By Scott Shaw
Over the past year or so I have written three, Stories of the Production. With the completion of each one, I receive tons of asks to do another movie profile. That’s great! I’m glad you like them and find them informative. Zen Filmmaking!
I first began with one on Max Hell Frog Warrior. Then, I wrote one about Guns of El Chupacabra. Finally, I did one on The Roller Blade Seven. Each one spells out the details of the film in a free flowing, stream of consciousness manner. The one thing that all of these movies, (including The Rock n’ Roll Cops), have in common is that I made them in association with Donald G. Jackson. For those of you who have read the previous Stories of the Production you will understand that working with Don was always chaos in the making. The fact is, this is probably the last Story of the Production I will write as the production of the films I have made without Don were very, (for lack of a better term), boring. Aside from the occasional asshole crewmember or ego-driven castmember, things on my sets generally go off without a hitch. That’s just who I am and that’s just how I make my movies. Thus, writing about them would provide the reader with very little suspense or melodrama.
This being said, The Rock n’ Roll Cops was a crazy chaotic mess. Why? One reason, Donald G. Jackson. He used to love to rile people up. I guess that provided him with some sort of a sense of misguided power. I don’t know? I do know that of all the films I made with Don, The Rock n’ Roll Cops was probably one of the shortest in-production pieces we ever did together. We shot it pretty fast. It was only up for about two weeks. None-the-less, it was, without a doubt, one of the wildest and craziest.
As I mentioned in association with the other Stories of the Production, if I went back into my production notes I could provide you with an exact date-by-date, play-by-play of everything that took place. But, I’m not going to do that right now. Maybe I will do that at some point in the future.
For the record, there is a chapter in my book, Zen Filmmaking that tells the overview account of the creation of this film. I did not write that piece, however. It was done by a journalist after we had a long sit-down interview. I think he did a very good job in his description of what took place during the filming and in the aftermath of The Rock n’ Roll Cops. Though, for literary sake, he did place the emphasis on a few things that I may not have. In any case, you may want to check it out. Here, with this piece, I hope to provide you with a more personal understanding of the actual events and what went on during the creation of The Rock n’ Roll Cops.
Okay… Here we go…
Guns of El Chupacabra
The Rock n’ Roll Cops went up directly after Guns of El Chupacabra. Don and I had been working nonstop on film-after-film for a few years. Guns of El Chupacabra, as was the case with several of the other films he and I created, took a very long time to complete. As stated in Guns of El Chupacabra: The Story of the Production, there was one point when Don and I realized we had been filming that movie for over a year and we were not even done.
In any case, to tell a little bit of a backstory, as is referenced in one or more of the previous, Stories of the Production, Don loved to promise people one thing or another but he never delivered. From this, he created a lot of enemies. Though Don would promise people producing, writing, and director positions, at best he would allow someone to write a script, critique it, and then never speak to them again. One-on-one he would often say to me, “Let them go find their own money to make a movie. Why should I pay for it?” Thus and therefore, there was a lot of negative energy being focused our direction from people who were mad at Don so we had to go armed pretty much everywhere we went as Don was receiving a lot of death threats. And me, because I was seen to be his friend, a lot of people wrongly included me in their equation of hatred. Combine this with the fact that Don always talked shit behind the backs of people, as he loved to create havoc in interpersonal relationships whenever possible, thus and therefore by the time we filmed The Rock n’ Roll Cops, it is hard to believe the amount of pandemonium that surrounded us.
Due to Don’s feelings about financing the films of other people, it came as kind of a shock to me when he told me he wanted to do my film, The Rock n’ Roll Cops. I had previously told him about my idea for the film and he brought it up one day when we were having lunch out of nowhere. We certainly had co-directed several films together, but when he asked me to solo direct this film with him shooting it, I was very surprised. Though knowing Don as I did, I knew it was not going to be as simple as all that.
The one thing I had going for me, and Don knew it, was that I didn’t need him, (or his financing), for me to do my own films. As the digital age was taking hold, I had become the master of the team, as I was the only one who possessed the knowledge of computers, digital editing, and the like. But, what actually made Don ask me to step to the forefront, I guess I will never know. But, none-the-less, he did and so we began pre-production.
As stated, we were just coming off of Guns of El Chupacabra, and several other films, so we had a large talent pool to choose from. Throughout all of our filmmaking endeavors over the years, we were constantly casting, so we were always meeting new people to bring into the fold.
We went up fast on this film. At the time Don was having legal issues with the company that had been providing him with film financing so he had ventured off on his own, setting up a film finance company that romanced those people with a lot of disposable income. Hand-in-hand with this came a lot of additional people that wanted to be in the film business in one way or another. From this, we found additional compatriots.
One of the amusing events that occurred just prior to shooting The Rock n’ Roll Cops was when one of the high-end money people came over to our production offices to discuss possibly financing a film. At that time, Don was very interested in getting the bumpers of his ’62 Plymouth Belvedere powder coated. Instead of even talking to the guy he let him sit there as he made phone call after phone call discussing the powder coating process. I could not help but smile watching this guy, who I am sure had never been treated like that before, sit there uncomfortably in disbelief. But, that was Don…
For the record, I want to be a little carful in some of the names I use in this piece because I do not wish to make anyone regret that they are mentioned here. …Because a lot of shit went down during this production and I don’t want those people to be reminded of a negative experience. Anyway… Just keep that in mind.
