FROM BEIJING TO Z (Part One): My Interview With Lohan Buson

The past year has been a pretty scant for me when it comes to interviews between the site and my outside obligations, but I knew that I wanted to talk to people with the summer film festival circuit in full-bloom. Thankfully, through good fortune and patience, I managed to achieve this several times - including twice with Lohan Buson and Fabien Garcia, two of the internet's biggest trendsetters for the online action niche representing their once Beijing-based action cimema filmmaking and stunt team, Z-Team.

I first caught these two in a shortfilm titled Duel a little less than a decade ago. It was one of the slickest and coolest action short pieces I had ever seen, and it was easy to see the potential they would garner in their endeavors as performers. Of course, their potential remained mired by the usual setbacks of independent filmmaking, particularly with their latest Action On Film Fest award-winner, Die Fighting

The film is the team's first feature project for their newly-established Los Angeles-based production platform, Z-Team Films with Garcia debuting as its director on top of starring with Buson. The trailers that went viral last year and this year were nothing short of eye-popping, breathing new life into a genre widely acclaimed by its fans around the world to this day.

Needless to say, Z-Team has what looks like a real gem on its hands to kick things off as they get into larger-scale productions, and while the journey has been long and enduring, it continues nevertheless. On that note, in advance of this interview, I humbly thank Buson for taking the time to share his journey with us. He and Garcia have a story to share and I welcome anyone interested to take look.

Readers can find Garcia's interview by CLICKING HERE. Otherwise, Buson's interview is just below!

Film Combat Syndicate: Tell me about Z-Team. How did you guys get started?
Lohan Buson: In 2000, I traveled to the Shaolin monastery in China where I met my teammates and friends Yannick Van Dam and Fabien Garcia. A year later, Fabien and I began training Wushu at the Beijing Sports University, and my brother, Didier, joined us in 2003. At the time I had done a few auditions, shot a few commercials and even got of a small fight scene in “Silver Hawk” against Michelle Yeoh. Then one day, Fabien showed me a short film he had made with a few friends called “The Contact”, I was truly amazed by the quality of his fight choreography, both in terms of creativity and performance. Right away, I thought to myself "What better way to promote ourselves than to make our own movies instead of just waiting around for a chance that may not come at all?" So I asked Fabien, Yannick and Didier if they thought it was a good idea to join forces and become a team which I later proposed to call the Z-Team, a nod to Dragon Ball Z as my childhood inspiration for taking up martial arts. And that’s how the Z-Team was created.
FCSyndicate: The Dragon Ball Z tie-in to your inspiration in film is pretty fascinating and I want to get to that a little later on. What are some challenges that you and the Z-Team have faced along the way in creating some of the stellar short films you guys have worked on over the years? What were the lessons you all learned along the way?
LB: I believe challenges we've faced are the same every filmmaker has faced when trying to shoot his/her vision with no budget whatsoever. Imagination has no limits, but there is definitely a limit on how much you can spend. But, this is also a good thing because it allows young filmmakers to become more creative, finding ways to work around obstacles to achieve specific shots or a certain look which initially seem impossible without the proper budget to rent the necessary equipment, like a dolly. 
When it comes to martial arts and action in general, the main challenge for us was that we always had to assume most of the key functions on set, and so switching from director or producer mode into screen fighter mode was not always the smoother transition to go through, especially on our first feature “Die Fighting”. That was tough for us, but yet amazingly rewarding. The most important thing I've learned is that whatever you do, do not give up but make sure you give yourself the right tools to achieve whatever you set out to achieve, stay humble and enjoy the road whenever you can and fight whenever you have to.
FCSyndicate: I'm glad you brought up your first feature film Die Fighting, and I definitely want to talk about that one, and a lot of us have already seen the trailer in its earlier phase as The Price of Success. Tell us about the genesis of this production and how it all started, and the launch of Z-Team Films.

