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Zen Filmmaking: Process Verses Product

Here’s a piece that I wrote several years ago that you may find interesting.


It seems that there is no way that I can ever discuss Zen Filmmaking without speaking about Donald G. Jackson. And, that is not bad thing for without him having the deal in place for Roller Blade Seven I may never have come up with the philosophic ideology for the process and continued forward with making Zen Films.

After Don’s passing, I was helping his wife clear out some of the tons of things Don had collected—as she and their daughter were moving from the house they had lived in for over twenty years. Don was a terrible hoarder. (Oh, I mean collector. Happy) In any case, as we were going through some stuff we found something that referenced Zen Filmmaking. She handed it to me and said, “I guess this is for you, as you’re the source.” I smiled, “That’s me…”

But, it is much more complicated than that. Zen Filmmaking really goes to the source and the difference between who Don and I were as human beings. Don was very explosive, egocentric, a total power tripper, and he did not care about people; their feelings or their thoughts. Though he did spend a lot of money on his young wanta-be starlet paramours getting them boob jobs, paying their rent, and stuff. His payment was retuned by… Well, you can figure that out…

Anyway, working with Don was always both a blessing and a curse. On one hand he was a total hustler, so we had some high budgets for our films. In fact, on one of the last big galas before he died, Demon Lover Diary showed at the Directors Guild of America here in L.A. I thought that was a great blessing from the beyond as Don got a lot of press surrounding that event and this happened as he was getting very sick and closely approaching the end of his life—though I and his direct family were the only ones who knew this. After the screening they asked Don to do a Q&A. One of things he said to describe himself, when being asked a question, was, “I used to be an artist, now I’m just a guy who asks other people for money.” Sad but true.

And, I guess that leads to the point of this piece. Yes, Don was a filmmaker. And, I believe a truly revolutionary and artistic one. But, he was more into the process than the product. I mean, we would hang out everyday. We would meet at our offices in North Hollywood, do casting session, eat burgers, (Don’s favorite food), hang out with young actresses, go see obscure Blue Grass and Alt Country bands at night, but rarely would we film. Maybe once a week we would actually break out the cameras and get something shot.

For example, it took us months-upon-months to film Roller Blade Seven. Guns of Chupacabra went on for over a year. I remember when we were filming the scenes at the Cinco de Mayo celebration at Olvera Street, I looked at Don and said, “Remember we started filming this movie over a year ago in January.” He just shook his head.

That was the way it was working with him. The other problem was, once we did film something, he would hide the footage away until it was an absolute necessity to finish a film before he would turn it over to me to edit. As he held the purse strings, he was in control.

This is why, soon before he passed away, when he was in the hospitable, he made sure his wife turned over all of the footage to me, as there were so many films yet to be edited. I immediately started editing and did my duty to his legacy. That is why more films involving Donald G. Jackson came out after his death than while he was alive. And, for the record, there are a number of films created by either DGJ or myself or us as team that are out there that no one but the initiated have figured out that they are us using different names. Anyway…

The thing about being in association with Don was, there was always a price to pay. I said that while he was alive, (to his face), and after he died. Perhaps his mindset and the far reaching implications of his behavior were all optimized during the period of time when we made the Roller Blade Seven. …Though I cover the process of making the Roller Blade Seven, the first Zen Film, pretty well in a chapter in my book, Zen Filmmaking, I think that it is almost necessary that I write another extended account, at some point, Roller Blade Seven: The Darkness In The Light, because a lot of bad things happened in association with that film, intermixed with good things all based on the behavior of Don. …Things that have traveled forward to today.

Perhaps an ideal illustration of what was to come was shown to me on the very first day, on the very first set, that involved Don and I. It was for the film, Roller Blade Three. Check out the doc I made about the film if you care to… Anyway, I had met Don shortly before that and he had asked me to star in the film. I arrived on the set, as did all of the rest of the cast and the crew. The female lead asked me if I wanted to run our lines, as it was a script-based production. I said, “I’m a natural actor. I don’t really do that. Let’s just wait till we get on set and let it happen.” See… I was Zen Filmmaking before there was Zen Filmmaking.

In any case, on that day, I went looking for Don as nobody knew where he was. I found him outside, taking all of the junk he had in the trunk of his 1962 Plymouth and setting in on the ground of the parking lot. And, there was a lot of stuff in there! “Just thought I would get this all in order,” he stated. He was doing this while the cast and crew walked around with no direction. Organizing the junk in his trunk… That situation provided a very clear illustration of who that man was.

I always believe that life provides you with signs as what is to come if you are aware enough to watch for them. In the case of Donald G. Jackson, my first thought was to bail that fiasco, as up until that point in my career I had been working on high-budget or at least very organized independent productions. But, I stayed and it led to what it led to… Zen Filmmaking.

Am I sorry I stayed? No, not at all. But, as stated, there was always a price to pay and that price was often times quite high. But, from my staying, for better or for worse, Zen Filmmaking was born.

In closing, Don and I were very yin and yang—very different parts of the same puzzle. Me, I am about completion. I like to get it done. …Because then you have accomplished something. Don was not like that.

Life is always a battle between: process verse product. Modern Spirituality commonly provides people with the excuse, “Enjoy the process.” Sure, enjoy it, but many people use that as a life-excuse for not making things happen and/or getting things done.

If you don’t get it done, then it’s not done. What have you accomplished?

So, if I must state one firm premise of Zen Filmmaking, that premise is, in Zen Filmmaking you get your project completed.

If you’re not a filmmaker, this ideology doesn’t only apply to filmmaking, it applies to everything.

Think about what you are doing. Think about why you are doing it. Contemplate what will it equal. Then, if you’re going to do it, do it. Finish it. Make something special that is uniquely your own.