The Last Sentinel (2007)
A bonus today! I recently received a surprise email from famed martial arts action star Don "The Dragon" Wilson, expressing his love of MMT and furry interns. After some chatting about bad movies and worse cats, Don graciously volunteered his "production diary" from his last movie, 2007's The Last Sentinel, complete with photos from his own personal collection. Not shy about guest reviews, I immediately agreed.
So, without further ado, here is Don's diary...
June 7, 2006: So, two weeks ago I get this script in the mail. It's about a last surviving genetically-altered soldier in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles overrun by Cyborgs who are killing off all the humans. Pretty derivative, yes, but with a three million dollar budget, it can't be that bad, right? So, I signed the contract because, frankly, I need the money. I haven't been working much lately, and my wife's been bringing in more as a make-up girl, which is rough on my ego. The producers said they had an agreement with the Sci-Fi Channel so it's going to be on cable TV sometime next season, which is fine, whatever.
June 7, 2006: So this morning I show up at the first location shoot at an old junky abandoned gasoline plant in Ojai up in Ventura County. I'm a few hours late because they gave me bad directions, an inauspicious start, but I'm pumped and raring to go. I haven't shot a movie since '05 and I've been getting fat and lazy.
June 7, 2006: Wow, lots of guys in camo walking around here, and lots of guns. Tons of guns, actually, all the real thing but firing blanks, you could raise an army with all these guns. Wardrobe just got me set up, and I gotta say that my outfit looks pretty dorky, a brown cape and bulky knee pads over camo BDUs. They're also making me wear this wide headband like I'm fucking Geronimo. I know I'm darker than your average white guy, but they do know I'm not an Indian, right?
June 7, 2006: First meeting with director Jesse Johnson and I'm not exactly filled with confidence. He looks like a douchebag fratboy, how old is this kid? I heard he's a former stuntman turned action movie director, though, so who knows, maybe he'll make it work.
The director, seriously.
June 8, 2006: Filmed a scene in a locker room with a bunch of guys, the producer said we were supposed to be in a helicopter, but the chainlink gate and the combination lockers kinda ruined it for me. We all mumble our lines as the crew shakes the camera and rain sparks down on us. Oh shit, I'm getting a bad feeling about all this, like I made a mistake signing up. A guy told me the director's first choice was Lundgren, but he turned him down flat. Maybe I should have read the script better.
June 8, 2006: Filmed some flashback scenes at the Ojai plant today. Me and a bunch of other soldiers had this big gun battle against some random Arab-looking guys. There was supposed to be a trench dug as a defensive line, but the contractor didn't show up so the crew had to dig it themselves. They even conned some of the actors to help shovel it out. Not me, brother. Once we got it running, the battle was just crazyshit. So many explosions and so much gunfire, it was so damn loud. I didn't really even know what I was supposed to be doing, none of us did, the director just told us to shoot "over there" a lot. They gave us these dorky bicycle helmets to wear, but since it's summer in California, it just got too hot to wear them so most of us just took them off. I was sweating like a hog anyway, all that body armor and webbing was impossible to move around in. Took a two-hour shower later.
Had us all wear safety glasses, nice.
June 9, 2006: Filmed another flashback battle scene, this one of my squad's battle against the Cyborgs, probably splice it in somewhere later in the movie. The Cyborgs wear these black leather suits with full masks, must have been hellaciously hot inside those. We had to keep stopping the action to move stuntmen around, they only have like ten total guys and they all play both the soldiers and the Cyborgs. This is such a cheapass production. They only have a small area of the plant to film in, just the bottom floor of some old office and a few outbuildings, so they keep having to stop everything to move the camera rigs around so it looks like we're using more.
I hope I'm making more than these guys.
June 9, 2006: Those guns are firing real blanks and I got a couple hot brass casings down my shirt today, burned like all fuck. Thinking about suing. This afternoon I talked to some of the locals that came down to visit the set, this whole hillside is a residential area now. They're pissed that we've been blowing shit up for days now, it's been freaking them out.
We even had a minigun, superass loud.
June 9, 2006: Did I mention that my costar is a goddamned talking rifle? Seriously. I remember all this from the script, but I guess I didn't realize how hard it would be to interact with a gun. They just took a M16 and piled on all these tubes and flashlights and scopes and what I think is an air pump off a fish tank, looks totally retarded. They said the gun's lines will be read by someone named Dawnn Lewis from something called A Different World, but I don't know what they're talking about.
June 10, 2006: Filmed some more background stuff today. An old friend of mine, Keith David, showed up to do his one scene, was literally in and out in under an hour, didn't even get a chance to talk to him. Filmed some classroom stuff, I think they're setting up that we are super-soldiers with juiced DNA or something. I didn't have a lot of scenes here, I mainly just stood around in the background a lot. The director kept asking me for reaction shots, "look surprised" or "look shocked", that sort of stuff. Flippin' waste of a morning.
Brought these desks in from some local school on summer break.
