On working with John T. Woods on Down and Dangerous – a film by sabi

Rarely on independent films do producers get to work with actors that bring an immense amount of respect, trust, heart, faith and belief in the project that you are producing from the beginning — and it is even harder to find an actor whose professionalism and enthusiasm rubs off on each member of the cast and crew throughout the life of the production experience. On Down and Dangerous – a film by sabi, I had the opportunity to work on a 39 day production at Sabi Company with John T. Woods as Paul Boxer. Directed by Zak Forsman, the tagline of the film reads “A smuggler bleeds like anyone else. He just gets more chances to prove it.” So too was the case with production on this film, and a few times specifically: John’s blood.


This was the most ambitious micro-budget project I’ve produced to date. The first of many challenges was breaking down the script and creating a production schedule for every scene in the project in such a way that John’s experience would be consistent. Although John made himself completely available for the film (often turning down other projects to stay open for ours) several scheduling conflicts with other actors prevented us from shooting in order, as we’ve done for the most part in the past. Both Zak and John were able to go with this, and to be prepared enough to keep the character arc consistent despite the complex shooting schedule. This was a task in itself — but again, John’s enthusiasm at the start of each day set the trend despite the challenges and obstacles of our schedule. We also made sure to accommodate John with the best food and rooms at each location possible because his emotional journey along with the director’s would be hard and would require attention. Every day was different and we were shooting in dozens of locations, and John had his finger on the pulse of the mood and atmosphere of the set — which was instrumental in shaping the experience to the best of my ability for all of the cast and crew over the course of the immense schedule.


On any project be it a studio film or an independent endeavor – you want your actors to give 100% every day of the week – and you want them to feel safe in doing so. You want to create an atmosphere of full trust in an effort to foster a creative environment where real magic can happen. As a producer, you have the director as the quarterback and you have your team to make it happen — and you want to coach the project in a way that it can quickly function on it’s feet and move along with it’s own inertia. It’s not unlike football in that it takes collaboration and patience in the first few weeks — but when it takes hold, it’s because of the collective effort and push & it can move on its own with relative ease. With Down and Dangerous, John came at this film full tilt — prepared and ready to think on his feet. This helped to quickly create a strong creative environment that was charged with energy and investment for all. Often times a producer wishes for a) him/herself b) the A.D. and c) the director to provide a triangle of investment in which the production experience of the film can be successful. But in the case of Down and Dangerous, John T. Woods gave us a perfect square. If the production of this ambitious film was a profound success, than it is in no small part because of John’s relentless commitment to this film.

THE BLOOD This is an action film, and John performed all of his own stunts without hesitation. It was in these instances in particular that his collaboration with director Zak Forsman was often something to behold (and again, the quarterback-running back analogy is fitting). There was an extremely dangerous fight scene on several sections of a roof-top which brought with it an added challenge of a ‘hard-out’ time at the location. With John and Ross Marquand and Zak at the helm, we were able to shoot the fight scene and all the stunts in a day (what would take a typical production a week). Additionally, John was able to watch his performance between takes, huddle with Zak on where to go – and make adjustments on the fly. Often you hear directors talk of a short-hand with actors — what we witnessed was more akin to telepathy. One thing was certain, if there was going to be a stunt, John was going to go for it 150% — and be prepared to bleed like anyone else. If he was to run up the stairs, he would run as if his life depended on it. If he was to fight off guns with his bare hands, he would risk scraped knuckles, cuts, and bloody fingers – like the smuggler character he plays. I have at least a dozen new grey hairs from the instances on this set my heart stopped (while trying to protect John during a stunt). The best analogy I can offer in watching John bounce back from a jaw-dropping stunt (or likewise an emotional scene) is: it’s like watching old films of Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears. It’s the most elegant analogy I can think of. No one else but these two guys can take a smash hit in the face, take the bloody knuckles from a bad scrape, or play the whole game on a broken bone – and bounce back from it like nothing happened. There was one particular fight scene where John fends off two thugs at once — in between takes we were wiping real blood off floors and I was bandaging scraped hands and limbs and sending the actors back in to the Game. It was because of John the everyone went for it. At some point you have to step back, try to get the pad under him to break the fall, and just pray he makes it every time — because you can’t stop him.

NO REGRETS John gave everything for this film – and he told me on more than one occasion that he just doesn’t want to look back on a scene next year and think: I should have given more. I should have went for it. He will definitely not suffer from that feeling after watching his work on Down and Dangerous. As the lead actor of our 4th feature film, I would confidently say that John T. Woods was born to do this. He is a producer’s dream actor. He sets the bar for the rest of the talent, and he is a consummate professional — watching him on set invited new comers that have not worked with Sabi before to treat this small production like it’s this year’s Cannes contender. His inner drive and his passion for Sabi, and his commitment to this film made every single day on this set a pleasure. I know it wasn’t easy, but like Sweetness, John made it look that way. If you are a producer, director, or casting director and you are thinking about bringing in John T. Woods for a starring role for your project, let the words above convince you to give him a call. And be sure to see what I’m talking about when Down and Dangerous is released.

Kevin K. Shah from producer’s journal

Note: Because John’s sacrifices and his commitment to Sabi, and because he was instrumental in the making of this picture (as described above) as well as the funding of it via our kickstarter campaign; Zak and I brought on John T. Woods as an executive producer of our film mid-way through production. It is a well deserved credit that extends far beyond star, and it is reflective of how we feel about his continued contributions to this project.

THE ART OF FAN-RAISING: Treating Fans Like Donors By Kevin K. Shah

Become well-versed in your field in terms of information, publications and resources that would be useful to the prospective Fan – and share.

