Get ready to go down the rabbit hole of 80’s action cinema. I sat with an iconic 80s & 90s action film director, writer, and producer this week – Sheldon Lettich who brought to our screens some epic actors and fighters like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone. He’s the trailblazing director and writer of Lionheart (1990), Bloodsport (1988), Rambo III (1988), and the Cold War drama, Russkies that first introduced us to the phenomenon that is Joaquin Phoenix.
An Ex-French Soldier begins participating in underground street fights in order to make money for his brother’s family.
Lettich’s experience as a Vietnam veteran has inspired much of his films and plays throughout his career. Paired with his academic background in photography and cinematography, he bulldozed the action film scene with other classics like The Order, Double Impact, and The Last Patrol.
Between 1983 to 1987, Lettich wrote and directed a couple of short films that did not pick up as much. The following year, he wrote the martial arts classic, Bloodsport – inspired by tall tales from Frank Dux, from which Lettich became a famous name in Hollywood.
The film also launched Jean-Claude’s career, the star of Bloodsport who played Frank Dux, an American martial artist serving in the military, who decides to leave the army to compete in a martial arts tournament in Hong Kong where fights to the death can occur.
If you love Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat then you have Sheldon to thank. Bloodsport was the first time you have multiple fighters, from around the world, with unique styles fighting in a tournament.
Frank Dux has entered the “kumite”, an illegal underground martial-arts competition where serious injury and even death are not unknown. Chong Li, a particularly ruthless and vicious fighter is the favorite, but he hasn’t faced Dux yet.
The commercial success of Bloodsport, which grossed $50 million on a $2.3 million budget catalyst more trailblazing films. Lettich signed an overall deal immediately with White Eagle Productions that led to his collaboration, co-writing Rambo III alongside Sylvester Stallone in 1988. The movie was a HIT for the Box office. It outperformed his previous project, grossing $189 million on its $63 million budget.
One thing I discovered speaking to Sheldon is that Bloodsport was NOT A TRUE STORY. The person that the film was based on, Frank Dux, was apparently a brilliant storyteller. There were lawsuits, books written, just an absolute mess. Either way, the film is a masterpiece of 80’s action cinema.
Another classic in Sheldon’s canon was the highly anticipated sequel, Rambo III starring Sylvester Stallone. Rambo mounts a one-man mission to rescue his friend Colonel Trautman from the clutches of the formidable invading Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
The battle rages on as superstar Sylvester Stallone detonates the third and most explosive blast in the action-packed Rambo trilogy. Combat has taken its toll on John Rambo (Stallone), but he has finally begun to find inner peace inside a monastery – until his friend and mentor Col. Sam Trautman (Richard Crenna) shows up to ask for his help on a top-secret mission to Afghanistan.
A war-weary Rambo declines, but when Trautman is captured, Rambo erupts into a one-man firestorm to rescue his former commanding officer and deciminate the enemy. It’s an intense, pulse-pounding adventure that boasts unrelenting action and suspense from start to finish!
Lettich reunited with his friend, Jean-Claude in 1990 for the fan-favorite, Lionheart. This time directing and as a co-writer. He approached the project to allow Jean-Claude to display versatility, compassion, and rises beyond the “Karate Guy”, now that he had become a household name. The film made $24.3 million on a $6million budget and became popular amongst his films.
Lyon Gaultier is a deserter in the Foreign Legion arriving in the USA entirely hard up. He finds his brother between life and death and his sister-in-law without the money needed to heal her husband and to maintain her child. To earn the money needed, Gaultier decides to take part in some very dangerous clandestine fights.
The two, Lettich and Van Damme, immediately followed up with their third of several collaborations, Double Impact in 1991 with Jean-Claude playing a set of twin brothers who were separated when their parents were murdered but 25 years later they re-unite in order to avenge their parents’ death.
Like their initial projects, this one too became a critical and commercial hit.
It was a nostalgic thrill chatting with Sheldon about these movies that are part of the beautiful tapestry that is 80’s action cinema.
Enjoy this throwback entertaining conversation with Sheldon Lettich.
- Sheldon Lettich – Official Website
- Sheldon Lettich – IMDB
- WATCH: The Hard Crops – Amazon
- WATCH: Lionheart – Amazon
- Bulletproof Script Coverage– Get Your Screenplay Read by Hollywood Professionals
- Audible– Get a Free Screenwriting Audiobook
Alex Ferrari 0:03
I like to welcome to the show. Sheldon Lettich. How you doing Sheldon?
Sheldon Lettich 0:27
I'm doing great today.
Alex Ferrari 0:29
Thank you so much for being on the show man. It is an absolute thrill like the the the young teenage boy that worked at the video store in the late 80s. Early 90s is freaking out right now. So I do appreciate you coming on.
Sheldon Lettich 0:44
I'm I'm actually surprised happily surprised by just how big a thing these 80s and 90s action movies have become. It's just this 10s of 1000s or hundreds of 1000s of fans out there. I just the other day, I noticed that there was a book on Sam Furstenberg who basically directed ninja movies for Canon. There's a whole book about this guy. So yeah, these these movies are they they're like crawling out of the weeds. It turns out that there's a lot of people that have fond nostalgic memories of that period. You know, but yeah, you know, Van Damme and Schwarzenegger and Stallone and Chuck Norris people, people have really fond memories of those movies. So So here I am being interviewed.
Alex Ferrari 1:35
You know, it's fascinating, because you know, those those that time period pretty much from the early to mid 80s, all the way to the that pretty much the 90s that that window, those movies cannot be made that way anymore. Like they just wouldn't, they just wouldn't be made and especially that with those budgets and those kinds of stars, it's just such a window in time of a specific kind of like the country that the society every I mean, when you see Arnold and you see John Claude, and you see these guys just ripped up muscle bound, just sweating. And, you know, you know, Jean-Claude with his splits and all this, like that stuff wouldn't play nearly as well in today's world. But it's so wonderful to watch back
Sheldon Lettich 2:21
then. Yeah, well, in the late 90s. They the studio's realize, you know what, we don't have to deal with these action guys with these big egos and big muscles and all that. Let's just get some real actors like can I'll reach and teach them how to do some of the martial arts stuff. And then we've got stunt men to do all the difficult stuff. We'll cut it all together, we'll make the cutting really fast, nobody will notice. And you don't have to deal with it with Chuck Norris. You don't have to deal with with real karate guys, and try to make an actor out of them. Well, we'll start with actors. And we'll make them look like we'll make them look like bad assets. So that's what really changed that was like, I would say like mid to late 90s. It started shifting over. Yeah, with speed.
Alex Ferrari 3:09
It was speed and Point Break and, and matrix for Keanu. But yeah, then all these other actors. I mean, Liam Neeson for god sakes. I mean, right, right. Liam Neeson is an action star like you see him in Schindler's List you don't think taken.
Sheldon Lettich 3:23
Right. But you know, the first the first guy to turn Liam Neeson into an action star was really Sam Raimi with dark man.
Alex Ferrari 3:34
That's right. You're absolutely right. Yeah.
Sheldon Lettich 3:37
And boys and I, we've we knew Sam really well, back then. And, you know, I was doing Van Damme movies. And then Boaz wrote the adult movie, he wrote The Punisher first Punisher movie. And so we were a little surprised. Like, you know, Liam Neeson is sure about this. And if it ended up working out pretty well.
Alex Ferrari 4:02
He did. Okay.
Sheldon Lettich 4:03
They've all went that way since then.
Alex Ferrari 4:06
Absolutely. So, um, so tell me how did you get started in the business? How did you jump in?
Sheldon Lettich 4:13
Well, umm it's so it's kind of a long, circuitous story. But I started writing screenplays. I guess, I guess I was in my, my 30s. I just got this bug that I wanted to. Well, go back. I'll go back even further. I originally wanted to be a cinematographer, you know, Director of Photography, and I went to the American Film Institute, and that was my, I was the cinematography fellow there at the American Film Institute. So that was my, my focus. And while I was there, I I started getting interested in writing and directing i was i was monitoring the writing classes, there were some classes taught by a kind of well known older screenwriter. And at that school, we had directing fellows producing fellows writing fellows cinematography, I was, I was a cinematography travel. I'm not a cinematographer now, but that's what I was interested in at the time, wanted to be a dp. And so I started reading, writing samples by some of the writing fellows. And I was very impressed by their credentials. Most of these people had, you know, they had MFA from a lot of big colleges, you know, they MFA in creative writing MFA and stage direction. So these were people some heavy duty credentials. Me I had no credentials like that, at all. I didn't even have a bachelor's degree. I was basically a photographer. At the time, I was I was a commercial photographer for about 11 years. And so started reading the screenplays and and I found myself feeling very unimpressed. I was I was reading this is screenplays that these guys were writing and thinking, Well, I think I could do better than this. Very good, okay. And then, and even though I had not done any writing, before, I was I was just thinking, I should give this a try, because I'm really disappointed with what I'm reading here. And then as a cinematography fellow, I was supposed to help the directing fellows direct their short films. So every directing fellow had to make a number of films we shoot them on, on video at the time. And so I ended up working with a number of directing fellows. And again, they had some really amazing credentials, you know, like, yeah, MFA from this Ivy League school, and, you know, directed plays in New York and, and all of this. Yeah. And there were there were a number of them that that I came from theater. So I had none of that in my background, but I would end up being a cinematographer. And I found that I was helping these guys or girls, far more than I really should have been. They just really did not have a clue as to where to put the camera, they would be good at directing actors, but really wouldn't know where to put the camera, how to set up a shot, any number of things that I would help them with, it just sort of came naturally to me. So I started thinking, well, maybe I should give this a shot. Also, so everybody who wanted me if I had an opportunity to make their own film, on video, they'd give you the resources, you'd have the camera, you put the third crew with some of the other students. And so I made this little science fiction piece. Actually, the film's generally were about 15 minutes, 20 minutes long, I made this piece I based on Arthur C Clarke short story, and ended up being 45 minutes long. And I was just surprised at how well it turned out. And as I was working on it, I started thinking, you know, I think I sort of got a knack for doing this kind of stuff. And so we are working with working with react, I wrote the script also wrote this all by myself, based on this Arthur C. Clarke short story. And so I started changing my focus away from cinematography, to writing and directing. And that's what kind of got that's that's where the bug really bit me was that AFI and then unbelievable. Yeah, it was shortly after that. Yeah, I'm a Vietnam veteran also. And there is this. This theater, this actor, theater director, named john de Fusco, who was putting together he wanted to put together a theatrical piece about Vietnam. And he was looking for actual Vietnam veterans who were actors to be in this piece. There was no there was no play. There's nothing written. He just had this idea for putting this together. I think he put something together like that before. He was like teaching acting in prison. He wasn't a prisoner. He was just an acting coach. And, and he thought, Well, I'm a Vietnam veteran. Let me put together something about Vietnam. So he put an ad in. There was there were a couple of papers at the time. This is this was pretty Internet.
