages or two from a couple of other sources, get some information from my Zen Film Documentaries, mix all that up in a blender, talk about Don’s and my films and that’s the book. I imagine it took some time to do all that and I give the guy an A for effort. For the most part, though he does throw a couple of shots, he speaks kindly about Don and myself and I thank him for that. I also thank him for taking the time and caring enough about the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson to put the book together. Though, as is always the case with people who write about someone or something when they were not at the sourcepoint of the knowledge, he does get somethings wrong, takes some of what I have written out of context, leaves out some essential facts, states a couple of things that simply are not true, and the timeline he describes or the motivation for some events he writes about is incorrect. This is why I always say, “I am alive! I was there! I knew the man! I made the movies! If you have any questions, ask me!!!” And, as I also always say, “If you want to know the truth, go to the source.” In this case, I am the source.
Skelly did provide footnotes in the book and they point to my writings and my films, so that's all good. But, this book was obviously written by someone who knows very little about copyright law and the fact that you need to gain formalized permission from an author or a publishing company when you are going to extensively quote or paraphrase a large amount of another author's writings. You need to do this before you publish a book and offer it for sale. The simple explanation of copyright law is, you can't take somebody else's creation and make money off of it. Basically, what this guy has done is to base his writing about Don upon the quotations and the analysis of my writings and then detail his interpretation of what I have written and add his own description and critique about Don's life and the movies that Don was involved with. But, he was not there! He does not know what actually took place! So, in some cases, his presentation really misses the point of what actually occurred.
Having lived what this author is writing about places me in a weird position. Knowing who Don was, what he was or was not thinking, what he did or did not do at a specific point in time and what I was or was not thinking or what I did or did not do at a specific point in time leaves me a bit befuddled when reading this book. I mean, I appreciate the fact that this guy took the time to put his book together but as is the case with all unauthorized biographies, the essence of the person that is being written about and their creative life motivations is missing from the pages. If a person did not personally know an individual and they did not speak to those of us who did, at best all a work like this becomes is a book report or a term paper. This is not meant as an insult or a harsh critique of the book in any manner. In fact, if I wasn’t me, I may have learned something from the book. But, to know the truth about a person, to understand a person, to know the facts about what an individual actually did and why they did what they did you either need to have actually known that person or at least to have spoken to those of us who did. This author did not do that. And, knowing Don the way I did I do know that he would have been very upset about the inaccuracies presented in this book.
I believe that there has always been the faithful who have appreciated and studied the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson. And, I am glad to see that some new people may find out about his work through this book. Though it is important to state that some of the facts presented in this book are misleading or false. Just keep that in mind if you read it. But, Skelly did care enough about the filmmaking of Donald G. Jackson to take the time to put the book together so you've got to give him credit for that!
Awh, Hell… After reading the Kindle version of the book and writing this little tidbit I'm going to buy a paperback copy of the book and put it in the Zen Filmmaking Archives… Or, hand it off to my attorney: one or the other. :-)

Copyright © 2020—All Rights Reserved

From the Scott Shaw Blog.

Friday, September 6, 2019

What Would You Do To Be In a Movie?

