By Scott Shaw
Zen Filmmaking has gone through a lot of evolution since I first came up with the title and concept while Donald G. Jackson and I were making, The Roller Blade Seven back in 1991.
Though there has been a lot of criticism of that movie, I think all that is very-very funny. Some people just don't get that we knew what we were doing. And, as I have stated time-and-time again, we did what we did very consciously. We meant to make that movie and the sequel the way we did.
One the other side, there are a lot of people, who really dig the film. They get what we were doing. That's life...
Anyway, as many of you know, at the heart of Zen Filmmaking is allowing actors to deliver their lines and develop their characters via guided improv. One of the main things to realize about Zen Filmmaking, particularly in regard to Roller Blade Seven, is that there was very little improv in that movie. That is accept for much of the dialogue delivered by Joe Estevez and Don Stroud. In fact, most of the lines spoken were fed to the actors by Don or myself. Back then, Don and I didn't trust that most of the people could deliver their lines with any believability, if they were allowed to improv. So, we told them what to say.
One of the greatest exchanges of the film, “You mean my sister that became your sister? Yes, our sister, sister...” Don and I had come up with while eating burgers at Tommy's in Granada Hills just prior to filming Frank Stallone. We had gone there to write down what dialogue he should deliver and we came up with the scene where Don and my character interact in the film for the first time.
This trend of feeding lines followed through to Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell. There was very little actual improv. in that film. My friend and co-filmmaker on that feature, Kenneth H. Kim, and I came up with virtually all of the dialogue in that movie and then I pretty much fed everyone, everything.
Ken, who was a budding screenwriter, wanted to write some of the dialogue. Though that is not in the tradition of Zen Filmmaking; as a friend, I let him have at it. And then, I let some of the more experienced actors in the film work from that premises.
The greatest dialogue exchange of that film, I believe, is when in the opening of the film an actress, Kimberly Bolin, exclaims, “I thought you guys were going to take me to Hollywood!” The response, “Hollywood... Hollywood's just a state of mind.” That was a little ditty I had come up with on the spot and gave it to the actors.
A memorable line, that I think really sets the tone of the film...
Don liked to call himself a Zen Filmmaker. And, certainly without our interaction, Zen Filmmaking may never have occurred. But, in the films he made, where I was not involved, he virtually always based the film upon a script. Then, he would let some of the actors add their own interpretation.
As I’ve continued as a filmmaker, since the days of RB7 and SV, I have continued to evolve the concept of Zen Filmmaking. What I have found is that if I surround myself with actors who can do what they do very believably – if they can be themselves. Then, they can really deliver a very natural performance. From this, the concept of improv. has continued to grow in my films. I get good people and then I let them run with it...
Recently, when I was speaking with a potential actress, she asked me, “Does it always work?” No, it does not. There have been a few times when, mostly due to a person's ego, I have had to pull the plug and recast. But, it is rare.
The funny think about Zen Filmmaking and its evolution is, most people have never seen my films that I believe are ideal examples of Zen Filmmaking. Films like: The Hard Edge of Hollywood, Blood on the Guitar, Killer: Dead or Alive, Undercover X, Hitman City, Super Hero Central, Vampire Blvd., or Vampire Noir. Most, have based all of their appraisal of Zen Filmmaking upon seeing, The Roller Blade Seven. Which, even I will tell you, was designed to be STRANGE.
I guess, whatever... That's life. But, FYI, Zen Filmmaking has, and continues, to evolve.
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