Drew Stone is the director of the documentary XXX ALL AGES XXX: THE BOSTON HARDCORE FILM (2012), which took a look at the early hardcore punk scene in Boston, a scene that Stone was a part of. Throughout his career, he has been the frontman for the hardcore outfit Antidote and the manager for Sub-Zero, and directed features, promo videos, and extreme sports films. Stone's latest release is WHO THE F***K IS THAT GUY - THE FABULOUS JOURNEY OF MICHAEL ALAGO, which tells the incredible but true story of Michael Alago. As a young man in the Promotion and A & R departments, Alago managed to help get the likes of Metallica and White Zombie signed to major labels, quite an achievement for a gay Puerto Rican man in the world of heavy metal and hard rock. Alago also helped the likes of Nina Simone, U2, Cyndi Lauper and PiL achieve Stateside success. Stone's film includes interviews with artists such as Metallica, Rob Zombie, Cyndi Lauper, John Lydon, and Eric Bogosian, and is fascinating, moving and inspiring. I spoke with Stone about his passion for filmmaking, what drew him to documenting Alago's story, and his experiences making the film. 

Alago and Stone
You have a deep background in music, but when did the passion for filmmaking first come into your life? 
My father, Arny Stone, was a film director who worked his way up, and I grew up in and around the film business in New York City, so a job to me meant working in the film business too. As a teenager I worked for a film equipment rental company fixing equipment, and eventually I became a crew member. At the same time, I also got involved in music and started to play in bands in the hardcore punk scene in New York. It was the golden age of music videos during this time, and eventually bands began asking me to direct videos for them. I started doing music documentaries and extreme sports films too.

When did you first come across Michael Alago? 
Every time I used to go out in New York, whether it be at a small club or backstage at Madison Square Garden, I kept seeing this same guy over and over again. I would wonder to myself ''Who the fuck is that guy?'' It was only later that someone explained to me ''That's Michael Alago, the guy that found Metallica. ''

What was your first impression of him? How did you get to know him? 
I thought he was a little different and out of place at first. As I got to know him more I picked up on the fact he was a great lover of music, as am I. When he got The Misfits signed to Geffen Records in the mid-90s, I was managing a band called Sub-Zero. I had always been friends with The Misfits, so when I heard they were touring Europe, I asked Jerry Only (the bass guitarist) if Sub-Zero could go on the tour with the band. He said yes. When I went out on the tour with Sub-Zero, Alago was there as well. When bands are out on the road together, they develop a bit of camraderie. I got to know Michael a little bit. When we all got back to New York, I would continue to see him around.

When did you decide to make a film about him? 
I did a film a few years ago called XXX ALL AGES XXX: THE BOSTON HARDCORE FILM, which is a documentary about the early Boston hardcore scene that I was a part of. After I finished it, I was thinking about what film to do next when I ran into Michael at a Cromagnon show. I always knew he had an incredible story, and I started thinking of doing a film about him. When I went to his apartment to talk about doing the film, Michael had no idea why I wanted to meet with him. It was a little awkward at first. But when we started talking and he said ''I just love music'', I thought ''Wow. I know who this kid is. He's just a kid I went to public high school with in the Bronx, and grew up with in New York City.'' I knew in that moment that I could absolutely tell this story.

John Lydon and Alago
How has your conception of the film changed since that initial idea? 
The way I like to make documentaries is to not have everything mapped out or plotted out. I like to learn as I create the film. I feel if I'm finding it interesting and I'm learning as I go, then the viewer will get taken on that same journey. I had an idea of where I wanted the film to go but there was a lot about Michael that I didn't know and I wanted to discover everything as I went. I struggled a little bit against making the film a valentine to Michael, and I think in the end the film has a balance. It's a very revealing film. We go into Michael's previous drug problem and the fact he is HIV Positive. At first Michael had a lot of trepidation with all that, but we made our way through it.

What has the effect been on your career making the film? 
Making the film was a big step forward in the evolution of my filmmaking. Being able to interview the guys in Metallica and Cyndi Lauper and Rob Zombie and play with the big boys so to speak was very healthy for me as a filmmaker. As a result, people are starting to look at me differently now. Doing the film has certainly moved things along for me in a certain regard.

Rob Zombie and Alago
What would you like for people to take away from the film? 
I'd like people to appreciate how hard Michael had to work to get people to listen to him. He spent years going to shows, getting to know promoters and label executives and musicians, just to cultivate the knowledge to form his credentials and help bring these musicians to the mainstream. In the end I'd like people to see that music transcends all our social constructs. It's universal. It doesn't matter what your sexual preference is or where you're from or what neighborhood you grew up in music brings people together and is an incredibly powerful medium. It's beautiful in a certain way. I mean, there's such a stigma attached to being gay in heavy and hard music and here comes this Hispanic gay guy who breaks down the walls of the genre. I'm not gay myself, but Michael and I connected over our mutual love of music.