By Scott Shaw
I believe it goes without saying that pretty much everyone has, at one time or another, dreamed of being a movie star. Growing up in Hollywood, I saw all kinds of nonsense, related to that issue, throughout my youth. When I got into filmmaking in my thirties, I witnessed it from an entirely different level. There/then, I saw what people were willing to do to get a role and/or the things the people who claimed to filmmakers would do to get people to do the things they wanted them to do. It wasn’t/and isn’t a pretty picture. That’s why when I developed Zen Filmmaking it was all about the essential element of providing a positive/conscious give-and-take relationship between the actors and myself.
When people have come to Hollywood chasing the Hollywood dream, very few of them have made much progress except for paying a lot of money for classes and headshots. Maybe they even went on a few auditions that equaled no role. Some have jumped on the extra bandwagon—being as they are now politically correctly called, “A background performer.” But, that leads to nothing—nothing at least in terms of the pursuit of stardom. In fact, it is detrimental to that process. But, at least as an extra they may see themselves on the silver screen. It may be the first gig or it may take a hundred times on the set, but maybe they will be seen. That’s something, I guess?
But, for most who pursue the dream of acting, they want to actually be noticed for who and what they are. They want to actually act. They want to be a star. But, how does someone get there?
I was watching the film, The Tattooed Stranger, the other night. It’s a fairly obscure, sort-of Film Noir from 1950. In that film, Jack Lord (of Hawaii 5-0 fame) had a small speaking role but he was uncredited. That has happened to me in the A-Market, as well. It’s kind of crushing. But, it is not uncommon. I believe that my career may have taken a different turn if that had not happened in a couple of instances in the early stages of my immersion into acting. As no one knew who was playing the role, no one could seek me out. But, that’s life in the industry. That’s the life of being an actor. You have no control. But, just like Jack Lord was in, The Tattooed Stranger, I was in those films. Screen credit or not, you can’t deny that fact.
The thing is, and this is what I have always warned people about when they come to Hollywood with hopes of stardom; you have to expect the unexpected. This is especially the case on the indie film level. You’ve got to be careful. As I have said so many times to so many people, there are a lot of people who claim to be filmmakers out there. There are a lot of people who want to be filmmakers out there. But, having the dream of making a film and actually being able to complete a project is very different. Many films never get finished. So, all that time, hope, and energy equals nothing.
The thing about acting and about filmmaking is, it should be seen as an art form. Art as the filmmaker sees it and art as the actor interprets it. That’s why I allow my actors to improv. With this, they are adding to the process of creating a piece of cinematic art.
Another important point to keep in mind is that, especially on the indie level, few films make money. At least not the level of money that most people imagine. It is like myself being an author; everybody believes that the minute you get a book published by a major publishing company you are a millionaire. That is anything but true.
I know some people have criticized filmmakers, including myself, for not always paying their cast in dollars and cents. Though this has only sometimes been the case with my films, the fact is, do the people who launch these criticisms realize how much it costs to actually make a movie? Do they realize that the return is generally very small, if anything at all? I don’t believe that they do. Because if they had ever actually made a film then they would possess a completely different perspective of actualized understanding.
Moreover, as the title of this piece questions, “What would you do to be in a movie?” Admittedly, some indie filmmakers expect their cast to be locked in for days, weeks, or even months. That’s why I always shoot the dialogue-driven part of my narrative films for a maximum of two days. I do not take much of an actor’s time to make them a star. Plus, as I complete all of the films I begin, that actor does get an actual role in an actual film. They do get their names in the screen credits. They do get their name on the Internet Movie Database in association with the film; which is invaluable. They do get a copy of the movie to use as a demo reel—which as any newbie actor knows is essential. …Many pay thousands of dollars to have faux-demo reels produced. (Me too… I foolishly did that via the insistence of a manager way back in the way back when).
So… The point being… They are getting paid. Just not with money.
As an actor, I sometimes worked in the indie market for free when I was getting started. I learned a lot. So, that was the price I was willing to pay to be in a movie. What is the price you are wiling to pay?
Though I am speaking about movies here, because that’s one of the things that I do; make movies, this same concept can go to whatever it is you are pursuing in life. What are you willing to do to get what you want?
You really need to define that in your mind as each person has a different set of standards just as each person has a different set of morals.
Know what you want. Know what you are willing to do to get. But mostly, know what you are going to do if you don’t get it, because that is the fact of life for virtually all of us.

Copyright © 2019—All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 26, 2019

Scott Shaw and the Art of Zen Filmmaking - The Hollywood File Japan

Here's a fun piece, published in Kansai Time Out Magazine, Japan in 2008, where the author, Matt Kaufman, talks about Scott Shaw and some of his Zen Films.

