Filmmaker J.A. Steel has been called a modern day Roger Corman. While some people in the industry might not like being compared to the king of B-cinema, Steel sees it as a great complement. Not surprising for a filmmaker who likes to make movies that pack a lot of bang for the buck. Her experiences working with industry legends like Tobe Hooper and Sho Kosugi has helped Steel hone her filmmaking skills and now her production company Warrior Entertainment, is hard at work on their next feature film:
Before heading off to screen her film SALVATION at the Rejects Film Festival in Asheville North Carolina, this multi-talented filmmaker took some time to tell B Movie Man Nic Brown about some of her films, her experiences, and why you don’t want this expert marks person to get you in her crosshairs!
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Nic- J.A. you've written and directed a number of features, can you tell us about your most recently completed project: SALVATION?
J.A.- SALVATION is the story of two of the members of the Knights Templar, Gabriel and Malchezidek, whose souls have been locked in combat since their murder by the
Catholic Church on October 13, 1307. Gabriel, tired of the 700 year battle, spares an infant Michaela from death. Michaela then finds herself in the middle of the heavenly battle between the forces of good and evil.
It's a bit of a departure from my first film, THE THIRD SOCIETY. It's less straight forward in the action and more on the "thinking man's action movie" side...
Nic- Where did you get the idea for SALVATION?
J.A.- Kinda like THE THIRD SOCIETY - I had a really weird dream. I actually was staying in Room 104 in the Hotel many months before we shot the film.I had a dream that there was a knock on the door. I opened it and stepped into the realm of the Templars. I was running and bloody - got shot in the back and fell face first into the water. Pretty much the exact scene where the Gabriel character is shot in the back and goes headlong into the water.
Nic- So was your film THE THIRD SOCIETY inspired by a dream also?
J.A.- Yup. They pretty much all are. Every one of 'em. I dreamed the scene where I pull off my helmet and my hair comes cascading out all dark blonde. I remember thinking it was weird at the time because I was a really dark brunette. But, Lo and Behold 2 months
later my hairdresser had a miscue with some bleaching agent and I was blonde. The only movies not inspired by dreams are the ones that people bring to me to write.
Nic- There is quite a bit of sword play in SALVATION and I notice you are listed as the film's fight choreographer. What is your experience with fight choreography and stunts?
J.A.- I've studied Martial Arts in one form or another for a good many years, Shotokan Karate, Muay Thai, Bo Staff, Sai, and Katana training. I worked for Sho Kosugi. You learn a lot just being behind the scenes. On THE THIRD SOCIETY, Tim Trella was really supportive and did a lot of really good explaining. Tobe Hooper taught me where to place the camera when I was interning on TALES FROM THE CRYPT. And I had a couple sword lessons from Anthony DeLongis of HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES fame.
Nic- That’s an impressive list of skills and an even more impressive list of people you’ve worked with to gain them. I’ve always been a fan of Sho Kosugi so I have to ask what it was like to work with him?
J.A.- It was incredible. Everyone would always ask me, "Is he really that good?" and the answer was always "yes". There's a difference between movement for the camera and action in real life. I started learning how to create the illusion that something was real. But also learned there has to be a basis in reality for the idea of the action scene you are trying to create.
Nic- In addition to your martial arts and related weapons proficiency, is it true that you are also quite the sharp shooter with an M-16 among other weapons?
J.A.- I was a Distinguished Expert Marskman in 4 position .22 caliber rifle by the time I was sixteen. I got to attend Junior Olmpic Training Camp a long time ago at Penn State University in Pennsylvania. I learned a lot about the physiology of shooting. My time as a member of the Army ROTC USC Trojan Battalion had me had me on the range a couple times, so I have two Expert Qualifications with an M-16. I've shot in matches beside World Class shooters and Army Rangers, it's a pretty awesome feeling.
Nic- I understand that you have studied Muay Thai kick boxing in Thailand. Can you tell us about that?
J.A.- It was one of the best experiences of my life. I studied at the Lanna Muay Thai camp in Chiang Mai (Northern Thailand) for a couple weeks back in 1998. I was an oddity - one of the first women to actually train. We trained twice a day. On our first jungle run the boys pulled ahead and I got lost. Lucky, being raised in small town Pennsylvania I could track better than anything and tracked them back to camp.