Back to the storyline…
My vision for the film was to do the camerawork very much like the television series Cops. Not staged or set up in any manner. Just in your face cinematography. And, I think we achieved that. I suggested to Don that he mostly shoot in autofocus mode so that the focus would fade in and out like it does on Cops. And, to some degree, he did that.
For the camera, we used the then, just on the market, Sony VX1000, Mini DV Camcorder. For the sound we used a Sennheiser ME66 Microphone, predominately on a pistol grip, plus clip-on lavaliere microphones for many of the dialogue scenes.
In terms of casting, as stated, we had a large talent pool to draw upon.
There is something that most people who are not involved in actual Hollywood filmmaking do not understand. That fact is, if you are a production company, actually making movies, there are a lot of would-be stars and starlets hanging around with you all of the time desiring to get on screen. Not to mention all of the people who are constantly calling you to remind you of their existence—also desirous of being on screen. …Some, with fairly big industry names. Don and I certainly had our fair share of people who made up that category. So, doing our casting session for RnR Cops was pretty easy.
I will say, here at the outset, that we did cast a new face in this film, Ann Marie. We had a casting notice running in Dramalogue, the primary indie film casting newspaper at the time, and she was one of the hundreds-upon-hundreds of submissions we received. As I remember, she was a newly arrived transplant to L.A., from Boston, who had come here, like so many others, to find fame and fortune. Unlike so many others, however, she was a truly talented actress and very nice person to work with. She put up with all of the shit that Don dished out without a whimper and was a great-great asset to the cast.
So, with a virtually endless cast in place and plans for filming The Rock n’ Roll Cops Zen Filmmaking style, we had boundless locations. Thus, the movie went up.
For our first night of filming we brought in a couple of porn stars we had previously worked with as female femme fatales. We got a limo from one of our castmembers who used to own a limo service. We were set to go.
Don suggested that we use David Heavener as my costar, which was fine with me.
David is an interesting guy. He had set out on his own several years the previous, found financing for his films, and made some high-end indie productions with some big name players. Like Don, however, he had a lot of enemies in the industry. In fact, even my ex-brother-in-law had a beef with Heavener believing that he should have made money from a movie of his that Heavener was distributing. Heavener’s side was that he gave the guy ten thousand dollars to finish the film and that was payment enough. Even my sister-in-law would call me up and say, “Please don’t work with David Heavener.” But, David was the same age as me, we had worked together before with no issues, he had never done me wrong, so I was all-good with the suggestion. He was a talented guy and had a big name in the industry at the time.
The first shot of the first night was the limo pulling into the parking lot behind our North Hollywood production offices. Don being an obsessive cameraman did trip on that pull-in shot a bit, making the limo drive around the block and pull in several times. But, the numerous takes, as always, equaled one shot that was eventually used in the final cut.
The next shot was David and I, with the beautiful porn girls, interacting in the limo.
In terms of improv and Zen Filmmaking, David was always great. He had his acting chops well honed so with just a minimal amount of story guidance, he was good to go.
The problem with David, as an actor, is that he is a bit of a ham. Meaning, he likes to try to steal the scenes. For me, that was never an issue, however. I really don’t have a big ego in that department. As a filmmaker, if someone has something worth saying, let ‘em say it and we can work it out in the editing room. The girls, on the other hand, they were a little stiff. But, they were very pretty so it was all-good with me. Finally, after probably three hours with the girl both clothed and unclothed in the limo, and Don obsessing about his in-limo camera work, the scene was shot.
In is kind of funny/interesting to be describing this process in so few words because at the time it drove me nuts how much Don obsessed about him getting the shot just perfectly. For a big film, there is a reason for that kind of enhanced, over-shoot process. But, for the camera-based freedom I hoped to embrace in this production; well, it was not going the way I had hoped. But, Don was the camera guy, my co-producer, and my financier so I had to let him have his say.
We finished up the evening at about 2:00 AM or so with my character and another actor, who had been in Guns of El Chupacabra, doing a scene together. After we were done he complimented me how much he liked the naturalness I emulating in the scene. …Different from my charter in Chupacabra. “That film was deep cult,” I explained to him with a smile. “This film is me on the streets…”
The Problems Begin
During the production of this film, we shot it almost exclusive at night. I wanted to give it a very urban feel and I think we achieved that.
For the second day of actual production, Don and I showed up at the office around 2:00 PM and begin to plan out the next evening of shooting and whom we were going to call into the process.
The second night of production is where the problems began. Along with a few actors who never made it on screen… …Don loved to do that to people. Bring them along for the ride but then never film them… But, we had also called in a very good guy named Eric. We had worked with him before, he had a great look, and was a talented actor. He wanted to play his character as a black-influenced white guy. Being an open to input director, I liked what he was doing so we ran with it.