By Matt Kaufman

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 


Friday, August 9, 2019

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Guns of El Chupacabra in Femme Fatales Magazine

Here's a link to a fun article written in 1998 about Donald G. Jackson, Scott Shaw, and Zen Filmmaking in association with their film, Guns of El Chupacabra and published in Femme Fatales Magazine.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The 70s Were Great but They Ain’t Ever Comin’ Back AKA You Make What You Can With What You Have

By Scott Shaw

I was kicking around in the late night, last night, flipping channels, and I noticed that the film, Jackie Brown was just beginning. I hadn’t watched the entire film in a number of years so I sat back with a couple bottles of the grape and settled into the cinema. Good movie.
As is the case with many a Tarantino film, the 70s are heavily referenced. The 70s were a great era for film and music. This was especially the case for independent cinema. There was some really revolutionary stuff accomplished. Tarantino, who is just a years or so younger than me, grew up in that same era and he often makes reference to the 70s in his films. Me too… Of course, due to budgetary constraints, certainly not on the level of his films. Jackie Brown is an ideal example.
And, that’s the thing; you do what you do with what you have…
Certainly, I have my share of fans of Zen Cinema. I also have my detractors, who always seem to be way more vocal. But, like I often say, “Let’s see you do what I have done. Make a film with the scope of my Zen Films for a budget of $300.00 (or less).” Because that was/is my formalized budget. Sure, it can be done. I did it. But, do you have what it takes to get it done?
As the years went on my focus in cinema changed. For those of you who know me or know about me, about ten years ago I stopped doing narrative films and shifted my focus to pure cinema. Cinema for the sake of cinema. No dialogue; characters but characters in their natural state. With visuals as the driving force.
Though many/most of the people who discuss my films speak of those I did before this point in my cinematic evolution, it is essential to note that they did not even start talking until I stopped making—making narrative films. So, what does what they have to say, say about anything?
This being said, it is essential to note that there was not a big, fast, and/or immediate break in my filmmaking style. I was doing non-narrative films long before that point in my cinematic evolution. It was simply that they were not as widely viewed as my other cinematic works.
All this being said, I am often asked what would cause me to do another traditional film? …Well, at least traditional in my sense of the word… :-)
I thought about this last night as I was watching Jackie Brown. One of the things would be to be able to make that 70s style film with actors from that era like Tarantino accomplished. But, the sad fact is, they are all so old now, if they are even still alive. So many of them are gone. Though the cinema of that era will live on forever. The people who created the cinematic art of that era are rapidly waning. Thus, the talent pool is forever diminishing and will soon be eternally lost.
I guess this is like life. There are those who do what they do, done in an era. There are those who rise up in that era and are forever defined by that era but then life is gone. We all get old. We all die. There are forever those who will discuss what others have done. But, they are not the doers. They are not the knowers. They are not the livers. They are not the creators. They are simply the talkers. But, once it is gone, it is gone. The life, the people, the era. So, all we can do is what we can do. All we can do is make what we make defined by what we have available to us in whatever era we live.

Copyright © 2019—All Rights Reserved

From the Scott Shaw Blog.

