Lights, Camera, Action: The Other Life of Scott Shaw
Inside Taekwondo Magazine, November 1994
When the increasingly long list of martial artists who have starred in action-adventure films comes to mind, you don't think of any of them leaving the set of a low budget film and immediately going on to act in a non-martial art role in an A-film or on national television. Hapkido Master, Scott Shaw, is the exception to that rule. Shaw, who has not only starred in but produced and directed several action-adventure films, has been seen in numerous A-movies, starred in the short lived T.V. series Street Games, and has guest starred on episodes of Coach, Saved by the Bell, and MacGyver, to name a few.
Has being a martial artist been your biggest asset as an actor?
Well, the martial arts have set me apart from other actors who haven't trained, but there are a lot of good martial artists out there. And, these days, you have to be very good to be taken seriously. In terms of actually acting, though I believe studying the craft of acting is the most important thing any actor can do.
So, acting training has helped you break into the mainstream film market?
Yes. Basically, that's the reason I believe I can audition and get roles that do not require any kicks or punches. Like good martial artists, there are a lot of talented actors out there. This is a very competitive business and without study, you are just not in the league with the hardball hitters. (Laughs). Actually, I'm just joking with you. I'm from a complete different school of thought. I don't believe you can train someone to act. I think it is a complete waste of time and money to study acting. All you are doing is paying someone's rent. You either can act or you can't. And, until you get on the set and do it, there is no way of knowing. My acting training came from working as an actor.
Do you prefer acting in martial art films?
We, as martial artists, are very aware of the martial art film industry. But the majority of the world doesn't know or even care about martial art films. If you want to be taken seriously as an actor, you have to go outside of the genre. So, to answer your question, my lifestyle is that of a martial artist, but I don't want to be limited to only working in martial art films.
You did a cameo performance in the Hollywood Film Industry satire, "The Player." Tell us about that?
Robert Altman, the director of The Player had seen me in a film with Karen Black. He had previously directed Karen in the film Nashville. Anyway, he liked what he saw. His office gave my agent a call and asked me to be the action-adventure cameo guy in the film. To me that was like receiving an Academy Award — having a director as great as Robert Altman asking me to be in one of his films.
You've acted in films in Hong Kong, as well. What was that like?
Well, it's definitely not like shooting even a low budget film here in the States. I mean, they feed you rice, the fight choreography takes place in about five minutes before they shoot a scene, and all the martial arts are virtually full contact.
Full contact! Did you ever get hurt there?
Oh sure, I've had my ribs broken, my nose broken. Anyone who has worked there will tell you the same story.
Are all the films that physical in Hong Kong?
If they're martial art films. You have to understand that there is a very large talent pool in Hong Kong. The movie companies have these big dormitories that house hundreds of local contract actors. It's nothing intentional on the film company’s part; it is just the way they are used to dealing with actors. They want action, they get action. Some actors eventually become more and more noticed and grow out of all that to be stars like Jet Lee or Jackie Chan.
You've also starred in a Japanese film. Was that any different from working in Hong Kong?
Yes it was. Filming in Japan is very different. I've done a couple of films there. The last one was called Katana Shibo. They treat the actors with much more respect. In general, the whole atmosphere is much more professional.
What's your opinion of the proliferating action-adventure market in the U.S.?
I think it takes itself too seriously, especially the lower budget stuff. If you watch Hong Kong films, there is always humor in them. It's the same with the later Stallone and Schwarzehagger films. They’re confident enough to make fun of themselves. I believe that's what action-adventure really needs, a certain amount of humor. The filmmakers shouldn't take themselves and their projects so seriously that they end up just making another bad imitation of an A-film.
You mentioned Stallone; you've worked with him, haven't you?
Sly or his brother Frank? Frank, co-starred in a film I starred in; but I guess you mean Sly.
Well, that's a funny story. I did a roll in the less than memorable Sylvester Stallone film Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot. I was cast as the owner of an art gallery. We spent several nights on this set, which was actually an old car dealership on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Wilton Place in Hollywood — not far from where I grew up. Anyway, the climax of the whole scene was a garbage truck, supposedly driven by Sly, crashing through the window of my art gallery and his character getting out with his prisoner while my character is naturally very upset. Anyway, Sly with a couple of his people and I were standing on the mezzanine level and we were going to watch the truck crash through the wall. I had been outside and seen how the truck was measured and chained to two large water trucks, so it would only go so far into the structure. Sly, apparently hadn't seen this. So, when the truck comes crashing through the window, it looked like it was going to keep coming at us. Sly jumped back into me, obviously scared. Amused at himself afterwards, we walked downstairs together and he was telling all of the stunt people and crew how I was the one who was scared when the truck broke through the wall. But anyway, when you see the film -- where's that scene? It's gone. So much for my working with Sly. Though I think that the obviously million dollar plus scene would have helped that film.
You've Produced and Directed films. What type of features have you done?
I've done everything from documentaries shot in China, to music videos, to action-adventures.
Tell us about your filmmaking style.
I always attempt to do something a little bit different from the, “Seen it all before,” formula type film. I try to fill every scene with as much vision and art as possible: from the story line, to the lighting, to the acting, to the editing, right down to the soundtrack.
Have all the feature films you've directed involve martial arts?
To date yes, but, I'm currently laying foundations for some non-martial art films.
What projects are you working on now?
I just finished directing and starring in a film shot here in L.A., scheduled for Hong Kong television, called Samurai Ballet. Before that I did a few days on a T.V. show. And, there are always martial art films. So, I stay busy.
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