The only problem was, he had another movie set to be on later that evening. One which featured the great actor William Smith who was also in RnR Cops and I will speak of him in a bit. Don, loving to fuck with people, kept Eric from going to the other set. We filmed some stuff in Burbank and aside from being asked to not film in front of a movie theater, all went well. But, Eric had to leave. As we had driven him to the set, his car was back at our offices, so he couldn’t leave. Don fucked with him and fucked with him until I finally stepped in and had this one actress, who was being unused, drive him back to the office. With Eric on his way, we continued to film scenes late into the night in Burbank.
A day or so later we decided to film again. We decided that we should establish the relationship between Eric’s character and mine. It was Sunday, so we knew there would be very little traffic over in the junkyard section of the Valley. We drove there in the afternoon, got some daylight car drive-by shots, which I eventually used as a backdrop for the front-end credits of the film, and then set up the scene where Eric’s character attempts to steal my ’64 Porsche 356 SC. Though Don did have his share of camera obsessions that day, in that period of the shoot-day, it was not too bad. We got the shots. I also did the gag where Eric is driving off and he hits my character and I roll off of the window and the hood of the car. We then shoot me jumping into my car to give chase to Eric’s character. All-good.
A funny side-story here is that we did not shoot the actual, in-car, through the window angle on that gag until late in the evening that night. As the original scene was shot in the late afternoon, the shots did not match at all. We jokingly explained it to each other as we filmed it, “Filmmaking is the suspension of belief.” But, I never actually used that angle in the final edit.
Anyway, it was time to move on. Then, there, Don goes ape-shit nuts.
We are set up to do a driving scene. Don is in the car with Eric, filming him discussing my character and what just took place. I gave Eric some basic instruction about what to talk about and I am following them in my car. The rest of our crew is following me. Watching the footage, Eric did a very good job. He’s a good talker. But, that is not what was weird. Maybe fifteen or twenty minutes into it all, I hear Don begin to yell. Keep in mind, I am in the car behind them. So obviously, Don was yelling very loudly. We drove for maybe another twenty minutes. The entire time I can hear Don screaming at Eric at the top of his lungs. Telling him what a stupid fuck he is and stuff like that. I mean, flat out, I was in disbelief.
We ended up in a parking lot and Don angrily gets out of the car, massively agitated. He is going off about how Eric is a stupid fucked up actor and he is a complete moron. What set Don off, I do not know. I went over to Eric who was standing there obviously shell-shocked. He asked, “Does Don talk to you like that?” “Hell no! I would kick his ass.” The fact is, I am surprised Eric didn’t do just that. I guess it was a combination of surprise at Don’s behavior and maybe that he must have been trained to have respect for his elders or something like that, because he certainly could have kicked his ass if he wanted to. He was a young, healthy guy.
This is something that I first realized about Don when we were doing The Roller Blade Seven. Don would go off of the deep end at people, especially and pretty much only when he knew that he had someone around that would protect him and fight his fight for him. But, in the case with Eric, that would not have been me because Don was totally in the wrong. Moreover, Don always pushed people to see how far he could get with them. Obviously, he realized that he could treat Eric like shit and get away with it. Thus, another example of why Don had so many enemies.
After that, I sent Eric home with one of the other crewmembers. Don and I set out to film my side of the car chase conversation.
If you look at the Zen Documentary I did titled, Cinematografia Obsesion, you can see the obsessively insane nature of Don’s camerawork. We shot me doing the same scene over-and-over-and-over again maybe thirty times or more times as we drove through the Valley. Even me, a normally very calm guy, was getting pissed. Again, this obsessive style of camera work may be necessary for some high budget productions but I just ended up using one of those takes in the final cut. What a waste of time…
The Turtle Mansion
The next day of production we were scheduled to go to the Tuttle Mansion as we called it. This was the Bel Aire home of Kevin Eastman, (Co-Creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and Julie Strain.
Sadly, just last week, I did an interview regarding Julie and our film work together. She is apparel suffering from severe dementia and is not long for this world. Very sad, she is not that old. …Younger than me.
In any case, we did a lot of work with Kevin and Julie around this period of time. Both great-great people! Like I told the interviewer last week, it was not unusual that Julie would call up and say, “Let’s make a movie.” So, Don and I would go over to their house and do just that. …Julie loved to work from her home and as they had this beautiful house with a gigantic backyard and pool, it was a really great setting to film movies.
On that day, it was our plan was to shoot in the afternoon. But, I get a call from Don at about 10:00 AM. He says that I must rush over to Kevin and Julie’s house right away as Eric was on his way.
Eric, was a filmmaker in his own right, and Don, being the very paranoid guy that he was, became worried that Eric would go over there and ask them for money. So, I get in my car and drive, in a rush, from Redondo to Bel Aire. Though Kevin and Julie were happy to see me, we sat around staring at each other for a couple of hours before I get the call that Don had got in touch with Eric and demanded that he come to the office instead. Thus, Don, Eric, David Heavener, and a couple of other people were on their way. Again, another mind game played by Don for no good reason.