Buy a Camera and Make Your Own Movie

By Scott Shaw

Recently, a guy contacted me and wanted to fly me into his city to make a Zen Film. He explained that he really needed my sensibilities in a movie he hoped to create. Initially, I thought that might be fun. Working with an entirely new and unknown group of people who were into Zen Filmmaking. But, then I started to see the flaws in this guy’s hopes and ideology. Though Zen Filmmaking is entirely about freedom—about simply getting out there and doing it, I was being asked to come to a city I had never been to and basically do everything. I mean everything. I decided to pass on the offer and I suggested to the guy, “Why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie.”
In today’s world, you can literarily make a movie with your phone. I have. Or, you can use any number of relatively inexpensive cameras that are on the market. The fact is, it is very doable if you have the focus and the dedication.  But, I believe that is the issue, the focus and the dedication. There are a lot of people who want to DO but very few people who will DO.
Sure, I have my advice for budding filmmaking. …Like don’t try to mimic what has already been done. Make your own movie, using your own cinematic philosophy, and so on. But, it can be done. And, it can be done relatively cheaply.  Not like in times gone past.
This all kind of struck me as interesting when I gave that guy the advice, “Why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie.” That was something I had said to someone else, way back in the way back when, under entirely different circumstances.
The story, I was making a movie and this guy/my friend (I surmised) was helping me out. He was an actor. I had met him working on the set of someone else’s film. And, like so many others, he wanted to break into the Hollywood game. Me, being me, I was charting my own course to achieve that goal.  In any case, we were filming one day and I was realizing that we were running late and we were having some technical issues and we should not film this girl he was crushing on very hard that day. He completely freaked out and started yelling and screaming. This obviously really messed with my small cast and crew. It wasn’t that I was not going to use the girl. It was just that I realized her scenes would be better filmed at a better location I had in mind and on a different day. In any case, we finished the day. Once home, I left him the message, “Why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie.”
Though he apologized, we finished the movie, and remained in contact over the next several years; I knew I could never trust him again. That style of reactive behavior is just not healthy for the emulation of art: cinematic or otherwise.
Certainly, on sets, I have seen this style of behavior before and after that occurrence. But, it is just not good. It poisons the fruit. I mean, in worse case, if you are not liking what is going on, leave. I know I have done that. I have done that even in the case of one big A-film I was cast in and on a TV series. …That one was an interesting one… I was cast to do a role in the last (short-lived) sitcom that the great actor James Garner was doing. In any case, we were on the set, we had done the rehearsals, and then Garner shows up. We started to do rehearsals with him and what an asshole! I mean this guy was a total jerk! That was sad because I had always really liked him as an actor. We shot the scene as Garner continued to go off at me and everyone else. They called lunch. I left and never came back. The production company claimed I ruin the story by leaving. My agent got really pissed and dumped me. But me, good or bad, I stood my ground. I didn’t throw a fit. I just left. …And, you wonder what happened to my career in the A-Market. There’s your answer. :-)
Anyway… That’s just kind of a side note to the story and the point of all this. If you want to make a movie, why don’t you buy a camera and make your own movie. Use your phone. Use whatever it is you have. Get out there and film something everyday. It doesn't have to have story structure. Lord knows, my films don’t. All it has to have is you doing something. Film it, take it off of your phone or your camera, edit it if you want, and make something! Make art!
This is the same with any art you desire to create. Do it! Draw, paint, write.
Art is based in one person doing one thing. Again, do it! Because if you don’t, all your life will be left with is all of those artistic projects you envisioned in your mind but never created.

Copyright © 2019—All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 10, 2019

How To Cast Your Movie

By Scott Shaw

            Casting an actor for your film is one of the most important elements to the success of your project. In fact, it may be the most important element because it is an actor who will portray the message you are attempting to convey to your audience.
            People come here to Hollywood, California from across the globe chasing the dream of becoming a movie star.  Certainly, there are actors everywhere, but Hollywood is the home of the movie industry.  As such, this is also the focal point of where people direct their hopes on achieving acting success.
            As someone who grew up in Hollywood, I believe I have a unique perspective of the film and television industry.  Throughout my life I have been surround by those who have made-it in the industry, and those who wish that they could have.
            Very early on in my life I came to realize that what may be defined as talent has very little to do with whether or not a person will make-it in the industry. Industry success is based more upon luck and being in the right place at the right time, as opposed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time; i.e. making bad career choices. But, more than anything else, industry success is based upon karma or destiny.  This being said, everybody comes here to Hollywood believing that they will be the one that will, “Make-it!”