When losing me didn't work, they had me practice with Nong-Toom of "Beautiful Boxer" fame and the regular trainers. I got beaten black and blue for the first three days I was there - but I kept getting up. They realized I was serious and finally accepted me. Muay
Thai is as spiritual as it is deadly. The whole trip, while very physically demanding, taught me a lot about myself and my place in the world.
Nic- JA, you’ve worn quite a few different hats in your filmmaking career, director, writer, producer, stunt coordinator, actor, you’ve even done music for your films. What is your favorite role to play in bringing a film to life?
J.A.- Writer. Without the script, the film is nothing. It all starts with the story, with the characters, and with the emotion that draws you in for two hours to leave the real world behind. It's also my least favorite because once you have a story the very process of filmmaking is to have it ripped from you and bastardized to actually make the movie - and every single time it's been so far from my original vision it's painful. But, every script is the best script - until it gets made.
Nic- You’ve worked with many different and accomplished filmmakers. Who would you say has been the biggest influence for you?
J.A.- I never worked with him, but John Milius. USC always had these parties where they'd bring back the famous alumni to mingle with the students. One party had George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Bob Zemeckis, etc. John Milius was also there. I had just failed my practical filmmaking class and was in a quandary over WHAT to do...retake the class or switch majors. Spielberg's advice was stay in film school and retake the class. Which I could really bring to accept - because I never wanted to direct. I lamented to John film school was trying to take my philosophy of "I just want to make the best blow 'em up action movie ever, so people can forget about their problems for 2 hours of their life" to "you really need to write a deep heart felt story to win an academy award." Here's the guy that wrote "Conan" vs. "Mr. ET". Who did I listen to??? The guy that bet me $20 to go tell the Dean of Filmic Writing to "F*** Off". Well, I said what I needed to say to the Dean and shook John's hand as I left the party. He didn't have change and still owes me $20.
The next day I was out of Film School. Moral of the story is at the end of the day, you have to do what makes you happy. Sometimes you do have to compromise, but there is a difference between that and completely selling out.
Working for Sho was absolutely the best. I learned a lot about myself and how Hollywood was so different from anything I learned in Film School.
Nic- What's the next project for your production company, Warrior Entertainment?
J.A.- Post Production on DENIZEN. Next year is up in the air right now, I have two comedies I've just written. One on spec for a TV pilot (I.N.G.) and one is a collaborative effort. I really want to shoot OPERATION: OVERLORD next. But with independent film, you shoot when you get the financing. I'm in writing mode right now, so for the next couple months I'm stockpiling scripts.
Nic- How do you thing the internet is changing independent filmmaking?
J.A.- I think it's making it easier for independent filmmakers to connect with their fans. It's a wonderful tool to communicate globally. I had an opportunity to screen SALVATION in Varazdin, Croatia at the Trash Film Festival. I wouldn't have known
about the festival if I hadn't heard about it on the internet. Even when I went to the Fright Night Film Festival in Kentucky I found out about it on the internet.
The internet on some levels is detrimental. I've had THE THIRD SOCIETY ripped and posted for free as well as SALVATION. But on the other hand, I can post snippets up on Youtube of rough fight choreography of a scene and communicate with the cast and crew of how I would like to shoot it when we're running film through the camera. We wouldn't have been able to do that otherwise. I've tried it with VHS tapes and it's a pain in the butt.
Nic- You've been called "a modern day Roger Corman". What do you think of that?
J.A.- I'm honored and flattered. I love Corman's films!!! I've had so many Hollywood Executives tell me a good film is a good film and budget doesn't matter. ANYONE
can make a movie on a budget. When you don't have money you have to be more creative and actually know what you're doing.
To be compared to Corman is the highest compliment I could ever get. I love movies, I love making movies and if by the time I'm his age and could have participated in making close to 400 films - I don't think I'd be able to imagine a better life on this earth.
Nic- So at the end of the day what does JA Steel do for fun?
J.A.- I sleep. I do laundry. I cook. I watch bad movies on the Sci-Fi Channel. If recreational sleeping was an Olympic sport - I'd have a gold medal.