June 10, 2006: Saw some 13-year old kid around the set this afternoon. I think he's supposed to be me as a child in some other flashback scene. Did some sparring with him between takes, he's got serious skills. I was just playing around but he got a boot inside on me a couple of times, knocked the wind out of me once. He told me he was the Martial Arts World Champion in his age class when he was seven. Watch this kid, he'll be an A-list kung fu star one day if he can stay away from the hookers and blow. BooBoo Stewart is his name, and I'm serious, keep an eye on him, pure meteor.
June 12, 2006: After a day off we're filming down in LA at a Universal backlot. I had to take a cab down into the city, either that or hitch a ride in the camera truck, cheap bastards. On the studio lot, which was the New York City Lot, by the way, they just dumped over some trash cans and scattered a couple of beat up cars around. Is this what a post-apocalyptic city really looks like? I did Future Kick, like, fifteen years ago, it was PA, but I don't remember any trash cans in that one. Universal only gave us the weekend to film here so we had to move quick. The director actually asked me to help clean up the trash afterwards, no fucking joke.
Here I am, just walking around NYC/LA.
June 12, 2006: I heard the second unit guys shot some bigass shootout on the Universal lot after my scene was over. Damaged some of the buildings and the studio is royally pissed, lawyers are calling every hour. Apparently, they set off a gasoline bomb that was too way big and it broke a bunch of windows all across the lot and cracked some of the facades, cost a fortune to fix. The second unit camera guy told me this over some ganja, he said it was fucking hilarious how the producer was running around screaming and crying.
They had a .50 cal, lucky bastards.
June 14, 2006: Big day today, Katee Sackhoff showed up on a one-week contract, she'll be my costar and romantic lead, which is cool. She seems nice, a real tomboy with the guns and stuff, and a good sport with all the stupid crap the director asks us to do on this shitty movie. She's on a short summer break from Battlestar Galactica, she said, that's why she only has a week on set. I thought that series ended in the 1970s, didn't it?
Wait, wait, wait, I thought Starbuck was a dude. That's not Dirk Benedict.
June 14, 2006: Filmed a bunch of scenes with Katee today, mostly exposition stuff, a lot of boring takes of us standing around looking pensive and rambling off technobabble. Some excitement in the afternoon, though, as the script called for her to stand there full-frontal naked and pour water over herself. Katee balked at this, something about "not enough money in the universe", so they eventually settled on a shot from behind and she got to keep her underwear on and just flash some generous side-boob. I saw some of the crew going crazy with their cellphone cameras from other angles, hard to blame them, though.
June 15, 2006: The director brought in a mangy dog today, said we had to work it in as he thought my character needed a pet. I hate dogs. Thing kept humping my leg, messed up a couple of takes, crapped everywhere. God, I hate dogs.
June 15, 2006: Just a rotten day, got into a fistfight off-set earlier today and the director's all mad at me. Some punk stuntman was bragging about how this was just his part-time job, his "real" job was doing stunts for the Miami Vice remake they're shooting down in Pasadena. Said Colin Ferrell could kick my ass any day, so I had to put him down like a little girl. I'm not usually like that, I think this movie is getting to me. Maybe I'm too old for this macho shit, I'm 52 years old, maybe I need to be looking for less-strenuous roles?
Did you know that if you keep the traffic out of frame, the LA skyline looks abandoned?
June 16, 2006: Back at Ojai today so Katee and I could film an aborted raid on a Cyborg factory. Long, long day, mostly just endless takes of us running around shooting at stuff. More explosions and gunfire, run here, run there, blow this shit up, blow that shit up, so loud. Kinda getting tired of all this, it seems like 80% of the entire movie is going to be me shooting a gun at something or kicking something else. Probably going to have hearing loss after this, maybe I can find some earplugs that won't show up on camera.
You do this all day and tell me how you like it.
June 16, 2006: During the shoot, the FX guys set off this gasoline bomb that must of went up a thousand feet in the air, much bigger than they wanted. Katee and I were running in front of it and I swear when it went off we thought we were going to fucking die. The director came leaping out from behind the camera with this insanely terrified look on his face as the smoke cloud rolled over us, would have been funny if he hadn't just almost killed us. I'm never going to get my insurance policy renewed like this.
How hard is it to measure gasoline correctly? The FX crew must all be Russians.
June 17, 2006: The script says I got shot in that raid, so they smeared a bunch of fake blood on me and I had to loll around like it hurt. Katee fixed me up, poured this miracle liquid on my wounds that healed them instantly or something. Stuff smelled like urine and itched like fire, blew two takes because I couldn't keep a straight face when she poured it on me. The director keeps telling me to "downplay" my acting, he says I move my hands around too much when I talk and he doesn't want that. Does he think he's John Ford?
In the future, you just pour on the healing.
June 18, 2006: Big romance scene with Katee today, though all I got to do was kiss on her a bit. Too bad she tasted like chorizo and her breath smelled like ass, but we'd been filming all morning in the hot sun without a break, so that's ok, I didn't say anything. I think my character is supposed to be rediscovering his humanity through love or something. It's cheap, but, hey, it worked for Russell in Soldier.
Fake tats, by the way.