A couple of interesting things happened on that day of filming… First of all, this was one of those times when I provided a fuck you to Don—done so for Don being Don. When the cast and crew arrived, I begin to tell Kevin and Julie the story of Don yelling at Eric in the car. It then became like one of those things that happens in a sitcom where Don was standing over to one side shaking his head, “No, don’t let them know I am an asshole and I treat people like shit.” I smiled at him and I continued to tell the story. I figured if you are going to treat good people in that manner, your actions really need to be called out.
Another interesting thing that occurred on that day was the meeting of David Heavener and Julie Strain. It was the strangest thing… They were two of the biggest names in the indie film world at the time and neither one of them had heard anything about the other person. They both went blank when I introduced them. I guessed that was just ego. They were both so self-involved with themselves and their own careers, why should they care or even know about anyone else?
Overall, the filming went very well that day. My character had a fight with Eric’s character and threw him in the pool. We established Kevin as another key co-star to the story. And, we filmed that great dance scene with one of Julie’s female friends.
Though we filmed a couple of days of RnR Cops at the Turtle Mansion, this was undoubtedly the most productive of those shooting experiences.
An interesting, telling event, happened near the end of that day of filming. It had begun to rain and I was doing a scene outside with this lawyer that Don had met via his new film finance company who was also interested in being an actor. Good guy. We called him, “Law Boy,” as he looked so young. Also, Rain is a great, free special effect, so to all the filmmakers out there, I suggest you don’t run from it but use it in your scenes whenever you can.
Anyway, I had gotten totally soaked. We left right after that to go and regroup at the office before we went out for a night shoot. But, my clothes were saturated and due to the fact that I was carrying a lot of equipment in my car, I didn’t have room for the backup suitcase filled with clothing that I normally carry with me. I decided to stop off at the mall and pick up some additional clothing. I was in the department store disgruntled that I was not finding anything to buy that I felt would fit my character and I begin to receive page after page, phone call after phone call. Finally, I answered my cell and it was Don completely freaking out that I was not yet at the office. I guess he thought that I got pissed and bailed. And, Don begin Don just couldn’t do anything by himself. I explained I would be there in a bit and he calmed down…
Praising Doctor Praisewater
It was about at this point that Don began to become the worse version of himself. I guess he became jealous at my control over the film. He deicide that hand-in-hand with RnR Cops we would shoot another film that he had the idea for, Praising Doctor Praisewater. This was to be a semi-comedic film about a sketchy doctor who was supplying people with illicit drugs.
This whole concept of doing two movies, side-by-side, didn’t really bother me because we had done stuff like that in the past. I did observe, however, how this process provided Don with the tools to become a bigger asshole to the cast and crew and attempt extend his control over both projects.
On the high side, as we were using the same cast, it allowed the desirous talent the ability to get more on-camera screen time. Me, I went along for the ride.
To be honest, however, this was the first point where Don began to try to steal The Rock n’ Roll Cops from me. But, I can be a stubborn person. I was not going to let that happen.
To skip ahead a few years in the future, after Don had passed away, a man who Don had apparently sold the rights of Praising Doctor Praisewater to, contacted me. Though the movie was never finished and I told the investor that fact, he asked that I send him the footage, which I happily did. When he received the footage he became very upset as I guess Don had really sold the guy with the fact that the film was something much more than it was. When, in actually, it was nothing more than a jumbled messed of random scenes. That was Don… The investor was obviously pissed. Even though this was the case, the investor, knowing my reputation, asked if I was seeking film financing and offered to finance my next film. I explained to him that is not how I created my movies.
Regarding Praising Doctor Praisewater, had I been allowed to keep the footage I probably, with minimal addition pick-up shots, could have put the movie together and released it. But, the footage is gone. Thus, Praising Doctor Praisewater is lost forever.
It was during this period that I really began to witness a shift in Don. Anger could be seen brewing in his eyes. If you want to see an ideal example of this (on film) look to the scene where Don’s character does a scene with Ann Marie’s and my character on the stairs of an outdoor parking lot. This is where his character says, “Did Jake tell you that he’s a Rock n’ Roll Cop.” This is the one of the few times that I actually felt like I was going to have to knock Don out as the aggression level in him was insanely high and I really thought he was going to take a swing at me in the many-many takes of that scene that we shot. But, I guess he knew what would happen if he did, so nothing ever happened. But, it was intense.
I long believed that Don had an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder. Combine that with the no sleep, the large amount of prescription drugs he was taking, and possessing the mindset of a spoiled child who is only happy when he was getting his own way and there was a constant chance of everything going South.
As production continued, things got worse and worse. For example, we were filming with David Heavener. We started out in the early evening and did a great scene at a restaurant as we were having dinner. We then went to Los Angeles Union Station. We did a great scene with David having a breakdown in a wheelchair as a nurse pushed him through the train station. Like I said, he was a bit of a ham when it came to acting so I just let him run with it… The scene played great.