            From a filmmaking perspective, it is you, the filmmaker, who must put out a casting notice, go through all of the headshots that you will receive, decide which ones to call in, and then finally decided upon which talent to cast for your film.  And, I use the term, “Talent,” very loosely.
The problems with casting a film are numerous.  At the root of many, if not most, of these problems is the actor. This problem begins with a headshot.
As someone who has cast numerous films and has looked at literally millions of headshots, I can tell you, ‘What you see is not what you get.’
One of the most common things that people do is to send out a headshot that makes them look beautiful. This is based on several factors. It may be that the photo was takes ten years ago.  Or, it may be that the photograph is highly retouched.  I believe that the primary reason this problem arises is that people, (meaning actors and actresses), actually believe that they look better than they truly do. When they see a great photograph of themselves they think, “That is how good I really look. If this photographer can make me look this good, than certainly a director can.” But, anyone who has made a film knows, this is not the case. A film and/or particularly a video camera are very unforgiving. Though lighting can be adjusted and even diffusion filters used, doing all of this takes a lot of time and energy, which equals a lot of money. And, a lot of money is something that most independent filmmakers do not have.
This “Beautiful Headshot” scenario is particularly the case with actresses.  I cannot tell you how many times I have called an actress into an audition and could not even confirm, with one-hundred percent certainty, that the person sitting in front of me was the individual in the photograph.  I commonly say to them, “I would really like to meet the girl in this picture.” But, for the most past, they are so vain that they do not even get the joke.  In some case, in my earlier days, I have simply torn up their headshot right in front of them. The point being, never trust a photograph.

            The second problem you many encounter, while casting a movie, is the training an actor has undergone.
Here in Hollywood, and the surrounding area, there are literally thousands of acting coaches. People come from all over the globe to study with these people in hopes of landing a role in a film. The problem is, who are these acting coaches?  With very few exceptions they are people who have come to Hollywood and have attempted to make-it. When they did not, they somehow landed a gig teaching acting.
Ask yourself, how many famous actors are professional acting coaches?  And, the few one-time successful actors who have become acting coaches are those who fell away from favor in Hollywood and could no longer get roles. As such, they are left without any other skill than to train other people in how to act.
The main point to understand is that acting is not about learning to act.  Acting is not about studying. Acting is about being natural.  This is particularly the case of acting for the camera. So, for all of these people who pay all of this money to be judged in a class by other wanta-be actors, they are only lying to themselves if the think acting training is any more than a way to fill someone else’s pockets with cash and waste a lot of time.
This being stated, I cannot tell you how many times a person’s acting coach or their ongoing acting training has gotten in their way of their actually being in a film. There has been times when I cast an actor or actress for a film and later they tell me that they cannot show up on the day of the shoot because they cannot miss their acting class. Yes, it is hard to believe. But, this has happened to myself but to numerous other filmmakers I know, as well.
You ask, “Why?” Because their acting coaches are very vehement about them never missing a class or postponing a scene study they are set to present with their acting partner. But, more than this, most acting coaches are simply jealous of anyone who has actually been offered a role.  From this, they talk their student out of accepting it.  They do this by convinced them that they have the potential to be a Big Star.  Therefore, why should they appear in an indie film?  Of course, those people who have listened to their instructor and passed on the roles offered to them in indie films have never gone on to anything expect pay their acting coach more money. But, these are just a couple of examples of how acting training negative effects an actor’s potential and how it may effect the outcome of your film.

