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Saga of Guns of El Chupacabra and the Art of Zen Filmmaking

I came upon this ancient screen pull I grabbed from the website of Donald G. Jackson many years ago where he posted this article I wrote. You may find it interesting.

Below is an article written by Scott Shaw concerning his experience working with me making a 16/35mm Motion Picture shot entirely without a screenplay, a technique of "spontaneous creation."

"Guns of El Chupacabra"
the Art of Zen Film Making

This article appeared in issue #32 of Draculina Magazine.

by Scott Shaw Ph.D.
DATELINE FEBRUARY 1997: Don Jackson calls me up, he had been on-line and found that the Chupacabra was one of the hottest topics on the web.

The Chupacabra is the Latin equivalent to the Big Foot of North America, Yeti (Abdominal Snowman) of the Himalayas, or the Lockness Monster of Scotland; in other words, a mythical creature which wreaks havoc and basically kicks butt. The word Chupacabra literally translated from Spanish means, Goat Sucker. The legend of the Chupacabra first arose in Puerto Rico and then spread throughout the Latin American countries about this creature which would suck the blood from farm animals, leaving their rotting corpses in the fields. Hell, even the X-Files did an episode on the subject.

Jackson and I met that evening at Golden Apple, a comic book store on Melrose Avenue in L.A., and the stage was set for us to go full throttle into the project.
PRE-PRODUCTION: Giving into the fact that the previous summer Don and I had gone through Hell attempting to cast suitable talent for a few feature films we made, we decided not to go through all of that again and, instead, bring only film-family members into this project, people we could trust and rely on. From this, we would be allowed to keep all of our energy locked into this project and not let it get dispersed by all of the problems associated with the wanta-be actors and actresses of Hollywood who just do not have a clue: "I can't be in a movie today because I have an acting class to go to." "I have to leave the set because I have an audition." "You'll have to talk to my agent." "I can't be in a movie that doesn't have a script." Etc. and so on...

Our initial central cast was composed of CONRAD BROOKS (the last remaining Ed Wood confident), ROBERT Z'DAR (Maniac Cop), JULIE LUNAR STROM (a girl which our friend ERIC BRUMMER introduced us to when we were making GHOST TAXI), JOE HAGGERTY, JEFFREY HUTCHINSON, SAM MANN, and myself.

The concept for the film was to make a movie within a movie, within a movie. There is a documentary film crew out interviewing people and collecting news footage on the remains left by the Chupacabra, government agents hunting it down, and then there is my character, JACK B. QUICK - SPACE SHERIFF, who is fighting the various foes who released the Chupacabra. As the plot unfolds, it is detailed that the origin of the Chupacabra is unclear, it could be a mutated earthly creature, a genetic experiment gone bad, or even an alien. What it actually turns out to be will be revealed at the first theatrical screening.
DAY ONE: The first shot of the movie was staged at Vasquez Rocks. We had Conrad looking for his lost dog, Whitney. Immediately, he was killed by the Chupacabra.

The great thing about allowing the spontaneous Zen energy to guide us to initially shooting at Vasquez Rocks that day was there was a major film crew at the same location, thus, the Park Rangers did not kick us out for not possessing a filming permit, obviously assuming we were second unit. In addition, seeing our opportunity, we took some production stills by the lighting trucks and lines of anvil cases which we could send to our investor and let him see where all of his money was going. Conrad, on the other hand, chose to go up and grab a bite at the production's craft service table.
Make all unpredicted situations work to your advantage.
LOCATION TWO: We go to the Mizrahi Movie Ranch in close proximity to Vasquez Rocks. BOB MIZRAHI lives in this great old house up in a canyon about an hour outside of L.A., which used to be inhabited by HOYT AXTON. On the property, for some unexplained reason, there are numerous old deserted bulldozers, trailers, cars, and various other metallic objects. A great set for filming.
Don't waste time, money, and energy attempting to create your sets when you don't have to. Instead, travel to them and allow their natural aesthetics to become a part of your film.
On the ranch we filmed Z-MAN LORD INVADER'S (Z'Dar) capture of the news reporter (Strom) who had been documenting the Chupacabra attacks and JACK B. QUICK - SPACE SHERIFF'S (Shaw) encountering with Z-MAN, ultimately leading to the chase by the TEXON FIVE, who my character eventually disposed of.

From the inception of this film it was Don and my concept to make it a shoot 'em up movie, reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH. The style of the feature would mirror the intent, though not the content, of the 1971 film ZACHARIAH. That film was billed as the first Electric Western, our would be the first Zen Space Western. Thus, there was going to be a lot of gun play.

One of the interesting paradoxes of the California film industry is, anyone who is twenty-one years old can go in and by bullets with no questions asked, but you can only buy blanks if you have a permit. As our production team possessed no permits, we bought real bullets. Thus, all the semi automatic pistols, AR 15's, AK 47's, and shotguns which are used in this film are loaded with live rounds. Hey, blanks mess up the barrels of guns anyway...

Our filming continued forward and followed the path of spontaneous creation, "Scripts are for sissies," up until the American Film Market.
THE 1997 AMERICAN FILM MARKET: For AFM we created a poster in direct reference to EL MARIACHI and edited a six minute work-print trailer for the film, then titled, EL CHUPACABRA.

At AFM the two films Don and I had created the previous year, TOAD WARRIOR (Hell Comes to Frogtown III) and SHOTGUN BLVD. sold very well; virtually all of Asia, South America, and much of Europe purchased these films. This international interest was in direct contrast to the reviews many U.S. magazines gave these movies, not understanding that they were created as a visually moving comic book and should not be compared to much higher budget films.

