University of Las Vegas Rebel Yell, January 29, 2009

Enjoying independence, filmmaker realizes dream

by Richard Pierce, Staff Writer

Cesar Lazcano celebrates film completion

Sensei Gary playing a fight promoter is confronted by Cesar

Jimmy Pedro scores an ippon on Ceasr

Trailer #1 for "American Judoka"

Trailer #2 for "American Judoka"

UNLV graduate, film producer, and Goltz Judo Alumni, Cesar Lazcano combines two passions in latest project; "American Judoka".
 
Even though Cesar Lazcano hardly spoke any English at the age of seven when his family moved from Mexico to California, one of his earliest childhood memories is sitting in front of his parent’s TV and dreaming of being a filmmaker. Throughout his adolescence, Lazcano spent a large portion of his time writing and performing in his schools’ theater productions, but he didn’t actually start making films until he enrolled at UNLV. 

While attending UNLV he worked on several student films and has continued working with some of the same people on his current independent projects. Lazcano considers his time studying film at UNLV invaluable. “I learned the way the mind perceives film,” Lazcano said. “The class ‘Acting for the Camera’ was a big help.”

Lazcano recently finished working on a film titled “American Judoka,” which he describes as “Rocky” meets “The Mighty Ducks.” It is the story of an aspiring Judo player who, after an injury, spirals into depression and alcoholism. He tries to regain himself after finding work in a church and teaching a young boy Judo to defend himself against a bully. 

“It’s about redemption,” Lazcano said. “About falling down and getting back up.”

No stranger to martial arts, Lazcano started learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when he was 13, and quickly fell in love with martial arts. “It took over my heart,” Lazcano said. He has been practicing Judo fro a number of years and has won several competitions, including first place in the 2006 Silver State Judo Championship and second place in 2008. Having the opportunity to combine his two biggest passions in life into one project was a dream, Lazcano said.

Many of Lazcano’s friends in the Judo community were thrilled to hear that their martial art would be represented in the film. “That’s part of the reason why I did it,” Lazcano said. “Martial arts films are making a comeback. In the ’60s and ’70s Judo was very popular in America. It’s about time Judo came back to the forefront.” 

Steve Mittler, the cinematographer of “American Judoka,” met Lazcano while taking a Judo class together. The two quickly realized they both shared a love for filmmaking and Judo and collaborated together on the film. “He’s got so much energy,” Mittler said. “He’s probably the best director I’ve worked with. He was always on top of everything.”

Because of the film’s modest budget and small crew, there were many opportunities for problems to arise. While filming one scene during the film’s nine-day shoot, one of the lead actresses wasn’t able to show up due to an illness. Unable to reschedule an entire day of filming, Lazcano had to think on his feet. He quickly came up with a solution. 

“He came up with an idea to add another character,” Mittler said. This allowed them to film around the absent actress and add a new female character to the story, resulting in a unique on-screen love triangle. Lazcano finds independent filmmaking freeing, allowing you to make more on-the-fly decisions.

“There was no dishing out more money, we had to use creativity to solve problems,” Lazcano said. “The less crew, the less approval you need.” In addition to directing and writing, Lazcano also plays the lead role in the film. “It’s hard to find actors who are Hispanic and can also do Judo,” Lazcano said.

One of the major influences in his life is director Robert Rodriguez, who also made a film for less than $10,000 – “El Mariachi.”

Lazcano is already hard at work planning his next film which is based on a script he wrote years ago called “Love Zombie,” and he hopes to start production in the next few months. “It’s a love story,” Lazcano said. 

Since the completion of “American Judoka” earlier this year, Lazcano has sent it to about a dozen film festivals and plans to send it to many more, including CineVegas.  “We’re trying to send it to every festival possible,” Lazcano said.  There are also plans for a screening sometime in March at the Onyx Theatre here in Las Vegas, though there’s no exact date yet. 

Lazcano feels the hardest thing about becoming a filmmaker is actually getting out there and doing it, despite people around you saying it’s impossible. “Don’t let that voice get in your head,” said Lazcano. “Just go for it.”

Yahoo Movies, Feburary 13, 2009

From Judo to Judoka

by Richard Hogan, Staff Writer

There are many Hispanic would-be filmmakers who idolize Robert Rodriguez and the way he burst onto the scene with the no-budget "El Mariachi" in 1992. But 26-year-old Chino Hills, CA resident and Goltz Judo Club member Cesar Lazcano has actually found a way to get out there and make like RR, writing, directing, producing and starring in his own no-frills endeavor.

Made for less than ten thousand dollars, the action drama "American Judoka" casts Lazcano as an aspiring Olympic Judo competitor who tailspins into jail and community service after an injury ends his athletic career. Working as a janitor at a local youth center, he eventually mentors not just a bullied boy but also those who once tormented him, leading them into a competition with high stakes.

Although that synopsis would seem to align "American Judoka" with the soon-to-be-remade 1984 film "The Karate Kid", Lazcano prefers to describe his drama as "Rocky" meets "The Mighty Ducks." The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) film school graduate is certainly well versed in the martial arts, having started practicing in his teens and placed twice in recent years at the Silver State Judo Championships (first, 2006; second, 2008).

The film is tentatively set to premiere next month in Las Vegas, and ideally, Lazcano would love to see his debut among those making up this year's CineVegas Film Festival (June 11th - 15th). In the meantime, the nascent Mexican-born filmmaker is eyeing a romance titled "The Love Zombie" as his sophomore effort.

"American Judoka" Blog

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