Cut out all short-term thinking including the hard-sell approach. Instead, focus on developing a relationship with the Fan: (e.g. learning about them without asking for anything initially).

Change “Marketing” tactics to “Communication” concepts and make this communication with Fans a dialogue rather than a monologue. No one likes being sold to, and there’s no better way to approach our Fans.

Be unique in your proposition. They’ve heard almost everything before. What is unique about your idea? Highlight it and go from there.

Give Fans genuinely interesting and worthwhile opportunities. Make them active participants. Invite them to see you work, to be more than just ‘participants’ of your cause.

Invite Fans to ask questions and make it easy for them submit. A dissatisfied customer that doesn’t complain to you — will tell several others his thoughts about you and will no longer be a Fan. Go to great lengths to solicit feedback.

Focus on the major motivations of Fans and above all — give Fans choice in what they buy based on these motivations.

Eight primary reasons by why Fans GIVE to you. To be recognized and valued for my contribution. To feel good about giving. To know how my money will be used and what difference it will make. Desire to be inspired. To feel involved, a part of something. To be impressed so I can tell others, recruit them to support. To be asked for my opinion. Desire to know you are listening to me.

Make sure Fan emails are addressed to an actual person — and not a mass email list or a general greeting. Yes, it takes time. Always write personal thank you’s to all Fans/buyers.

CRM – Customer Relations Management. What is your strategy?

3 devastating words for Fans or prospective buyers: Changed My Mind. What are you doing to prevent this (you can’t always prevent it)?

Have “packages/offerings” available for “Regularly Giving” Fans, “High-Value Fans”, and ‘Legacy’ products — for ‘lifetime fans’ that want to contribute more over time.

Make sure that any ‘copy’ you write seeking anything — is emotional. Hearken back to a memory, make it poetic and accessible, use descriptive words that stick – and make it personal.

Step into the shoes of the Fan is perhaps the most important thing we can do on a daily basis. Take this mental shift and see what you’re thinking from a Fan’s perspective.

3 sentences of wisdom: a. When a customer buys a hammer & nail – what he really wants could be to hang a picture. What is the greater need? b. It doesn’t matter what you sell – the only thing that matters is what Fans want to buy. c. People don’t read advertisements, they read what interests them. Sometimes, this includes an ad.

Building a Fan community is about meeting needs and interacting — and not about celebrating achievements. Always state any achievements with a continued need. And the best time to recognize and state a need: while celebrating an achievement.

If you have a proposition you want to make then be as direct and impacting as possible: Fund an Art Film: $20.00.

The story you have to tell best — and the one to ‘practice’ until perfect — is the pitch/story of your organization’s core mission — why it was created and what it does.

If you can become facilitators of your supporter’s relationships to each other — you will survive. Find a way to connect everyone that is your Fan — and you will grow.

On average, people are exposed to a thousand promotional messages or advertisements a day. Don’t be promotional, be pertinent.

There are 3 R’s in Loyalty: Retention, Repeat Business, Referrals.

Let Fans know you received their information / money in a nice thank-you to their name shortly after. Also assure their gift (if a donation) will be used for the specific purpose they requested or tell them what you will do with their gift. Show progress.

Smile and Dial when picking up the phone with a Fan. Always.

Understanding Fans: Understand their Passion and their Inspiration. Seek first to understand — then be understood. Open hearts, open minds, and then if appropriate ask them to open their checkbooks. First and foremost, relationships should be lifelong and develop over time.

Footnote: Credit is due. A great deal of the above was inspired by what I was reading in Ken Burnett’s book “The Zen of Fundraising” which is an excellent book for anyone wishing to venture into fundraising (whether it’s for a feature film or a non-profit). It’s a very simple and quick read, and as I was devouring it, I discovered that in certain areas Ken’s keen advice on how manage relationships with donors could just as easily apply to fans of Independent Filmmakers. With this in mind I scribbled down notes in the margins as I was reading. A great deal of this list was born out of Ken’s book filtered through the considerations we’re currently having as we re-design the web experience for The Sabi Company (with our fans in mind.) Buy Ken’s book:

Sabi Pictures Facebook Fans: Thank You!

We recently received this FB message to Sabi from Saatha, a very young and talented fan of ours based in Bangkok, Thailand. Saatha is an amazing artist and animator, and he’s having to put on hold several of his creative endeavors for his mandatory service in the Thai national army. However, he’s going to let us know when he’s out and we hope to collaborate with Saatha in the near future. If you have a moment, check out some of his work. An amazingly gifted artist at such an early age. Hope the Army treats him well.


Here was his message to Sabi on Facebook. I don’t know how he found us, but every time a fan like Saatha that reached out to us like this — it really fills the well. We’re grateful to know each one of you is out there pursuing your own dreams and never get tired of hearing it. Here’s what he wrote:

dear Sabi

Hi kevin am a young artist in bangkok (Thailand) I just watching boss of me.

but that not a first movie of sabi I have seen I know your film only can watch on youtube six month ago. 
I can tell ‘ I love your film “ and love the way your like.

I not a rich man too but I have dream like sabi film this message is just some inspiration (if you feel like that) to your company.

Do you know your film makes me want to be a Director from young man in poverty country.

If you make movie from low budget but you not low I think you’re not the dead tree.

:D Sattha Saengton bankok Thailand.

The last line refers to an iconic moment from our web series Boss of Me where Bret Donovan is commenting on the Sabi Pictures logo, and suggests that we find something better than a dead tree. Saatha, like all of us, disagree with Bret…


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