I met producer Sylvio Tabet at his Hollywood Hills mansion, called "Rising Zen," April 15, 2002.
I look around the house while Sylvio finishes off a meeting. It's decorated in a Zen way, with many Buddha statues. There's a stunning view of Los Angeles, from the downtown to Santa Monica.
In addition to producing a dozen movies, including 1984's The Cotton Club and three editions of The Beastmaster, Tabet has published several books including A Journey to Shanti: My Life is My Message - Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Here's an excerpt from the book of distilled teachings by Indian holy man Sri Baba: "There is only one religion, The religion of Love. There is only one caste, The caste of Humanity. There is only one Language, The language of the Heart. There is only one God, He's Omnipresent."
Luke: "How would you describe this house?"
Sylvio laughs. He's a solidly built handsome man of medium height, with curly chest hair showing through his open shirt, and thick white hair. He speaks with a heavy accent: "It is a reflection of who I am and what I like. You can mix all kinds of design and architecture so long as it is pleasant for the eyes and is done with taste. It is a mixture of Asian and modern architecture. It is eclectic but it has a feeling of Zen. That's why the house is called Rising Zen and I am on a road called Rising Glenn and I am overlooking a beautiful vista.
"Zen is a certain practice of Buddhism. To the general public, Zen reflects quietness. You see many Buddhas. The one in front of you is a begging Buddha. The sculptures portraying Buddha generally have a serene face. When you are alone, you can see that you have a companion. They reflect quietness."
Luke: "Tell me about A Journey to Shanti?"
Sylvio: "It is a book about the meaning of life and human values. And the Dalai Llama blessed this book. And the book who put this book together was somebody I considered a holy man who lives in a small village in India. His name is Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Everybody looks for peace. You can read this book to find out how to find it. I tried to put in one book certain quotations which are enough, if you read them, and if you are ready to follow them, to guide you on your life. This is the kind of book that you will put in your living room to share with your friends and to understand how energy works. If you understand this, you can control your life and have serenity in ups and downs that are always part of our life and the duality that makes up our life."
Luke: "Is Sri Sathya Sai Baba Buddhist?"
Sylvio: "No. This is the man who said, 'There is only one religion in the world and that is the religion of love. You could be Jewish, Christian, Muslim, whatever you want. As long as you understand that everything is energy. So long as you follow the basics of your religion and you give love, you receive love. This applies to everything in life. If you give health, you get health. If you give money, you get money."
Luke: "So where did you grow up?"
Sylvio: "In Beirut, Lebanon, with a French education. Most Lebanese speak Arabic, French and English. I went to a Jesuit school. My first language was French and my second language, for 13 years, was Latin."
Luke: "Is your family back in Lebanon?"
Sylvio: "My parents are back in heaven. I have a brother in Lebanon and one sister living in France.
"I studied film directing at IDHEC, a famous school in Paris, and graduated around 1964. Filmmaking in France and Europe is more intellectual than visual."
Tabet produced five movies in France and then moved with his wife and three kids to Los Angeles in 1979. He produced Fade to Black in 1980, Evilspeak in 1981 and The Beastmaster in 1982."
With a budget of $9 million, The Beastmaster grossed less than $4 million domestically. Director Don Coscarelli told the website www.thedigitalbits.com in 1999: "I wrote the villainous role for the late Klaus Kinski, who was not cast over a $5,000 dispute. I had several readings with an eighteen-year-old Demi Moore, who had never been in a film. The executive producer [Sylvio Tabet] decided she couldn't act, and selected Tanya Roberts instead. The animal trainer was fired, and another "friend" of the Executive Producer hired. This Executive Producer had me forcibly removed from the editing room, and recut my version entirely."
Sylvio: "Two young guys (Don Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman) brought me the script for The Beastmaster to produce. Don did his job properly. On any movie, you always have conflicts between the producer and the director. He sees it from an artistic point of view. But in the end, the producer has to think of his financier. Somebody has to take the final decision. Yes, some changes were made."
According to this Beastmaster website: "There was a long-standing rumor that an additional nude scene with Tanya Roberts was filmed in addition to the infamous swimming scene. However, the producers decided that it needed to be cut because they were aiming for a more kid-friendly "PG" rating, and the additional scene would certainly net the film an "R."
"When Anchor Bay released the DVD in October 2001, the infamous nude scene was proven to exist. Hidden in the "Extras" menu as an Easter egg, there are several rough takes of a love scene between Kiri and Dar..."
Tanya Roberts appeared in a nude layout in the October 1982 issue of Playboy magazine. The magazine published an interview with her and a Beastmaster-inspired photo layout with a lion and a fake tiger.
Luke: "I heard that you turned down Demi Moore for the lead female role?"
