We had the good fortune of connecting with Zero Kazama and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Zero, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
Aww man, hope this stays under the character count…
“So you’re just gonna pack up your camera gear, and what? Sleep in your car in Humboldt and see what happens?” An old coworker in Colorado Springs asked me. I did exactly that, but the events and disasters that got me to that nexus 6 or so years ago now spanned back to 2004 when I first got into the film industry in Honolulu to train as an actor and stunt man.

’07 I moved to L.A.; to put a biographical timeline of events in a fast-as-possible synopsis – I pursued acting and stunts for 7 years in Los Angeles and ended up hosting MTV’s Silent Library along the way while racking up some IMDB credits and learning behind the camera work on my own as well as from the 2nd unit director of Avatar. Life, relationships and mental health have an apocalyptic meltdown in 2012; after a chain of events I’d rather not repeat here, I end up in Humboldt county living out of my car for 6 months, which ended up feeling like paradise compared living in Los Angeles; those sort of experiences leave an impression on what’s important for you.

After that I’m back on Maui, my home island. I’m burnt out, broke, suicidal for months with no way out, professional life destroyed…so I thought until the stunt coordinator from Jurassic World hired me. A local friend passed his info along and didn’t realize that it was a guy I worked with on After Earth and we got along then. After a few weeks of shooting, I get off the island, decide I hate L.A. but with over a decade now of having worked in nothing but freelance and movies makes job options hard. I decide to drive to Atlanta, Georgia to restart in the industry there. On the way over, the room that was promised to me by a friend falls through and I end up in Athens, GA renting a room off craigslist. At a house gathering I meet a beast of man named JC Leuyer; champion kickboxer and legend in his own right. I need to give him proper thanks because he grabs several of my headshots and starts passing them to coordinators in the area without me asking. Why the kindness? Christian thing to do he says.
I start getting chances to work soon after…but you see I’m still in this abysmal place mentally – suicidal ideation still hasn’t left me and I use it to my advantage, as fuel. I go extra hard, even on rehearsals and coordinators take notice, plus I’m extremely professional on set. Can I just say though, that this is bad advice on how to go about your career doing stunts? Because near the end of year 2 there, still mentally screwed up and not giving a crap about my own health or safety, I go unnecessarily hard and dangerous with bad form getting choke slammed through a table onto hard wood and give myself a bad concussion. It didn’t seem serious until I realized later than my runny nose was actually brain fluid and I dive into a psychosis, wrecking where I live and getting forced into a 72 hour psychiatric hold where upon leaving I’m immediately driving up to Colorado and getting pissed off at tourists, then sliding on snow and totaling my car in the small town of Divide and ending up on TMZ for the mess.

I wander around homeless in Manitou Springs where I have the rest of everything I have stolen. Several days later I’m woken up by cops in a 24 hour post office. It’s winter and I was trying not to freeze to death. I asked them if I could go to jail because I’m gonna die out here. “Good news, you missed your court date so you got a warrant.” Got stuck in jail for 4 months waiting for the court date. With my ID and bank cards stolen along with having horrid relations with family, I didn’t have much options but to wait it out. Judge gives me a DWAI and the appropriate probation and community service with time served. So, I’m not going to defend my actions because they were wrong and out of control….but man, the impulse control you don’t have along with the rage that have caused football players and wrestlers to go ballistic; it’s a hard thing to temper. Also – and this is one of those cosmic wtf scenarios: a guy that lived with the lady I got into an accident with was also in the same cell block; he informed me that he tried to get her to stay at home that day after having several shots of whiskey for breakfast. Nothing happened to her, not even a sobriety test.

The day I get out of jail I walk out with one set of clothes and a discharged cell phone. I tell myself I’m just going to walk and see what happens. The door almost closes behind me as one of the officers grab it. Tells me to call the number on a post it note he hands over. They’re not supposed to this, but one of the cops later meets up with me to help get my life back together. Story for another time, but “just go and figure it out without a safety net” is a repeating theme for my approach to life regardless of the circumstances, and I don’t believe you can be a successful dream catcher without some of that in you.
For community service, I chose working at a horse stables; I knock out 48 hours in a week and they offer me a job, I take it. Meet a guy there who’s also on community service that runs an indoor cannabis grow and he offers me a job. I take it. For around a year and a half I’m working and saving while living out an 87 Suburban I gutted into a camper. I take all that money saved and buy a Sony a7s2 along with a maxed out MacBook pro, make a few videos at the stables (Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center) and decide I’m gonna drive to Humboldt county; the magical redwood coast that taught me how to live out of a car in the first place. I say goodbye to the four dozen horses I looked after along with the state of Colorado.

