Shooting the Shit with Filmmaker John Anton

I’ve been friends with filmmaker John Anton since I was in high school.  Back then he wasn’t the movie guy, he was the owner of the legendary punk rock/heavy metal club Blondies.   I’ve stayed friends with John for over twenty years and one thing has always been consistent, he’s a class act.  Over the past ten or so years he’s been working hard on the ambitious film Guns, Drugs and Dirty Money.  It’s a movie that features a cast of well over 100 parts and action sequence after action sequence that rivals the stuff you see in big blockbuster movies like Stallone’s Expendables.

I had a chance to sit down with John in his office at the Token Lounge while we were filming my television show Deadpan.  Always the generous friend, John was letting us film a large chunk of our show in his club without asking for anything in return.  He’s a guy I’m proud to call my friend.  I’m equally proud of him because Guns, Drugs and Dirty Money has finally come out and has already generated a lot of buzz.

I was surprised to see in the credits that when it says it’s a John Anton Production that means you did just about everything.  You directed it, edited it, wrote it, shot it.

Yeah, I lit it.  I did all the audio.

Your audio guy was Mike Stand.

Yeah, my favorite boom operator!  (Laughs)

How did you learn how to do all of this?

It was basically doing research online and buying books.  I really wanted to do it and make it the best I could.  Not having a really have a big budget, I had to do most of it myself so I had to learn all of it.

You and Anthony Moscato are both credited as producers.   So you guys both came up with the budget?

No, I came up with the budget as the Executive Producer.  He helped me so much with finding locations and getting me the mob guys. I made him a producer.

It was ten years in the making and it looks like a very expensive movie.

Does it?

Yeah!  It really shows.  I love the comic book sequences.  Were those something you had in mind at the beginning or was it something that came up later in the game?

At the beginning I had the idea to have a comic book feel, but I didn’t know how to implement it.  I didn’t know how to use Photoshop, but as time passed and I needed these transitions that I wanted to do as comic books I’d stay up all night, work on it and figured it out.

What came first, John Anton the actor or John Anton the movie maker?  You’ve been acting a lot and I’m surprised you don’t even have a cameo in this.

I did have a cameo.  When Rio was in prison.  I walked up to him in an orange jump suit and he knocks me out.

Oh yeah, and you’re actually a SWAT team member too!

Originally I wanted to be an actor only. After my first couple of parts in movies, there was a dry spell, me and Jason Waugh were talking and saying what are we gonna do know. Wait! No, we can’t wait around. Let’s write our own movie and shoot it. Then I met all these different actors on movie sets.  I’d meet them and go, “Oh cool, I can put this guy in my movie and that guy in my movie because they’re great characters and dedicated actors.”   Then I had the part of Slick originally.  I was doing so much that I had to find someone else to do the part.

Carlos Rubio played that role and he was really good.  How did you find him?  Was he an actor or a guy you knew from bands?

He’s just a guy I know from Blondies back in the day.  He’d hang out.  He’s a tattoo artist and a good one.  Most of the guys in the movie are friends of mine.  A lot of them used to be musicians back in the day.

You and Jason Waugh wrote this together.  What was your process?  The movie is 123 minutes, so it had to have been a long script too.

It was originally three hours.  So I had almost an hour of deleted scenes.  It’s just because we shot over a long period of time.  When we were editing the scenes and seeing what direction the movie was going in, on the fly we’d write in another scene.

After we did Biker Zombies From Detroit, that’s where we met, I did *61.  Then there were no movies being shot for a while.  This was back in 2000.  We figured man, if they can do a movie, we can do a movie too.  Let’s start writing.  We’d hang out and start writing and come up with ideas.  We put ourselves in the movie because we’re both actors.  Then it came to the point where I was so swamped with things to do on the production end that I wrote myself out.

We were both at the Town Hall Meeting for the Michigan Film Incentives.  They were talking about how before the incentives only like 2000 people worked in the film community and after the incentives something like 20,000 people were working in film.  If things end and productions move away, what are your plans?

My plans so far are to stay in Michigan.  But if I need to move I will. The film incentives, I hate to say this, haven’t done anything for me yet.   My movie had a big enough budget, but it was spread over a period of time and started before the tax incentives.  Now on my next one, it would help me to get the investors to decide to shoot it in Michigan.  However if they change the tax incentives, the investors will want to shoot it in Louisiana or some other state that has a better incentive. I will go wherever they decide to shoot.     I just got to the point where I’d be using the incentives and now it looks like they’re going to cut it. I had just over 200 Michigan people work on my last production. Now if my next one goes out of state it might be 5 Michigan people.

Today while meeting for our television show, one thing that came up about you is the fact that you have a reputation for being a super nice guy.  And I started thinking, that’s always been the case.  Even back in the day when there was the rivalry between Blondies and Todd’s, it was a one way street.  You stay classy.  How do you stay a nice guy?

I treat people the way I want to be treated.  It’s the way I was raised.

You and I have known each other for 21 years.  This is part of your character that goes back to even when you were a really young man.

We have great parents and we grew up watching the Beaver.  We were also raised by Ward and June Cleaver.

I noticed and wasn’t surprised, [SPOILER ALERT] that your dad was one of the people in the movie who would come out on top.  Family is very important to you.

