Rarely on independent films do producers get to work with actors that bring an immense amount of respect, trust, heart, faith and belief in the project that you are producing from the beginning — and it is even harder to find an actor whose professionalism and enthusiasm rubs off on each member of the cast and crew throughout the life of the production experience. On Down and Dangerous – a film by sabi, I had the opportunity to work on a 39 day production at Sabi Company with John T. Woods as Paul Boxer. Directed by Zak Forsman, the tagline of the film reads “A smuggler bleeds like anyone else. He just gets more chances to prove it.” So too was the case with production on this film, and a few times specifically: John’s blood.
ON WORKING WITH JOHN T. WOODS: OUR STAR
This was the most ambitious micro-budget project I’ve produced to date. The first of many challenges was breaking down the script and creating a production schedule for every scene in the project in such a way that John’s experience would be consistent. Although John made himself completely available for the film (often turning down other projects to stay open for ours) several scheduling conflicts with other actors prevented us from shooting in order, as we’ve done for the most part in the past. Both Zak and John were able to go with this, and to be prepared enough to keep the character arc consistent despite the complex shooting schedule. This was a task in itself — but again, John’s enthusiasm at the start of each day set the trend despite the challenges and obstacles of our schedule. We also made sure to accommodate John with the best food and rooms at each location possible because his emotional journey along with the director’s would be hard and would require attention. Every day was different and we were shooting in dozens of locations, and John had his finger on the pulse of the mood and atmosphere of the set — which was instrumental in shaping the experience to the best of my ability for all of the cast and crew over the course of the immense schedule.
A PERFECT SQUARE
On any project be it a studio film or an independent endeavor – you want your actors to give 100% every day of the week – and you want them to feel safe in doing so. You want to create an atmosphere of full trust in an effort to foster a creative environment where real magic can happen. As a producer, you have the director as the quarterback and you have your team to make it happen — and you want to coach the project in a way that it can quickly function on it’s feet and move along with it’s own inertia. It’s not unlike football in that it takes collaboration and patience in the first few weeks — but when it takes hold, it’s because of the collective effort and push & it can move on its own with relative ease. With Down and Dangerous, John came at this film full tilt — prepared and ready to think on his feet. This helped to quickly create a strong creative environment that was charged with energy and investment for all. Often times a producer wishes for a) him/herself b) the A.D. and c) the director to provide a triangle of investment in which the production experience of the film can be successful. But in the case of Down and Dangerous, John T. Woods gave us a perfect square. If the production of this ambitious film was a profound success, than it is in no small part because of John’s relentless commitment to this film.
This is an action film, and John performed all of his own stunts without hesitation. It was in these instances in particular that his collaboration with director Zak Forsman was often something to behold (and again, the quarterback-running back analogy is fitting). There was an extremely dangerous fight scene on several sections of a roof-top which brought with it an added challenge of a ‘hard-out’ time at the location. With John and Ross Marquand and Zak at the helm, we were able to shoot the fight scene and all the stunts in a day (what would take a typical production a week). Additionally, John was able to watch his performance between takes, huddle with Zak on where to go – and make adjustments on the fly. Often you hear directors talk of a short-hand with actors — what we witnessed was more akin to telepathy. One thing was certain, if there was going to be a stunt, John was going to go for it 150% — and be prepared to bleed like anyone else. If he was to run up the stairs, he would run as if his life depended on it. If he was to fight off guns with his bare hands, he would risk scraped knuckles, cuts, and bloody fingers – like the smuggler character he plays. I have at least a dozen new grey hairs from the instances on this set my heart stopped (while trying to protect John during a stunt). The best analogy I can offer in watching John bounce back from a jaw-dropping stunt (or likewise an emotional scene) is: it’s like watching old films of Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears. It’s the most elegant analogy I can think of. No one else but these two guys can take a smash hit in the face, take the bloody knuckles from a bad scrape, or play the whole game on a broken bone – and bounce back from it like nothing happened. There was one particular fight scene where John fends off two thugs at once — in between takes we were wiping real blood off floors and I was bandaging scraped hands and limbs and sending the actors back in to the Game. It was because of John the everyone went for it. At some point you have to step back, try to get the pad under him to break the fall, and just pray he makes it every time — because you can’t stop him.
John gave everything for this film – and he told me on more than one occasion that he just doesn’t want to look back on a scene next year and think: I should have given more. I should have went for it. He will definitely not suffer from that feeling after watching his work on Down and Dangerous. As the lead actor of our 4th feature film, I would confidently say that John T. Woods was born to do this. He is a producer’s dream actor. He sets the bar for the rest of the talent, and he is a consummate professional — watching him on set invited new comers that have not worked with Sabi before to treat this small production like it’s this year’s Cannes contender. His inner drive and his passion for Sabi, and his commitment to this film made every single day on this set a pleasure. I know it wasn’t easy, but like Sweetness, John made it look that way. If you are a producer, director, or casting director and you are thinking about bringing in John T. Woods for a starring role for your project, let the words above convince you to give him a call. And be sure to see what I’m talking about when Down and Dangerous is released.
Kevin K. Shah
from producer’s journal
Note: Because John’s sacrifices and his commitment to Sabi, and because he was instrumental in the making of this picture (as described above) as well as the funding of it via our kickstarter campaign; Zak and I brought on John T. Woods as an executive producer of our film mid-way through production. It is a well deserved credit that extends far beyond star, and it is reflective of how we feel about his continued contributions to this project.