B - Movie News interview -

What its like, shooting a Direct to Video Rip-Off with Juan Avilez

by Leslie Morris

What first got you interested in Film Making?
 Juan: Being able to yell at people, pretending it had to do with a high creative energy. That and STAR WARS.

What was your film making experience leading up to The Black Knight – Returns. 

Juan: Short Films, music videos and corporate videos.
How did you get involved with the production?

Juan: Ted Chalmers from Moving Pictures saw a music video I did through a friend. He contacted me about directing their Batman rip.


What was your first reaction to the title?

 Juan: “What the fuck?” then after reading the script I was like “Seriously, what the fuck?”

Due to the title and (lack of) budget, was it hard to get people involved?

 Juan: Not really. Half the actors are friends of mine. The other half, are people who know what they are auditioning for. They know that’s there’s not going to be a big Hollywood premier at the end of the rainbow. 

What was it like working with producer David S. Sterling? 

 Juan: Just from my experience. He’s like a little Tasmanian devil. David makes movies super fast and on the real cheap. It’s a business of just getting them done. Whether they’re good or bad is up to the beholder obviously. I love your Atari analogy though. It’s pretty dead on.

So on the business of getting them done, he can be very anxious. One location, he gave me the impression we would go all night until we were done, but as we’re finishing up the last scene he storms out yelling “Okay! Stop shooting! We’re done! Stop Shooting. We have to stop shooting!” It was definitely entertaining.

Honestly, you meet David, you find out what kind of movies he makes, and you’re either in or you’re out. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think you’re getting into any kind of surprises. I personally don’t regret the experience. I did enjoy myself. 

Would you work for him again?

 Juan: No.  I remember him telling me “Juan, if I don’t finish shooting a movie in six days, I’m a bad producer.” And with that, we just have major differences in our work ethic.

What was the atmosphere like on set?

 Juan: Really great! The crew and I kept the usual behind the scenes drama away from the talent. As far as I know everyone had fun. I will say that I’m usually pretty laid back when I’m directing. There were times where I found myself really focused on the day, getting serious and my brother Ceejay, who was a production assistant. He would every so often come up to me, regardless of who I was talking to; he would fold his hands together and say “Umm, there’s a problem”.  If you’re going to do these type of movies, or I guess any movie, you need the people closest to you keep it real light. 

Got any amusing stories you want to retell?

 Juan: Yeah, I had been meaning to ask Win De Lugo who played Max, about his Star Trek guest spot, from the original series. He told me how he met William Shatner. How he saw him with a hair piece and how he was kind of an ass to him at first. It’s really a great story, I can’t do it justice, but he took the whole lunch break to tell it. When lunch is over, Win’s scene is up first so I tell him “That’s awesome Win. Get some food in ya, and we’ll be ready for you.” So, we set up and begin filming. And I swear, it was the only time I remember Win, struggling with lines. It was not an easy scene to get through. I realized that I fucking took Win away from looking the script over and doing his prep. I feel like I accidently sabotaged his performance that day. I won’t care about stories during lunch time here on out.

Who do you think would win in a fight to the death between the Dark Knight and the Black Knight?

 Juan: I’m sure it would start with Batman confronting Black Knight about how he stole his life story and then Batman would destroy him.

Could you give us a breakdown of the budget? What did you pay for? What did you get for free? How did you end up investing your own money into the film? Do you know if the film has made a profit?

 Juan: The Budget for the shooting of the film was Ten thousand. I put in about one thousand of my own throughout filming. I paid for locations (Ramona’s Diner, The Art Gallery), props and for half the Fight Choreographer’s quote. Only the air we breathed was free.

Early in pre-production. David introduced me to Kenn Scott, who was the stunt fighter for Raphael in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was pretty stoked, because his reel looked great, and I was geeking out a little because he was “Raphael”. So we have a meeting about what the fights can possibly be and I’m really excited. But you know as soon as we leave his place, David tells me “You know, we might not be able to use Kenn. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I’m not saying no.” I didn’t understand it at first, as to why he would waste our time to greet and meet.

Basically, the plan was for us to hire someone, to show up and do all the fight scenes in a day. I guess the conversation Kenn and I had was not the type of pre-planning David wanted me to get into. Luckily I was introduced to Benjamin Watts. 

It was either let Dave hire someone for just a day to shoot all the fight scenes, or get someone who was really hungry. Ben was willing to choreograph all the fights before shooting began, act in it and be our main stunt man. He was worth my half.

It is a little tuff; because, you do sit there and think ‘Am I crazy to spend my own money on this possible piece of shit?”  But I really wanted to make the best of the situation. To make something on this “Atari” level, for me the movie had to at least sale, which it has. And for shits and giggles, let’s just say yes on movie making a profit.


What did you have in terms of equipment and crew? Was there equipment/crew you needed that you didn’t, and how did you deal with that?

 Juan: David introduced me to Orestes Gonzales (director of Photography) who came with a small package and a two man crew. He was really talented and I related to him a lot in the way that we both had to learn to work with nothing starting out.

A few days before filming one weekend, David pulled me aside “Juan, you’re not going to get the kino flo’s next week.” I guess I really didn’t believe him, he knew we had night shooting coming up. But I realize we had already gone over his “six day” shooting standards. The budget doesn’t allow us to have those lights again and you just have to roll with it. I sent a PA to go buy some construction lights and we just made it work. All departments made the best of everything.