Yeah.  Absolutely!  He loved it on set.  It doesn’t matter how many hours it is.  He’d go longer than the young guys.

Were you born here or in Yugoslavia?

I was born here in Dearborn.  I lived here until I was 11.  When my dad was 45 he decided to retire because of the 16 to 18 hours days of owning his own business.  When I was 11 to 18 we moved back to the old country.  I was in a band since I was 15.  Then at 18 I wanted to be a rock star and move out to LA.  I moved back to Detroit and I would go to the clubs and see all these great musicians and shredding guitar players.   I’m nowhere near as good as these guys.  What’s the next best thing to be in this industry?  Then I seen this little club Blondies was available for sale and went to check it out.

As a really young guy.

I was 20.

You’re two years older than me.  I was 17 turning 18 and a senior in high school.  So you were just turning 20.

Yeah.  I just turned 20.  I had to put the liquor license in my mom’s name because you had to be 21.

And you successfully ran it for years.  For people our age and into our music, Blondies is a staple of the history of the Detroit scene.  You didn’t close it down.  You bought a bigger place.


You’ve been a very successful business man since you were 20 years old.

Plus the area was getting very dangerous.  Towards the end were carrying guns.  I don’t know if you knew that.

There was a night, which I know you don’t remember when the singer of a band came in with a gun because he was mad that you banned him.  Very calmly you told him to cool off and he could come back in a couple weeks.  I guess what I’m asking is because I’ve never seen you blow up in all the years, is there anything that makes you lose your cool?

It’s a rare thing.

I was shocked because I’ve never known you to be in a band, but you did all the music on Guns, Drugs and Dirty Money.

I had a band over there in the old country and I started one here.  After seeing all those great musicians, I just knew that I wasn’t no where near as good as those guys were.  I’d compare myself toYngwie (Malmsteen) and Joe Satriani.  I’m comparing myself to the top level guitar players.  However you can still be a number one selling band with three chord progressions and simple music like the Stones or AC/DC.  They played simple stuff, but that wasn’t my goal.  My goal was to be the big time shredder guy.

Is it important to recognize your limitations?

I think so.  Then you know what you can and can’t do.

With that in mind, with making Guns, Drugs and Dirty Money you had to have exceeded your expectations.

I did.  I never expected it to be what it came out to be.

So does part of you kick yourself and think that if you had done the band route you could have been the shredder?

It’s no big deal.  Originally, I wanted to be a filmmaker back in the old country.  After seeing Mad Max, Rocky and Rambo and all those movies I thought, “I want to be an actor and do movies”.  We were in the mountains, up in a village.  When I first moved there at  11, I was herding cattle for my cousins.  I remember my German friend, when we were 13 or 14, his dad bought a VCR from Germany.  We hung out over his house all the time and watched movies and Iron Maiden and Scorpions music videos.  The whole idea of being a filmmaker/actor was gone because I didn’t have the resources.

Then as we were watching all these music videos we started growing our hair out and wanted to be musicians.   We bought guitars and instruments and formed a band.  We had a band house with my German friend because he was living alone and his dad would send him money every month.  That’s where the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing started.  That whole movie thing went away, but it was always in the back of my head.

When I came here I was on the set of *61 when Billy Crystal came to town.  I went there and was an extra for two weeks.  The first week I was a fan.  The second week I was a sports photographer.  I’d see how movies were done.  I’m watching the camera guy and seeing how a set is run.  Then this local couple, Todd and Tommy Brunswick, were doing Biker Zombies, a really independent movie.  It was one of the first ones I know of locally back in 2000.  I was the lead zombie and watching how things were done.  It was like, “Whoa, this is kind of cool!  If they can do it, I can do it.”

My heart is in film.  I just love being on set.

Another thing you’ve done well with Guns, Drugs and Dirty Money is you kept it in the public’s consciousness by creating a website and putting out trailers.  Was that a conscious decision or was it a matter of you just being excited and wanting to share the progress with people?

Actually I thought it would be done the first year, but as time went by I kept doing personal changes in the script.   I wanted it to be a movie that I would like personally and would keep my interest.  The scenes kept growing bigger and bigger.   The SWAT guys surrounding the place, the gun fire, the explosions up north, a lot of that wasn’t in the original script.  After we shot the first scenes, I’d talk to Jason and say, “Hey, we’ve got to make it more interesting to make it as much as we can and make it as close to Hollywood as we can.”

You’ve showed the movie to the public twice now.

Three times.

And I’m taking it personally because it seems like you look at my calendar and see when I’m out of town and then decide to screen it then.   “Mikey can buy it on DVD!”  Will it be part of the Detroit Independent Film Festival?

Yeah it is.  It’s nominated for two awards, editing and supporting actor for Rich Goteri.

If people want to order it right now, where do they go?

Thank you John.  I’m proud of you!

Thank you buddy!

The Detroit Independent Film Festival runs this weekend March 9th through the 13th.  You can catch a screening of Guns, Drugs and Dirty Money March 12th at 3pm at the Burton Theatre.  More information about the Festival can be found here.


About Mike Bobbitt

Sometimes professional storyteller.

Posted on March 10, 2011, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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