Alex Ferrari 10:00
Sure. But what are these papers you speak of? I don't understand.
Sheldon Lettich 10:05
What is this paper. And there was this one, like weekly newsletter. I forgot what it was called now but he put an ad in it saying I'm putting together a play looking for actors, who are also Vietnam veterans for play that I'm going to be putting together about about the Vietnam experience. So I got in touch with this guy. And I told him Look, I'm I'm not an actor. I don't pretend to be an actor. I don't want to be an actor. However, I'm a writer. And I have written a couple of screenplays that dealt with Vietnam. So I was already writing at this at this time. And he decided to work with me. So I was the, the writer member of this small ensemble that created this theatrical piece that ended up being called tracers. And, and that actually, we actually put this thing together. We had a number of Vietnam veterans in it, who were actors. And we staged it at a theater called the Odyssey in West LA. And it kind of became this little mini sensation ended up playing. They ended up taking it on the road they got invited to perform it in on in New York City, actually was Joseph paps theater, but the play on and then it was in Chicago at the Steppenwolf Theatre was directed by Gary Sinise of all people. Well, haha, I think that maybe helped get Gary Sinise into the mindset of exploring what Vietnam veterans are all about. Because he's really been. He's really been big on advocating for Vietnam.
Alex Ferrari 11:57
Sheldon Lettich 11:58
And I believe that was his first is the first time that he got involved with that subject, and then ended up playing Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. And he's a big advocate for veterans now. But that was his first taste of that. So anyways, tracers became this little sensation. didn't do anything for me, career wise. But, but again, the kind of gave me the bug. I started thinking, you know, I should, I should start focusing, rather than photography. Just start focusing on writing, and directing.
Alex Ferrari 12:37
So when you so when you were you when you started, changed your focus to writing and directing, obviously, writing was the way in to start because you hadn't really proven yourself it was, but I'm assuming still very difficult to become a director out of nowhere, even even in the late late 70s, early 80s. So your your first script that I saw that got sold at least and produced was a wonderful little cult classic called rooskies. Yes, when I when I again, you're hitting my sweet spot 87 to 93. That's when I was at the video store. So I was in I just saw everything. So I remember rooskies, who started a very young Oscar winning actor by the name of Joaquin Phoenix,
Sheldon Lettich 13:23
went by the name of leaf Phoenix at the time, right? Joaquin Phoenix and on the poster, it's leaf
Alex Ferrari 13:30
Phoenix, which is which is hilarious, but I guess that was like the stage and it was no one's gonna go see Joaquin, you gotta have some sort of cool name. I'm sure the agent told them.
Sheldon Lettich 13:38
But his brothers and sisters all had I guess their parents were their parents were hippies. And they Yeah, all the kids name is based on some some something natural. So his brother was River Phoenix. And then there was a sister named summer Phoenix I believe. I think she's even in in the movie. But I guess his birthday might have been walking, but then they for stage names. They gave me names like leaf and river and summer.
Alex Ferrari 14:08
It's it's brilliant.
Sheldon Lettich 14:09
I think the thing is, he's He's really good.
Alex Ferrari 14:13
I'm not sure
Unknown Speaker 14:14
how old he was. But I think he was like a young teen maybe?
Alex Ferrari 14:17
Yeah, probably like 12 1314. Something like that.
Sheldon Lettich 14:20
Alex Ferrari 14:21
But it looked great. So how did you get that? Like, how did that whole thing come about? How did you get how did you come up with the idea for for rooskies? Because for people not not understanding what it was like in the 80s with the whole Russian, you know, Cold War thing. It was a thing. It was a real we were all terrified that the bomb was gonna come at any moment.
Sheldon Lettich 14:40
Well, that's funny. I think this is maybe the first interview that I've done, where I'm talking about rooskies nobody asks, nobody asked me about that. They want to know about Van Damme and
Alex Ferrari 14:52
we'll get it. We'll get there. We'll get there. But I want to. I want to take you
Sheldon Lettich 14:56
way back. Yeah, we went way back to Tracers.
Alex Ferrari 15:00
All right. So I want to I want to I want to bring in rooskies. Because it's, I always like going down the road because first of all people haven't seen rooskies it's just such a fun movie. That whole concept of it was so much fun. How did you come up with that idea?
Sheldon Lettich 15:12
Well, I had a, I had a writing partner at the time, named Alan J. Glickman. And he really hadn't didn't have many movies made. But he was he was a he was a writer. He was a real screenwriter had a couple of things produced. And he's the one that introduced me to computers and word processing. Because before that, that Brad was using a typewriter. Yeah, typewriter, we're writing things down on yellow pads. So we're sitting around in his house one day, just talking about various things. And I had a friend who was one of my closest friends in high school, who was in the Navy after high school, and he was stationed at a Navy base in Maine. So way up there and north northeast. And it was a radio station, very remote, isolated radio station in Maine. And he told me, one day they found a raft washed up on the beach, and it had Cyrillic writing on it. It was a Russian RAF, basically, the Russians that and what's funny to me is even back then people didn't believe that the Russians were surveilling our coast. And they were, they had submarines going up and down the East Coast and West Coast, listening in for radio signals, basically monitoring us. And probably making maps in case they wanted to do an invasion of how to, you know, what, what's the best beach to approach anyways, it was a Russian RAF that they had found. And no sign of the Russians just just the raft. Obviously, they got into some kind of distress, had to abandon the raft raft washed up on the beach. And my friend had been told, you're never to speak of this. You're not telling me about this. I found this raft. So anyway, I told the story to Alan. And we both thought, you know what, this is kind of a good basis. This is a good starting off point for. And let's have some kids find it. Okay, so some kids find a raft
Alex Ferrari 17:37
very, very nice, very nice.
Sheldon Lettich 17:41
And these kids are into 80s style, action. This is even this is really risky.
Alex Ferrari 17:52
One of us has come out like 8685
Sheldon Lettich 17:55
might have been right around then. I wrote it. I wrote it before Bloodsport. And and I even invited Van Damme to the first screening of rooskies which he came to and, and thought, you know what, I should have been that Russian guy in the movie, I would have done much better than him, which is true. I think designcrowd would have been better.
Alex Ferrari 18:19
I would, I would I would agree with you. I would agree. Right,
Sheldon Lettich 18:21
right. So these kids are into, like war comics. Sure. And they've got a hero named Sergeant slaughter. Oh, there was a wrestler who ended up calling himself Sergeant slaughter. So we couldn't use that by the time the movie got made, it got changed to sergeant slammer. But even so the kids are into these comic books. And so you know, they, they would like nothing better than to be war heroes to do something like capture a Russian Well, they find out about this, the raft, and then the Russian one Russian survives, actually, they all they all survived, but one of them ends up on the beach. And he takes refuge in a clubhouse that these kids have said that they've got a little little clubhouse on the beach. And so they find him and they they quote, capture him. Like, wow, we're real heroes. We just captured we just captured a Russian spy.
Alex Ferrari 19:25
Right, right. Right, right, right.
Unknown Speaker 19:26
Hang on, let me just hang that up. So that was pretty much the basis for it. And I have three kids. Yeah. And we ended up not only Joaquin Phoenix in it, but there's the blonde kid that was in those Oh, Christmas Christmas Story movie.
Alex Ferrari 19:45
Yeah, I forgot his name. But yeah,
Sheldon Lettich 19:47
I forgot a Peter Billingsley. Yes, he was I noticed that too. was now directing. He's directing like a lot of TV stuff.
Alex Ferrari 19:55
Yeah, he's a big TV director now. So I'm rooskies. So rooskies obviously gets you in the door. And I remember it being a moderate hit
Sheldon Lettich 20:04
it was not know what didn't do well actually didn't do all that well
Alex Ferrari 20:08
video I think it found its audience and video and cable more than any Yeah,
Sheldon Lettich 20:11
yeah, but it didn't really open any doors for me just like tracers did not really open any doors for me because it was this. It was this play. It was kind of an obscure play. I got great reviews, but it didn't open any doors for me.
Alex Ferrari 20:27
So then how in god's green earth did you come up with Bloodsport? Because and how did you get involved with Bloodsport? How did you meet john Claude? Because before we before you answer this question. I just want everybody to understand when you look at Bloodsport now everyone's like, Oh, that looks kind of like Oh, we've seen that 1000 times like but when Bloodsport came out, there was nothing ever really fresh. The only thing the only thing that's even remotely close to it and a much smaller level was entered the dragon and a much smaller level. But the concept of these character fighters, which sounds like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat,
Sheldon Lettich 21:04
we do it all based on blood for you
Alex Ferrari 21:06
all, you launched a billions and billion dollar industries off of this one movie, not to mention a young Belgium guy named Jean.
Sheldon Lettich 21:17
Alright, so um, so we'll, we'll skip ahead to Bloodsport. Yes. And so here's how I got to that. I wrote a screenplay called Firebase, which is basically you ever see Zulu?
Alex Ferrari 21:36
Yeah, I remember. Okay. I remember Zulu. Yeah.