Never Acted Before
            Here in Hollywood and in other cities, as well, there is the major problem of people auditioning for a part in an indie film who have never acted in front of the camera before but they have been an extra on a major movie or television set. On these sets, they see the massive number of crewmembers doing things, the name-actors being led in from their trailers to the set. Plus, the food is great and the atmosphere is electric with high-budget film energy. They think this is how all movie sets are supposed to. But, to the independent filmmaker, we know this is not the case.
            This being said, it is very important to weed out those ‘A-Picture Dreamers’ from the ones who actually want to act.
            It is essential to understand that it is not a bad thing to bring a person onto your set who has never acted before. In fact, from personal experiences, I have gotten some great performances from people who can simply be themselves in front of the camera but never had any intention of becoming a professional actor. On the other hand, there are those who are locked into the ideology that all movie sets are major productions—where the actors will be pampered and catered to.
            The reason that you do not want to cast someone like this is that they will simply be disappointed once they arrive on your set.  This disappointment will be obvious and it may spread to your other cast members. And, negativity spreads on a movie set very quickly. Therefore, you really need to watch out for this type of person and keep them off of your set.
The simplest remedy to find out an actor’s expectation, if you are thinking about casting them, is to ask, “What sets have you been on?” If they tell you about a student film they were in or an indie project, then you have no worries. They will be fine on your set. On the hand, here in Hollywood, it is very common that a person will have been an extra in a film and or on T.V. and they will list these roles on their resume. But, being an extra is not being an actor. If their resume is made up of several of these productions, then you know you may have a problem.  Now, this is not to say that a person who has been on a large set will not be willing to work in the indie market. But, this is simply a warning that you must talk to them about their expectations to alleviate any on-set misconceptions that may bring your production to a halt. 

Very Average
            Probably, the most damning of all elements to any film’s production is an actor’s ego. Everybody comes here to Hollywood assured that they will be the next Big Star. They all believe that they have the looks, the talent, and the drive to become successful.
            This world has become celebrity obsessed. Everywhere, the life of the famous is broadcast, written, and spoken about. Due to this fact, actors believe that they have the potential to come to Hollywood and become just as big as the biggest name.  “If they can do, so can I.” I have heard that statement so many times from so many wanta-be actors and actress that I cannot even count the number.
            But, none of them ever do make-it.  Why?  Because they are very-average.  They are just like everyone else who comes to Hollywood. They look the same, have the same hairstyle, wear the same trendy clothing, study from the same acting teachers, and go to the same headshot photographers.  But, they all go home never having done anything in Hollywood but to be an extra and show up to auditions with headshots that don’t look like themselves, spouting the promise, “I am great actor.”
            The ones I have known that have made-it in Hollywood, (to whatever degree), are the ones that have had their own style and their own identity.  They created their own niche for themselves by being who they are and not defining themselves by whom they studied with or circulating beautiful headshot that they look nothing like.

Casting the Actor
            We, as filmmakers, are always dependent upon the actor. We are also dominated by what is available. Meaning, we can only create our cast from the available options we are presented with. So, what is the answer?

1. Don’t trust the headshots.  Tear ‘em up if the actor or actress comes to you and looks nothing like their photo.

2. Forget about where they studied—as ‘The Studied’ bring far too many preconceived notions and other nonsense to your set.

3. Cast people you like. People you wouldn’t mind hanging out with.

4. Never become friends with your cast. At least not while you are filming. Why? Because then the relationship becomes convoluted and they may expect more than you are willing to give.

5. Always tell actors what to expect on your set. Tell them where you will be filming, how large is your crew, what kind of equipment you are using, and how many actors they will interact with. With this, you prepare them for what is to come and they will not surprise you with an attitude of discontentment.

