Sheldon Lettich was born in New York City, but moved to California at a young age and grew up in the Los Angeles area. After graduation from high school he spent nearly four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving as a radio operator in South Vietnam with 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, and later with the elite 1st Force Reconnaissance Company based at Camp Pendleton, California.
He worked his way through college as a professional photographer, and attended at the American Film Institute’s Center for Advanced Film Studies as a Cinematography Fellow. Although his initial career goal was to become a director of photography, at the AFI his interests branched out to encompass writing and directing, which became the two fields where he found eventual success in the entertainment business.
Based partly upon his experiences in Vietnam, he co-authored the renowned play, “Tracers,” with a group of Vietnam Vets who were also aspiring actors. First performed on July 4th, 1980 at the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles, the play then traveled to Joseph Papp’s Public Theater in New York City, the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago (directed by Gary Sinise), the Royal Court Theater in London, and numerous venues worldwide. It received both Drama Desk Awards and L.A. Drama Critics Awards, and is still being performed throughout the world.
Around the same time, Lettich was writing numerous spec screenplays. One of these, co-written with Josh Becker, subsequently became the cult classic, Thou Shalt Not Kill… Except (1985), which starred Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi.
Eventually his screenplays began attracting the attention of producers in Hollywood. He co-authored the Cold War drama, Russkies (1987), which was the first starring role for a young Joaquin Phoenix. Around the same time he wrote the screenplay for the now-classic martial arts film, Bloodsport (1988), which launched the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme. One of his Vietnam-based screenplays caught the eye of Sylvester Stallone, which resulted in an overall deal with Stallone’s White Eagle Productions, and led to him co-writing Rambo III (1988) with Stallone.
The success of Bloodsport not only turned Jean-Claude Van Damme into an international action star, but it also forged a long and ongoing friendship with the man who wrote it. Van Damme helped to launch Lettich’s directing career with the film, Lionheart (1990) , which became Van Damme’s first movie to be released theatrically by a major U.S. studio. This was followed by Double Impact (1991), which was filmed in Hong Kong, with Lettich directing Van Damme in a challenging double role as twin brothers seeking revenge for their parents’ murder.
Lettich next discovered Mark Dacascos, who made his starring debut in Only the Strong (1993), a film that introduced the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira to international audiences. He also directed Dolph Lundgren in The Last Patrol (2000), and Daniel Bernhardt in Perfect Target (1997).
Continuing his long association with Van Damme, Lettich was a writer and a producer on the historical French Foreign Legion film, Legionnaire (1998), starring Van Damme and shot on location in Morocco. And he directed The Order (2001), an action-thriller starring Van Damme and Charlton Heston, which was filmed on locations in Israel and Bulgaria.
His most recent directorial effort, which he also co-wrote, is The Hard Corps (2006), an urban action-romance. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Vivica A. Fox, the film was shot on locations around Vancouver, Canada, and on sound stages in Romania, and was financed and released worldwide by Sony Pictures Entertainment.
His latest movie is Max (2015), which he co-wrote with his long-time friend, Boaz Yakin. The movie was directed by Boaz and produced by MGM. It was released nationwide in the USA by Warner Brothers on June 26th, 2015, and by the end of the summer had grossed $43 million. The novelization sold over 100,000 copies. A sequel has been completed.