Sheldon Lettich 21:38
Well, small group of British guys being besieged by 1000s, of Zulus in Africa. I saw this movie was really knocked out by it. And I came up with this idea of Firebase, which is kind of the same stories like a disparate group of Americans on this hilltop Firebase in South Vietnam, and they get attacked by hordes of Vietcong and North Vietnamese and have to fight them off. And it was a small group that was there were three different groups. There were Marines army, the army guys with the artillery guys on the on the hilltop with the artillery pieces, and then some Army Rangers and they all end up together, not that they're supposed to be together, they kind of get forced into the situation. And they all dislike one another at first. But then once they get attacked, then they start banding together. And it's basically teamwork against this, this invading Horde. So anyways, I wrote this screenplay. And and there were a lot of people that were very impressed with it. Including, actually had a meeting. Walter Hill and Joel Silver had read it. They liked it. And Walter Hill wanted to make it his next movie. So actually, I had a meeting with them about that it, it didn't happen simply because Walter Hill had a deal with Paramount. This is right after I think 48 hours, 48 hours, right after 48 hours. And so he brings on this big Vietnam War piece. And they basically said, Guys, come on, nobody wants to see a movie about Vietnam. This is all pre Platoon, of course,
Alex Ferrari 23:29
Sheldon Lettich 23:30
So it ended up not happening. But in the meanwhile, I had gotten myself an agent, based on somebody reading the script and saying, hey, you need an agent. And they got it to this guy, Harold Moskowitz. And Harold also represented this guy named Frank Dukes. And Frank had written a book that took place in Vietnam, called the last rainbow. And it was 1000 pages launch 1000 like this, you know, typewritten he had written this book. And Harold was thinking, you know, I could probably sell this book if I could cut it in half. So he got in touch with me and said, Look, I want you to read this book. And let me know if you'd be interested in editing it down. So it's only 500 pages. So I read the book, and I was kind of kind of impressed with it, it was pretty well written. Frank's actually not a bad writer, which is surprising fact about him. Actually shouldn't be surprising because he makes up so many stories. But anyways, I was impressed with the writing with the book. And he did a lot of research. So Frank used to tell people back then that he was a Vietnam veteran, he went all these medals. He was this war hero, all of which turned out to be complete bullshit, but he read a lot of he read books. He listened to stories from people. And he put this all together. And it sounded pretty authentic to me. And I'm I was actually in Vietnam myself as I'm reading this book, and I'm thinking, well, this sounds like this guy might have actually been there. So, um, I wanted to meet him. And I got his number from Harold. And we got together and we just kind of hit it off right away. And at the time, Frank had a couple of martial arts studios. He might have only had one at the time that I first met him. But he pretty much was telling people he made up this myth about himself that he was trained in the secret art of Ninjutsu. There was a he had a teacher, kind of like Mr. Miyagi and Karate Kid, whose name was tiger, Tanaka. Okay, Tiger. Tanaka, by the way, happens to be a character and the James Bond book called You Only Live Twice, but Frank borrowed the name. And so that was my teacher, and he was a descendant from, you know, like 40 generations of ninja. And he taught me personally, the secret art of Ninjutsu. So he had this martial arts dojo. And another thing that he would say he had this, he had some flyers for the school and he would say that he was the first Westerner to compete in this contest called the COVID. A.
Alex Ferrari 26:34
Is that a real Is that real or not?
Sheldon Lettich 26:37
Apparently, not. Apparently not. Oh, he was making all this shit up. Because, again, he did research he read books, there were books about Ninja, other martial arts magazines at the time, and no
Alex Ferrari 26:53
internet and no inner no Google or internet,
Sheldon Lettich 26:55
no internet to check up on this stuff. And there was a there was a movie called Enter the Dragon, which is basically it's not like not, not by any means. Is it the same story? Enter the Dragon is basically about cops infiltrating this island stronghold that's run by this drug lord, human trafficking, Lord. And I guess that's the dragon. We have to find a way to enter the dragon. We've got to take this guy down. That's what the story's about. It's not about a tournament, but he happens to have tournaments on his Island every so often. And one of these tournaments, an X, I believe, that's how Bruce Lee that's Bruce Lee's entree to the island is he's going there to participate in the tournament. So that's how we ended up with the tournament's anyways. So Frank had seen this movie, a lot of people have seen this movie, it was actually released. It's huge. And so Frank made up this whole story about this competition called the comity and Frank is got it. There's this psychological disturbance called the Walter Mitty syndrome. Or the Walter Mitty complex. This is a real thing. You can look it up on the internet. And there are psychiatrists that have studied this. And Walter Mitty. I don't know if you've ever heard of the film.
Alex Ferrari 28:29
Oh, yeah. The one was the one with Ben Stiller. Well, before that,
Sheldon Lettich 28:33
it was a short story, by James Thurber, very short story, that that was turned into a Danny Kaye movie. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Walter Mitty is basically that guy, just the ordinary guy, nerdy guy who makes up these fantastic stories, these heroic stories, and puts in cast himself as the main character in these stories. And that's what Danny Kaye was, was, was doing that, trying to impress the girls by saying, well, I did this, I did that. And I'm a war hero. I've it basically Frank did the same thing. He he was fixated on Vietnam, in particular, because it was happening when he was a teenager. And so he read everything he could on Vietnam, and then ended up making up stories about himself being in the Marine Corps, being sent to Vietnam actually being recruited into some kind of special program. He was a special forces guy, right? Yeah. Okay.
Alex Ferrari 29:42
I'm like, right. This is like you're blowing my mind. None of this is true.
Sheldon Lettich 29:47
No, no. It turns out that Frank is not the only one who makes up stories like this about his military heroics and their It's a phenomenon that's called Stolen Valor. Now back when I met Frank, that term did not exist. Some some people started doing research on this. Because, like, if you're a real veteran if you've really been in Vietnam, and then you find out that people are faking it and saying I want all these medals, oh, zero. Well, it really irks you. Okay.
Alex Ferrari 30:25
To say the least. Yeah.
Sheldon Lettich 30:27
So there's this book called Stolen Valor. I've got a copy of it here. And they they came up with this term, Solon valor. And Frank is even in the book. They even Frank is actually one of the people that they researched
Alex Ferrari 30:44
after Bloodsport came out and all that stuff. Oh,
Sheldon Lettich 30:48
I think it was Yes, it was after Bloodsport came out because they mentioned Bloodsport in the book.
Alex Ferrari 30:54
So okay, so, so then, so this is okay. So because I remember when Bloodsport came out. Is that that it was promoted as a true story? That was one of the biggest selling points of the film. You were like this. so surreal, like this really happened? I have to ask you. Before we get to john clot How the hell did this get passed? Like this was a warner brother. It was a Canon Really? It was a Canon production. For Warner Brothers. Yeah, but Warner brother released? No, no,
Sheldon Lettich 31:23
it was a Canon release. Canada had their own releasing company at the time. If I were okay,
Alex Ferrari 31:28
if I remember correctly, Warner Brothers was involved in some way shape or form with all these others. Maybe video maybe video video? Yeah, but the video
Sheldon Lettich 31:36
canon went bankrupt. They went belly up. And then Warner Brothers and I believe MGM rated their video library and they got the rights to a lot of their stuff. Right. Others picked up Bloodsport,
Alex Ferrari 31:51
got it. That's how I wrote it.
Sheldon Lettich 31:52
Now, there was an article. See, Frank was telling this these stories to everybody, including the editor of black belt magazine. Who bought into it? I'm talking Okay, now, I didn't know shit about the martial arts world. I had never I had not even seen into the dragon before I got involved with rank and Bloodsport. But he had, he shows me this article in black belt magazine. Okay, then no better authority. back then. But here's black belt magazine. And here's an article called qulity learning experience. And it's all about Frank Dukes. And don't belt magazine is saying that this has some validity to it. Who am I to say it's bullshit? Okay, I can't I can't do a Google search. All right. So I saw I didn't do it. This is
Alex Ferrari 32:48
like Catch Me If You Can the guy from Catch me if you can, like he's just telling us. He's just telling. He's just telling stuff. And he's getting it to at such a high level of artistry in this in this the BS that he's throwing out there, that he's got now proof from real, legitimate people. So now you got so all of these things are coming together. And I'm assuming you hear about this. And you can say I gotta write the script for this. Right? Is that how it goes?
Sheldon Lettich 33:13
Kind of? Basically, look, Frank told me lots of stories. Okay. Frank used to tell people that he was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics in Vietnam. Not just me, plenty of people. And so he would tell me stories. And he and some of this stuff was published in magazines. He got some of the stuff in the magazines about, about his various heroics, and how he won all these metals. There's a photograph of him. I cannot I could get you the book, actually, if you want to see there's a photograph of him wearing all these ribbons. He's, he's he's
Alex Ferrari 33:52
all the way in. He's all in. He is all in on this on this con. He is all in.
Sheldon Lettich 33:58
It's a con and he's a con man, basically. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 34:00
it's a con. I mean, this is a this is a really good look. Listen, listen, we all might exaggerate a story here or there in our lifetimes. And you're like, Oh, this or that. Fine. But this is this is a whole other level.
Sheldon Lettich 34:14
There's he invented a myth. A legend even calls himself the myth, the legend, the real Frank Dukes. And it's all bullshit. So um, oh my god. Yeah, yeah, it's pretty damn amazing. So
Alex Ferrari 34:28
the story so the story for Bloodsport, like did you make that story up? Or did you did Frank help you just come up with the story and you just want the script? How did that the creation of
Sheldon Lettich 34:38
frac see there's a difference between story and and, you know, the real like, facts information. I forgot what the term is right now for for what source material. It's called source according to the Writers Guild, their source material. Which is not the same as a story source material is the raw facts. Okay? Like, you know, Erin Brockovich will her story was source material. The movie Gandhi, Gandhi's life story. Sure, but Gandhi write this script. No, he didn't. But this is my true life story. Well, Frank was telling people, this is his true life story. So he'd been telling me all these tales about the Kuma day told me about and I read the article. I've got the article here. Yeah. I could, I could send it to you. If you need some. If you need some visuals to go along the article. I've got all this stuff on Frank. The Stolen Valor. Yeah, picture of him in the Marine Corps uniform and turns out so there are there are people that started a group, a couple of groups out there that do research into Stolen Valor, right, because they just got tired of hearing this shit. Okay, people lying about, about their credentials lying about people that were not even in the military saying that they were in the military and they won medals. Frank turns out once these people started doing their research, then I found out what was true about Frank because they they dug it, they got the military records from the government. And they published this stuff. And basically, Frank was in the Marine Corps reserves. So he actually was he went to Marine Corps boot camp, but that was about it. He was in the in the reserves, and he was a wireman, which means guy guy who climbs up on a pole and strings, communications wire. That's what he did is. Yeah, so he was never sent overseas. There was nothing in his military record about any kind of specialized training. Well, that's that's what
Alex Ferrari 36:59
they, but but Sheldon, that's what they want you to think. Obviously, it's all been it's all behind the scenes. It's been black, it's black. That's why you can't I can't show it to you because I wasn't it's secret. Don't you understand? Yeah.
Sheldon Lettich 37:14
The government is basically there. They've redacted everything. Government, government, they're gonna tell you that I'm lying. But I'm telling you. He wrote a book about himself. Oh, my God. Oh, secret, man.
Alex Ferrari 37:29
Of course we did. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay. Yeah. All right.
Alex Ferrari 0:06
first of all, it's all imbalance. Sure, sure. Got it. Got it. Yeah, yeah. Got it.
Sheldon Lettich 0:12
And Frank's not the only one in here.