From the moment the market open, EL CHUPACABRA was such a hit that virtually every territory desired to buy it solely on the trailer alone. This made Don and I realize that we really had something and we should pull it back until we had completed the film and could take it theatrical, at least on a limited level.
SHOOTING CONTINUES: At the end of AFM we decided to have DAVID HEAVENER (Twisted Justice, Fugitive X) do a cameo in the film. He had done a cameo in Don's KILL KILL OVERKILL and was a long time friend. Though a lot of bad things have been spoken and printed about HEAVENER in the film industry, his previous over the top type of performances were perfect for this film. We plugged him in as a cohort of JACK B. QUICK. In addition, we met and added a needed Latino actor named, HERVEY ESTRADA. He played the masked Mexican wrestler, THE SANTIAGO KID.

Over the next few months we shot predominately on weekends to accommodate people's schedules, creating the storyline as we proceeded. We used the O.J. civil trail, with all of its news crews as a backdrop, we had fight scenes with actors in full monster make-up at the Los Angles Union Station. We had them run up and down the long futuristic halls and escalators of the Metro Link where TOTAL RECALL was filmed, we even did a scene in the highly secured lobby and elevators of the Bonaventure Hotel where TRUE LIES filmed. When, and if, the police ever showed up, we would simply tell them that we were filming a birthday video. We even had our reporter (Strom) abducted at the Cinco De Mayo festivities at Olivera Street.

Just do it. 99% of the time you can get away with it. If the police stop you, never tell them you are making a movie, because no matter how small your crew is, they will assume you have money and can fine you.
SEPTEMBER 1997: GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA was the new title. We edited the film. It was all we had expected with the continual gun play, martial art fights, and comic book storyline. There was, however, something missing.

When we had began the film we were going for the PG crowd, no nudity and only stylized violence. When the first edit was complete, we realized that this film had become much more than we had realized it would be. It was so artistic, in fact, that we knew we had to take it to the next and final level. We decided to shoot some more footage.

Never let your storyline dominate your artistic vision. Too many would be filmmakers attempt to write what they believe is a "Good" script and then try to film it. Without an unlimited budget it is virtually impossible to get what is on the page upon the stage.


JULIE STRAIN: Out of the blue, JULIE STRAIN called Don. She had done a few movies with him earlier in her career, QUEEN OF LOST ISLAND and BIG SISTER 2000 and was just phoning to say, "Hi." We asked, "Would you like to be in THE GUNS OF EL CHUPACABRA?" "Sure, can my husband KEVIN (EASTMAN) be in it too?." "Of course."
Friends are good, especially if their husband is the creator of THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and Editor/Publisher of Heavy Metal Magazine.
Julie and Kevin showed up at our castle/warehouse stage. With them came the nationally syndicated television show STRANGE UNIVERSE, who not only interviewed them, but Don and myself, as well. Great publicity for the film.

Julie played the role of QUEEN B and Kevin was KING ALLMEDIA. Julie and Kevin are really good people. Kevin is the nicest multi millionaire you will ever want to meet. He sat in his full metal armor costume, under the lights, the whole time we did his scenes where Julie and him send out my character on the mission to save the Earth from the Chupacabra and then knight me the REVERENT DOCTOR SAINT FRANCIS BLADE upon my return. He even did his whole STRANGE UNIVERSE interview in his costume. There is only the best things to say about both of them.
RAP: Shooting completed. Well, that's a rap. The film is now in its final stages of Post. It will be initially screened at the DGA (Director's Guild of America) here in L.A. and then onto the world market at the 1998 AFM.
Zen Film Making is a spontaneous process. Just as the Zen understanding of enlightenment teaching that though you may meditate for years it is not until the moment when you step beyond your thinking mind and realize that you are already enlightened that you achieve Satori. Thus, if you acutely plan your productions, with screenplays, storyboards, and locations, there is no room for the instantaneousness of film making enlightenment to occur and you will always be lost between the way your mind desired the scene to be and the way it actually turns out.

In Zen Film Making nothing is desired and, thus, all outcomes are perfect.

Zen Film Making teaches the concept of the Anti-Story. The stories have all been told. As such, attempting to retell them is a waste of everyone's time. This is especially the case of low budget, independent film making. Why try to retell a story and compete with a production which had a million times your budget? Create your own instantaneous art and it will be what it is. Fuck the story! Who cares?

If you believe that you are going to be the next Scorsese and what ever project you are working on is going to launch you to that level, you will be continually be disappointed. As the Buddha said, "The cause of suffering is desire." Just allow your film to be what it is, pure and artistic in its own right.

Art is art and that is how it should be viewed. If you imitate, you are compared. If you create, some people may not like it, but they will have an emotion about it and this is the essence of art.

In Zen Film Making, embracing the spontaneous storyline does not mean that you let your actors improvise their dialogue. If you do this they will talk about so many things that have nothing to do with anything, that any concept you have for the film will be lost in meaningless dribbling dialogue.

The problem with most actors is that they believe acting is solely related to talking. It is not! To this end, you need to control the patterns of dialogue, if you choose to use any at all. Thus, Zen Film Making teaches that you create and feed actors their lines just prior to shooting the scene.

In Zen Film Making one action or situation will mystically lead you onto the next and the next. Get your elements in place at the location: which cast members are there, what props you have, and the present energy will direct you into what type of scene you will shoot. Let spontaneous creativity flow.

Zen Film Making allows you to be you. Your vision, your understanding, your creation. This is where art is born, and enlightenment given birth to.

Copyright 1997 All Rights Reserved