Bookpleasures.comwelcomes as our guest filmmaker, author and owner of Visual Arts Entertainment, Shane Stanley. Shane is best known for executive producing the #1 Box Office hit Gridiron Gang starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson for Sony Pictures and directing music videos. Stanley won a production Emmy Award at sixteen, and a second at nineteen for his work on The Desperate Passage Series. He made his directorial debut with his own screenplay A Sight for Sore Eyes. Recently, Shane has authored What you don't learn in Film School: A Complete Guide To (Independent) Film Making.
Good day Shane and thanks for participating in our interview.
Shane: My pleasure. Thank you for having me, Norm.
did you get into producing and how did you become a producer?
I got into producing by accident. I grew up in and around the
industry but never saw myself as a producer – or a filmmaker for
that matter and really had other interests growing up. My father, a
respected filmmaker in his own right, had a passion project and his
budget was one million dollars.
After trying to raise the money for
about four years, he was only able to get $25,000 of it and because
so, it became a family-produced project. We went ahead and made the
film and once it was finished, the late, great Michael Landon saw it
and got involved which launched a six-part series of independently
produced controversial, must-see television that was nominated for 33
Emmy’s and won 13 statues over a five year run. Needless to say, my
career plans took a new path.
Norm: I find it quite impressive that you won a production Emmy Award at age sixteen. How common is it for young filmmakers to see such an early success in their careers?
Shane: I don’t think it’s too common for filmmakers or at least youngsters in production to have that kind of success so early. How often are children given cameras or put in the edit bay to make films. You see it more and more with actors, and even YouTube personalities, but I was in a unique position as we had a very tough film to make with very limited resources so it became ‘all hands on deck.’
I already knew how to run an edit machine
and work basic sound and camera before I was 7 years old, so I was a
seasoned veteran when I did the work at 15 on Desperate Passage
(laughs). My father was a perfectionist when it came to his
filmmaking, knew his craft and was over prepared. Because of his
vision and great leadership, I think if he had taken a group of
Orangutans out to shoot the film, he would have had similar success.
That’s just a testament to his dedication and talent as a
filmmaker. It’s that way a lot – if a filmmaker knows his or her
craft, the team often reaps the rewards. Look at when Spielberg,
Scorsese or Del Toro makes a movie - the team is up for a bunch of
Norm: What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far in your career and what has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Shane: My greatest success is having the privilege of waking up in the morning doing what I do. I don’t think of a particular film as my greatest achievement because of its box office numbers or if it won any awards. Every project is a great challenge and I am no more proud of one than another. I would say for me just being able to tell another story is my greatest achievement. One of the biggest challenges to overcome is having the kind of success I did at such a young age. When you’re 19, already won two Emmys and were nominated for four, where do you go from there? The pressure to deliver early on was tremendous. Then one day I realized that WE as a group had ridden a tremendous wave and it was time to put that in the rearview mirror and just be. Once I was able to do that, I felt successful again.
Norm: How do you decide which film you want to produce and become involved in?
Shane: For me, there has to be a deep connection with a project. Either it’s something I experienced in my own life and turn into a story I selfishly need to tell, or it comes to me from someone and gnaws on my ankle like a junkyard dog until I give in to it. Once you commit to making a project, it’s an 18-month love affair and from it, you’ll wear those battle scars publically and for the rest of your life. As I get older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I’d like to think my selection process is getting better. But at the end of the day, a project just has to connect to my soul and depending on where I am at any given moment, dictates that.
Norm: What advice can you give aspiring filmmakers that you wished you had received, or that you wished you would have listened to?
Shane: Again, having the success I did at such a young age didn’t allow me to make ‘good’ mistakes and discover who I really could have been as a filmmaker. I put unrealistic parameters and expectations in front of me that I shouldn’t have. It was no one’s fault but my own but it hindered my growth tremendously. My advice is to write and shoot as much as you can, as often as you can and learn what works – and what doesn’t. Find YOUR voice and do so on your own terms. Don’t be afraid to fail or color outside of the lines. The true failure is not allowing yourself the chance to spread your wings and discover who you are as an artist and just how high you can soar.