June 18, 2006: More exposition scenes with Katee this afternoon, more talking and grimacing and stuff. Katee doesn't understand the whole talking rifle thing either. We have these scenes where the rifle is supposedly talking to us, but since it's all going to be ADR, Katee and I just have to try and interact with an inert piece of metal, leaving pauses in our dialogue where we're told the rifle will be talking. I named the rifle Lorenzo today, after Lorenzo Lamas. He is such a tool.
Katee made a bet with me that she could sweet-talk the director into letting this bottle of Vitamin Water she brought from home make it into the final cut. Unbelievable what you can do with cleavage.
June 19, 2006: Filmed all morning in an old abandoned newspaper building in downtown LA today. Dirty, smelly, dusty shithole, full of rats, not a decent restaurant for miles. They want me to jump in this murky pool of water and swim around, that wasn't in the script I got. They told me the water was filtered, but I could still smell the toxic chemicals and rat poop in there, burned my eyes and nose like you would not believe. I bet my hair is going to fall out, I just know it, good thing I've already had kids. I don't understand why they keep making me reshoot these scenes, it's like the director is punishing me for some reason.
It's LA city water, geez.
June 20, 2006: Was supposed to do some exteriors today, but it's raining like a mother so they gave me the day off. Didn't feel like driving back home so I just wandered around the set for a bit, just chatting with the crew as they hid out. Saw the executive producer on his cellphone once, arguing with what sounded like his accountant. Heard some other guys talking about how the budget was already shot and how someone stole a bunch of the prop guns from the trailer the other night, all bad signs. I'm beginning to think I'm not going to get paid for this gig.
Mister Director had other things on his mind...
June 21, 2006: Rained all damn day again, just sheets of the stuff, all up and down the coast. Katee came to visit me after lunch and said they filmed her last scenes under a tarp because she had to be back at the Battlestar set by tomorrow morning. She was looking pretty hot, I got to say, she cleaned up real nice. My wife was out of town so Katee and I got drunk and did some stuff, you know, made our own action movie, if you know what I mean. I'll post it on youtube later.
Actual still from our as-yet-unreleased home movie, real steamy stuff...
June 23, 2006: Finally stopped raining so I'm back now in Ojai. My character is on a revenge quest, because the Cyborgs killed his woman and ruined his shot at being human again. So I do a one-man assault on the Cyborg HQ, to take them down for good. Not that I really care at this point, but I'm beginning to question aspects of the script now. How is it that these Cyborgs are so lame? Seriously, I've personally killed, like, fifty of them just today. If one man (me) can do them such harm then how did they ever manage to take over the entire planet? Did the director just see The Terminator a few times and try and rip that off?
My butt looked good, that's a plus.
June 23, 2006: In this one scene today I am totally busting up the Cyborg factory when I run into a couple of human traitors who are working with the bad machines. The main guy was talking on and on about something but I just couldn't pay attention, the whole scene I had to stand there holding that frickin' rifle at shoulder-level, and that rod was heavy! But still, I'm getting used to lugging this thing around every day, I'm going to see if I can buy it from the director, look awesome in my den.
June 24, 2006: Alright, last scheduled day of the shoot! Still in Ojai filming the final battle with the SuperCyborgs and their red suits. For some reason these advanced model Cyborgs use samurai swords, which makes no sense to me, but I miss sword-work so I'm not complaining. All afternoon we worked on the final confrontation between my character and the lead SuperCyborg, the climatic battle between good and evil and all that. The stuntman was a monster, musta been seven feet tall, but a real nice guy to work with. We both were laughing about the Darth Vader Moment in the script when he took his helmet off and his skin was all pale and icky. We exchanged numbers at one point, I'm going to make sure he gets a referral in my next contract, I know it's hard breaking into the stunt business in Hollywood.
What's with the air hose?
June 24, 2006: Had to rush all day today, the director was really stressing out and drove us all well into the evening to get the last of the scenes done. I heard his shooting permit was only valid until the 25th, and that's tomorrow, so I can understand why he was ok paying the overtime to the crew to get it in the can tonight. Got to say, I am glad this shoot is over, that was a rough three weeks, man. Making movies is not all glamour and babes, it's usually bruises and swollen ankles and dehydration.
I felt as bad as I looked.
Postscript, August 3, 2006: The director called me a month after shooting ended to say he was having some trouble with financing, and I shouldn't try and cash that last paycheck just yet. I cannot believe this shit. He then had the nerve to ask me to come down to LA and do some pick-up shots for him. I said hell no.
Postscript, May 13, 2007: So The Last Sentinel finally showed up on the Sci-Fi Channel last night, nearly a year after we wrapped the shoot. My daughter called me from college to tell me that she and her friends watched it down at the rec center on campus. I told her I was so sorry.
Postscript, March 9, 2010: It's been nearly four years since the movie aired and it still bugs me what a turd it turned out to be. And apparently everyone else also thinks it sucked, I haven't gotten a script since then, nothing but Japanese cat food commercials. Signing that contract was the worst mistake of my career, bar none. And Katee still won't return my phone calls.
Written in March 2010 by Don Wilson and used with his permission. Edited by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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