An Actor Becomes a Filmmaker
My career as a filmmaker began out of the American Film Market during the Reagan
era of the 1980s. For me this was like a gladiatorial arena of making low budget
independent films and learning how to swim with the sharks in this distribution world
of legalize gangsters. It was a wild and exciting time for all of us
who were young filmmakers with a future wide open. Most of us had no idea of this
wild and wonderful world we all found ourselves running in.
We were all young, with the swagger of young men, idealist without illusions, wide-eyed
kids drinking life like wine; rising money to shoot 35mm films from ideas we created!
Shooting films anywhere we could under the worst conditions and delivering a finished
product. We did this off credit cards or any investor who had the guts to back us.
We were getting the biggest bang for the buck on film as we could. We couldn’t
make these films fast enough as the video market was exploding all around us.
Like mad obsessed painters we were painting pictures on celluloid that moved, determined
to make our mark at this level of filmmaking, in order to create some form of immortality.
We were a Brotherhood of Warrior Filmmakers and tying to survive in this arena, for
one had to have the heart and soul of a warrior poet. As the years that followed
and more films were being made reality began to set in. The money was coming
in to the distributor we all had to fight them in order to get paid in order to take
control of our income stream. Then things slowly began to go sour, this suicidal
mentality most filmmakers catch as greed, jealousy and the advancement through assassinations
by bad mouthing each other begins to set in. The abandonment of partners
and friends to chase better deals and not caring if the previous investors get a
return on their investment. It was as if we were all living in the world of
“I Claudius”, you couldn’t trust the people you were in business with and the distributors
would exploit this division in order to destroy as many of these filmmakers as they
Film investors are like your own private bank, they allow you the privilege to go
out there and play Andy Hardy with a movie camera. As an entrepreneur and filmmaker
you must protect your investors no matter what the cost. There were hundreds
of us filmmakers making films in that twenty-year run and most if not all burned
all their investors. Then one day, the money just dried up and it all ended. Today
there are only a handful of us left, scared, bloodied but still determined never
to quit, never sell out to burn your investors or allow the system to destroy you.
The last ten years have been difficult during and after the Bush era. I find myself
in a whole different world of film and politics, with its own set of rules and people
decide if you work or eat base upon the fact if you support George Bush, conservative
values or you’re against them. For every action there is an equal and opposite
reaction and we conservatives find ways to survive in this land of the intolerant.
By the summer if 1986, I was alone, just as I was when I started out but I felt as
free as Papillion on that sack of coconuts heading out to sea. Now, I had lots
of ideas to make into feature films. I made a promise to myself that I would
never be in partnership with another filmmaker ever again. I would seek out
an entrepreneur who I would make an equal partner in my film company. He would handle
the business side of things while I handle the production side. Where do you
find a guy that is honest, loyal, has the business experience, doesn’t know the meaning
of giving up and will work with you no matter what to achieve a common goal, while
having fun in the process!
First, I needed to find an entertainment attorney, who would put together a full
blown limited partnership, allow me unlimited access to him, phone calls and letters.
I needed to find this person who would to do all this for free because I had no money.
Everyone thought I was out of my mind and everyone told me this was impossible attorneys
don’t work for free, even for their mothers. So I took out the Los Angeles
phone book and I started to call attorneys all over LA telling them my story.
It took me a few days of calling all day long but I found a guy that was very interested
in my deal. He knew the owners of the distributor that I had made money for.
He made some inquires and I was in his office making a deal. He was to provide all
this work for free and I was to teach him how to make low budget films.
The project I was about to embark one was a major production more money that I had
ever raise in the past. It was my intention that this film was to be my ticket
out of the American Film Market level of filmmaking and to get a deal with a major
I hired a writer name Larry Duhart to write the first few drafts. This script was
called FORGOTTEN HEROES. I had just seen Platoon that summer and I felt this
was the final straw for me, as American and a filmmaker to sit in a theater and watch
Oliver Stone spit on a generation of Vietnam Veterans. I felt I had to do something.
