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Not everyone can say they’ve worked with James Cameron, Michael Jackson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The three stars are showbiz demi-gods and you’d have to be extra-special even to be in their presence, let alone work with all of them.
Yet this is a reality for producer and now founder of Blackbelt TV, Lawrence Kasanoff. The man was an executive producer of the hit movie True Lies, which featured Schwarzenegger.
With his friend and business partner, the award-winning director Cameron, Kasanoff formed Lightstorm Entertainment, which produced the hit film at the time, Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Seeing opportunities in other arenas, Kasanoff parted ways with Lightstorm (which is still run by Cameron) and went on to have some commendable successes of his own.
Through his new company, Threshold Entertainment Group, Kasanoff stumbled upon an idea that forever changed his life.
“I received a call from a video game company who asked me to take a look at a game they were developing,” he said.
“They got me interested because they said the game would out-sell The Terminator games that were the top sellers at the time.
“Upon seeing the game, which was called Mortal Kombat, I was really impressed by it and asked them if I could buy the rights. They agreed and we made a deal.”
What the game company may not have realised at the time was that Kasanoff, who is a martial arts fanatic, saw opportunities beyond just the game.
“I don’t think anyone had ever converted a game to a movie back then. It was always the other way. So we pioneered in that and released several movies off that title.
“We even spun it into a TV series and more video games – it was just incredible,” he explained.
Through that work on Mortal Kombat Kasanoff did extensive travelling around the world for castings.
“We saw so many martial arts fights in different parts of the world and an idea came to mind. I asked the guys in the respective countries what they did with the footage and they told me that they just beamed it on local TV and left it at that.
“I asked if I could buy the rights to the tapes and they agreed. I knew the rest of the world would really love to see the sanctioned mixed martial arts fights just as much as they want to see boxing matches,” he said.
This led to the formation of Blackbelt TV, a channel that is dedicated to everything concerning the martial arts.
“We are broadcasting in 50 countries and our goal is to premier world news in mixed martial arts,” said Kasanoff.
“We have the professionals coming in to show us some moves, we have a wide library of movies in that genre and several beautiful girls on the channel presenting great shows.
“So it makes sense that motto is “Kicks, Flicks and Chicks”, because we have it all.”
Speaking of chicks, with Kasanoff was the model, martial artist and TV presenter, JJ Anderson (pictured), who presents the show 3 Rounds With... on Blackbelt TV.
With a face and body like hers, the last thing anyone would think is that she can fight or is into the martial arts.
“I grew up with parents who were wrestling coaches so I started wrestling, although I preferred soccer,” she said.
“I stopped at some stage because I wanted to date boys and I didn’t want them to know I could fight them. However, I bounced right back when I found out that a lot of people were doing it and it was actually cool.”
In a chance meeting with Kasanoff, Anderson showed that she was an all-rounder and received an offer to work on Blackbelt TV.
“I have had cool people like Evander Holyfield and Dolph Lundgren come to the show and share honest things about their lives we didn’t know. For example, I had no idea Dolph started training in the martial arts because his father was abusive. 3 Rounds With... brings that out of people,” she said.
Blackbelt TV celebrates its first year in South Africa and more local material is set to be broadcast worldwide soon.
• Blackbelt TV airs on DStv channel 129.