Die Fighting - Trailer from Z Team Films on Vimeo.
LB: Following the release of our most successful short film Duel in 2004, we had been working with a French production company to develop a feature film project called “Mayhem” starring Fabien and I, to be directed by kick ass French director Jean Marc Mineo (Bangkok Rebirth), but unfortunately for years, the project Mayhem never got greenlit.
So, in early 2009, as we were struggling with our careers and were thinking that it might be time to leave China after living there for almost 10 years to try our luck somewhere else, Fabien came up with the idea of making a pseudo-reality-based film with martial artists actors forced into making an action movie by a mysterious filmmaker! It was perfect timing for us as we needed a project, something to work toward achieving. Plus, it sounded like this movie was something that could be done with a modest budget and in some strange way related directly to our own lives. How Fabien came up with the idea is an interesting story, and you should definitely ask him about it. Fabien and I quickly pitched the idea to Yannick and Didier and luckily, Yannick was able to raise a big part of the necessary budget and became the executive producer of the film. So here we were, after years of trying to make a feature film, finally able to start turning this project into a reality. That’s how we left China, moved to the USA, established Z-Team Films, LLC and started pre-production of Die Fighting in 2010.
FCSyndicate: This film sounds like a real milestone for you and your team, and I understand the film just had its premiere in Monrovia, California at the Action on Film Festival. How was the crowd that evening?
LB: It definitely is a milestone for us! The premiere at the Action on Film Festival went very well. I must admit I was a little nervous because I did not know how the public would react, but when the crowd began to applaud during the fight scenes or to laugh when and where we wanted in the script, I began to relax. I was also happy during the Q & A to see that people had a lot of questions for us, which shows a genuine interest.
FCSyndicate: What are some awesome memories you have from filming?

Didier Buson (left) and Xin Wuku (right) in DIE FIGHTING
LB: My first awesome memory from filming was finishing the very first day. Because it doesn't matter how hard we had been working during pre-production to make sure everything would go smoothly. For a first time producer or director on a feature film, the apprehension of the first day is insanely stressful. We had so much to do and this location was so expensive that we would not have been able to come back. So, at the end of the day, when we checked that last shot off our list, I felt a sense of release, happiness and pride at the same time. It was a great feeling! Of course we had much more left to do, but that first day was going to stay stuck in my mind as the very first day of my very first movie as a producer with the Z-Team. Of course, I have all other kinds of memories from that shoot and much respect for all the people involved who gave 200% to make it look good, like when the very skilled stuntman Malay Kim from the EMC Monkeys stunt team did a double butterfly twist reaction on concrete and landed so hard that he couldn't breathe very well for a few minutes, or when Fabien asked actor Michael Antonio to kick him full force while he was jumping in the air to make him twist and land on his back on concrete more violently. I don’t think directors are often seen asking their actors to kick them harder [laughs]. Also, having my brother Didier in the film was great, I was really proud of him, especially during his intense fight scene against the talented Xin Wuku, which they only had a couple of days to shoot. And yet they nailed it!
FCSyndicate: Will the film be entered into more festivals after AoF 2014?
LB: We have also submitted the film to the 2014 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and I believe we will know whether or not the film has been selected by the end of September.
FCSyndicate: You also mentioned your fandom for Dragon Ball Z earlier in this interview, which now brings us to your work with Robot Underdog this year on the production of Dragon Ball: The Light of Hope. How did that happen?

LB: In 2013, I started working as a fight choreography instructor for the CAD Team (Creative Action Development) which is the stunt branch of the Academy of Movement Arts and Science. The owner, actor and martial artist, Tim Storms, gave me the opportunity to assist him during his wire-work classes, and since I had always wanted to do a Dragon Ball Z tribute, I was quick to ask him if he would be okay to shoot a very short Dragon Ball Z fight scene together. Then as we were finishing that short fight scene, Chris Yung who is also an actor and stuntman at CAD told me about Robot Underdog's DBZ project teaser, and I thought that for once it looked like it could be a successful DBZ live action transition. So, I reached out to Rita and Donnie McMillin, the owners of Robot Underdog, and I showed them the small DBZ fight scene we just had done with the CAD Team, and they liked it. That’s how I became the fight choreographer for that project. 
During the following weeks with Tim Storms who became the stunt coordinator of the project as well as Chris Yung and Taylor Wildman, we shot the previz of the fight mostly during the night. It was a tough couple of weeks, but we were happy with the results. Doing a live action DBZ fight requires a combination of knowledge of screen fighting, wire-work and visual effects, and of course the very specific understanding of the DBZ fighting style. Hopefully the fans won’t be disappointed, and I can’t wait to see this project released!
FCSyndicate: Who is your favorite Dragonball Z character? And why?
LB: My favorite DBZ character is Future Trunks. I really liked the mystery that was surrounding him the first time he appeared in the series. And his story: Coming from the future in order to change the course of history, he was a “light of hope” for all living things on Earth! Of course I also like a lot Goku, Picollo, Vegeta, Krillin, Gohan, and all for different reasons. As a kid, all those characters had me dreaming and inspired me to reach for the moon and to keep fighting against all odds.
FCSyndicate: I am also aware that you and Z-Team are working on a series of your own. Can you tell us more about it?