In what ways has Michael's story inspired you? 
I remember when Michael was drinking and drugging and his life was a bit of a mess. It was a really down moment but Michael really pulled his life together and turned everything around. He's just a good, kind-hearted person these days. I'm proud to call him my friend now. When I met him to talk about the film initially, we were friendly but not close. Now he's a friend of the family, and he talks to my mother even more than I do! When I look back at making the film, my most cherished moments are not meeting Cyndi Lauper or Metallica, it's being in the car with Michael, travelling to the next place and talking about music and having a few laughs. To me that was the real joy of making the film.

Lars Ulrich and Alago
 What was Michael's response to seeing the film for the first time? 
The moral of the story is – Don't make any documentaries about people who are alive! It's not easy! I decided to have him involved all along the way, rather than keep him at a distance and show him the film when it was finished. This was the way my father would do things. I did many rough cuts of the film and showed them to Michael. I wanted him to understand what was needed for each step. I would ask him to open some doors for us and reach out to other people, and tell him what photographs we needed and what music we needed for a certain place in the film. I wanted him to be a part of the process and be excited about it. It worked out really well.

What's very interesting is that no matter how much we learn about Michael in the film he remains an enigma to the end. 
He definitely is an enigma, a very interesting character. There are a lot of layers to Michael. What's also nice is that he leads a clean, positive life. He's very inspirational to people and has a lot of love for everybody. This film isn't a tragedy. It's the story of a man who pulls his life together.

What kind of responses did you get when you started submitting the film to festivals? 
No festivals wanted to pick up the film, including gay and lesbian film festivals, and other directors who I showed the film to had a lot to say about the film. But in the end, when I showed it to regular people, they fucking loved it. The film is having a life of its own, which is really gratifying as a filmmaker. I'm from a punk rock background and I'm kind of a DIY filmmaker so I don't especially need acceptance from film festivals and accolades to make me feel like I accomplished something. What matters to me is that people outside my window enjoy what I do and take something from it. That's where the currency is for me as a film director. It's about a man who loves music, and people can relate to that.

WHO THE F***K IS THAT GUY? THE FABULOUS JOURNEY OF MICHAEL ALAGO is in selected theaters from July 21st and on VOD and i-Tunes from July 25th. 

The trailer for the film.

Stone's website. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Damien Power is a Tasmanian-born filmmaker about to startle international audiences with his feature debut KILLING GROUND, a brutal, immersive, haunting survival thriller which breathes new life into the genre, with a non-linear narrative, realistic characters and a less-is-more approach. I spoke to Damien about the factors that shaped the story, his approach to the screenplay, the casting, the challenging shoot, and his hopes for how the film will be received.   

What other films were on your mind when you were writing and making KILLING GROUND? 
I looked back at the classic, character-driven survival films of the 70s. STRAW DOGS (1971) was one. I remember my cinematographer Simon Chapman and I looked at DELIVERANCE (1972), not so much for the content but for how the filmmakers made the daylight look frightening. If you watch DELIVERANCE you'll see there are a lot of long takes in the film, and John Boorman did an amazing job with the blocking of the actors. We also looked at THE VANISHING (1993) and how the tension was created. The French film RED LIGHTS (2004) was another film.

All of the films you mentioned are psychologically terrifying and the audience has to fill in the blanks for themselves about what occured during the most intense sequences. Is this something you were aiming for with KILLING GROUND? 
I wanted to be very careful about how I treated the violence. I wanted to leave the worst of the violence offscreen. When the audience fills in the blanks, it is far worse than anything I could show. I think this approach has more impact and suggests life outside the frame, which makes things even more disturbing.

What inspired the story for the film? 
The germ of the idea started with an image of an orange tent in the middle of nowhere. I don't know where this image came from, but I started thinking ''What happened to the campers?''

When did you hit upon the idea to do tell the story in a non-linear fashion? 
Right from the beginning, actually. When I was conceiving the story I had thought a lot about who the previous campers were and what had happened to them. That story, which might have just been backstory in another film, seemed fundamental to me. I wanted to tell the story of all the events that took place in that space, and the best way to do that seeemd to be non-linear. I would write one scene and then think ''Which timeframe do I want to transition to next for the next scene?'' It probably wasn't the easiest way to write! But it was just the way it unfolded. These kinds of films are usually relentlessly linear. For good reason – they want to throw you into the characters' journey. But we've all seen these films, and I wanted to try something new.

I also aimed to spend enough time with the characters so that we cared about them. And that goes for the antagonists too. We see something of their relationship before we see who they really are. I hope all of this makes the audience more active in the storytelling and has them asking questions throughout about where we are in the story and how all the characters relate to each other. I hope that as the two timeframes converge in the narrative the audience feels more and more anxious. They know that these paths are going to converge at some point, so there's that sense of anticipation. Thematically, the film deals with cycles of violence. There's a reference in the film to a past massacre of indigenous people. I think the non-linear opening creates an air of timelessness. Violence happened 200 years ago, it happened last week, it is happening now and it can happen tomorrow. The structure spoke to that theme.