This had been going on since John Wayne’s Green Beret. Once the Duke came out
with his film the entire establishment of malcontents in the pop culture attack him
and never let up until the day he died. Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon and
started to make every film that came out of Hollywood attacking the Vietnam fighting
soldier. All through the 70s and 80s film after film they portrayed these heroes
are rapist, murderers, psychos, drunks, losers, this nation didn’t even treat the
Confederate soldiers to the extent the Vietnam Veterans were treated in the media.
After all these years, I have yet to meet a Vietnam Vet that likes Platoon or Oliver
I decided to make a film to honor and pay tribute to my generation who went into
that meat grinder while the malcontents that crawled out of the mud in Woodstock
stayed home and gave aid and comfort to the enemies of liberty.
I needed to find someone who had clients and could raise venture capital for this
project. My projected budget was probably the combine salaries of the three leads
in Platoon. I have always felt that God has carried me throughout this
entire odyssey like that famous poem ‘Footprints’ talks about.
In the fall of 1986 through another writer friend of mine Bud Fleisher who I wanted
to do a final rewrite and polish on my script, had introduced me to the only guy
on this entire planet to give Jack Marino the break I was looking for.
I met John R. Lebert; he was exactly the kind of entrepreneur I was looking for.
We had a lot in common in our background. He was a Navy veteran during the Cuban
Missile era. He loved the title FORGOTTEN HEROES and the story. He loved that
fact the film had no F-bombs in it and he was impress with my first two films and
how I had protected all my investors and recouped their original investment before
I took any funds for myself.
John comes from Utica NY and he is an old movie buff. John isn’t afraid to
take risk; I never met a guy who has no fear about anything he gets involved in.
Through the years he has given me a real education of being in business in the real
world out there. He is a self-made successful businessman and he is one of
the most generous guys I ever met. Besides, when he says he is going to do
something he does it and nothing can stop it, change it or alter it. I came to him
to find a business partner and I ended up with the older brother I never had.
What a complete new world I found myself in, working with a partner who sole interest
was to allow me to succeed or fail. There was none of the egos or problems
that I had experienced in the past. John was going to be there to act as a
defensive line backer and make sure that we were both a success.
I gave John a copy of the limited partnership that my attorney had done. John
felt it just didn’t fit exactly what he had in mind for his and my investors.
So he began to re-write this partnership so it would fit the project like a glove.
When my attorney read it, he thought it was the best partnership he had ever seen
and he kept a copy for himself. Which I am sure became his boilerplate partnership.
John had prestige offices on mid Wilshire where we would always meet to discuss our
plans or have lunch downstairs in the building restaurant. The fun part for me was
when John told me to go find an office put the name of the company out there and
get the phones hooked up. We were going to be in business and one has to look
as if you are in business. That was July of 1987 and I had my first legit production
company in an office. The days of making films out of our apartments were now
Marino Film Group, Inc’s office was in Toluca Lake and it was on the property of
an older couple on the side of their home. In 1941 the owner have purchase
three adjoining dressing rooms from the old Jesse Lasky Players Studio. These
were old silent movie star dressing rooms that were move and set on the foundation
there. One can only imagine if Valentino or any of those great films
stars ever used these bungalows. They all had a bedroom, bathroom, living
room and kitchen. The ironic thing about this place was that in 1982 I worked
in these exact buildings when a video-shipping company rented it. The shipping room
where I worked, I would use their phone to raise the funding for my first film KILLZONE.
Now, that very room was going to be the editing room for the Marino Film Group’s
production of FORGOTTEN HEROES. For the next seven years I rented that place. I use
that old phone and when I left, I asked if I could have that phone that I raise my
first $100,000 on.
From July of 1988 until the first day for shooting Sept 10, 1988 I was handling all
pre-production all by myself. We only had enough funds for the office and myself.
So I had to do it all. I locked down all the locations, rent all the equipment,
find all the uniforms, weapons, film stock and then hire the crew and finally cast
the film all by myself. I was working from 6am until midnight or later.
I’d go home catnap, wake up as if I had sleep for 10 hours. I would head back
to my office and blink my eyes and that day would be over, this went on until the
first day of the shoot. I was in my element and I loved it, every minute
of it. I only put a small production notice in the Variety and never promoted
the film or me. I wanted to keep a low profile out there to keep all negativity
away from this production. Shakespeare said it best. "O, beware, my lord,
of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds
on. There were a lot of green-eye monsters out there.