Sylvio: "I don't remember. It was not from me, maybe from Don. I have no idea."
Luke: "How did you come to the 1984 project, The Cotton Club?"
Sylvio: "I was supposed to be an investor in the movie. And when I came to the set, the movie had already started. And there was a lot of conflict. They asked me to help produce. I ended up like Henry Kissinger, trying to get all the parties to communicate with each other."
Luke: "And what was it like working for Francis Ford Coppola?"
Sylvio: "One day I met with him. I said, 'Francis, I am the new guy on the line. I would like to sit down to talk with you and how we can work together.' He said, 'Sylvio, go ahead and do your work. And let me do my work. If you want to hire a director for little money, then you can tell him what to do. But you paid me a lot of money. I am supposed to be the expert. You don't tell the expert what to do.' That is true."
Mike Medavoy writes in his 2002 autobiography You're Only As Good As Your Next One: "As the movie began consuming $1.2 million a week - roughly $300 a minute - the Doumanis hired a Lebanese B-movie producer named Sylvio Tabet to press Coppola. Tabet had no idea how to rein Coppola in, so he simply followed Francis around the set, shaking his "worry beads" to bring the production luck." (pg. 178)
Luke: "Beastmaster 2 in 1991."
Sylvio: "It was my most difficult movie because I produced, financed and directed. I wanted to make a $20 million movie with a $6 million budget."
Luke: "How do you feel about how it turned out?"
Sylvio: "I wish I would've chosen another approach [instead of setting it in modern Los Angeles]. The first Beastmaster worked because the audience could dream of a hero. I didn't take this hero seriously. I should've left it in his world and made the version even bigger.
"We made the third Beastmaster feature in 1995 and then 66 episodes of the Beastmaster TV show."
Robert Folk, the composer for Beastmaster 2, said: "The very last performance by the orchestra is preserved on video tape alone. A recording under the baton of my director, Sylvio Tabet, who proved once and for all his theory that if you can yell "Action" on a film set, then you can conduct a symphony orchestra."
Sylvio laughs: "He wanted to teach me how to conduct the orchestra but I have no clue how to do it."
Luke: "Dead Ringers, 1988."
Sylvio: "I raised money for the movie and I worked on the script. I wasn't on the set. What can you do on the set as a producer? Most of the time you sit and worry for nothing. Most of a producer's work is as an accountant. When you are on set, it is the work of the line producer and the director. I've made many films where I've never been on the set."
Luke: "What are your strengths as a producer?"
Sylvio pauses. "I have a vision for the story. I am a craftsman, not a businessman. I'm good at sitting down with the writer and exchanging ideas with him. Giving him new ideas to work with. I'm a creator. I started with painting. I became a photographer. I still write. I wrote a book of poems. I'm writing four other books now."
Luke: "Is there interpenetration between your interests in Zen and your movies?"
Sylvio: "I'm writing a script now about Zen and the laws of the universe. In all the Beastmasters, I always tried to put a positive message. The Beastmaster is an ecological hero, a link between nature and the human being. I'm working on television series now called Tara, the Queen of the Touargun. She's a woman, half human and half animal, who only becomes fully human when she makes love."
Luke: "What sort of material appeals to you?"
Sylvio: "When I see a painting, it could be impressionist or whatever, if I feel something for it... It's like love at first sight. I go for it. If I am attracted to the story or subject, I try to do it."
Luke: "Which one of your movies has the most of you in it?"
Sylvio: "Each one has a part of me. But Beastmaster has the most of me. I've been living with this character for 20 years."
Luke: "Which of your projects has had the most meaning for you?"
Sylvio: "This book A Journey to Shanti. It took me three years. I put the most of myself into it. I experienced the miracles this book talks about. If every school in the world could teach spiritual yoga there would be more happy people on earth."
Luke looks through A Journey to Shanti. "Could you make a movie about this?"
Sylvio: "Many movies have been made about this. The last one starred Robin Williams, What Dreams May Come. The projects that I am developing now have a lot of this in them. You don't have to brainwash people. You have to go in a subtle way and make it a part of your story."
I'm looking at a picture of woman holding up a gem.
Sylvio: "This is a miracle he (Sri Sathya Sai Baba) performed. He was speaking and he took nine lingham from his mouth. He created this ring here. He shook his hand and the ring appeared. Then I took it and it was too small. So he took it back and when he returned it to me, it had become bigger, the ring and the stone."
I look at a green gem on a ring on Sylvio's hand.
Sylvio: "These are just small things to prove that everything is energy. Matter is only a condensation of energy."
Luke: "Are you still in Catholicism?"
Sylvio: "I am still Catholic. You don't have to change your religion. You just understand how things work and then your religion becomes a religion of love."