With your previous short films were you working thematically towards KILLING GROUND? 
All of the shorts came about in different ways, and most of them are different to KILLING GROUND. But with Peekaboo, my producer Joe Weatherstone and I decided to make a short film that could be used as a calling card for me to get a feature financed that had suspense and action. We both had little kids at that point, and Joe said ''How about a film about a mother who loses her child?'' I said ''That sounds terrifying. '' So we made Peekaboo (2011), which is about a mother who loses her child in a public car park. Like KILLING GROUND it dealt with one of my worst fears as a parent – not being able to protect my family if they were under threat. I have lost sight of my kids in playgrounds and it's terrifying each time. The film did very well at festivals and got us international sales agents on board for KILLING GROUND.

A couple of months before we started making KILLING GROUND I shot another short film called Hitchhiker (2015). I was given money from an Australian Film, TV and Radio School Creative Fellowship to make an experimental short. I wanted to make the ultimate hitchhiker film by pulling the genre apart. I thought that the common thread between all hitchhiking films or hitchhiking scenes in films is the idea of danger – either you getting into a stranger's car or a stranger getting into your car. The antagonists are invariably an escaped prisoner or a serial killer. In my story, I have a serial killer pick up an escaped prisoner. All of the dialogue in the film comes from scenes related to hitchhiking in other films. It plays with this idea of genre and repetition. What is the essence of the hitchhiking genre? How can you reuse elements to tell a new tale?

Hitchhiker starred Aaron Glenane, who plays Chook (one of the the bad guys) in KILLING GROUND. In Hitchhiker he played the escaped prisoner, and Julian Garner, who plays Rob (the Dad who likes hiking) in KILLING GROUND, played the serial killer. If someone ever did a double bill of Hitchhiker and KILLING GROUND it would be strange because they would be watching KILLING GROUND just waiting for the Dad to go bad!

With KILLING GROUND were you trying to subvert expectations audiences might have for an Ozploitation film? 
If you're making a genre film you have got to be aware of people's expectations going in. For me I wanted to bring a level of realism to the characters and their choices. While I was writing the script I just kept thinking ''What would I do in this situation?'' I also wanted people asking themselves that same question after they saw the movie. Movies teach us that we can all be heroes, but life teaches us something different. Every time you inject a bit of real life into a genre story you can take it to an interesting place.

Being that the film was inspired by your nightmare scenarios as a parent, did you manage to work through any of your fears making the film? 
To be honest, I was too busy working through my own nightmare and survival story making the film! Logistically we didn't have a lot of time or money. We shot almost entirely outdoors, in supposedly the driest month of the year in Sydney and we were hit hard by rain. We lost three shooting days and were only able to reschedule an additional two. I was working a 9-5 job at the time and basically took leave to make the film. They wouldn't let me take five weeks off in a row, so I had to shoot for four weeks and then go back to work for a week and come back for a week and finish the film. We had an arsonist stalking the set trying to burn the bush down where we were filming. I think the only thing that stopped him was the rain. And of course you have all the regular things that are difficult to do, like working with kids and animals! It was a tough shoot, but we made it.

It was a real coup getting Aaron Pedersen from MYSTERY ROAD (2013) and GOLDSTONE (2016) in your film, and as an evil character as well. 
He's a national treasure in Australia. I loved him in those films you mentioned. He was the only actor I made an offer to. At the time I thought he would never do the film. He was known for playing cops. But I think that's why he did the film – he never gets offered roles like German. One of the reasons I really wanted Aaron was that German had to be this guy who had this charisma that could mentor someone into murder. I feel really blessed to have gotten the cast we did. We were funded without a cast attached so that gave me the licence to try and find the best people for the roles. It was important having experienced actors because we didn't have a lot of time and we were dealing with very tough material. They have to go to a pretty dark place.

What are your hopes for how KILLING GROUND will be received all around the world? 
We've sold it into almost every territory in the world, so I hope it's seen as widely as possible and enjoyed and appreciated by audiences. The response so far from festival screenings has been great, which has been gratifying. Aaron Glenane told me he was at a festival, and after a Q and A a woman came up to him and said ''I used to work as a homicide cop and I worked on some of the worst cases. I sat across from some of the worst people in the world. You and Aaron Pedersen took me right back there. You captured something of those guys. '' I think Aaron was a little freaked out by that. I consider what she said to be high praise and signs of a job well done. I didn't base KILLING GROUND on anything, but while I was writing it I did read a lot of true crime stories that focussed on cases where there was more than one perpetrator. Often I think crimes might have not happened if not for the bad combination of two individuals. Separately, they wouldn't have done anything. There was an evil chemistry between the two people, and opportunity resulted in shocking crimes.

