Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tell Me A Question: Kirk Shaw and Pound of Flesh

The highest compliment Dammaged Goods can pay a person is to say that they're a Doer. Not talking about it, criticizing it from afar or wishing for something to happen. But to do something about it. Kirk Shaw is a Doer. He's also a producer. With over 200 credits to his name over television and film, it's easy to see the man likes to stay busy. His most recent film is the Jean-Claude Van Damme action-thriller, Pound of Flesh. When Deacon (JCVD) attempts to help a woman in distress, he wakes up the next day missing his kidney and sets out for revenge utilizing his fists, feet, guns and a bible. I recently had the chance to chat with Mr. Shaw as he prepares for the world premiere taking place on Thursday, May 6th at The Grove in Los Angeles before Pound of Flesh hits the market on Friday the 15th. Based in Canada, Shaw has been working in the entertainment industry for over 30 years. As a movie loving child, Shaw originally wanted to be a writer but realized he was better at business. Plus, he enjoys editing other people's scripts more than writing them himself. As his career evolved, Shaw's financial savvy led to Insight Film Studios, Canada's largest independent production house. These days, Shaw is heading up Odyssey Media and more interested in packaging stars with scripts to secure financing in an ever changing marketplace.

For Pound of Flesh, the script by Joshua James caught his eye years ago. Shaw liked the story, heart and action of it and spent two years acquiring the rights. During that time, Shaw embarked on a mission to meet Jean-Claude Van Damme, who in recent years has become somewhat reclusive and elusive as he lives in Hong Kong and doesn't do many movies. Shaw had already worked with the action hero likes of Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes but thought Van Damme would bring an extra dimension to the role of Deacon. More so than any actor of that era and genre, Jean-Claude Van Damme has always wanted to be an "actor" over an action star. His blend of sensitivity and honesty mixed with a powerful physical grace was displayed in darker performances in films like In Hell, Wake of Death, Until Death, The Expendables II and the mockumentary JCVD. Shaw doesn't think Van Damme gets enough credit for his range of emotion and I wholeheartedly agree.

After burning out on the Hollywood lifestyle and feeling blacklisted, Van Damme seems slow to trust new would be collaborators. Shaw flew to Hong Kong and Belgium just to meet the man, investing and building their relationship. Now friends with a level of trust, Shaw has a great appreciation of Van Damme's character and personality, citing how much JCVD gives to everyone he meets. Whether it's a crew member or a fan; Van Damme takes the time to talk, pose for photos and sends them off with his blessing. Van Damme's agents at Gersh also reacted to the Pound of Flesh script and thought it would be an ideal leading role for their client. After years of cameos, villainous turns and supporting parts, Pound of Flesh sees Van Damme bleeding emotion as well as giving audiences plenty of ass kicking. Hong Kong based producer Mike Leeder introduced Shaw to martial artist and choreographer John Salvitti to give PoF a raw, realistic viciousness while utilizing Van Damme's trademark karate kicks.

Shooting took place in mainland China, partially because of the script and partially because of Shaw's never ending quest to stay relevant. Always hearing about China being the next big market with resources aplenty, the producer did his homework and partnered up with Henry Luk to find out if all the chatter was true. Under director Ernie Barbarash, PoF shot for 36 days and resulted in a positive experience with the producer and director eager to return. The film is also receiving a solid theatrical release in China on 3,000 screens. This is Barbarash's 3rd time out with Jean-Claude and I asked what Shaw saw in him as a director. Shaw described Barbarash as a man you could throw any problem at and he would never become dejected or negative, always remaining positive and able to think on his feet creatively to finish the day.

It sounds like Shaw is very proud of the film and it could mark the start of a new era in his already impressive career. In the last year alone he's shot films in Cuba, Romania, Bulgaria, China, Brazil, Australia, Canada and the United States. Shaw is eager to learn the economics of regions, maximize budgets and show off the best parts of the countries to bring in business and expose them to the world. Speaking with Shaw, it was evident he was a very smart man who has had great success in his career yet never came off with arrogance or an attitude. His quest to reach the top and always be learning was insightful, inspiring and pretty funny when he mentioned seeing dollar signs anytime he watched a movie. What it costs for the actors, location, action, extras...the real economics of filmmaking. The knowledge off the top of his head was impressive as he spoke about wanting to make a film in South Korea with local actors in the Korean tongue as over half the films released there are S.K. productions. In India something like 94% of films are domestic versus imported so it's important to keep an eye on emerging markets and experiment.

If everything goes well with Pound of Flesh, Shaw would love to do more modest budgeted action movies with strong casts as the international brands of the Lundgrens, Seagals and Van Dammes still carry plenty of weight in the market. It's like the old saying goes, a joke can play differently in any given country but a punch to the face is still a punch to the face in any language. Many thanks to Mr. Shaw for taking the time to speak with me and to Popular Press Media Group for making the inroads. Check back soon for my chat with Pound of Flesh director Ernie Barbarash.

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