Alex Ferrari 0:14
Oh, there's a pretty thick book, I'm assuming. Yeah, sure.
Sheldon Lettich 0:17
Yeah. There's a lot of people who are, who have been doing this, which is, I just could not conceive of it at the time. I just couldn't believe like, if somebody is gonna say that they were in the military, and they would lie about something like that. But here we go. Look, I don't know how well you can see
Alex Ferrari 0:37
the bottom one.
Sheldon Lettich 0:38
Yeah. And the top that's in his uniform metals. Okay. And the bottom one is one of his karate poses. Oh, my God. I don't know if it's got the the bit the Yeah. And there's just a trophy. Okay, he's posing with
Alex Ferrari 0:55
a Kuma Tae trophy.
Sheldon Lettich 0:57
Yes, yes, absolutely. Which
Alex Ferrari 1:01
doesn't exist from the
Sheldon Lettich 1:02
LA Times ended up doing a doing some research. And he found out that this is a trophy that he had made for himself at a local trophy shop in North Hollywood. And the guy hadn't got had the receipt for the money that prank paid for now, here's his book. Okay. And American warriors uncensored story he was the CIA's finest covert. operative. Okay, here's here's the back of it.
Alex Ferrari 1:31
Is this is pure con man.
Sheldon Lettich 1:35
Alex Ferrari 1:36
This is I mean, this is pure pure con man. Yeah, this is it. This is not even just telling stories. You've written a book of lies. You've taken pictures, you falsify stuff. I mean, this is a pure, this is a sickness, this is an illness. This is Catch
Sheldon Lettich 1:51
me if you can.
Alex Ferrari 1:53
Alright, so alright, so we have a minute. So we established that he's an absolute crazy person, but out of this insanity comes in these action classic. Now, how did junk Claude get involved with you and Bloodsport because essentially, if I remember correctly, I because i'm john Klein. I follow jumpcloud very, very well, when I was he was just at that time. So right, no retreat, no surrender, I think was his first appearance. Black Eagle. I remember was right, that and then came Bloodsport.
Sheldon Lettich 2:27
And I want to give you that. I'm gonna give you the backstory and the chronology here. Okay. Okay. Because there was no john clot involved. Early on, basically, Frank had been telling me all these stories forever. And one day, we're driving in my car. And he's telling me about the coupe. And he says, Well, we had a nickname for it, because it was very bloody because it was no holds barred. There'd be blood all over the map. So we actually mean the other fighter, we call it Bloodsport, and like, Bloodsport. Whoa, that's a great title for a movie.
Alex Ferrari 3:03
He came up with a
Sheldon Lettich 3:05
you know what, Frank? Come to think of it. On the stories you've been telling me about the Kuma tain the article and black belt magazine. That's a movie, that's a movie, we should sit down and write this. And we never did. We did not sit down and write it. Okay. But we talked about it. And, and so now I had a title, Bloodsport. So, many months later, I'm editing this short film that I made, which is a whole other story. But I took one of the there was one scene that I wrote for Tracers, that was a bit too big to put on a stage. Right. So director decided, yeah, we can't use this one. Well, I really like the story. So later on, I decided you know what, I'm gonna make a short movie, and basically use that story and some of the dialogue. So I made this little movie called firefight. And it's in 16 millimeter shot at Camp Pendleton. This is something I I totally put together and actually got Frank Dukes actually plays one of the characters in it because Frank saw himself as an actor, he thought he he thought he had the chops, movie star,
Alex Ferrari 4:28
right. So you so you're editing the short,
Sheldon Lettich 4:31
I'm editing the short and some very low budget post production house in Hollywood. And next door to me. A guy named Mark the cell has got an editor working on one of his little films, which were porno films, Mark was producing porno films at the time. And so I got to talking with his editor and told me I'm a writer, and this is a little movie that I wrote and directed. And tell me one day Hey, my boss Mark wants to take take you out to lunch and talk about a movie project that he wants to have written. So Fine. So I meet mark, we go to lunch nearby. And Mark has this theory about movies that everything runs in cycles. So, you know, there's a cycle of science fiction movies, lots of them get made, and nobody makes any of them. There's horror movies, lots of them get made, nobody makes it. Well, same is true for martial arts movies. And there haven't been any martial arts movies made lately. And so I want to do a martial arts movie, I want to put a martial arts movie together. And the story he pitched to me was called kickboxer. Okay. So this is like the very early version of kickboxer you know, kick the story of
Alex Ferrari 5:47
course, yeah, of course,
Sheldon Lettich 5:49
does not have a brother in the story that mark first pitched me. But Tom, yeah, Tom, he defeats tonko in a fight back in the US, and tonko wants to get vengeance. So he goes, he sneaks into Kurt's house at night and throws a kick at Kurt, but Kurt, either ducks or for some reason he doesn't get hit, but his mother comes walking behind tonko kicks his mother in the head and kills his mother. That's okay.
Alex Ferrari 6:21
That's a rough visual, even for the 80s even for the 80s. That's a resolution
Sheldon Lettich 6:26
that was marked. That was Mark's idea kickboxer. Sure. And so I listen to this and I think okay, well, this is kind of lame, but I've got something much better as I said, Mark, look, I got a better idea for martial arts movie. It's called Bloodsport, well, Bloodsport. Wow, is that a great title? So I tell him about what I tell him about Frank Dukes. I am the Kuma Tay and this this it's a true story based on this guy going you know, the first Westerner to participate in it and when and and the guy lives right here in LA if you'd like to meet him I can set up a meeting and we can talk about this further. So that's that was the next step basically introduced Frank Dukes to mark the sell. Mark sells liking all this. And I think I at this point, I had already been hired to write Rambo three. So he knew I was writing Rambo three. So that was that was kind of a feather in my cap. And so he's thinking well, is this guy's working on Rambo? Three, you must be a good writer. Anyways, Mark makes a deal with both of us. And we signed contracts and he hires me to write Bloodsport, and he makes another contract with Frank for the rights to his quote, true life story. Okay. And this is all memorialized on paper in contracts. Okay. And so I ended up writing the script for Mark. And Mark gets the script over to canon films. It's a long kind of a long story. But basically, he got it the canon. Canada was doing really good with karate movies at the time they were doing those ninja movies, they're doing Chuck Norris movies. Oh, here's another martial arts movies called Bloodsport great title, based on a true story. That's pretty cool. We can use that in the advertising. So canon ends up financing this film, we're making a deal with Mark. And then we had no star we had no actor we, I wrote the script. For mark, we had no actor in mind. We just knew this is a cool idea. It's a great title. It's you know, based on a true story. So now, we had to find somebody to play this character, Frank Dukes, who would have been in his 20s at the time and a number. I wouldn't say a number there were not many names that you could plug into that role. We talked about, like Chuck Norris, his name was mentioned. But Chuck was, I think, in his 50s at the time, right for the 50s. It was too old to play this character. And I think Canada was already working with Michael Dukakis at the time. But Michael Dukakis was not a martial artist.
Alex Ferrari 9:26
He's an actor.
Sheldon Lettich 9:26
He was an actor. And they basically faked it with Michael Dudek off and and we're all thinking that we need a real martial artist for this movie to make it believable. And then there's the famous story about john Claude. Apparently this is true. I've heard it repeated a number of times exactly the same way and from john clot himself, john clot and from Michelle Casey, his buddy, who was there with them, but john clot had gone to the Cannes Film Festival a couple of years early. And he was basically going from office to office saying, Hey, I'm john Claude Van Damme, I'm gonna be a big star you should sign me. And Menaka was one of the people he that he saw. And so he's, he and Michelle are driving on La Cienega Boulevard. And john plus says, hey, look, there's manakin Go on. He was coming out of a restaurant. Do a quick U turn. You pull up right in front of Malacca. And john Klug goes up to and says, Hey, Menaka remember me john Claude Van Damme. And he does one of his kicks. Basically, he used to do this to everybody, he would throw a kick at your face and miss your nose by two inches. And he did that to monogame. And manakin, just happened to be looking for an actor back Dukes in Bloodsport. And he, he gives john Claude his card and says you'll come to my office tomorrow. And they used to have an office on Sandra sente in that wheelchair. And john Claude goes there the next day, and manakin gives them the Bloodsport script. And
Alex Ferrari 11:15
the rest of the rest is history.
Sheldon Lettich 11:17
Alex Ferrari 11:19
if I remember if I remember, in my Jean-claude, I remember seeing john Claude in a little film called break in as an extra in the background. And it's a Canon film that was a Canon film.
Sheldon Lettich 11:33
He was just an extra he didn't know who the hell he was.
Alex Ferrari 11:37
He was just an extra all of a sudden, like you're watching this like years later, you're watching break in. And you just go is that? Is that Jean-Claude on dumps dancing in the back. And it was
Sheldon Lettich 11:50
wait. So there's another movie we have to insert here. Yeah, cuz it just so happened that at the time all of this was going on. We're looking for an actor. No retreat, no surrender, right in LA. And Mark calls me and Frank and says, Hey, looks like we might be making this movie with canon. And there's this young actor that I want you guys to take a look at. His name is Jean Claude Van Damme. And let me know what's your thing. Okay. So Frank, and I go to see no retreat, no surrender in North Hollywood, I believe. And we're blown away. We thought he was fantastic. Well, he's
Alex Ferrari 12:33
the best part of that movie. No question. Absolute No, no question. No question.
Sheldon Lettich 12:38
Right. So we call him mark. And we give them a ringing endorsement. Like, yeah, this guy's perfect. And next thing we know they're getting getting a director and they're scouting. Hong Kong. They had to deal Malcolm had to deal with a Hong Kong producer and Charlie Wang, who had a production company in Hong Kong and had all the cameras everything you needed. Yeah. And so they basically this is supposed to be a very low budget film. I think the budget was like 1.1 million Jesus. And so yeah, one thing led to another and
Alex Ferrari 13:17
Sheldon Lettich 13:18
a new new Donald was hired to direct it. And newt was a second unit, not second unit director. He was a first ad is a very well known first ad. In fact, I believe he was the first ad on Blade Runner, and in some other very famous movies, but he's never directed anything. And he had, he had saved one of canons movies, they were having trouble with one of their movies. I guess they had to replace the director. So they ended up using newt to be like the ghost director for this movie. And manakin was kind of impressed with them. And he said, Look, because you're doing such a good job for me if you keep on doing doing a good job. I'm going to give you a movie to direct. So I got Bloodsport and manakin gives it to new Donald and,
Alex Ferrari 14:05
and the rest is history. Now, so Bloodsport I remember comes out I don't remember seeing it in the theater. I think there was the theatrical for it.