I hire my Director of Photography/cameraman his name is Peter Wolf. Peter and
I have known each other since I made KILLONE. Peter is profoundly deaf and
he can’t talk. I had to learn to use sign language in order to talk to Peter.
His girlfriend at the time Margaret Sych, who later went on to marry Peter was brought
on board to be my interpreter. Peter is a dear friend, one who’s opinion I
trust and who’s talent I admire. The cast and crew must have thought me insane
to hire a deaf/mute DP on my very first directing effort. I am sure that Peter
and I looked like Harpo and Chico out there when we were discussing a shot.
This was my very first time as a director. I never went to film school nor
did I read books on directing. I would read biographies of directors; actors
and I spent my life in a movie theater. I didn’t have any working knowledge
of cameras, lens, lighting, editing, and I didn’t have a shot list because at that
time I didn’t know what one was. I always wondered why my AD’s look at me as
if I was insane, but the first time I heard the term ‘shot list’ was when I was in
my editing room with my editor. He asked me for it and I said, “What’s a shot list?”
He couldn’t believe I had shot my first film without a shot list. The thing was that
it was all in my minds eye; I had lived with this story and idea for years.
I hire an editor Alan C. Marks A.C.E who was retired from editing and he walked into
my office and told me, ‘I hear you need an editor and I am tired of playing golf”
I told him I would love to have him and his title on my film, but I didn’t have in
my budget the rate that he would normally get. He told me to call him once
I wrapped the shoot.
I have always tried to hire people that I have worked with in the past. My
plan is to have my own stock players within my production company; the way John Ford
and Orson Wells had as well as a lot of other great directors who had some longevity.
I did all the casting myself since I had no funds to hire a casting director.
My first and only choice for the lead character of General Zelenkov was veteran character
William Smith. Bill had played in hundreds of films and TV shows. He
was known all over the world as a great actor and the best villain in Hollywood.
I wanted Bill to play against type. When I gave him the script he went home
and read it three times and call me up and said, ‘I’ll do this role for free’ I have
never played a character like this and you made him a Russian to boot. He was
so moved by some of the dialogue in the script. When we have finished the film
he thanked me and said ‘I was the only director that had ever written a script with
him in mind” he went on to say that if a major Studio was to make this film they
would have cast Christopher Plumber. I told him, “that I came up with this
entire story so I could work with Joe Riley who I admired since I was a kid watching
Laredo.” Bill has the heart of a poet; he is a gentle giant of a guy and the
great actor to work with. I always told him that he help me become a better
director. He was great with all the other actors too; just to hear some of
his stories of the films and people he has worked with and known all his life was
The rest of the cast was all unknown actors who had worked in a few low budget films.
Two of the actors had been in a few studio films with a substantial part. Joel
Weiss who plays ‘Leo Rossetti’ had started in films as one of the gang leaders in
the film THE WARRIORS. Bob Orwig who plays ‘Cowboy’ had played Gardner in Platoon;
he is the FNG who get’s killed on the night of the first ambush.
I will say that I was really pleased with my cast of actors, for me they all looked
the part and I made sure that none of them would play a stereotype. I wanted
them to be themselves as if they were really in on this mission. I didn’t want
Rambo’s out there; I was looking for the kids next door who find themselves in unpredictable
sitituations. This would allow me to capture the comaradiere and their conviction
to each other. Which you never saw coming out of Hollywood. My goal was
to create a look and feel as best as I could to show that bond between men in combat
that only a veteran sitting in a theater could relate too.
From July to September I had to put most of this together alone. In August
I was allowed to hire my UPM who was a graduate from Columbia Film School.
He helped take a lot of the workload off my shoulders, so I could concentrate on
being a producer/director. He hires the rest of the crew that I haven’t filled
with people that I had worked with before. During the shoot I had around 106
people on payroll for a six-week shoot. A lot of my friends on the crew like
Deirdre Flynn who my wardrobe mistress; she was the oldest daughter of screen legend
Errol Flynn. Two of my actors, who I had, know since college days and
one since my first film had invested in the film while we were shooting. I was always
proud of the fact that these guys I knew for years always believed in me and when
they were part of this massive shoot and they were seeing all the production value
and the fun we were all having, they all decided to invest in the project.