JAWS (1975) is famous for scaring people so much that many people never wanted to go into the sea again. How much was that on your mind regarding KILLING GROUND affecting the Australian camping industry?! 
We actually joked about having a tagline on the poster saying ''This film does for camping what JAWS did for swimming''!

What will be your next project? 
I've been developing a few projects. One of them is a feature version of Peekaboo. I would say these projects are all in the thriller genre. I love the genre. For me, thrillers are dramas with high stakes, and you can take the audience on a wild ride and give them an intense, visceral experience, but also give them something to think about.

KILLING GROUND is in theaters and on VOD from July 21st, through IFC Midnight. 

The trailer to KILLING GROUND. 

Damien's website. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Derek Wayne Johnson is the Texas-born director, writer, producer, editor and actor behind the independently-financed drama BROKEN BLOOD (2013) and the horror thriller SCRAPE (2013). A lifelong fan of the films of John G. Avildsen, and in particular ROCKY (1976) and the KARATE KID trilogy (1984-1989), after getting to know Avildsen, Johnson decided to make a documentary celebrating a filmmaker as much an underdog as Rocky Balboa and Daniel Larusso (aka The Karate Kid). The resulting film, JOHN G. AVILDSEN: KING OF THE UNDERDOGS (2017), is a hugely enjoyable,  fascinating and inspiring documentary that boasts new interviews with Avildsen and the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorsese, Ralph Macchio (THE KARATE KID series), Burt Reynolds (W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS), Talia Shire (ROCKY, ROCKY V), Stephen Dorff (THE POWER OF ONE) and Carl Weathers (ROCKY), as well as archival footage. In the second part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Derek about his experience making KING OF THE UNDERDOGS and interviewing Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese; how his conception of the film evolved during the editing process; what he has learned from working closely with John Avildsen; his hopes for KING OF THE UNDERDOGS, and the two Stallone-related documentaries he is currently working on. 

Part one of the interview. 

How long did it take to make KING OF THE UNDERDOGS? 
We worked on it for three years. We did about 40 interviews in about 9 months. We had a very long post-production. A lot of it was just lining everything up and making John happy. That's not to say he stepped over me but he was very good about giving pointers and notes. Of course we would butt heads once in a while when I felt passionate about something, but he would say ''Have an opinion and stick to it'' and he would bow down and let me win a few arguments. Most of his notes he was right about and when he signed off on the film, he was very happy.

What was the experience of interviewing Stallone like? 
Interviewing Stallone was literally the best day I have ever had on set on a film. Everything went so smoothly, it was a perfect day. There were no issues, and he was great. The interview has led to two other documentary projects that we are working together on.

Have you learned a lot from your time with Stallone? 
Absolutely, and some of it was incorporated into the film, and some of it wasn't. Sly really opened up about John, and gave him the credit that he really deserves. Whenever ROCKY is celebrated, John is always pushed aside, even if it's HIS footage used to celebrate the film! ROCKY was John's vision of a Sylvester Stallone script. Hopefully Sly's words in the documentary and KING OF THE UNDERDOGS in general will help put that straight.

One of the coolest moments for me was when Sly invited my producer Chris May and myself to screen KING OF THE UNDERDOGS at his house. He loved it, and afterwards he put on various scenes from ROCKY and broke each scene down and gave us various bits of trivia. The whole experience was like a whirlwind.

How was speaking with Martin Scorsese? 
Scorsese was unfortunately the only person in the film that I did not get to interview. I'm really sad about that. He was in New York, and I was in L.A,. Scorsese is always so busy and gets asked to do so many documentaries, but he's a very generous man and wants to help. So what he often does is asks you to send him the questions, and one day his crew will film him answering the questions via a teleprompter. Thankfully he said yes to my request, and after  6 months we got the call from his office that he was going to film his answers the next day, so please send the questions. I was ready to hop on a plane and go to New York but I didn't get the chance to do that.

Did your conception of KING OF THE UNDERDOGS change as you spent more time on the project? 
Originally the film was going to be in chronological order and we wanted to hit on most if not all of his films. The first cut that we showed John after a year of filming was 90 minutes, and not 78 minutes as it is now. We showed that cut to John and he laughed, he cried, and was very emotional, but about an hour later he said ''You know, guys, you need to cut like half an hour out of this thing. It's just too long. Nobody is going to want to sit through 90 minutes of a film about me! Who am I?'' I thought ''Wow, how humble. What person tells you to cut down a film you've made about them?'' In taking out footage about quite a few other films, it became clear the film couldn't be in chronological order anymore as it wouldn't make sense, so we decided to push that aside and make it non-linear, but keep the ROCKY and KARATE KID segments together.