Sheldon Lettich 14:14
Well, I got a whole story for that. Because my mom hated the movie. Now the very first time was really bad. All right, I saw the first cut with john Claude and Frank Dukes and we were we were depressed. They had I think, Carl Kress was the editor at the time. And, and he just didn't know how to cut a movie like this. He was like an old old time Hollywood guy, hollywood editor, and didn't know how to do the cuts really didn't didn't get a movie like this at all. So the movie was terrible. manakin thought it was terrible. And somehow manakin got convinced that they should bring another editor And I can't remember the guys name now, but they did bring out another editor who completely ripped it apart, put it back together again and turn it into a turn it into what?
Alex Ferrari 15:12
Classic as they selected as a classic as this.
Sheldon Lettich 15:15
And the verse, the first version that we saw did not have the music. This got some pretty cool music.
Alex Ferrari 15:21
I love that soundtrack.
Sheldon Lettich 15:22
soundtrack. And so it had none of that. And, and suddenly, it's a much better movie, right? But Menaka was still, he was still remembering that first version. And he did not want to release this in theaters. We're talking about, like the mid 80s. Like everything got released in theaters back then. All right. He didn't go straight to VHS, and anything unless it was a real stinker. And manakin thought this is a real stinker. And I'll tell you how I know this from firsthand experience. Because at the time I was, I've been writing a number of scripts for an actor named Leon Isaac Kennedy. You remember early on by any chance they don't start in a couple of blaxploitation films called penitentiary. Okay. And then monogame I think produced penitentiary, too. And then he ended up doing another movie with Leon for Canon, called body and soul is a remake of an old john Garfield movie. So monogame new new Leon and Leon co starred in a chuck norris movie called lone wolf McQuade great movie. Hey, Leon was the black guy in lone wolf McQuade
Alex Ferrari 16:41
Sheldon Lettich 16:42
And that movie did fairly well. And Leon thought they should do a sequel, you know, because my character would come back and sequel. So I think Chuck wanted to do a sequel also. But the sequel wasn't happening. So Leon had me write a script that was going to be a sequel to loan with liquid except we had a different title to it. And it was going to be very much like low grade as a white guy who was the lead role, and Leon was the CO lead. Leon's character was the CO lead. So I wrote the script. And Leon gets it to Menaka in Canada. And Menachem likes the script. Leon said that I was interested in directing and manakin was gonna, he was gonna let me direct the movie, in fact, because I made this little film firefight, which I blew up the 35 millimeter look pretty impressive movie. Someone awful saw that and decided he was gonna give me a chance. So they were gonna hire me to direct this it was called strikers. For us. That was the name of the script. And we Chuck Norris did not want to do it. So Leon, I introduced john Claude to Leon, Isaac Kennedy, they hit it off. And Matt and I both thought, Well, hey, this guy john Claude should be your your co lead in strikers force. And john Claude has gotten a three picture deal with cannon films. And you've got to deal with cannon films. So Leon decides, I'm going to just take the straight of an outcome and tell them let's do this movie. Can they want us to do the movie and not want to do the movie with me directing. And let's suggest to him that john Claude Van Damme should be the CO lead. So we go, we go to his office, and he says, his term for Van Damme he thought he thought Bloodsport was terrible. He tell it basically tell me this to my face is a terrible movie. I'm not going to embarrass myself by releasing it in theaters. We're going to go straight to video. And well, what about john Claude Van Damme, you got a three picture deal with him, Van Damme, and that was poison. He called them poison. He thought he thought john was a terrible actor. And he said, Look, I want this movie to be successful. So I'm gonna give you a real movie star. You're gonna have a real movie star in the lead role. And that's Michael do to call on DOM is poison Michael do the COP is a movie star. So anyways, I gave john Claude the bad news and he was very upset about this
Alex Ferrari 19:33
is pre release of Bloodsport,
Sheldon Lettich 19:35
correct pre release. Nobody knew who the hell was vandam guy was. And anyways, so I'm had a meeting with Michael Dudek off about this project. He didn't like the script ended up going nowhere.
Alex Ferrari 19:55
Sheldon Lettich 19:57
And. so Buddy at at canon we had the new editors name was Michael J. Duffy, by the way. And Michael is ended up Michael six movies for Canon. They brought him in to fix movies that were that were a mess. I was like a, like a film doctor basically. And he recut a few other films. So they brought him in to try and save Bloodsport, and he did he saved Bloodsport big time. And somebody at canon decided, you know what? People are kind of liking the movie. We should maybe give it a chance. Why don't we try releasing it just on the West Coast? You know, California, Oregon and Washington. Let's give it a test. A test run. I think I might have done 25 prints. And so they tried that. And it did really well. Because the title threw people in the poster based on a true story. The movie did well and then they decided well, okay, let's roll it out. nationwide. And they opened it nationwide. And it's funny I made a bet with Milan fortunately. Fortunately for him he didn't put any money down on it. But his big movie at the time when we were having we had this meeting in his office was missing an action three missing an action three Chuck Norris and they changed the title so not it was Braddock missing action three like I did with Rambo, right? Right. Right right. First Blood now it's Rambo First Blood too. So I decided to use the same tactic and he figured, okay, this, this, this one's gonna explode. This is gonna do it's gonna be huge business. And I told him to his face, okay, but nah, come if you release, Bloodsport in theaters, it's gonna do better than missing an action three. And he laughed. He said, you're you're draining my friend.
Alex Ferrari 22:08
To do impression of him. By the way, it's very good impression. It's a good question.
Sheldon Lettich 22:11
I knew Menaka well had many meetings with him. But I've worked. We worked with a number of Israeli producers actually. manakin successor was really Avi Lerner. It's not as as big and as theatrical. He's not big in theatrical at all. He's very low key. But Milan was very big theatrical. You know, like the zero muscadelle. And so they they ended up releasing it nationwide. And it did really well. It was I think it was canons, highest grossing movie of the year. And we're not talking about a huge numbers, but this is back in the 80s.
Alex Ferrari 22:50
If it made like 567 million bucks. That's a huge,
Sheldon Lettich 22:54
I think was even more than that. Yeah, that's huge. They were really impressed. And
Alex Ferrari 23:02
then it really found it out. I mean, once it hit video, it was a perfect time it was when that video dropped, it was in the I was talking I think was 8687 I think somewhere around world when it dropped because I couldn't keep it in the store. At the video store. I was working I worked at a mom and pop video store. There was just we had to keep getting copies of it, because people would rent it all the time. So we were like what should we watch? We just like go watch Bloodsport or watch bloodwork. And it was a constant. So I know it found a massive audience. So it hit like at the at the when when video VHS was starting to take off, Bloodsport shows up and it's just kind of like when Terminator showed up with HBO. And it was just timing situations that just worked out and exploded.
Sheldon Lettich 23:43
And well in the theaters. Because
Alex Ferrari 23:44
Sheldon Lettich 23:45
I give you a little anecdote. Jeann Claude was living in this apartment on Riverside Drive at the time. I went there with him many times. And he had an answering machine. You know, we had answering machines back and it would beep once for every call that he had missed. Okay, so, you know, we come back we hear you know, beep beep Okay, I missed two calls. I listened to him. We come back after Bloodsport and open in theaters, right. We come back to the apartment. And there's a there's a limit of 50 messages, right 850 times and then basically reset itself. There were 50 messages on his answering machine. People were calling him from all over the country all over the world to congratulate him because it did make it did make kind of a splash when it first opened in theaters. I remember at the time watching I was watching something on TV. Somebody was following are following the Lakers around like a small group of LA Lakers. And they're walking by a movie theater. Hey, let's go see a movie. What are you Want to see? Let's check out Bloodsport. Okay. They see the title Bloodsport. And they went they went to see a Bloodsport. But people were the poster was pretty cool.
Alex Ferrari 25:09
I remember the poster. It's
Sheldon Lettich 25:11
awesome post. able to do. You do? Yeah, I'll put up. There was great. The, the post in there, we had newspaper ads and everything. There actually was a we actually had a little premiere on Hollywood Boulevard that john Claude went to and Forrest Whitaker was there, too.
Alex Ferrari 25:32
I forgot. Yes, of course. Yes. The Oscar Oscar, another Oscar winner that we're gonna find
Sheldon Lettich 25:37
somebody at the time. Yeah. And I remember seeing him at the theater and going up from hate. For us. You're terrific in the movie. I'm the writer, by the way, and we were talking for a little while. But they had a premiere. And I have photographs of this, which I could send you. You probably want to put them up on the screen. Sure, sure. But it was they ran ads in the newspapers. At john Claude Van Damme will be there in person, you know, based on true story, starring world kickboxing champion john Claude Van Damme. And there was a big crowd. I have photographs with a big crowd showed up for the movie. And they gave away posters, maybe 50 people, I have photos of him signing the posters. But people were just they were attracted by the poster that was in the newspapers. And it opened in I think two theaters, and one was on Hollywood Boulevard. Yeah, the Chinese crowd. We had a crowd that theater was packed. So
Alex Ferrari 26:44
it's so it's so remarkable, the whole story of Bloodsport, how that came about. And then that basically launches john Claude into the stratosphere. But before we go into, because we might want to talk a little bit about Cyborg in your involvement with that and, and Rambo. There's a story that Boaz was yankin who's on my other show, bulletproof screenwriting your cane, by the way, you can't I'm sorry, you can't sorry. But he told me to say that Boaz, please forgive me. Boise Keene. He was a guest on my other show. He told me the story of how you guys have some sort of history with Mr. Tarantino. How did you were you involved in that? Yeah.
Sheldon Lettich 27:28
I'm going to introduce Quentin to Scott Spiegel. From the Lawrence bender right. See movie Lionheart. Okay. Yeah. Because this
Alex Ferrari 27:39
Lawrence Lawrence is in Lionheart.
Sheldon Lettich 27:41
Yeah, yeah, both of them are. We had a whole circle of friends at the time. Right, right, including Sam Raimi and Sam was at that first screening of Bloodsport, by the way to see Sam ended up doing at least a couple of movies with john claw. They did that he was involved with time cop and hard target.
Alex Ferrari 28:00
Universal Sure, yeah.