We shot some other stuff but as the night wore on it was getting really late. For me, I have no problem staying up all night. For David, however, around 3:00 AM he began to say, “Come on, Don…” As Don was obsessing majorly about his camerawork, he yelled out. “Fuck you. You’re getting paid.” Here was David, one of Don’s longtime friends, yet he said that to him. I couldn’t believe it. Though the backstory is, Don always had a troubled relationship with David. Maybe it was jealousy? Maybe it was spite? Maybe it was power tripping? I don’t know? But, more times than I can count David was the target of Don’s distaste.
The next night we were shooting at Jay Burgers. …One of my all-time favorite burger places. Sadly, it closed a decade or so ago but I went there from the early ‘70s forward. On that night is where Don and I did that great scene where he blows up a blow-up globe and, “Offers me the world.” The scene played great. But, this was a public burger stand, on the wrong side of the tracks, over in East Hollywood. A lot of gangbangers hung out there.
Now, growing up where and how I did, I know that most Latin gangbangers are not going to give you any shit if you don’t come at them. Which is exactly what Don did to this one guy.
Here was Don, a fifty-six year old man, (but looking much older due to his leukemia), and there was this young gangbanger with a couple of friends. Don begins telling him to shut the fuck up and get the fuck out of the shot. Obviously, the guy came at Don.
Again, I guess Don thought that I would step in. But, I didn’t create this mess. Had the guy actually attacked Don I guess I would have had to intercede. But, Don apologized and stuck out his hand to shake the others guy’s hand. Which he did not do but at least a fight was avoided.
The Shit Hits the Fan
Undoubtedly, the worst night of production came when we decided to bring in my Zen Filmmaking brother, Z-Man, Robert Z’Dar into the cast. The shit really hit the fan on that night.
Hand-in-hand with Z-Man, we had the largest cast and crew that we had throughout the entire production. But, in this case, it wasn’t just Don who was in a pissy mood, it was several other people who were grinding their teeth due to the behavior of Don. I remember going into production that night with an actual concern about what was going to come next, as pretty much everyone was pissed off, strapped, and ready to fight. By the time we got to the set I stuck my Glock under the seat of my car as if bullets stared flying I didn’t want to be the one to blame. I know that sounds melodramatic but that was the kind of emotional intensity that was surrounding the movie by this point in time.
For our set, Don had the idea that we shoot some scenes on the roof of this parking structure in Burbank. That was all fine and good with me but, like I said, we had a large cast and crew, so I was concerned. As Burbank is one of the hubs of the industry, the cops are very aware of guerrilla productions and quickly shut them down. I’ve actually had helicopters zone in on my productions while filming in that city. None-the-less, never one to back down, we staged for the shoot.
On location, immediately, Don went off. Instead of going off on Eric, he focused in on Robert who we brought along as an additional cameraman.
Robert was an interesting guy. I first met him when I was first working with Don on the never competed, Roller Blade 3. Check out the Zen Documentary I made about that film, Roller Blade 3: The Movie That Never Was, if you want to see some behind-the-scenes of early DGJ. Previous to that, Don had hooked him with a production company and Robert had directed his first movie at the age of nineteen. He even directed Z’Dar and me in the movie, Divine Enforcer. Though he was very hands-off. Though Don constantly pitted Robert and I against one another, by making false statements about what we said and stuff, I never let that kind of BS effect me. I always judge a person face-to-face and I had no problems with Robert.
Anyway, Don went off at Robert screaming some of the most demeaning things at the guy. I was in disbelief. Like Eric, Robert was a young, healthy male. He could have torn Don apart. I asked him that night, “Why don’t you just leave?” I mean, he only lived a mile or so from the location and could have walked home. But, he said, “I want to prove who is the better man.” Wow, I would not have reacted that way.
In terms of Z’Dar, Don just went after him, as well. At one point he screamed at Bobby, “I wish I could get a decent actor on the set.” “I take exception to that Donnie,” was Z’Dar’s only reply. I mean, I don’t know how Don could say that to Z-Man, he was a GREAT actor!
After that, Don goes into this whole yelling discourse about how he is in a lot of pain. Which I do not doubt that he was. A side note is that Don was on a lot of medication due to his leukemia. Apparently one of those medications was very destructive to human cartilage and Don had no remaining cartilage in his right hip. This caused him to walk with a pronounced limp and use a cane. Plus, it caused him to eat a lot of Vicodin. So, I am sure that he was in pain. But, that was no reason to take it out on Z-Man.
Side note: We actually incorporated that part of Don and him needing pain medication into the storyline of RnR Cops.
Anyway… Don kept pushing and needling and trying to take over the evolution of the scenes and the movie. But, I would not back down. Robert said, “I’ve seen him steal movies like this from other people.” My initial thought was maybe that was why Don wanted to do this film in the first place. He was a horrible confiscator of others people’s ideas. Maybe he liked my concept and didn’t have any ideas of his own. He thought that I would get pissed and bail. But, that’s not me. The more you push, the more I push back.
Around 1:00 AM or so we had shot all we could shoot at that location and Don decided he wanted to eat so we headed over to the nearby Denny’s. Again, it was a crazy chaotic mess. Don had this crazed look in his eyes.