With all the research and new interviews that you did, and the time spent with John, what are some of the things that you learned that changed the way you looked at John and his films? 
I saw that this man really loves what he does, and that loves his films and his characters. You'll notice in the film that he sometimes chokes up talking about his films. Going in to the film, I didn't know this about him. He could have been a jaded Hollywood guy and these films were all just paychecks to him for all I knew. I think his passion and care show in his films. Even though I know so much about his films now, and I've seen them all a gazillion times, I still get excited watching them. I can even spot the little mistakes he has made in some of his films, and it cracks John up when I point them out to him. He always responds with ''Well, the movies still made millions of dollars, didn't they?''

One of the things I took away from the film was this notion that John has that it is impossible not to live a life without regrets. 
Yeah, John calls ''bullshit'' on those who say they have no regrets. KING OF THE UNDERDOGS is a love letter to his films, but I think John really comes across. I wanted to show the darker side to John and his career too. He has made mistakes and he is willing to admit them. He's full of regret, but everything kind of worked out for him anyway.

Sometimes it seems one of the reasons talented people are more successful than others is because they also have an aptitude for managing their careers. 
John tells people all the time ''I just didn't feel like spending a lot of money on a publicist. '' In retrospect, he feels that was probably a mistake. A lot of these big filmmakers spend a lot of money to get their name out there but John just didn't want to do it. He felt that the people who knew him could call him. But one day the phone stopped ringing. People like Scorsese don't wait for the phone to ring and John's personality isn't that way.

What do you hope people will take away from KING OF THE UNDERDOGS? 
I hope that they will have a newfound appreciation for the man behind some of their favorite films. That they'll start to appreciate his films for being character-based, with a message and human elements, and realise that his films were big hits that didn't rely on big budgets and special effects. Hopefully, they'll keep that flame burning because the art form of telling a human story is dying out. We are being flooded with CGI, green-screen blockbusters these days. A lot of people enjoyed CREED, and Ryan Coogler did a great job, but the whole ROCKY saga started with John's vision of Sly's script. John's innovations – the title going across the screen, the music, the training montages, Rocky running through the streets and up the steps – have been mimicked and copied and homaged throughout the years. When David O. Russell made THE FIGHTER, he said he wanted to make his own ROCKY, and he even invited John to a party related to the film and they met. 

What are your next projects? 
I'm working on two documentaries, 40 YEARS OF ROCKY: THE BIRTH OF A CLASSIC and STALLONE: FRANK, THAT IS. I don't see myself as exclusively a documentarian, but whichever medium suits the story best, I'm fine with it. I'm really excited about these films, and they both sprang from KING OF THE UNDERDOGS.

What appealed to you about making a film on Frank Stallone? 
Frank is a pal and an exciting character, and he's also an underdog. He has such a rich story to tell. He's been a musician for 50 years and he's still playing and doing shows. He has been in some interesting movies as well. Like John, he's a guy that a lot of people just don't know about.

How will your ROCKY documentary bring something new? 
We're focussing on the impact made by the first film and we are going to incorporate a lot of John's home video footage that he shot behind the scenes from ROCKY. We have a treasure trove of stuff. Rehearsal footage, for example. Some of it has been been seen before but most of it hasn't. You are literally going to see the birth of the movie happen in front of your eyes because John happened to have his camera rolling at all times. We are trying to take a unique approach because ROCKY documentaries are dime a dozen. This will be a bit more intimate.

Rest in peace, John.  (PR) 

JOHN G. AVILDSEN: KING OF THE UNDERDOGS is available for pre-order on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD here. Release date, which also includes iTunes and other digital platforms, is August 1st. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Derek Wayne Johnson is the Texas-born director, writer, producer, editor and actor behind the independently-financed drama BROKEN BLOOD (2013) and the horror thriller SCRAPE (2013). A lifelong fan of the films of John G. Avildsen, and in particular ROCKY (1976) and the KARATE KID trilogy (1984-1989), after getting to know Avildsen, Johnson decided to make a documentary celebrating a filmmaker as much an underdog as Rocky Balboa and Daniel Larusso (aka The Karate Kid). The resulting film, JOHN G. AVILDSEN: KING OF THE UNDERDOGS (2017), is a hugely enjoyable,  fascinating and inspiring documentary that boasts new interviews with Avildsen and the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Martin Scorsese, Ralph Macchio (THE KARATE KID series), Burt Reynolds (W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS), Talia Shire (ROCKY, ROCKY V), Stephen Dorff (THE POWER OF ONE) and Carl Weathers (ROCKY), as well as archival footage. In the first part of a two-part interview, I spoke to Derek about falling in love with the Rocky and Karate Kid films and how they influenced him growing up, investigating his other films, and the road to meeting Avildsen and working with him on KING OF THE UNDERDOGS.

When did you first encounter a John G. Avildsen film? 
The first film I remember seeing in a movie theater, at the age of three, was THE KARATE KID PART II (1986). It had a huge impact on me and a lot of the images stayed with me. Growing up I became such a fan and student of his films, especially ROCKY and the KARATE KID films.