3rd morning of truck camping around Humboldt I’m struck with the urge to visit a horse stables. The first person I meet there is a horseback archery instructor and I meet their circle and start creating videos for them. One guy who becomes my best friend in the group was initially impressed by a video I made for a farrier (horse shoer) in Colorado, since he was used to be a farrier himself. Instinct leading to synchronicities tied to your unique path is something you learn to rely on. I lived in Humboldt for two years, shooting a lot of horse footage like following a team of Clydesdales to their parades and a draft horse competition in Nevada city. On the side I’m doing real estate videos and random little promos for the communities in the area. There’s a long story about my time in the county as well as extensive traveling up the Pacific Northwest to Seattle and back that I’ll have to skip here, but one important detail is that my main live/work vehicle became a Honda Element. These vehicles are the best.

A couple years was my limit in that county. My constitution couldn’t handle the constant wet and humid, and work felt like perpetual dead ends. On a whim, I purchased a quarter acre outside of Albuquerque and start heading southwest. During a stay over in Desert National Monument outside of Vegas my sister refers me to one of her friends living in Santa Fe that needs to get a documentary pitch done about his grandfather. I shoot over to produce a video with him. His name’s Ehren Kee Natay and you should have an interview with him if you haven’t already. Quite the prolific artist. It’s a couple years since we first met and we’ve just wrapped a concept trailer for a Native Foods show. After our initial video, I’m thinking to start hitting up Netflix and any productions happening in Albuquerque then BAM – covid lockdowns hit. I stay with him and his mom for 3 months until I decide to hit the road again. Gas is falling to 97 cents a gallon after all…this of all times would be the prime opportunity to drive and make use of public lands #vanlife.

Several weeks later after a stay and catching up with friends in Georgia, I’m camping in North Carolina and I get a text from an old friend; she has breast cancer. After hitting the eastern most point of the States in Maine, I head to Vermont to take her to radiation treatments and end up assisting her for a bit over a year on a journey that took us back to Hawai’i then Manhattan, with a Pacific Coast Highway road trip in the middle. After her full recovery I retrieved my Honda Element and started to drive back to the southwest, where I ended up living in Abiquiu of all places for 6 months before finding a place in Santa Fe.
All of this is extremely abridged and relevant to understand how I approach my craft/business; to be able operate a Hollywood-quality production in a completely mobile, off grid set up. I have 3 years of intentional living out of a vehicle as literal training, but this thought of “training” came from turning disaster scenarios into practices of empowerment. Who the hell trains to live out of a car and shoot media in the most undesirable circumstances possible? I’m not the only one but we’re very few. Be able to show up in an unknown location to not only restart your life but make a living as an artist with no plan, no leads. Over and over while producing top notch footage, using wherever you are as an office.
Additionally – live events and animals force you to capture footage with no prep; this forces you to get good without the luxury of time for creating a cinematic shot.
When I moved to L.A., I had 2,000$, no place lined up to stay and an ultimatum: make a living from your craft or starve. This do or die mindset has served me and broken me several times over; the amount of stress compounded with all the other factors can cause psychic fractures…but that thing about filling the fractures with gold, “kinstugi” – is what’s important here. There’s a catharsis in telling a bit of my story and how I ended up approaching my life/craft this way, but I also want people to know; there’s a lot of us, broken over and over out there, imperfect in ways you can relate to and in ways that you can’t. You use all of that as your fuel, your accidental inspirations to create a way of life that’s uniquely your own.

Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? 
I believe most of this was covered most of this in the main question, but if I could describe what sets me apart in one sentence it would be that I’m a completely mobile production unit that’s capable of doing the work of a small office on the road. Anyone who asks “was it easy” as a determining factor to enter a field of work, art, sports, etc needs to stay out of it. You get better by making things strategically harder and upping your standards of execution.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’ve travelled cross country a few times over; in a year I’ve put 50,000 miles on a vehicle before, so I generally don’t stick to one area if I’m taking someone around. Most recently I picked up a from Albuquerque that was visiting from Hawai’i and took him to several places in Abiquiu and then went to Ojo Caliente hot springs, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Pagosa Springs, Durango, Mesa Verde, the Bisti Badlands and the Chaco Canyon ruins over the course of 6 days or so. We’re both coffee lovers so we hit up as much specialty cafes as possible. I think our favorite on around here was Cutbow Coffee in ABQ.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Darin Fujimori in Honolulu for mentoring me at the beginning of my career, and for sticking with me through all the hard times. JC Leuyer for his kindness when I lived in Georgia. The Leist family along with Paul and Theresa in Colorado for helping me out in Colorado even though they didn’t even know me. Shane Daniels for still being my friend even after all the mayhem I put him through.

x

Website: www.SpartanNinja.com

Instagram: spartanxninja

Image Credits
All of them are by me except the one where I’m on the atv. That was taken by Cammie Leist on her phone. She’s not a pro but giving her a credit might make her giggle.

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