Don, Robert, Ann Marie, and I were sitting at one table. Z-Man and the rest of the cast and crew were at other tables. I guess Don realize he had been treating Robert badly and he asked him what he wanted to eat. Robert told him he just wanted some fries. Give him three plates of French fries screams Don at the waiter. Don then ordered a grill cheese sandwich for himself.
Denny’s used to have these great grill cheese sandwiches. Right at that point, however, they had begun to change their recipes. Don found a tomato on his sandwich which caused him to pick up his plate and literally throw it across the room. I could not believe it. I truly thought that they were going to call the cops. But, for whatever reason, they did not.
Another interesting thing that took place that night was that after I ordered coffee, so did Don. The weird thing about this was is that Don never drank coffee. He hated it. Then, he went into a rant about how could stay up longer than anybody. He could film for days and not stop. The man was obviously loosing it.
Shortly after that we sent most of the cast and the crew home. With Z-man and Ann Marie we continued to film until the early morning. What changed, I don’t know, but Don began to back off about moving in on my position as director.
Again, in Cinematografia Obsesion, you can watch as Don obsesses about filming a shot where Z-man goes and gets some money out of an ATM.
The night and the day of production were done…
The Armor Shop
During the filmmaking of Guns of El Chupacabra we had met these people who operated an armor shop where they created some great medieval armor for cosplay, enactments, and… We introduced the team to Julie and they were enthralled. You can see some of their armor in Chupacabra.
In any case, they had a shop in Burbank and we contacted them. They were more than happy to let us shoot there. For a price, of course…
We had a pretty big cast and crew that evening and Don was not in a good mood. In fact, he was behaving like a total bitch. But, this was my film so I had to hold onto it tightly. I wasn’t going to be driven from my set.
He was treating David like shit. “Could you get in the fucking shot,” and stuff like that. The real focus of his anger that evening was on this PA named Dennis that we had hired a week or so the previous. A good guy, who was new to L.A. In addition to being our PA, I put him in the film and his acting was spot on.
In any case, Don went after him and went after him hard. He was ruthless. At one point, we were dressing the guy in some armor so he was shirtless. Finally, the PA had enough and he walked off of the set without his shirt. The only problem was, he walked towards the back of the shop. From which, there was no way out and onto the street. For a long time, literally like an hour, I wonder what happened to him but then he stormed through the set and walked out of the front door, still wearing no shirt. And, this was the winter. It was not warm. So, he had to have been cold.
Like I said, a good guy. A good guy who Don fucked with for no reason. We lost a lot of very talented people over the years by Don behaving in that manner.
We did the shots in the armor shop that night and moved on.
I guess this is as good as a point as any to mention this. Yes, on the set Don was behaving like a total asshole. But, when we were together during the day, planning the next shoot, he was totally normal. We would laugh and joke like we always did…
Let’s Play Some Music
During the filming of Guns of el Chupacabra we were introduced to this guy who had a large warehouse space over by the L.A. River. We filmed the Kevin and Julie in armor scenes at that location. You can also see some of that guy’s great gothic artwork in the background.
In any case, we needed an interior location to further develop the story. So, we contacted the guy and returned to his space. There, among other things, we planed to film a jam session with David and I.
David was a country western singer who had a couple of albums on the market. But, he didn’t have access to an electric guitar. So, I packed up my ’64 Gibson Trini Lopez for him to use and I took my Gibson, Kris Derrig, Les Paul for me to play. I would have like to have brought some of my Marshall stacks to use as amps but there was no way that I could fit them in Porsche. So, all I had room for was my ’57 Fender Deluxe. One of the other castmember brought a practice for David to use.
Maybe someday one of you people out there with a lot of CGI experience can put a wall of Marshalls behind us. But, that was all we had to actually work with.
What really surprised me when we got down to filming the scene was that I thought that David and I were just going to jam with me playing lead. But, David had actually written an entire song titled, The Rock n’ Roll Cops. Wow! He really went all in and that was highly appreciated.
In the final cut of the film I didn’t use the song, however. We had spoken about actually going into a recoding studio and recording it right. But, that never happened. As, the audio from one Sennheiser ME66 microphone just did not do the song justice, it never made its way into the film.
We shot some interesting stuff over the next few days. I don’t know how much Don had been sleeping, or what he was taking to stay awake, as he was also doing Praising Doctor Praisewater. …A film, by this point, that I didn’t want to have anything to do with.
In any case, I showed up at the office as we were set to go out that night and film. I had gotten to the offices in the late afternoon and Don and/or no one else was there. I hung out for a little while and Don with his cast and crew barrels in. He was mad and agitated. What had apparently occurred is that the castmember, who owned the limo, and provided a great character in RnR Cops, was also doing Praising Doctor Praisewater with him. Remember, people want that screen time… As I was told, the guy’s limo had broken down in this really sketchy part of ghetto L.A. but instead of helping him out Don just told the guy to fuck off and figure it out for himself. Don and the crew just left him there. I mean that is really messed up.