Why do you think THE KARATE KID PART II had such a huge impact on you? 
I think because I was only 3 and my memory was just starting to develop, seeing those images on the big screen was a big thing for me. I remember Daniel shaking Chozen's hand and the way Chozen's muscles popped out of his arm. The film is such an awesome sequel. The music is great and the story takes place in Okinawa. It just really captivated me. THE KARATE KID and ROCKY are my two favorite films of all time.

In what ways did you apply whatever messages you learned from those two films to your own life as you grew up? 
Well, I became a martial artist because of THE KARATE KID and Bruce Lee. That said, I actually feel more of a Rocky Balboa type of person. Growing up I would watch ROCKY and the KARATE KID films not only because I really identified with Rocky and Daniel but also because I wanted to study how John shot the films – the cinematography, the camera placement, the editing and the music. Round 14 in ROCKY is to this day still my favorite moment in movie history because it makes me cry and gives me the chill bumps. Every time I see the crane kick happen in the climax to THE KARATE KID, I still get that same rush I felt as a child. These movies have been with me for my entire life.

One can study history and say ROCKY and THE KARATE KID partly at least succeeded because of the zeitgeist or the commercial trends of the day but I think they are just great films that probably would have connected with audiences no matter when they were made.

Absolutely. Kids and new generations are watching them today and responding the same way as audiences felt back when they were originally released. They are just timeless films. ROCKY is just like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). It's just not going to go away any time soon.

At what point did you start investigating John's other films? 
I grew up watching stuff like LEAN ON ME (1989) and NEIGHBORS (1981) but I didn't really put two and two together that John was behind so many other films until I was out of film school and in the film industry. I picked up SAVE THE TIGER (1973) and JOE (1970) and other films and I started seeing how eclectic his film catalogue is. I absorbed all of his films and I found this underdog tone to all of his films which I tried to highlight in my documentary. John has had as many hits as he has had misses and he would be the first to admit that he has made some terrible films, but man, when he hits, he hits big. He's very aware of the mistakes he has made and is very good at sharing what he has learned from both his successes and failures. He doesn't want to see young filmmakers fall into the same traps that he did.

Looking at his body of work, what would you say are the main components of a John Avildsen film? 
Obviously there's the underdog theme, but he's also great at ending the story with the characters at their highest peak. He only allows the audience to come down as the credits roll. He doesn't waste time. In a John Avildsen film, the characters are so well done that it is hard to separate them from the actors. He's kind of the king of the montage scene. He's very good with his music choices – Bill Conti's score for ROCKY being the greatest example. They did a lot of movies together. There's always a good story to his films, and a great human element. He doesn't do big blockbusters with explosions and so forth. He's very old fashioned when you think about it. A lot of the elements in his films are old techniques that he just kept fresh.

When you finally met John, how did he compare to whatever preconceptions or expectations you had about him? 
When I met him, it was like meeting Elvis Presley or someone to me. And he is just this little old man. I had seen a lot of interviews with him, but he exceeded my expectations. Right now, he's family to me and a mentor to me, like my Mr. Miyagi or Mickey Goldmill. He took me under his wing. The first time we met, we really connected and even shed a tear together. We got so emotional talking about his films, particularly the scene in THE KARATE KID when Miyagi is drunk and talking about his dead wife and child. We both choked up. I think in me he saw not just a fanboy but someone who took his work seriously and had a deep connection to it.

What would you say you have learned from your time with John? 
He's very hard-headed to a fault but he taught me to stick to what you believe in. In the film business there are many people who will delude you into diluting whatever story you're trying to create. I learned from him to be headstrong, to say ''No, this is my opinion. This is what I want to do. You hired me to direct, so please let me direct. '' I'm very thankful for that lesson. 

Given John's personality, do you think it was always going to pass that he lost the directing gigs of SERPICO (1973) and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)? 
I think so, but John definitely regrets losing those films. He feels he should have maybe backed down a little bit. He would have loved to have done them. There's a lot to be said for a man with a lot of conviction, and he is to be appaluded for that, but he admits he let ego and pride get the best of him. On the other hand, who knows, maybe if he had done those films we mightn't have got ROCKY or THE KARATE KID. So maybe we should be thankful he didn't direct them. John is a very humble guy so he would laugh at me for saying this, but I think the world would be a different place if he hadn't directed ROCKY or THE KARATE KID. He was the man to make those films. And let's remember that Sidney Lumet and John Badham did great jobs on SERPICO and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

When did the idea for a documentary on John come about? 
I met with John a couple of times and he had turned me down on some scripts I obviously wanted my hero to make. On the first script I offered him, he said ''Send me a cheque for a thousand dollars. I'll read it, and if I like it, I'll do it. If I don't like it, I promise I'll give you your money's worth and I'll be a script doctor and I'll fix the script for you. '' I said ''Of course!'' And I sent him the thousand dollars. Two weeks later I get a phone call from him: ''Hey, John Avildsen here. Get a pen and paper ready. Your script sucks. '' He kept his word. He didn't direct the film but he script doctored the entire thing for me. The second time I gave him a script to look at, which he didn't charge me to look at this time, I flew out in person. I live in L.A. now, but I didn't back then. After ten minutes of reading the script he tapped me and said ''No, thanks. I don't want to direct it. '' I'm devastated. He's turned me down twice, and I spent a thousand dollars on the first script.