There were a couple of friends that flew out from Everett on their own expense to
work on the film for free for a couple of weeks. I was in Boy Scouts as a kid
and my best friend at the time was Ralph Brogna, he came out to shoot video
of behind the scenes so we could have a ‘making of’ documentary. The
thing with Ralph was that he was so excited for me and that I had asked him to come
out and work on a Hollywood film, that he had paid to have 300 Forgotten Heroes hats
made for everyone in the cast and crew. At the same time Ralph’s cousin John
Brogna was playing Major Leary in the film and they hadn’t seen each other in many
My parents came out to see their son make a real Hollywood film. I put my Dad to
work as one of the still photographers on the shoot for three weeks.
My father had no idea what he was watching as this mass confusing was coming together.
We had long days and nights shooting and he was taking candid shots of behind the
scenes. The funny thing about having the man who sparked the interest
in me to get into films and have him watch me direct this war movie was a dream come
true for both of us.
A few years later in 1990 at the Boston Film Festival we had a midnight screening
in downtown Boston. My Dad was sitting in the theater off to the side all alone
to watch his son’s film that he had no idea how it was going to come out. My
Mother was with her sisters and sister in laws at the time and she was a nervous
wreck hoping that it would be a ‘real’ movie.
I had named my company to honor my father and his father so he would one day sit
in a darken theater and see his name Marino Film Group, Inc fade in as the first
credit. After the festival was over and I was leaving Boston to go back to
Los Angeles, he pulled me aside and I will never forget this, ‘ I don’t care
how many films you ever make or how famous you might become or if you even win an
Oscar. I will never be as proud of you as I was the night I saw Forgotten Heroes.”
This is one of a few reasons why I never give up on this film.
By mid August time was passing me by so fast and you realize just how much we haven’t
locked down. John had called me to his office and you must remember at this
point in our business relationship we really don’t know each other and how we would
both react under extreme pressure if this project begins to unravel.
At this time we only had enough money to shoot maybe four of the six weeks and that
is if everything goes perfect. Anyone that has worked on a film knows that
there is only one law and that is Murphy’s Law. In the meantime I had just
locked down the location to the Newhall Ranch up in Valencia. This was a huge
film location where they had shot many studio films, such as The Twilight Zone, China
Beach, HBO Vietnam War stories and 84 Charlie Mopic. Forgotten Heroes was to
be the last production to shoot on that location. The ink on my contract wasn’t
even dried when I get a call for me to move my entire shoot up three weeks and if
I did this I would get the locating for free. The TV show Tour of Duty wanted
the entire place and they couldn’t throw me off.
This cause me two big problems that most first time directors never encounter.
In those three weeks we were expecting more investment checks so we could shoot the
film, get it in the can and begin to edit the picture. I was planning on using
these three weeks to have a few readings with my actors and rehearsals. A decision
had to be made by John and I and we spent almost 20 hours in his office going over
each minute and cost of the shoot to see if I could get all the coverage we needed
to finish the picture. I was being forced to move my entire production up three
weeks and people were flying out in three weeks to be in the film. I had to
reorganized the entire shooting schedule that took me two months to create I had
to redesign it in 24 hours.
John was convinced that if I weren’t shooting the new start date, this film would
never happen. This is when I learned and witness what real commitment was.
We are both responsible for a lot of investment money and we needed more in order
to complete this project. There wasn’t any room for mistakes or this all could
come crashing down. Most people would have cancelled the shoot, but not
John Lebert; he has this love of great impossible challenges since his whole life
has been made up of these experiences. So he told me, “lets make a movie, Jack”
we don’t worry about bridges we can’t see yet”. So I was never able to
even sit down with my actors to even hear their inflection until I was rolling film.
At the same time John had been doing business with a gentleman who was from England.
He title the “Prince De La Pallavicini from the House of Budapest and a retired British
General who can trace his bloodline to Henry the II Mr. John Graham was
to be brought in to this production because it was his families’ trust that funded
most of all the films that came out of EMI, Janis and Rank. He was a big player
in feature films in the 50s to 70s. His family funded the Lion In Winter, Romeo
& Juliet, all the Sergio Leone westerns, Fellini Films now he was going to help
this first time director from Everett Mass.