The backstory about that guy was, he was a former gangbanger and a current drug dealer. The guy was always strapped with one of those large, Dirty Harry, Smith and Wesson 44 Mags in a shoulder holster. So, he was no one to mess with. As Don drove off, the guy was obviously pissed off big time and was hitting Don with some serious threats. Can you blame him?
Anyway, back at the office, Don and his people all pull out their guns awaiting the arrival of the guy. I mean, what bullshit melodrama. All for nothing. Again, I am left in a state of total disbelief. Don then calls the cops and tells them that he is being threatened by this guy and the guy is on his way to kill him. Unbelievable…
Some people love all that style of adrenaline filled bullshit. Don always did. But, not me. I just don’t need it.
I guess the guy got his car started and just as he was showing up the cops arrive. I couldn’t even watch what was going on. I went to my office and sat around talking with this one actress who had not been involved in the melee. Luckily, they didn’t arrest him, they just told him he had to leave. But, Don should not have done that. Plus, he did that with the full support of the cast and the crew of Praising Doctor Praisewater. I refused to let of them film any more scene in RnR Cops. Me, I would have stayed there and helped the guy out if his car had broken done. Not Don, he loved the melodrama. Bad, bad, bad…
The Final Scene
Though we shot for a few more days, the final scene of The Rock n’ Roll Cops involved the great actor, William Smith.
I don’t really remember where or why we decided to do it but we chose the famous Bonaventure Hotel as a location for his scenes. Don and I went there early in the day and rented a hotel suite. We then went back to the office where Don proceeded to call this insane amount of castmembers to meet us in the room—promising all of them a big part in the film.
We then had a core group of people meet us at the office and Don sent this one guy to the hotel as the Cast Wrangler.
Now, this guy who was also in the movie. …A very good guy and a great actor. He was the brother of an Academy Award winning director. He predominately worked as an extra while he wrote scripts hoping for one to break through. He was given the key to the hotel room and was told to keep everyone in the room and not let them wander the halls.
Don and I then left the rest of the central cast and crew in the office and set out on our day.
I knew what Don was doing. He loved to fuck with people and he just wanted to see how long he could make them sit around doing nothing. We went out and had lunch and later dinner. That tells you how long we were out.
Out, we were also planning to buy Mini DV tapes for the evening’s shoot. The thing was, there was none to be found. We literally went everywhere. And, I mean everywhere around Hollywood and the Valley but they were all sold out. Apparently, some big production company had just discovered the format and bought everything. We searched and searched until we finally found some at an electronics store. That was a strange experience and a good lesson to filmmaker; i.e. make sure you have your film stock before you schedule your shoot.
Then, Don had the idea, why don’t we film at the Chateau Marmont on the Sunset Strip instead of the Bonaventure? We went there. Don boldly exclaiming that we wanted to film some scene that evening in a suit for this great film we were making. “This is the director, Scott Shaw,” he exclaimed. Again, I could not believe his actions. Whether or not it was true, they told us they were fully booked. By now, it was about 9:00 PM so we headed for the Bonaventure, calling the people who remained at out office and telling them to meet us there.
The next thing that shoved me into disbelief was the way Don encountered the staff of the hotel. We pull into the underground parking lot of the hotel and instead of being cool and casual he boldly tells the bellmen how to unpack and load up all of this massive amount of film equipment he had in his very large trunk. I mean, we didn’t have a permit to shoot at the hotel or anything like that and I expected the management would come down on us. Don literally had the bellmen unpack two full hotel carts of equipment and take them up to our suite. It is hard to even explain what I was feeling.
Next, we go upstairs. We walk in the room and see that there were at least fifty expectant castmember sitting around. All of them stuffed into this two room hotel suite. These were all people that we had worked with before. Don goes off, “Get them the fuck out of here! Why did you let all of them in here!” Don yells to our Cast Wrangler. In disbelief, people try to speak to me, as I am the nice one. I just ignore them and walk away. It’s all too insane for me. There is nothing that I can do. As was always the case, it was Don who made the phone calls and set all of this into motion but it was Don who tried to blame someone else.
Next, Don goes after the Cast Wrangler. He starts screaming at him for not maintaining control over the people. A very nice guy, he looks at me and said, “I guess I should have seen this coming.” He inquired as to his pay but I told him that was Don’s department. He left. But, at least he didn’t hold a grudge against me.
Talent on the Set
About 10:00 PM the great actor and Clint Eastwood Co-Star William Smith arrived with his girlfriend, (who later became his wife). Don was immediately pissed that he brought her along. Me, I had no problem with her being there at all. While I was setting up some lighting, Don apparently told Bill that I did not like her on the set and that she had to leave. Which she did. I was told she went down to the hotel bar.
A few minutes later, I asked Bill where she went. He told me Don said I wanted her gone. “I never said that,” I exclaimed. With this, Bill goes into the bedroom of the suite, where Don was getting the camera ready, and joking put him in a chokehold. As they were longtime friends, I knew there was nothing to worry about but it was fun to see how the tables had turned on Don in an instant and he was totally incapacitated by a truly tough, take no prisoners, sort of guy.