So I later I got an idea and I called him up. ''Look, I really want to work with you. If I can't make a movie with you, what if I make a movie about you?'' John said ''OK, kid. You want to work with me? Let's do it. '' Then of course I had to follow through. And here we are several years later talking about it, after finishing the movie.

By the way, about that thousand dollars. A few years later, John and I and one of our investors from New York are sitting having lunch, and John says to the investor ''Did Derek ever tell you the thousand dollar story?'' She said ''Yeah, it was a great story. '' John said ''What Derek doesn't know is that he is the only one who ever fell for it! Nobody has ever sent me a thousand dollars to look at a script. All of a sudden I get this cheque in the mail with a script. I thought ''This kid's serious!'' '' I said to John ''I thought you were for real!'' He laughed and said ''No!'' So I asked him ''Well, can I get the money back then?'' And he said ''Of course you can't!'' It was the best thousand dollars I ever spent! 

Part two of the interview. 

Rest in peace, John.  (PR) 

JOHN G. AVILDSEN: KING OF THE UNDERDOGS is available for pre-order on Digital Download, Blu-ray and DVD here. Release date, which also includes iTunes and other digital platforms, is August 1st.  

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.


Don 'The Dragon' Wilson has been a martial arts action star for over 25 years, headlining such fan favorites as BLOODFIST (1989), BLACKBELT (1992), OUT FOR BLOOD (1992), RED SUN RISING (1994) and NIGHT HUNTER (1996). On top of such accomplishments, he was also the world kickboxing champion a record eleven times, winning 47 matches by a knockout. Don is regarded as the greatest kickboxer that ever lived. Thirty years into his acting career, Don has played against type in his latest films, PAYING MR McGETTY and THE MARTIAL ARTS KID.  In the second part of a two-part interview about his career, we talked about his roles in BATMAN FOREVER (1995) and SAY ANYTHING ... (1989); the differences in low and high-budget filmmaking; how the low-budget action genre has changed since the 90s; working with Roger Corman and actor James Russo, and his upcoming films. 

Part one of the interview. 

How did your role in SAY ANYTHING ... come about? 
It was a weird coincidence of events. Cameron Crowe wrote FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982), which starred Sean Penn, and he also wrote a film called THE WILD LIFE (1984), which starred his brother Chris. Cameron wrote SAY ANYTHING for Chris, because he had been a kickboxer. But when he met with Chris, he realised that he looked too old and out of shape for the part. Somehow John Cusack's name came up for the part, and Cameron hired me to train him in kickboxing. As we were training, Cameron decided to put me in the movie as one of John's sparring partners, who gives him a kick and breaks his nose. It was Cameron's first movie as a director and he is a really nice guy.

Joel Schumacher called me to his office and said ''I was watching a prison movie with you in it and I thought I should put martial arts in BATMAN FOREVER. I want you to play Tommy Lee Jones' s henchman, and it's 3 1/2 months work. '' I told him ''Joel, I can't do that. I am making all these B-movies. I'll get sued if I pull out of them. '' So he said ''Well, what can you do?'' I said ''I can come in and do one fight scene, as long as I am covered up. I don't want to get beaten up in the biggest movie I am in. '' Joel said ''Well, we don't have a scene like that, sorry. Thanks for coming in. '' And I left his office.

It was less than a week later and my agent called and said ''Joel wants to see you again. '' So I went over there and Joel handed me two sheets of paper. They treated the BATMAN FOREVER script like it was a CIA document, so that's all he could show me. It was one fight scene. I said ''Cool, I could do this. '' The film ended up the highest-grossing film of the year. I guess it was my taste of Hollywood studio filmmaking. It is totally unlike what I do for a living, which is low-budget independent films. We need to squeeze every dime we can to make the movie as good as we can. That's nobody's goal in the studio system. Joel had $100 million and 90 days to make the movie. The last thing they want is for him to say ''You know what, I can make this movie for $20 million. '' It's the stockholder's money. They have to spend it. The scene I shot on BATMAN FOREVER took four days. We had 50 extras but Joel made it look like he had 200 people in the scene when we shot it. In the finished film, I look up and say ''It's Batman!'' and we all run. But you only see about eight people. They're spending too much money on these films than they need to, and they do it all the time.