Sheldon Lettich 28:03
I introduced john Claude to Sam Raimi and Sam was immediately impressed with them. But yeah, we had a whole circle of friends at the time, which included Sam and Bruce Campbell. And you know, some of these Detroit guys, another people I met in LA like Boaz, I met Boaz through a completely different source. And we all used to used to hang out together. So I was prepping, Lionheart, that Imperial entertainment. And Quentin, who worked in video stores just like you many years ago, yes. When I was hired by Imperial to call video stores all over the country, to sell them their product to basically get them to buy, you know, like, Hey, come on, you want five copies of ninja versus zombie, don't you?
Alex Ferrari 28:52
And that was the thing for people not done and understood. I understand because I worked at a video store. But back then, there was hustlers on the phone trying to get you to buy more copies. And this is before sell through. Like before 1995 movies. They were still like at 79 or $99 a tape or something like that, or $79 a day expensive.
So you were like trying to get them you were trying to get my mom and pop or not my personal mama Papa, but the owner of my video store to purchase that
Sheldon Lettich 29:21
Alex Ferrari 29:23
So he was a telemarketer. So quintard Tina was a telemarketer at that time, essentially.
Sheldon Lettich 29:28
Yeah. And yeah, in my little works. My Workspace was right across from where Quentin's workspace was. And Quentin comes up to me one day, and just bubbling with enthusiasm. He's always bubbling with enthusiasm.
Alex Ferrari 29:47
Sheldon Lettich 29:48
You're Sheldon, manage you. You co wrote Thou shalt not kill except right. Yeah, it wasn't joking though. He was it was like he knew it. He knew it like you. You co wrote Citizen Kane didn't Anyways, he was he was really jazzed about that. So we talked a little bit and I realized that he was he was just a fount of trivia. He just knew all this trivia about every movie ever made. And, and my buddy Scott Spiegel is pretty much the same. Scott. Scott actually co wrote a movie with Boaz. They co wrote the rookie, and Scott co wrote, Evil Dead two is basically one of the Detroit guys he used to hang out with Sam and Bruce and all those guys. And so I tell Quentin, you know what, you really need to meet a friend of mine, Scott Spiegel. He says, well, Scott Spiegel and starts rattling off Scott's vehicles credits like, well, Evil Dead to Scott Spiegel. He was really excited. So I gave him Scott's phone number and the two of them, they hit it off. Right away. And Scotty had been directing a low budget movie that Lawrence bender was producing at the time called intruder. Yes, yes. Which Sam Raimi was in playing the butcher in this grocery store. And so that's how, that's how he met Lawrence. Lawrence was a friend of mine at the time, too, because I also I cast Lawrence and Scotty in Lionheart, Lauren says the Lawrence has a very memorable role. Is this heckler? at one of the fights? I remember
Alex Ferrari 31:33
he's in the trailer. He's in the trailer.
Sheldon Lettich 31:34
Yeah. Yeah. Well, I've been and I've been auditioning actors to play. You know, the New York heckler. I just couldn't find anybody who I was really happy with. And I thought, you know what, Lawrence? Lawrence would be perfect to playing this this guy. So I gave him a call. At the time he was living in some small apartment over in, like a Miracle Mile area. And, you know, kind of living paycheck to paycheck. So, yeah, he's more than happy. He rushes down to do an audition does an audition, and I cast him in the movie. And he was doing such a good job of heckling john Claude. When we were shooting, that with cameras rolling. JOHN Claude walks over to him and Lawrence, you know, he's a trained actor. So he stayed in the moment. JOHN Claus stayed in the moment. And Sean cloud walks over and grabs Lawrence by his shirt. Yanks. You and me right now. And Lawrence. Lawrence did not break character. He stayed with it. And then the Harrison page comes in and separates the two of you don't do that. So that was Lawrence's role in the film. And, and yeah, like you said, they even use it in the trailer was a really good little moment. So I was hanging out with these guys at the time, and, and a lot of them have moved on to become some pretty prominent names and
Alex Ferrari 33:10
they've done okay, they don't okay for themselves. They don't Okay, so that's so so Quinn is next to you. telemarketing, you introduce them to Scott Scott eventually introduced him to Lauren Bender, and then the rest is history as far as quitting as Lauren's equipment go.
Sheldon Lettich 33:23
Right, right. Yeah. Yeah. Well, basically, Quintin showed Lawrence, his script
Alex Ferrari 33:30
for reservoir reservoir.
Sheldon Lettich 33:33
Actually, Lawrence, I told you about this project strikers for us. I was gonna do a cannon to Lawrence was gonna produce that. Once he even did I even have a budget that he put together for it. So yeah, Lawrence and I, we know, we were good buddies at the time. And he certainly got on to do some pretty damn amazing projects.
Alex Ferrari 33:54
He did okay for himself. But both of them both of them did. Okay. It's okay. But it's so fascinating to listen to the stories because I've, I've, I mean, I've started quitting. Like every other filmmaker of my generation and every generation studies like his lore and how it comes came up and everything. I have never heard that story. I have never heard the story of when he was a telemarketer, you know, up selling VHS is copies to video stores around the country. Right? Right. I never heard that story in all the things I've heard or read about that.
Sheldon Lettich 34:24
I have told it to a few people and I've written about it a few times. Sure.
Alex Ferrari 34:27
I'm sure it's out there. I just never heard about it. So it was it's it's very fairly fascinating. And I heard about a new intruder thing and Lawrence bender and how that combination and quitting didn't want even make reservoir for a million dollars. Like I'm gonna just go do it for 50 or 60,000.
Sheldon Lettich 34:41
There's actually yeah, there was. There was a very low budget producer named David prior. When there was Dave and he had a brother, and the brother was a preacher. I forgot the name of their company, but it was like ultra ultra A budget and, and the brother The one who ran the company. I have to look look up his name now but he was actually he's previously been a dancer. And he was one of the jets in West Side Story and the movie West Side Story. Yeah, that's right when you're a jet, you're a jet. Oh, he was one of them. So he, he wanted to make a very low budget movie with me at the time. Because of the Rambo three connection. And the budget was ridiculous, you know, like $50,000. And I told him, Look, I don't think I could do this. But he says, you have any friends that have got scripts that we could make something we can do on a low budget? in one location. This friend named Quentin Tarantino, and he's got the script call Reservoir Dogs all takes place in one location. What can we as number we call, sweet he does call Quentin Quentin comes in. I think Quentin mate and Lawrence maybe both came in to meet with him. And he said, yeah, we want to we'll do this movie. We'll do Reservoir Dogs, though your budgets going to be $50,000. And fortunately, they turned that down. And they actually they were actually getting ready to shoot Reservoir Dogs on their own. And super eight.
Alex Ferrari 36:31
That would have been an interesting film.
Sheldon Lettich 36:33
Well, I I went over to Lawrence's apartment and Lawrence are both there. And they're they're crunching numbers. They're putting together a budget. And they said, Yeah, we're gonna, we're gonna shoot Reservoir Dogs one way or another. And right now we're putting together the super eight budget. They're going to shoot it in Super eight for like, I don't know, they're, like $50,000 or something. Because that's right. Quentin had gotten a bump. By selling right to Sammy had diva. And so now he had like, $50,000 that was burning a hole in his pocket. He said, I'm gonna use a 58. Lawrence, we're gonna make Reservoir Dogs. With that, $50,000 we're gonna put it all into the movie. So I don't know if you've heard that one before.
Alex Ferrari 37:26
Yeah, yeah, I've heard that one. And then Lawrence was like, yeah, Lawrence is like, Hey, listen, just give me like a month to go find some money. And yeah, yes. Renee got Harvey involved and as the rest they say is, is history. Fascinating. Fascinating little side note.
Sheldon Lettich 37:41
Prior to Harvey though, they got they got it was I think it was called live entertainment. Anyway, it was it was live. I believe a woman named Ruth Vitaliy was running it at the time. And the reason that they got involved was because Lawrence got Harvey Keitel interested. Lawrence new some. An editor who was also director. I forgot the guy. I'm blanking on his name right now. But this guy knew Harvey Keitel. Anyway, he read Lawrence's he read Cretan script. And said, when I get this to my buddy, Harvey Keitel, I think he might want to play one of the roles in this. And sure enough, Harvey liked it. He wanted to play I guess his character was in movie was Mr. White, I believe. Yeah, it was Yes. Okay. So basically said, You know, I like this. I'd love to play Mr. White. And so now they've got Harvey Keitel wanting to be in the movie so so basically I think it was I think Ruth vitality was an executive at live at the time. I think live spot they spun off and Carol colors. I
Alex Ferrari 38:55
think it was something like that, because I remember that again. Video Store icon along with that VHS
Sheldon Lettich 39:01
live did the video releases for Carol go?
Alex Ferrari 39:05
Correct? Because they did Terminator two and a couple other ones about that one at that time.
Sheldon Lettich 39:09
So anyways, now once and Clinton had Harvey Keitel wanting to be in the movie. So suddenly they're realizing Okay, we got we got something we can release some video here because Harvey Keitel got his name above the title. So we got a big star we got Harvey cartel and then one thing led to another and then they ended up getting enough money to to shoot. I think the budget was about a million dollars
Alex Ferrari 39:41
or something like that.
Sheldon Lettich 39:43
And, and they discovered all these people like Steve Buscemi.
Alex Ferrari 39:48
Michael Madsen, Michael Mads Tim Ross.
Sheldon Lettich 39:52
Yeah, I think Lauren's new Virginia Madsen. Okay, sister, and that's an I think she's the one that said hey, can you put my brother Michael on this thing
Alex Ferrari 40:02
crisp crisp pen like it was Yeah, it was it was a remarkable remarkable but thank you for that a little side note on on your your connection with Mr. Tarantino because that that I wanted to hear from your mouth because Boaz told me a little bit about it but you you elaborate it a bit more so thank you for that.
Sheldon Lettich 40:19
Yeah I'm gonna hook up guy I've actually hooked up a lot of people
Alex Ferrari 40:25
Good for you. That's awesome. Hey, you know that's what it's all I always try to in when I when I have if I have the ability to help somebody I try to if I can if I can at all. Now you wrote you wrote Rambo three with Sly and I just got it you know, and I have sly on my shirt here from first blood.
Sheldon Lettich 40:46
To get to that we
Alex Ferrari 40:47
have from first blood obviously. And first blood is a masterpiece and then Rambo two was, I mean, it was a sensation.
Sheldon Lettich 40:55
I love Rambo
Alex Ferrari 40:56
sensation, written co written by a Mr. Jimmy Cameron. At the time. This is pre I think this is pre aliens after Terminator, but he's pre aliens for that when he wrote. So turmeric. I mean, Rambo two was amazing. So you're now tasked to write a sequel to an extremely popular film, which is Rambo three, what is it like work? Because I mean, at that point, you know, sly, sly, like he is at the height of his power at that point.