The next strange thing that occurred is that Don completely stepped back from any interaction onto how I was going to guide the scene. There was no input about camera or otherwise. I talked to Bill to tell him exactly what I wanted him to do. Don said nothing.
Now, this was not the first time Don had done this over the years. On more than a few occasions, Don would leave our sets altogether. But, due to the way Don was behaving over the past week or so, I did not expect it.
In any case, Bill wanted to play the charter with a Russian ascent. Sure. I was good with that.
So, I guided Bill, Ann Marie, and Don through their scenes and that was that. Bill was paid and he went home.
We stayed around the hotel until the early morning hours of daylight shooting filler stuff with Ann Marie’s and my character. The noteworthy thing was, Don was totally brazen. He had us shooting all over the hotel, in the elevators, and even in the lobby. This, as stated, with no permits. Ballsy, I thought.
At one point, the hotel security guards even came out and took a look at us. But, they said nothing and just walked on. So, we got the shoots while fully utilizing the Bonaventura Hotel with no permits or anything like that.
And, that was that. Those were the final shots of the film.
Upon completion of RnR Cops, I assumed Don would hand over the footage to me and I would edit the film. We had an editing room set up in our offices where I had done several other of our films and I thought this film would follow the same pathway. It did not.
Almost immediately upon rap, Don returned to his usual, more or less normal, self. I will leave it to you psychology majors to figure that one out. Plus, he also gave up filming Praising Doctor Praisewater.
We filmed RnR Cops in January of 1998. The American Film Market was rapidly upon us and I created a poster for the film as we were going to offer it for sale and international distribution.
One of the weird things that went on during that AFM was that there were people outside actually protesting David Heavener and passing out flyer bagging on him. Thus, Don wanted his name removed from the cast. I thought that was a bit messed up, as Don knew whom he got into bed with when he hired David, but I played along. So, there are a couple of different credit lists on the poster out there.
Though there was a lot of interest in the film from buyer, we didn’t have a trailer or anything to show them, so the film went nowhere except for the fact that I was interviewed by Rolling Stone Magazine and a few other media sources regarding the film.
But, that was it. Though Don and I talked about the film over the next few years, as I never had the footage, there was noting I could do to make it become a film.
In 2002, I was teaching a class at U.C.L.A, The Art of Independent Filmmaking, and I got to be friends with one of my students, Rich Magram. A great guy, we decided to make a film together.
For that film, what I hoped to embrace was that same feeling of the TV show, Cops that I hoped to capture with the original RnR Cops. I wanted to it to be in your face cinematography. As I believed I would never possess the footage for the original RnR Cops, I titled this new film, Rock n’ Roll Cops. We shot it very documentary style, like I had hoped to do with the original film.
Filmed and edited, it was then released.
Very soon after this, in 2003, Don became very ill and asked me to take him to the hospitable. His time was almost up. Knowing this, and knowing that I was the only one who would keep his filmmaking legacy alive, he made sure that his wife gave me all of the footage to all of his and our movies. There was literally hundred of hours of uncut footage. Immediately, I located the RnR Cops footage and began editing the movie. But, Don passed away before I could finish.
One of the first things that I noticed when I began editing the film, and something that I did not previously realize, was the fact that we had shot a lot of very usable scenes. Some of these played out very well for a very long period of time. For me, as a viewer, I don’t really like movies that stretch on for more than ninety minutes, however. So, there were a lot of scenes that I substantially cut down and a number of intact scenes that I did not use in the final cut. I believe that there is enough unused footage that I could actually create another full-length movie. But, unless there is a reason, I doubt that I will do that.
As I had already released a movie with the title Rock n’ Roll Cops, I released the original film as, Rock n’ Roll Cops 2: The Adventure Begins on VHS.
During that period of time, DVD was rapidly taking over video and I said, “Fuck it, I am going to retitle and rerelease things as they should be.” Thus, Rock n Roll Cops became Hollywood P.D. Undercover and Rock n’ Roll Cops 2: The Adventure Begins, became The Rock n’ Roll Cops.
Thinking back, as I write this, I don’t actually know how much The Rock n’ Roll Cops actually cost to make but it was not cheap. All of the established talent had their day rates and we paid the other castmembers about one hundred dollars per day and the crew about two hundred dollars per day. Me, I was on a five hundred dollar a week retainer plus four hundred dollars a day for each day we were in production. Don, I am sure, was making way more than that. Plus, a few of the locations we actually rented and that was not cheap. So, this movie did cost some money to make. The exact amount, I will never know.
As to the Zen Filmmaking legacy, Don and I always felt we made two masterpieces as a team: The Roller Blade Seven and Guns of El Chupacabra. But, I would add The Rock n’ Roll Cops to that list. Even though it was a crazy, mind bending experience due to the behavior of Don it, none-the-less, is a true embodiment of Zen Filmmaking.
That’s the story… The story of The Rock n’ Roll Cops.
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You can also find this article on scottshaw.com @ The Rock n' Roll Cops: The Story of the Production.