I remember Chuck Norris called me and asked me to appear in some of the last episodes of his TV series, Walker: Texas Ranger. I asked him how much they were spending on the show and he looked at me like he was telling me some dark secret and he said ''Two million dollars a week. '' I could make five Don Wilson movies for that. In THE LAST SENTINEL we had a scene underwater and we were going to have to rent a tank for a couple of hundred thousand dollars. Instead of that, we used my swimming pool.

There is an authenticity to your B movies that the A moves don't often have. I'm thinking of you running along an active volcano in BLOODFIST. 
Yes, if you see me running, that's me. I also did a fight scene on a moving train and we jumped from car to car. If I had fallen off, even though it was only moving 30 mph, that would have been a sad day! There are guys who do it for real, like Tom Cruise on the airplane as it's taking off in the last MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, but not many. Jackie Chan, of course, is an exception. The insurance companies won't let actors do anything that puts the actors in jeopardy. I was doing a scene in Ireland on a horse without a saddle. I jumped on the horse and fell off. The insurance guy said ''Right, this actor is not doing the stunt. '' And that was that.

How has the independent action movie sector changed since the 80s and 90s? 
The money is definitely not there like it used to be. I used to make a quarter of a million dollars a film, and I would make five films a year. BLOODFIST, my first film, sold 60, 000 copies on VHS. It cost $250, 000 to make and made a total of over $10 million from all the markets. I'd like to say that was all down to me, but Van Damme had done BLOODSPORT and this was a rip-off. Roger Corman was great at doing this. When JURASSIC PARK (1993) came out and did huge business, he slapped together a horrible sci-fi movie together, put dinosaurs in it, and released it direct to video as CARNOSAUR (1993) with a T-Rex on the cover. It was the highest-grossing direct to video that year. Timing is everything.

What did you love the most about working with Corman? 
We both majored in Engineering, so we had that same background. He is the Godfather of Film for me. I did twelve movies with him and he taught me about the business. I was at an autograph event once with David Carradine, and he said ''Don, I've done more films with Roger than any other actor. '' I said ''David, how many have you done?'' He said ''Eight. '' I told him ''David, I've done twelve. '' I've starred in more films for Roger than any other actor. That has a good side and a bad side. Roger once told Ron Howard ''Listen, I'll give you a chance, and if you do a good job, you'll never have to work with me again. '' And he was right. GRAND THEFT AUTO (1977) led to a lot of bigger and better movies for Ron Howard. Obviously, I'm not doing my job right! I've done twelve movies and I'd do another if the script was good. I haven't outgrown him. I love the guy and we have made a lot of good movies together.

When I drove out here in my Corvette in 1995, the odds of me making it as an actor were slim. Sean Penn told me ''Don, they just don't write roles for 6ft Asian 30 year olds with Southern accents. '' And yet my first two films were hits, and I ended up having 4 HBO Premieres, which is the highest accolade you can get in independent film, if you're not in the theaters.

When Schwarzenegger started out, his accent was so thick that they had to dub him in HERCULES IN NEW YORK (1970). And no actor had a body like his. He didn't look like Sean Connery or Clint Eastwood. Now we have the likes of Vin Diesel and The Rock of course. Arnold, Chuck Norris and myself went from having no chances of having success to having a lot of success. At one point, Arnold was the biggest star in the world with TERMINATOR 2 (1991), Chuck was the biggest TV star in the world with Walker, and I was on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the biggest direct-to-video stars in the world. I think we all understood that success happens in increments, and that you don't give up when you have adversity. We also used the life lessons we had learned in martial arts and in Arnold's case, bodybuilding.

Who are some of the actors that you worked with that you repected the most? 
I worked with James Russo on a Showtime movie called REDEMPTION (2002). In the movie I cause the death of Cynthia Rothrock, who is a fellow cop. James gave me some pointers on my acting. I was staring at him every time he talked because I respected him so much as an actor, but he said ''I don't think your character would do that. He's in his own world. Don't look at me until I make you look at me, as my character. '' He added ''Don't worry. I'll make you look at me. '' He was playing my Police Captain. He was so intense in the scene that I had no choice but to look at him. I was a professional kickboxer but I was not an actor on the level of James Russo and I was happy for that gift he gave to me. I want people like him around me so I can improve as an actor. My ego stops when I get out of the ring.

Aside from PAYING MR. McGETTY and THE MARTIAL ARTS KID, what other films do you have coming out? 
I'm doing a B-movie called BEYOND THE GAME, and it's like THE EXPENDABLES. It has all the B-movie actors in it. I'm talking Olivier Gruner, Cynthia Rothrock, Richard Norton, Billy Blanks, and Michael Jai White, for example. And there's SHOWDOWN IN MANILA, with Alexander Nevsky, Casper Van Dien, Cynthia Rothrock and Mark Dacascos, who also directed it, and V-FORCE: NEW DAWN OF V.I.C.T.O.R.Y. with Billy Zane and Bruce Dern. 

You can read more about THE MARTIAL ARTS KID here. PAYING MR McGETTY will be released later this year. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.