Sheldon Lettich 41:22
He was the number one
Alex Ferrari 41:24
star in the world. And the way he was the guy in the world is at the height of his power. And you're you're tasked to work with him. What was that experience? Right writing Rambo three with him?
Sheldon Lettich 41:38
Well, let me tell you how I got the gig. First of all. I told you about my script, Firebase, my Vietnam based? Yeah, a version of Zulu. So Salaam is looking for somebody to write Rambo three with them. So put the word out to agents. My agent sends him Firebase. He loved Firebase calls me in and he wants to actually make Firebase. So he's another guy that wanted to make Firebase. So make this movie one of these days. Now's not the time. Vietnam still kind of a taboo subject, but I'm going to make this thing. And they would have been perfect in it. So based upon that, and the fact that I was also a Vietnam veteran, like the real deal, not Frank
Alex Ferrari 42:31
Duke style, but like a real deal.
Sheldon Lettich 42:33
Like the real deal. Yeah. actually got a DD 214 that says, you know, certain Vietnam from this date to this date, right? So he thought that that would be a good qualification for a co writer for a Rambo film. And turns out that it was so I did my research on Afghanistan, the war over there, at least I used to read was a magazine called Soldier of Fortune at the time, that was constantly doing articles about Afghanistan and the CIA and Afghanistan. This stuff was pretty much under the radar with the well, we'll call the mainstream media, new term now, you didn't read much about it. But souls your fortune was all over it. And they were doing interviews with actual Mujahideen. So they had a lot of the background information that I needed to write this thing. And another thing about my first meeting with Stallone, we were both on the same page as far as where Rambo three was supposed to take place. Get Rambo to Southeast Asia. Rambo three. Well, what's what's going on in the world right now that Rambo would want to get involved with or that Rambo? What? Where is there a conflict with Americans and Russians? Because Russians were also the bad guy and bad guys in Rambo, too. So Americans versus Russians, foreign country Warzone? Perfect, yes, that was the only thing that made any kind of sense at all. And Stallone and I both had the exact same idea we both wanted, wanted to take place in Afghanistan. And the idea was that Troutman goes in first. Now, here's where Stallone and I differ and I gave him my perspective on it and he agreed with me. So he, you know, look these big action stars like stone, they got an ego, but Stallone's ego is not so big that he would reject a good idea. And his first notion was, so Trotman is going on a mission because the CIA did used to send Americans over Were there to sell Stinger missiles. Stinger was a ground to air missile that could shoot on a helicopter. So, so Trump has gone over there. And and basically the idea was that Rambo goes to Afghanistan as well, somehow connected to Troutman Stallone's idea was when traveling comes to him and says, Hey, I'm going to Afghanistan, Johnny, when you come come to help me. Well, let me just go get my gear. So basically Rambo's off, he's just on board from the from the get go. And I felt that sounds very wrong to me. Because RAM is the baddest badass in the world,
Alex Ferrari 45:41
Sheldon Lettich 45:42
but he's seen too much too much war, too much death, too much destruction. He's, he's done with that shit. He doesn't want to. He doesn't want to go to war zone. He doesn't want to want to kill anybody else.
Alex Ferrari 45:55
It has to be the reluctant it has to be the reluctant hero you have to.
Sheldon Lettich 45:59
And that's, that's one thing that's so appealing about the Rambo character is that he's the baddest motherfucker in the world but doesn't want to get involved doesn't want to fight
Alex Ferrari 46:10
because he's, he's, he's done too much.
Sheldon Lettich 46:12
And to use an expression that we used a lot back in the 80s until he was pushed too far.
Alex Ferrari 46:22
In a world where water is wet and ice is cold state that was live was used so much in every ad like
Sheldon Lettich 46:33
absolutely was pushed too far. For Rambo for Yeah, he doesn't. He doesn't want to go he wants to stay in his monastery in Thailand. But yeah, he's pursuing the peaceful path until he was pushed too far. So traveling goes and traveling gets captured and now Rambo is feeling guilty. Okay, because Troutman asked him for help. And he didn't go. He's pulled it because of his, his wimpy reasoning like, my war is over. Sam, I can't go with you. I've had enough of this shit. So now he's guilty. All right. Now his buddy. Troutman. his mentor. Troutman does everything, but he's been captured by the evil empire in Afghanistan. And the CIA is not going to send anybody in to rescue they can't, you know, because of politics. So the CIA guy, Kurt woodsmith, is the guy comes to Rambo and says, Hey, we just want you to know, we know where Troutman is. We can't do anything about it. We're just letting you know in case you want to go rescue your buddy. So that's that's became the basis for the story. Very, very cool.
Alex Ferrari 47:53
And and then when we work with someone like sly must have been, you know, wonderful. And the movie came out. I remember when the movie came out. It was it was it wasn't as big of a hit as first blood.
Sheldon Lettich 48:04
But it took it gets station period was way too long between the two movies. We know just from the time that Salone decided he wanted to do Rambo three, and Afghanistan until the movie came out. Because there were a lot of roadblocks along the way that sly was one of them. He started becoming nervous about Afghanistan, because it was now it started. It started going into the new cycle. everyday people were hearing about Afghanistan. There are negative things being said about Americans getting involved about the CIA, giving Stinger missiles to the to the Mujahideen and it's it started sounding like a hot potato to him. And he decided to back off. There was another storyline we came up with it took place in Siberia, okay of all places. An American pilot gets shot down in Siberia. Rambo goes to rescue him. He crosses the Bering Strait. And there's Russians that are after this guy. He hasn't been captured yet, but he's shot down. So there's Russian bad guys again, Rambo has to fight off the Russian bad guys gets in the safety. And it was kind of kind of based on a book. I forgot who wrote it now. I think it might have been a Louis L'Amour call as to the breed. And last of the breed was basically the same same kind of story. So um, so then they change. So I wrote I'm pretty sure I wrote a few treatments for that one. But now we're talking about you know, snow and ice in Siberia. And then they got then he went back to Afghanistan then we got they got Russell Okay, higher to direct the movie, and they sent poor Russell all over the world. And I'm not making this up. Okay. My first suggestion is alone when they were talking about where they're going to shoot this thing we're working we do Afghanistan. I said, What about Israel? Because I had been in Israel before. I was hired by Mike cannon to write to do a rewrite on me. It was one of the Delta Force movies, right? Yeah, Delta Force two, I was hired to do a rewrite on that. So I've been in Israel, I've been showing all around. And I told sly, I think it's the perfect place to shoot this movie. And he said, I want to know Israel. Because there's, you know,
Alex Ferrari 50:49
it's not it's not it's it's not the it's not the best vacation spot, let's just say.
Sheldon Lettich 50:54
Alex Ferrari 50:55
it is a very good I you know what I mean, you know, I mean, yeah, especially those years, especially in those years.
Sheldon Lettich 51:02
Yeah, yeah, we're still Oh, there. Were there wars going on at the time. Like when I was over there working on the chuck norris movie. I hear. I see. planes flying north towards Lebanon. I hear explosions. Okay, so there was shit going on. But sly didn't want to go. He was nervous about it. And they said, cor Russell, okay. All over the world. They They even had looking in Canada, like some of the some of the middle provinces in Canada. school, I think there's good production deals they're going to
Alex Ferrari 51:39
so where did you guys find this? Where did they finally shoot Israel? Oh, they
Sheldon Lettich 51:42
did. She came back to my original idea, which was Israel, Israel be perfect. But they have a film industry there. They have technicians. And they've got the thing about Israel is they've got all this captured Soviet equipment. They've got all the so they've got Soviet tanks, armored personnel characters, because because the Soviets had been supplying all the Arab countries, and they had these wars and the Israelis won the wars, and then they'd have the spoils of war. So they had all this shit land around. Beautiful, in addition to the only thing that Israel didn't have was the high mountains. But not every part of Afghanistan has high mountains is a desert part. So so
Alex Ferrari 52:27
it all worked, it all worked out. So I know I go into every every movie in your, in your filmography, we'll need at least 20 hours for this podcast at least 20 hours so because I mean Lionheart and sight and your your work on Cyborg and just working with the cannon boys in general, but I Lanier and all in the order and things like that. But you know, to kind of wrap this up I just wanted you had such an impact on john clouds career and john cloud had a major impact on your career. You guys are very, very simple symbiotic relationship. And you did How many did you finally do with jumpcloud? Like, directed for for directed, but you worked on it? From what I saw, like, polishes?
Sheldon Lettich 53:12
Yeah, maybe. Maybe it doesn't,
Alex Ferrari 53:16
right. I mean, jumpcloud always had you in his back pocket working with him in one way shape, or form as a as a co writer, or, or Polish or script doctor and things. So you know, what? How was that relationship? I mean, I because I've, it's very similar to you know, Scorsese and De Niro in a sense because they they both came up.
Sheldon Lettich 53:36
I mean, people have made that comparison.
Alex Ferrari 53:38
Constantly, obviously, constant louder. It's just, it's just like it but a little bit of slight bit different, less kicking less kicking on the Scorsese side. So, but but you've had this kind of really symbiotic relationship with a star and you were there literally at the very beginning when he was kicking guys on the street to get attention or close the kicking guys in the street. So how, how have you worked? How was it working with him on things like Lionheart and double impact and and you're working in. I mean, Lionheart was a studio project. I remember right, it was a Was it a universal?
Sheldon Lettich 54:14
No, it was Columbia,
Alex Ferrari 54:16
Columbia. I'm sorry. It was Columbia, right. But it would these are, you know, you you've left the Canon world and started playing in the big leagues when john clouds started going into I remember double him. I remember going to the theater to see Lionheart and double empowerment and I remember double impact perfectly. I was on a date. We were in the back row. We were supposed to we were doing other things that other than watching your film, but I always had an eye on the screen, sir. And, and it was it was amazing. So how was it working with him and it kind of growing together as two artists,
Unknown Speaker 54:46
right? Well, now we're getting into hours and hours of discussion.
Alex Ferrari 54:52
So let's let's wrap it into a 10 or 15 minute conversation. Because I literally I know you probably have to go to the bathroom. I know I do. So let's
Unknown Speaker 55:01
We could wrap it up, we'll come back to this another time. No, no, no.
Alex Ferrari 55:05
But I would love to, I would love to hear that I would love to hear the answer to that.
