We had the good fortune of connecting with Zak Lee Guarnaccia and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Zak Lee, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I was born in Italy and as an energetic youth, I was always dreaming. I’ve always been open-minded; tried to think outside the box. I never worried about what other people thought of my imagination. I always felt that I am the ultimate champion of my own dreams. My parents, relatives, or friends never really influenced me. It was the imagination I had in me that I used to create, rehearse, and learn to act in movies. But I did have one outside influencer growing up and that was Bruce Lee. As a martial artist back then, we weren’t exposed to too many professionals so he was the main guy that I emulated. I wanted to make movies and do stunts just like him. I was and still am constantly surrounded by naysayers who try to keep me from living my dreams. But I keep dreaming and I keep on living. I stay focused to achieve my goals and that continually makes me who I am today. So even with all my imperfections and lessons that I am always learning, I embrace being the underdog. So accepting challenges, my passion, and constant motivation, is how I plan to achieve my goals and live out my dreams.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
After begging and annoying my parents for couple years, finally when I was nine, I was able to convinced my father to sign me up in a Martial Arts school. Kung Fu to be exact. But my father chose a Karate school because he wasn’t sure about the whole “Kung Fu thing”. I didn’t care because at least it was a start. Several years later I won the Martial Arts and Kickboxing Italian Championship multiple times, won the European Championships title twice, and the Pro-International Championships. But for some reason I wasn’t able to gain the respect of friends and family.
Now in my early twenties, I turned into a fitness expert. with all my hard work, and by my thirties I developed a few successful exercise videos in the market. In 1998 I produced my very first exercise video, “TaiBox Kick To Fit”. I hired radio personality Ellen K (now hosting Ellen K Radio Show on KOST 103.5 FM) to be my co-host. The video reached #6 on the Billboard video chart. At the beginning, many distributors refused the project but after one year of struggling, one distributor gave me an offer. I couldn’t refuse it as it was the only one I got. But I made the mistake in my contract
negotiations and because of that, the distributor made over $1M in sales, but my partners and I didn’t see any money. Live and learn. Back in Italy, I had the opportunity to experience what it was like working on a movie set. When I was 16, I worked as a Productions Assistant and that was when I saw a stuntman hanging from the ceiling and doing a free
fall into a three foot deep pool. I liked that and thought that I can do that! I continued to work in production until my yearly teenage years. My dream was always to live in California where the action films were being produced. But when I was 21, my mother passed away. When she left, so did my family business and the gym I built. I lost everything including my girl friends, and the people I thought were my friends. So with $400, I decide to reinvent myself in America and to continue to compete in martial arts tournaments with the hopes of establishing myself in the film industry.
It was a struggle having to deal with my little knowledge of the English language and the cultural adjustment, but after working in a few martial arts movies, years later I was able to book a supporting role showing some of my comedic skills in the romantic comedy feature film, “Everybody Wants To Be Italian”. TV Show “MEDIUM” with Patricia Arquette. Things then started to pick up for me, as these days I booked acting roles in “Red Notice” with “The Rock”, “Live By Night” with Ben Affleck, “Judas The Black Messiah” “The Morning Show” with Steve Carell and Jennifer Aniston, as well severals national commercials. If you don’t blink, you might recognize this underdog in few national commercials with Conan O’Brien, Jamie Lee Curtis and two other spots for Mercury Insurance and AT&T.
I began with the aspirations to teach children’s and adult’s karate and kickboxing and fitness while demonstrating my expertise on the big screen as a stuntman. I owned and worked as a group fitness manager in two sports clubs in Italy and developed and taught the K2F Kick2Fit fitness program at Crunch, Spectrum Clubs, Bodies in Motion, 24 Hour Fitness and many more.
I have been in training nearly all my life. I earned 3 different black belts from 1st to 3rd degree in a few martial arts styles and fighting systems. During the economic tough times, and in a moment of desperation, I was getting offers, and even considered acting in adult films but this was the only job I didn’t have enough guts to go through with.
As I reached rock bottom several times in my life, I never lost my will, health or happiness to bounce back and reinvent myself to reach my ultimate goals; my dream of acting and filmmaking.
As an Independent filmmaker, many times we break the rules. I told my personal story with the making and distribution of my first action film “Rules” with zero dollars. But I’m not a hero. Heroes usually follow rules.
As an independent, restless entrepreneur of the entertainment industry, today I’m the Owner/Executive of LighRow Ranch, LLC. (LightRowRanch.com) A ten acre movie backlot and I currently have an agenda for several feature films in development. I also am the inventor and full patent owner of the X3S BENCH (x3sbench.com) exercise equipment.
Overall, I’m a strong animal activist and environmental defender, I’m Vegan, loving animals deeply from my young age with the main purpose in my life to make an incredible change on this planet,
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’m born and raised form an ancient country “Italy – Rome” I’m always trigged by the world history, how the world environment, our humans society, build, conquer and as well keep destroying this earth. I’m taking all my visitors to special places that build Los Angeles and California, and sometime around the US, realizing how young still is compare what my city have been through and how fast has develop and made one of the most beautiful land of opportunity for anyone in a very short time. The multicultural always fascinate me, from the urbanist to the beauty of Mother Nature to type of variety of cuisine available as long they are healthy, as always my health come first, although my visitors or friends will have their own choice to make.
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?
I may sound a little ungrateful to someone who doesn’t know my story, but I never had a great supporter or mentor. I don’t say this for sympathy, but it made the desire to reach my dreams even more stronger. The constant discouragement I received and ideas to detour my life pattern simply increased my passion, persistence, focus and strength to reach my ultimate life purpose. My struggles developed my strengths. When I’m going through hardships and decide not to give up, that feeds my desire to succeed. I haven’t done everything on my own. Nobody does. So I do have several chapters in my life where friends contributed to help feed my passion and those few people are still close to me today. I’m fully forever grateful to them. Those friends helped me realize at later age that my career wasn’t a sprint but a marathon.
In my life I have always protected my health and have been able to continue my life marathon. I built a strong health equity, realizing that my dreams depend on it. My actual age reflects my true self in a younger body, my younger body is trapped by a child’s mind, full of passion and enthusiasm.
My life reflects my visionary ideal. From the day I was born I began to materialize my own vision. I learned to tolerate pain, to outlast trials, to master challenges. Yes, those naysayers tried to keep me from living my dreams, but I kept dreaming, and I keep on living. I might not be your conventional role model, but I talk the talk, then I walk the walk. I’m still the underdog and I won’t quit. My staying power will see me to victory. I never stop investing myself. The pay-off is what I live for. I believe in myself, unconditionally. This is why my new film, “The Next Big Hit” a martial arts musical comedy (TheNextBigHitmovie.com) will be a great story. Is a my passion film project that I created over thirty years ago, but how all it happen is another story. So it’s now time for this story, and to stand-out and get one step closer to my ultimate life purpose. I’ll see you all at the Oscars! I have a stubborn heart, but I’m not a stubborn man.
Only one image at the premiere have a credit on it, and is public.