Copyright © 2006 – All Rights Reserved

Zen Filmmaking and What is a Zen Film

By Scott Shaw

I am often asked the question, “Just what is a Zen Film?” Numerous people have contacted me regarding this question and I have read a number of attempts by people to write a formalize definition, defining what is a Zen Film—some have been good while others have placed far too much analysis into the process. But to answer, I think, first-and-foremost, it is essential to note that the ultimate understanding of Zen is that there is no absolute definition, no one truth.  This is the first clue into what is or is not a Zen Film.
At the root of a Zen Film is the understanding that, “The stories have all been told.” I say this over and over again but people still don’t get it.  So, let me explain…
Think about it, every story throughout humanity has previously either been written about or filmed. Certainly, there are some very specific variants of life-stories that may seem a bit more unique than others, but these minor unique variants are not the only time that these life events have occurred.
Take a look at the bible.  Every storyline is in that ancient text—from romance to horror, onto science fiction. It is very hard to find any story of humanity that is not alluded to in the bible.
But, why does this matter?  And, how does this help to define a Zen Film?
Filmmakers, from the dawning of the craft foreword, have attempted to tell a story. Many become very adamant about how essentially important their film’s story is. They equally believe that their film’s story must be told. So, they go and make a movie.  Maybe it is good, maybe it is bad, but it is certainly not a story that has never been told before.
You ask, “Why is this important in defining a Zen Film?”  Because Zen Filmmaking is about freedom.  A Zen Film is about freeing yourself from as many constraints as possible. Why?  Because then the filmmaking process becomes much more spontaneous, natural, and artistic.  And, when freedom is allow to exist, then true ART is embraced.
Which brings me to the concept of art.
There are beautiful paintings that have been created since the dawning evolution of humanity where the artists has studied for years, refined their techniques, and then spend weeks, months, even years creating a singular piece of art. Are these pieces of art beautiful? Well, if you like that style of art, then yes they are.
Now, here arises one of the key concepts of what is a Zen Film. Just like beauty, art is in the eye of the beholder.
To some, classic art is the only art.  But, to others, this style of art is has all been seen before.  It has become old and expected.
In regards to filmmaking, the same understanding applies. So many filmmakers, especially on the independent level, attempt to create a film that looks much bigger than its budget—they attempt to mimic what has been done before.  Though they most probably believe that they have a unique story that deserves telling, what they are doing is no more than retelling the same story that was most probably better told in a previous film that had a much higher budget.
Let’s think about this. What if you release yourself from this whole process? What if you remove the obstacle of a highly developed story that took you months or years to write?  What if you remove the need for training and retraining and simply step into the arena of filmmaking and create?  What occurs? Art is occurs.
Now, I am not saying that everybody will appreciate a film created in this style—created from a mindset of freedom. But, you can find mistakes in even the most expensive films if you look for them and certainly those films are criticized, as well. So, a Zen Film as it is created with art as its core can be expected to find criticism, but the filmmaker maintains the mindset that this is all part of the package and welcomes it as it simply reveals the limited understanding of those individuals applying said criticism.
A Zen Film embraces art at its most elemental level. Is everybody going to like it? No. Does everybody like the paintings of the abstractionists or the neo expressionists? No, they don’t.  Art is in the eye of the beholder!  So, to make art, you will find your critics. But, who are these people that are criticizing the filmmaking of others?  Are they artists?  Are they making films? Most probably not.
From a personal perspective, as an artist, someone who paints, I can tell you that no painting ever turns out exactly like you expected. This is the same with film. Many filmmakers have a concept locked firmly into their mind and they write and rewrite, film and refilm, attempting to get an exact mental image on film.  But, it will never happen. What will happen from following this process of filmmaking, however, is a lot of anxiety, frustration, and discontentment. Each of these things can cause a filmmaker to toss in the towel and never complete their film.  So, stop it! Allow your mistakes to become part of your film.  Because, in fact, there is no such thing as a mistake, it is simply the perfection of the way it turned out. Remove expectation from your life and your film and you become free.
This brings me to the next point in detailing a Zen Film. Trust the magic.
What is the magic?  The magic is allowing things to happen that are unexpected.  The magic is allowing the greater good of art and the positive forces of the universe to bring you things that were never expected: be these people, locations, or ideas to help you make your film the most perfect and complete that it can be.
Remove yourself and your desired outcome from the equitation. Turn off your controlling ego. Let your actors act, as they will. Let your crew do what they do. And, be open to new inspiration and change and you will encounter elements in your filmmaking process that will astonish you. This is a Zen Film.
Finally, as alluded to in the beginning, there is no absolute definition as to what is or is not a Zen Film. A Zen Film is based in freedom, not definition.  A Zen Film is based in art, not structure.  It is what comes out at the end of a particular films evolution when you simply allow the natural process to take its course and you allow your film to be.
Freedom is Art. Art is Zen.

Copyright © 2010 – All Rights Reserved.