Unknown Speaker 55:10
Well, it changed with over over over the course of years, we have a much stronger relationship at first. And then we had people trying to get in between us once he started becoming really famous and popular. We had tried people trying to pry us apart. You know, people bad mouthing me, so that they can get their client working with john Claude, instead of me working with him all the time, which I'll always keep coming back, coming back to me because there was a certain comfort level that basically, and where that comfort level stemmed from was the fact that I always believed in him. From the moment I met him, I believe, this guy could be a movie star, but this guy can also be a good actor. So I was the first one to really take him seriously as an actor, and actually give him dialogue, to actually give him emotions to express and not just be a kicking and punching machine, but not just be a karate guy. Because at the time, when I first got to know him, people just saw him as a karate guy. You know, he was basically in, you know, Chuck Norris land, you know, Chuck Chuck's a pretty big star in his own right, but nobody would ever put Chuck Norris in something like want to hit hard. Okay, got to show his emotional, soft, caring emotional sides. Right. And, like, double impact would not have been a Chuck Norris. Movie.
Alex Ferrari 56:50
Unknown Speaker 56:52
legionnaire, right. legionnaire would not have been the chuck norris movie. And you know, Michael Dukakis was a bit more of a like a more sensitive. You were like an actor. He started out being an actor. But Michael dooba cough couldn't do the action stuff. He couldn't fight. He's not a fighter. So. So I saw that in john Claude and he's, he could see that I was trying to bring him out as an actor, not just a karate guy, not just okay, here's like two lines of dialogue, and now get out there and beat the shit out of 10 people. Okay, right. That's not how I was approaching it. And so we kind of bonded over that over the fact that I believed in him, and he believed in me. And like I said, along the way, people started getting jealous of this relationship. And were wondering why, well, you know, why did I have is here, and they couldn't get Azir Why was he listening to me and not listening to them? So that that hurt things to a degree, but I still managed to make to direct for movies with his and,
Alex Ferrari 58:03
and work with him when he doesn't write up stuff. And you guys, are you guys still friends? You guys still talk? Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he's, he's, I mean, when I, when I saw jcvd come out. I thought that was like, amazing on his part and the acting that he I mean, he was he, people were like, wait a minute, john clouds a really good actor. He is he's just never given the opportunity. Because other than, like, that's why I think that's why Lionheart holds so well, because it just, there's there's a there's a there's an image, it's not just a bunch of kicking in. Right, right. There's something there. That's real characters. I
Unknown Speaker 58:42
think Harrison page helped a lot to write a book, the last guy that was in it with them.
Alex Ferrari 58:47
Yes. He was wonderful. He was wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. But, but yeah, that was those those must have been great. Like, I mean, seriously, I know. I know. We could talk about Canon and all the other stuff that you've gone through. I mean, when's your when's your biography coming out, Sheldon. I mean, seriously,
Unknown Speaker 59:04
it's fun. You know, I'm just in the midst of starting to talk to people about that right now. Right one I've had a few friends have told me I should I should write a biography or autobiography. And I've only started taking it seriously. Just in the last few weeks. like just yesterday. Yeah. out that. There's a whole book on Sam Furstenberg. Get on Stanford. I know the name sounds familiar. But who is he? He just he directed at some ninja movies for Canon. He was basically sort of an in house right where are you saying that he never branched out to other studios other kinds of movies just ninja movies for for Canon Michael Dukakis movies. Oh, damn book about the guy. And I just, I just saw this yesterday, here. I don't know if you can see this, but it's like Yeah, stories from the trenches.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:03
Unknown Speaker 1:00:04
Wait a second. Somebody put out a whole book. I think it's I don't know if it's how much it's written. It might be more like a scrapbook.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:13
I'm telling you, you're sitting, you're sitting on a pile of gold, Sheldon. absolutely need to write your own biography. There's a lot of there's a lot of filmmakers out there the guy of what's his name? Is it called? They call the book true indie. He did Baba. Baba cohab. With with Bruce Campbell.
Sheldon Lettich 1:00:33
Right. The guy who directed he did a couple of like, with the fly.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:37
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Phantasm Phantasm. Yeah. And all of those. He wrote a whole book about his experiences in the indie world and doing those movies at UAB Jesus. Shall I look at your I mean, look what you've done in your in your career, you should absolutely do that. Right. Well,
Sheldon Lettich 1:00:53
I touched a lot. I think I touched a lot of bases. I wasn't just like the, you know, the, the cannon guy or the Van Damme guy. I work with Stallone I worked with, you know, with Chuck Norris. Joaquin Phoenix.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:07
I haven't really worked with I know I'm joking. I'm joking.
Sheldon Lettich 1:01:10
But yeah, oh, hey, that's just my biography. But, but I did work on some big movies and movies that are still people still love these movies. They still I get residuals. So I know people are watching this stuff.
Alex Ferrari 1:01:26
Right? So you get this little little check from Lionheart still in double impact. Still, someone's watching them.
Sheldon Lettich 1:01:32
They're not little checks, either. That's great. That's awesome. Yeah, it's every time I do an interview that gets that gets put on YouTube or wherever. I get a bump in residuals because people realize that I should, I should check out double impact. I've never seen it. And, and so it ends up helping, but we are the financial because who knows how much money I can make from work. I don't really think I'm not really thinking about that. Sure. People just telling me, you've got this interesting story to tell, why aren't you telling it? You're a
Alex Ferrari 1:02:12
storyteller? Why wouldn't you write it right? I even wrote a book about an experience of me making a movie for the mafia $20 million movie for the mafia when I was 26. And that I sold I'm selling that and it's been a best seller. So if I can write a book about a short year of my life as a filmmaker, I promise you, you could sell a book
Sheldon Lettich 1:02:31
about your career. Yeah, well, I've been reading a few biographies lately, just to just to get an idea of how these things are done. Oliver Stone wrote one which is really, really well written. And I'll take a look at that. I just ordered the SAM Furstenberg.
Alex Ferrari 1:02:52
Yes, Oliver was on the show talking about his book and and it's Yeah, I mean, that book I read that book. It's he's like you sitting there going listening and his career it stops at platoon. So that book stops at platoon. He's like, he still has an obscene amount of career left. He's like, I'm writing the second part next, bro. But it's so detailed about Scarface, and Conan, and all this. And you have those kinds of stories. But in your filmography of Bloodsport, and Rambo, and
Sheldon Lettich 1:03:21
I've got a year in Vietnam.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:23
There's a little bit of that as well. I mean, you are arguably one of the most interesting filmmakers I've ever spoken to. So it's been it's been, it's been really great. I want to ask you a few questions. I asked all my guests. I'd like rapid fire. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?
Sheldon Lettich 1:03:39
Make a movie?
Alex Ferrari 1:03:41
It's a lot cheaper now than it was when you started out?
Unknown Speaker 1:03:43
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it cost me firefight which we shot in 16 millimeter. cost me about $25,000 to make now we're talking $25,000 in the 80s. Okay, that would be a lot more now. And we shot on, you know, we shot on film, I blew it up to 35 millimeter, but it got me my first few directing gigs. What wasn't wasn't just with Menaka. That's how I ended up directing Lionheart also because john Claude wanted me to direct Lionheart. The producers and Neil Shaw was very nervous. They had no feature films that I've directed. We show him firefight. It's like 20 minutes long, 35 millimeter, you can watch it in the screening room. There was not like I gave people a VHS. Now we got to go in the screening room. There was a I had to deal with. Dino dilaurentis actually, is another interesting project that never happened was called Atlas, john Klein and an idea for a movie called Atlas, which is basically Spartacus in the future Spartacus in space. And so guess who was going to produce this Sam Raimi was going to produce this chap far who wrote dark man and hard target Hold the script with me. Your Rancho San Rafael de la rent this we're gonna be the executive producers. We had this thing set up at D G. Now how did I get that gig? Sam really liked my mother firefight movie. And he made Dino watch it in his 35 millimeter screening room. Dino saw the movie, he was impressed. So there you go make a movie that shows what what you're capable of, or it shows that you're just, you're capable of pulling something like this together, shooting it. It might not be something that's gonna win an Oscar. But it just shows that I actually did it. I got the people together. I got the location, I got the money. We shot this thing. It works. It tells a story. So that's, that's the best advice I could give anybody.
Alex Ferrari 1:05:52
What is the lesson that took the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life?
Unknown Speaker 1:05:59
Well, with in the film business, I learned to be assertive, and the night not take shit from people. Not when you're directing your first movie. I don't know if it happens to everybody, but it's your happen to me, everybody on the set. They've worked on lots of other movies, they think they know more than you. And they're either they're either downgrading your ideas saying that's not gonna work, you've got to do it this way. You've got to if you're going to shoot a if you've got to shoot if you're going to shoot a over the shoulder shot, and you have to have a complimentary over the shoulder shot to cut to not necessarily but they'll tell you that. So basically, I learned to just trust my, my own instincts a lot more. Rather than taking it you got to take some advice, of course, but you got to learn how to filter out the wheat from the chaff. You got to you got to learn which whose advice you should listen to and whose advice you should ignore. So that was an important lesson to learn.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:08
And three of your favorite films of all time.
Sheldon Lettich 1:07:14
Not an action movie among them. Okay. 2001 A Space Odyssey.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:20
Always a popular a popular choice on the show,
Sheldon Lettich 1:07:22
right? Fellini's eight and a half. Another one. Okay, another one. Yeah. And the Godfather one and two. And probably
Alex Ferrari 1:07:31
the top of all of the movies that get mentioned that from all my guests there. Oh, godfather generally, they generally lumping godfather one and two together.
Sheldon Lettich 1:07:39
Right? Oh, yeah. Yeah, you've got to lump the two of them. You can't say you can't just say to one because you've got to have the preface which is one.
Alex Ferrari 1:07:46
Right, right. Right. All fantastic choices. And obviously you look at those three movies and you get Bloodsport, obviously. I mean, you just think about I mean, it's obvious with three together and Lionheart Lionheart shows up I get it I understand. Show that it has been an absolute pleasure and honor talking to you it's been a thrill and again that little that little kid at the video store is is very grateful for this conversation. So thank you again so much.
Sheldon Lettich 1:08:14
I'm a little kid and I was at Quentin Tarantino was doing the exact same thing.
Alex Ferrari 1:08:19
Which makes our you knew that already. Yes, I did. But you know, that makes me sad. Because Because Because color because Kevin Smith was doing the same thing. And Quinn, Tarantino and my careers are all very vastly different. But we all have our paths to walk. Thank you, my friend. I appreciate it.
Sheldon Lettich 1:08:37
Okay, good talking to you, Alex. And we should do it again sometime if you want to. All right.
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