John G. Avildsen: King of the Underdogs
An examination of the Oscar-winning director who brought to life some of cinema's most beloved motion pictures.
When people want to know who my favorite directors are I give them my top ten list. When I say John G. Avildsen most of them ask, “Who’s that?” and yet a small portion usually smile, nod their head and say, “Yeah… Heck yeah. I love his films.”
One day at lunch I asked John what it feels like to know that his movies have influenced the world. He called a waiter over and said, "Excuse me, I have a question for ya. What do you think of when you hear "wax on, wax off?" The waiter smiled and replied, "Is that a trick question? The Karate Kid, of course." John grinned and thanked the waiter for his time. He turned to me and said, "I can go anywhere in the world and ask that question and every time they immediately know where that line comes from. They may not know who I am, but the fact that they know and love my films makes me very happy."
Getting to know John over the last couple of years I have come to realize just how important his mark on the world of cinema is and how equally unknown he is to the general public. To this fact Avildsen admits, "My lack of name recognition is the result of me never paying a publicist a lot of money to get my name in print. I thought the few people who can hire me already know my name. Probably a mistake."
Surprisingly, there has never been a documentary made exclusively about him, yet he has given countless interviews about his movies, but rarely about himself. It is time to tell his story.
You can view some of his interviews on YouTube at:
Not many filmmakers have experienced such highs and lows as director John G. Avildsen. From major success with Sylvester Stallone and Rocky (1976) to striking out with The Formula (1980) starring Marlon Brando and George C. Scott, for over forty years John G. Avildsen’s films have inspired movie-goers and have changed filmmaking as we know it. With familiar story lines, charming characters, and riveting climaxes, Avildsen’s films have pulled at audiences’ hearts and have shaped popular culture for decades.
His many achievements include, but are not limited to:
directed three of the most popular films of all time: Rocky (1976), The Karate Kid (1984), and The Karate Kid Part II (1986)
earned two Academy Award nominations:
Best Director - WINNER - Rocky (1976)
Best Documentary, Short Subjects - Nominated - Traveling Hopefully (1982);
directed seven actors to Academy Award nominations:
Jack Lemmon -Best Actor - WINNER - Save the Tiger (1973)
Jack Gilford - Best Supporting Actor - Nominated - Save the Tiger (1973)
Sylvester Stallone - Best Actor - Nominated - Rocky (1976)
Talia Shire - Best Actress - Nominated - Rocky (1976)
Burgess Meredith - Best Supporting Actor - Nominated - Rocky (1976)
Burt Young - Best Supporting Actor - Nominated - Rocky (1976)
Pat Morita - Best Supporting Actor - Nominated - The Karate Kid (1984)
This documentary sets out to explore the life and career of a filmmaker who has had as many hits as misses, and to rediscover the legendary director through interviews with actors, filmmakers, friends, and from the man himself. This documentary will also examine the choices Avildsen made behind the camera which shaped the outcome of his films and their enduring popularity.
The goal of this documentary is to tell the story of an underappreciated director who has had both major success and major failure, probably more than any other filmmaker of his caliber. John G. Avildsen has spent years in the shadow of Sylvester Stallone and many other amazing artists he has worked with, all the while searching for the next great project to put him back on the Hollywood map.
With Avildsen’s participation and help from enthusiastic Kickstarter backers like yourselves, the filmmakers will be able to work with a modest budget, interview high profile celebrities and Hollywood hit-makers, and gain access to photos, home movies, behind the scenes footage, and clips from the legendary director's films.
This documentary is inspired by the new book The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Other Underdogs written by producer Tom Garrett and co-producer Larry Powell. The companion book details each of Avildsen's films including behind the scenes stories from the set, which will also be discussed in this documentary.
The book on Amazon:
Derek Wayne Johnson - Director / Producer - independent filmmaker and owner of AJ16 Entertainment
Tom Garrett - Producer - associate professor at Sam Houston State University and producer of independent feature films and documentaries
Chris May - Producer - independent film producer
Larry Powell - Co-Producer - author of several books and articles and professor of communication studies at the University of Alabama-Birmingham
This documentary is currently in Pre-Production. The filmmakers have spent over a year researching and developing the project with Avildsen's assistance. Many months have been devoted to attaching interviewees, assembling a crew, acquiring and editing photos, graphics, montages, etc, as well as devising a pertinent distribution plan and suitable budget.
The Karate Kid 30th Anniversary
2014 marks the 30th anniversary of The Karate Kid (1984). To commemorate, this production will feature many of the cast members from all three films! An achievement exclusive only to this documentary as it has never been done before!
Why not ask John G. Avildsen for the money?
Traditionally, the subject of a documentary does not fund the project themselves. It is up to the filmmakers to raise the budget necessary to complete the film. Thankfully, Avildsen is participating in this project 100% and is thrilled that this movie is being made. His willingness to assist the filmmakers in seeing the film come to light is more than enough to ask of him.
Why Kickstarter and what for?
Kickstarter is a good source of funds for underdogs. In addition, it gives fans a chance to participate.
We are seeking a minimum of $20,000 to be used for interviews, license fees, film festival submissions, marketing, etc. Although start up funds have been secured through private investors, we believe Kickstarter will ensure the film's completion and success.
With your help, the sky is the limit on how amazing and in-depth this documentary can be! Please join us as a Kickstarter backer and become an Official Underdog!
IMDb: (full cast and crew list not complete as new credits are continuously being added)
Risks and challenges
The subject of this documentary has made a career out of taking risks and overcoming challenges. You don't get fired from directing both "Serpico" (1973) and "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) if you aren't the type of person to take risks and face challenges. (Yep, that actually happened to Avildsen)
First, let me state that I am truly honored to take on this project. As a lifelong fan of Avildsen and as a filmmaker who has been deeply influenced by his work, I know without a doubt I am the right director for the job. The first film I remember seeing in a movie theater was "The Karate Kid Part II" when I was 3 years old, and I've been hooked ever since.
One challenge is securing and scheduling interviews with the actors and filmmakers he has worked with. Another will be licensing the rights to film clips of Avilden's movies. With your help as a Kickstarter backer we will be able to film as many interviews as possible and afford the license fees of those classic scenes we all love and cherish.
Thank you all for your support. Let's go the distance together and make a great film.
Forever an underdog,
Derek Wayne Johnson
- (30 days)