All friends and family would come by and become a crew member. When we didn’t need them behind the camera they would be background extras, even stunt people at times, and there never enough extras.

Was the composer given to you as well?

 Juan: No. Todd Andrew is a friend of mine who I’ve worked with on a lot of projects.. The cool thing about him, I wanted to guarantee his time for the movie. So I told him I was going to match the quote David was giving him as well, but he wouldn’t take my money. He just wanted to do it for the experience more than anything. That score is one of the better parts of the movie. So I’m really grateful to him. Todd makes great music, pisses wine and makes bread for everyone.

Could you talk for a moment about cheating locations? It looks like you use a lot of the same sets. Also what was it like to shoot at Randle Malones Mini Mansion?

 Juan: It probably looks that way, only because we did in fact use a lot of the same sets. We did have a talented guy for props and set dressing though. He could only do so much with his whopping 200 budget. 

 My first location scout was at Randle's.  David asks me "You think we can shoot a lot of scenes here?" I was like "Sure…" As the day went on, he really kept pressing me to shoot more than half the movie there.  I was like "No, dude, we can't have the whole movie here.  We can only cheat it so much." This was our first kind of fight.  He said "I hate company moves. Actors take their time getting to place to place. The stay on their cell phones too long..." I explained to him that I would be in control. That the actors and crew would fallow my lead and that we would make our days. I just didn’t want to be at an Art Gallery with only one painting hanging on the wall. So, this is kind of where I figured I’d be paying for locations and creating a big bag of favors from friends.

Also, there’s this space in the back of the mansion, were all science labs are built and destroyed. They had just filmed a lot of “Frankenstein Rising” there. Anita Page’s last movie.

That mansion is in a lot of David’s movies. It’s kind of a package deal to use the place and get Randle in the movie. Fortunately Randle’s a really nice guy.

Talking about reusing things, could you please snap those bloody fluro lights for me (sorry readers personal joke). 

 Juan: I will break them over a baby seal if you ask me to do it.

In the film the Black Knight has a ridiculously large helmet. Could you tell us the story behind that? Also do you know who ended up with it?

 Juan: The strange thing is that helmet fit me perfectly. It was pretty large on Adam, and possibly any normal sized head. But there is no money or time to resize it. We lost a day because the costume wasn’t completed in time. I have no idea where it is.

Sorry I just can’t let the subject of the helmet slide. It seems to be made out of a soft material? Do you know what it’s made out of? Also there is a scene in which the Black Knight is driving is bike on the open road. Who did you talk into doing this, considering they had to wear a soft helmet and flapping cape?

 Juan: The helmet was made out of this incredibly expensive material that NASA uses for seat padding in all the space shuttles. It’s really comfortable. Definitely should never be used as any kind of protective head gear. Friends of mine will do about anything for a hundred bucks. It’s only dangerous if they fall. 


How much creative control did you have over the film? Are you happy with the finished film?

 Juan: I had complete creative control. I mean it started with the script. Originally it just had teenagers in a college setting. I reworked it almost from scratch, kept the same story structure but changed all the dialogue and action.  Course, I could have just re-watched BATMAN BEGINS for the story structure right?

And that’s a no. I don’t consider it a finished film. It’s more like an alignment-cut. And it hurts watching it.  It’s as much control as you can have once shooting is done.
What was the best and worst thing about making the film?

 Juan: The best thing, is working. The worst thing of it was the editing, sound and lack of FX. In a nutshell, that’s the whole problem with the movie. Cast and crew worked their asses off and then we get a post-production that’s utter shit. The editor tells me "Look I just want this done in time so David could get his bonus." I was like.. "But it can be better.. Cuts need to be made and are those temp FX?" He's like.. "Juan, I have other things on my plate, I'm sorry but I'll do my best." I really feel he had an attitude like, “Hey it’s David Sterling, it supposed to be bad.” 

If we got someone with the slightest passion, I really feel it could have been a C- movie. Or, okay maybe a D movie. Also, hiring an editor 2 hrs away from LA, away from its director really doesn’t help things either you know. I went down to see the editor and, he only gave me an hr of time. He knew I was coming down, and he made other plans. Possibly something els he was more passionate about. I don’t know.

In retrospect what would you do differently?

 Juan: I would wear more of my own underwear during shooting. When people find out your wearing your gals panties, they really look at you funny. 
What's next for you?

 Juan: I worked on our dark comedy web series “Men For Hire” that will be launched in December. We also have a lot of artistic mischief being completed at GuerrillaWorks, the company I co-own.

Any last words?

 Juan: Yeah. There’s a lot of people here in LA who say they want to be filmmakers, or actors. Yet, when they finish their Nine to Five job, they only go watch movies or hang out with their friends. They put a lot of excuses out there.  But you know, we all have bills, and we’re all tired from the grind of life. If you really want it, you have to be doing it. And I don’t feel it should matter what level of expertise or budget it’s at. Just keep shooting. Whether its experimental, or just for fun. You just have to keep practicing the craft. It’s hard when you’re your starting out. But you keep pushing and hustling.  You will get somewhere. You might even get to do a straight to video extravaganza. Maybe even get to do The Black Knight –Returns 2. Keep shooting. Thank Leslie.

Thanks Juan

Juan: Thank Leslie.

Juan Avilez and crew on set with Adam Salandra

Black Knight Returns DVD covers from around the world.

         Stills from the movie.

Below, a trailer of the movie Juan Avilez put together for cast and crew after shooting was completed. 

The Black Knight’s famous cow / helmet.