Norm: You have been involved in independent film making for many years. How has it and your role in it dramatically changed over the years?
Shane: I think now you have to know so much more as a filmmaker than ever. Resources to finance independent film are getting scarce and the expectation to deliver quality product has only escalated. Just because there are countless outlets for your work, it doesn’t mean they pay anything. This is a business. I don’t always love the responsibilities of wearing so many hats but it’s me who’s accountable to my investors and because there is no safety net when making independently financed films, I can only point the finger at myself if it fails. There is no machine or committee to lay the blame.
Norm: What would say have been some your biggest learning experiences in terms of making mistakes, or trusting your instincts?
Shane: You have to trust your gut! Every time I went against my gut (aka common sense), I ended up kicking myself in the ass. Whether its getting involved with a financial group who’s promising you the moon or trusting a distributor with your film, you have to take a step back and not just hear what you want to hear. As my grandfather Samuel Morse always said, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” As artists, we tend to live in fantasyland and because of this, accept a lot of BS as gospel. We have to smarten (and toughen) up and remember because of what we do, we attract a lot of scum – sadly, much more than most.
Norm: How many times in your career have you experienced rejection? How did they shape you?
Shane: I believe rejection is the bedrock of any solid career and learned many years ago to use it as motivation. In this business for every 100 no’s you get, you might get one yes. Collect a dozen ‘yeses’ and maybe, just maybe one of them will come to fruition.
Norm: What trends in the independent filmmaking?
Shane: I think doing things a little left of left and from a fresh perspective is one way to be successful. As indie rats, we don’t have the financial resources to pad a 90 minute movie with too much fluff so its imperative we hit people where it counts – in the heart, the soul, and the mind. Look at films like Slingblade, The Station Agent, Three Billboards and Lady Bird. All stories that have been told before but ones we can relate to because they were told from a fresh perspective. Those to me are the films that careers are made of. Anyone can get a camera and shoot. How you touch your audiences, now that’s what counts.
Norm: What would you like to say to film producers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share?
Shane: The book evolved over time. I love offering tips end guidance, especially to our next generation of storytellers and spend a lot of time speaking at film schools. I find the questions I’m asked are often the same so I started out to create a “cheat sheet” to make the process of answering questions easier which evolved into a blog and quickly got out-of-control and turned into a 200 page book. I loved the process and look forward to writing another.
Norm: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them? As a follow up, what do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
Shane: My goals for the book was that it can become THE go to reference for people who need guidance on everything from starting a film company to getting independent financing, to what stories to tell who to cast and why. A tool to help show how to make the most out of whatever resources you have and how to best prepare for battle before, during, and after the war of making a movie. I met my goals in writing this book. I know how much it has helped people who are unsure of so many things in the business of the business whether their making their first or even fifteenth movie. at the end of the day I hope my readers will walk away feeling like they had a friend who was in their corner whispering in their ear throughout all phases of the journey and that maybe my insight helped to see their dreams not only come to fruition but helped them come together that much easier.
Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing this book and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Shane: The most difficult part about writing this book was keeping it streamlined and to the point. I could have gone on and on for days about each subject and this could’ve easily turned into a 1500 page anchor. What I enjoyed most about writing the book was telling some of the stories of my failures - which I had buried for years - so it was very cathartic in many ways.
Norm: What does the future hold for you personally? What are you long term goals?
Shane: The future for me is giving seminars and workshops to film school students in Los Angeles that we’re calling “What You Don't You Don’t Learn In Film School - Summer Sessions.” People can go to my website and sign up there now. There is absolutely NO cost and LA City College is providing us the locations. Dates will be announced soon. My long-term goals are to go from being a full-time filmmaker and part time teacher to a full-time teacher and part time filmmaker.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and What you don't learn in Film School: A Complete Guide To (Independent) Film Making?
Shane: We have two websites that are active right now SHANE STANLEY and WHAT YOU DON'T LEARN IN FILM SCHOOL at both places you can look at the book or sign up for the summer sessions. My social media sites are:
Norm: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. It's been an absolute pleasure to meet with you and read your work. Good luck with your book.
Shane. You’re so
welcome. Thank you Norm! Continued blessings and success to you.