My Ultimate 'Turning Point' For Success

At age 30, I had directed two feature films. One I financed by going into debt and one I was hired to do, that gave me a salary, but no sharing in the profits when it became a hit. The credit for writing and directing “Death Machines” was more important. But now it was two years later and even though I tried, I couldn’t get another feature film going, only some independent TV directing.

I had written a great action script. A script that had all the swashbuckling action stunts in it that I had loved as a kid watching Errol Flynn on TV. A great story with a big cast and lots of martial arts in it.

The script was lying on my sofa as I stood over it. I thought, “I just have to do this even though it would probably not sell, or the distributor would not pay once they took it.” Would I, or should I continue with this?

I had financed and used investors on my first feature, “Drawn Swords”. It was a long “drawn out” production, that caused me endless hassles, large debts, many disappointments, and no income from the minor distribution it had. I had worked six months to pay back most of the debts, but still wasn’t completely out of it. Did I want to go through all that again? Was this another sword fight epic that would get me much deeper into debt and end my dubious film career?

But I loved the story so much and wanted to use all the martial artists that I had met on my previous movie, (and I loved samurai movies, and Chinese sword fight movies), that I had to risk it.

I had seen most of the guys that were in the San Francisco State University film department drop out and get regular jobs, so I was alone with my dream. I had noticed that they all started giving up at exactly age 26. Why that age I wondered? But the answer came quickly. It was 4 years after graduating. They gave it a shot, but then girlfriends, wives, and even parents started to put the pressure on them to quick. After all, age 26 was getting pretty old to continue with an impossible dream. Why had they given up so soon?

That answer came when I saw a joke sign in a store window that read, “I feel so good now that I’ve given up all hope.” I understood right away. Yes, give up and there won’t be any more struggle or disappointments from money men that promise financing and then don’t deliver after wasting 6 months with them. Funny, I never even knew giving up was an optioin. That’s how movie crazy I was. But If I could just do this one more movie, I would be satisfied if I was finacially forced to give up.

So looking down at that white script on the green sofa, I decided right there and then that I would make the movie entitled, “The Last Adventure”.

Finally I said to myself, “I don’t care. Even if this movie bombs, even if I can’t sell it, I will still have the movie. It will be made. And this was my dream movie. The one that I really want to make. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was more of an “artist” than a film businessman, because completing that particular movie was more important to me for self expression than doing someone else’s project (which there were none) or working my way up in the Hollywood system (which there were no open doors). So I said, “What the hell”, to myself, picked up the script off of the sofa, and began preparing a schedule and budget.

The next week I anounced my project to my friends in the martial arts business and attracted some first investors. I set the start date for six weeks later and went ahead with casting, costumes and securing locations. As there was a large cast, many of them invested in the project. Six weeks later, I had enough money to be out on location filming in Panavision with Technicolor Labs doing the processing.

As I had always included myself in the cast of my 16mm movies and first feature, I wrote a character for myself. I mostly wanted to do as sword fight scene and a couple of stunts that I saw Douglas Fairbanks do. I wasn’t worried about directing myself as I used one of the crew to stand in for me as I staged the scenes, and then took his place for the shot. Besides I was only in a third of the movie because of all the characters. I was a little worried that some might think I was not a serious director by also being in the film. But since I figured it might be my last movie, I decided to play out all my dreams.

Only my cameraman objected to me being in the movie. Two days before filming started he complained, “What do you want to be an actor or director.” Should Bond fight a worker over this? So I decided not to act in it. However, with only two days before the shoot and being so busy, I couldn’t spend the time to find someone to replace my character, so I was stuck with me. But acting and doing my planned stunts in this movie has been the greatest satisfaction for me. Years later, it’s not so much the fact that I directed it that people mention when they see it, it’s the fact that I was in it. So after that, I never listen to anyone who tries to talk me out of my dreams. That’s “fighting without fighting,”

Bond style.

When I drove out to the location, many of the people had arrived and were in costume. I could see the swordwoman with their shinny blue Chinese costumes and the fifty extras all wearing black as I had told them to do. The cameramen were setting up. Make-up was already happening. Actors had flown up from Los Angeles. They were all here 40 miles from San Francisco in my hometown hills that I had used for filming my 16mm action movies when I was in college.

“This is fantastic,” I thought. “What an opportunity to make something really good.” I came to the instant conclusion to not just shoot a few master scenes. I would use the necessary film to get all the coverage I needed to make a cinematic film. And if I went a little over budget, I would make up the difference by selling part of my percentage in the movie. It would be worth it.

Six weeks after that I was finished filming. The post-production money came slowing, but that didn’t matter as editing took little money by doing the work in my own apartment. I finished the editing working by myself for 6 months and loved every minute. I did the final 16 track mix at Fantasy Films in Berkeley that had a state of the art mixing room.

The film was picked up by an independent distributor and broke a house record for attendance at a New York theater. With three feature under my belt I was on my way to three more and then discovered I had a talent for novels and success teaching and expanded into “the comunication business” instead of just the film business.

This finally lead me to direct my movie heroes, Rod Taylor, Robert Culp, Russ Tamblyn, and George Chakiris, Nancy Kwan and others, in my two novels turned into audio-books “Rock Star Rising” and “McKnight’s Memory”, with the latter being turned into a feature now, while currently producing “Jumping Tracks” for Victory Studios.

Looking back I realize that age 26 was too young for my film school friends to give up. Age 30 was too young for me to consider maybe not doing the next movie. And now I know, any age is “too young” to give up on anything.

Don’t let anyone talk you out of your dreams.

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