LB: Yes indeed! We have the pilot for our first web series called Drained World, almost ready to hit the web. The story is set in 2080, after the end of the third world war which saw the near-eradication of the human race. It’s a violent world so you can expect to see some violent fighting. Fabien is starring in the pilot and I believe my character will do his entrance either in the next episode or soon after. We are also talking about the possibility of a feature film with Jamie Thomspon from Lighthouse Pictures and have another action/sci-fi web series in development called Lethal Destiny.
FCSyndicate: Well you've come pretty far since traveling to the Shaolin monastery fourteen years and building your team with Fabien, your brother Didier and Yannick Van Dam. And Didier also starred in and choreographed for Die Fighting as well. What is it like working with your brother and sharing the same passions and dreams with him?
LB: It’s great! We are very close, and I consider myself really lucky to be sharing a dream with the people I love. Plus, my brother is always ready to joke around and brings a smile to our faces even when things get tough.

FCSyndicate: Is there anyone you are looking forward to sharing some with for future projects? Any chance of a second screen bout with Iko Uwais following your work together on Merantau in 2009?
LB: Yes, definitely! There are several talented people with whom I'd love to work with-People like Mike Moeller and Scott Adkins, or also Yayan Ruhian with whom I had a chance to practice/rehearse during the time I've worked on Merantau. Yayan is very skilled and yet very humble, and sharing some screen time and working on-set with him would be an honor. And yes, of course a second bout with Iko is also on my wish list! We had a great time working together on Merantau and have kept in touch, so hopefully this will happen one day. I've learned a lot since 2008, and obviously as we've all seen in The Raid 1 and 2, Iko has perfected his craft tremendously and the opportunity to work with him again would be absolutely fantastic! So dear Gareth, I would be forever grateful if you could turn this second bout into a reality! [laughs]
FCSyndicate: I concur Lohan, and I hope this interview managed to reach him! [laughs] Anyway, I have one last particular which I shared with your colleague Fabien this month, and I would like your input as well as it pertains to the state of independent film within the last decade or so. What are some improvements you would like to see for the independent industry? Are there any issues you feel need to be confronted in the near or not-too-distant future?
LB: Die Fighting was our first feature as filmmakers, so I am still considerably "new" at trying to figure out the industry. But when you are an independent filmmaker, your passion can quickly clash with the reality of the market, which mostly welcomes films with very specific “ingredients” and makes it very hard for innovative, or should I say... "daring" independent filmmakers to become financially viable. I simply hope that distributors in general would be more risk takers. On the other hand however, I can understand that for them, whether I like it or not, it is first and foremost a business, and like with every business it’s always scary to take a chance on something new instead of the same old proven strategy. I guess art/passion and business have always been a tough relationship to master. 
By the way, I want to take the opportunity to send many thanks Mike Leeder for taking the time to give us proper and honest feedback on our film when we were still out there looking for distribution.
FCSyndicate: Do you have any words of advice to offer to aspiring artists like yourself?

LB: My advice for any artists aspiring to make a living through following their dreams would be to make sure you have a great amount of patience, an endless dedication to your craft and be willing to work extremely hard. More importantly, always be ready in case an opportunities arises, and don't just wait for them. Create your own luck, showcase your skills anytime you can and contact the people with whom you would love to work with. Moreover, do not EVER become bitter if they don't answer back, and avoid feeling entitled to receive their help. It's really all about humility in that regard. 
So, be humble and just focus on being the best you can be. Your passion for your work should eventually speak for itself, and hopefully the results will come.
Thank you for taking the time to share your story with Film Combat Syndicate Lohan. I personally look forward to my digital purchase of Die Fighting when it finally releases, and I look forward to your future endeavours with Z-Team Films and other amazing professionals in your field.

For readers, if you want some more Z-Team reading pleasure, CLICK HERE to read my interview with Z-Team founding member and the director of Die Fighting, Fabien Garcia. For all else, subscribe to their official Facebook page for all of your Z-Team needs, and stay tuned for more info on the release of Die Fighting!


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