Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker A Scott Shaw Zen Film

Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker
A Scott Shaw Zen Documentary

In the mid 1970s, a critically acclaimed documentary, Demon Lover Diary, was created around Donald G. Jackson as he directed his first feature film, The Demon Lover The Devil Master. Twenty-five year later, while making his last feature film, this documentary was filmed.

Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker takes the viewer deep into the chaotic mind of this filmmaker as he explains his ideologies, philosophies, and the filmmaking techniques that he employed while creating more than thirty feature length films throughout the course of his career. In this documentary the viewer is also allowed to witness the reactions of the cast, the crew, and the filmmaker himself as he overcomes all of the obstacles laid out before him as his creates his final feature film.


Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker
Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker on YouTube

Dairy of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker

By Scott Shaw

As I have recently uploaded the Scott Shaw Zen Documentary,
Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker, to YouTube, I thought I would extend my original essay on this film to give the viewers a more complete backstory. Here it is:

There have been a lot of negative things said and written about
Donald G. Jackson. When he was alive, I too spoke a few negative words about the man as he was a troubled, frustrated, and very egocentric individual. He possessed what I call, “The Elvis Complex,” as he thought he was the center of the universe. But, in the later years of his life, I was probably his best friend, and he was a true friend to me.

When Don lay dying from leukemia at U.C.L.A. Medical Center, I visited him almost every day. Sometimes he would discuss that he hoped a true documentary would be made about his filmmaking, as the one that was created about his first feature film, “
Demon Lover,” titled, “Demon Lover Diary,” was so slanted and such a rip on his filmmaking ability and ideologies. I told him; I would be happy to take on that responsibility.

Since his passing, I have released a few films that have peered into his life, his mindset, our filmmaking interactions and experiences, and the style of filmmaking that may have never been created had we had not worked together: Zen Filmmaking. These titles include:
Interview: The Roller Blade Seven Documentary, Roller Blade Seven The Unseen Scenes, DGJ Q&A, Frogtown News, Cinematografia Obsesion, A Drive with Linnea and Donald, Donald G. Jackson Confessions, A Little Bit About What's Going On, Donald G. Jackson: The Conversation, among others. Though I believe that each of these films is a unique and interesting piece of historic cinema, these were never the full-on documentary about Donald G. Jackson that I planned to make.

Recently, I was looking through some behind-the-scenes footage and I began to edit it. What has emerged is the documentary I promise Don I would make. I have titled it, “Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker.” This is title that he had come up with and actually spoke into the camera. I have used that segment in the opening footage of the film.

So, for all of you fans of Donald G. Jackson and his filmmaking, for those of you who liked Demon Lover Diary, for those of you who have wondered about the filmmaking chaos that revolved around the man, you can witness Donald G. Jackson as he created his last and final feature film.

Dairy of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker was released in May 2011.

As a follow up: Many of the people who have viewed Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker over the years, since it was first released, have asked me questions like, “Why was Don prone to those bouts of rage?” “Why was Don so angry?” And, “Why was Don so disorganized?” To answer, that was just who Don was. As I have told many of the people who have asked these questions, I could have made a very different documentary.

To explain, during this period of his life, Don was frequently having himself filmed as he lived his life and as he created his films. As such, there was a lot of footage I had to work with. For Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker, I choose to focus only on the footage that surrounded him creating his last feature film.

In creating this documentary, I tried to present a true picture of the man and his filmmaking process, in association with his interactions and the thoughts and the feelings of those who took part in that film’s creation. This being said, I could have taken this documentary in a completely different direction, as there was so much explosive negativity that was taking place around the man and the film at that point in his history. But, for the person who did not know Donald G. Jackson, I felt that would simply be too limited of a portrayal. So, I attempted to walk the middle path in what the viewer is provided to witness.

To go a little bit more into depth, Don took on the creation of the film that possessed the working title of Blade Sisters against the recommendations of myself and other of his filmmaker friends. He committed to making a ninety-minute movie, shot on 16mm film, for sixty-thousand dollars. This is something that is almost impossible to do.

As I always said, Don was one of the greatest squanders of money I have ever known. Give him money and he went wild. Thus, that is what he did. As I saw what was to come, I initially stepped away from the project. This, even though Don and I had been mentioned in an article in Variety Magazine detailing that we were putting this film together. It was not until the film had actually begun its initial stages of production, and was rapidly falling apart, that I finally gave in to Don’s repeated requests for me to come back on-board and co-produce and co-direct the film. My motivation was that I hoped to help my friend.

By the time this film went into actual production, Don had squandered much of the film’s budget. In fact, there was a moment when Don had the 16mm Éclair camera taken off of the Sachtler and he put his small MiniDV cam onto the tripod. This signaled his demised. He stopped shooting the movie on the required 16mm film and switched to video which was in complete violation of his contract with the Executive Producer. I stood there in absolute disbelief, as this was happening, as I was probably the only person on the set who understood what was actually taking place.

Note to the viewers: There are some things that you will not see in this documentary, due to the fact that I did not want a camera following me around and filming Don and my private conversations—though some of these things are alluded to in passing in the film. The most important of these goings-on was Don’s declining health. There were times when he would send the videographer away as he lay on the couch in his office, very stressed and very sick. He lay there trying to rest and regain his strength while I would go to the soundstage and attempt to put things in order. But, the film, as per Don’s pre-production antics, was cursed by an inept crew, an aggravated cast, and by a stage owner who made equipment promises that he did not keep.

Even though there was a lot of production chaos and controversy with the cast, as can be witnessed in the documentary, they all stayed on-board and Don eventually did finished the film; shot on video not on 16mm film. When he turned the rough cut over to the Executive Producer, they immediately saw that it was shot on video and refused to accept it. But, that was all Don had to offer. He had spent all of the film’s budget on who knows what? Thus, the Executive Producer sued Don, which financially destroyed the final few years of his life that he had left to live. But, it was Don who had made his choice. For the viewer of this documentary they may find a window where they can witness some of the happenings that lead to his demise.

I now write this extension, to my original brief essay about the film, as a bit of an expanded discourse for those of you who care enough to know the truth and as an addendum to the story of the final film of Donald G. Jackson. Though, as all of you Zen Filmmaking aficionados understand, I did complete a number of films that he and I had started after his passing, as well as finalizing the film this documentary was based upon.

In closing, for those of you who have wished to take a peek into the true mindset and the actual filmmaking process of Donald G. Jackson, I believe Diary of a Michigan Migrant Film Worker will provide the viewer with that insight. I trust you will enjoy it.

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Conrad Linnea Don














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