I think about leaving thefilm industry every day:Shawn Christensen

The Oscar-winning writer-director Shawn Christensen says that it is the craft that holds him back in the film industry.

hollywood Updated: Aug 14, 2018 18:32 IST
Susan Jose
Susan Jose
Mumbai
Shawn Christensen,Paul Wesley,Hollywood
Shawn Christensen attends says even though he didn’t understand them, he learnt from Indian movies. (Photo: Waytao Shing)

Director Shawn Christensen who has helmed projects such as The Vanishing Of Sidney Hall (2018) and the Academy Award-winning short film Curfew (2012) talks about his long-time friend, The Vampire Diaries star Paul Wesley, the growing diversity in the American film industry and how he has aspirations “bigger” than the just the film industry.

Your friendship with Paul Wesley goes a long way back. How did it all start?

Well, Paul is the one who duped me into getting into Hollywood in the first place. He essentially read a screenplay I had written and without asking me, sent it over to his manager. Then suddenly, she wanted to take it on and produce it. The next thing I knew, my co-writer and I were assigned to William (WME; William Morris Talent agency); it started from there. So, he is responsible for all of the hills and valleys I go through — I blame him. Further to that point though, I have had spectacular screenplays that I was having trouble with or that needed a friend’s notes. Paul always gave the best notes, specifically on one script called the Comical. He gave me notes that were hugely helpful and a week later I churned out a draft with his notes and I sold it. I think it was his notes that brought it over the tops for me. We’ve been friends since acting class when we were kids and so we’ve had the same sense of humour and the same circle of friends. It’s been that way for many years.

How has your experience in the film industry been so far?

Well, I think about leaving it every day, if you want me to be honest. But I like the making, the stories, the movies, cinema, so I stick around and try to make my little projects. I like to reinvent myself or go against what people think I am going to do, and that’s not very easy to do in any industry. So I’ll stick around but I have other aspirations, bigger aspirations but for the moment, the film industry is fine.

Since artistes are also influencers, do you feel they should voice their thoughts about political issues?

There are different reasons why people make movies and television shows; some of course are pure primal, cult entertainment. Some people can do that and simultaneously shine light on social issues. Some directors always want to be political every time they make either a film or documentary. I don’t think anyone who is making any content, films, television, anything should box themselves into anything other than a story or an issue that they really believe in. Period. The issues could be political, religious or social. It is really up to the film-maker. If they have a compelling idea, a compelling story, it doesn’t really matter.

The entertainment industry has lately been taking conscious effort to increase diversity at various arenas including the Oscars and Grammys. How do you think this affects the talent pool and their recruitment?

Well, I definitely see a major shift in America, where they have a fantastic clause that benefits you if you have a more diverse cast. You get rebates and save money. I don’t know who instilled the rule but that’s a beautiful one right there. It honestly forces people to make a movie look a little more realistic. In the past few years, young film-makers, who are more diverse are entering the game. So, it’s going to take them a minute, to rise up and have their voice be known. And in America, it’s been a problem.

I am part of the Academy and they just invited me into a very diverse crowd. So they are definitely rising up to the occasion but they are also kind of at the mercy of what’s going on with the studios, what they are making and who they are hiring. So it’s like a catch 22 situation. I think things are looking up. Actually, I have to add that I have a son and so I watch a lot of these cartoons that I have never seen. I find them to be extraordinarily diverse and that is probably one place that’s really changing.

Apart from diversity, and pay gap what are the other issues in the entertainment industry that you think needs to be addressed?

There is plenty they can do but quite frankly, what they should really worry about is quality over quantity of movies and television. We live in an age where it is easier to make films. You can shoot one on your phone if you wanted, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the stories are that great or that the issues are really shined upon in any particular way. I am more towards ‘let’s get the good stories out there’ wherever they come from.

Your thoughts on the Indian film industry.

I used to be a projectionist at a theatre when I used to be in college so I ran down Bollywood movies every month. It used to be actually incredibly crazy. Sometimes, I am not kidding, they would send the films and they were films, it was not digital, in three-minute reels and there would be around 60 of them, you know, three-hour Bollywood movies. So I would literally have to place together all 60 reels together without knowing which was the beginning and which the end. That would take me hours so in any case I would run these down for a special, I don’t know what the club was called but they would run down these Bollywood movies. I would do this for I think the last few years I was in college. I found them to be, well, there were some that I didn’t really understand and some that I thought were fantastic, specifically in the way they use the camera and the composition. I actually learned some things, composition wise because they were incorporating dance sequences. These dance sequences would do things that I think perhaps the director was thinking in terms of dance sequence but I was thinking in terms of ‘this is actually pretty great composition’ or ‘this is a great camera movement’. So there was a little inspiration that happened for me there at that time. In the whole movie theatre, I was the only white person. I was the only one on shift as they would have these [films screen] late at night and I would just get popcorn and watch these once a month, every Sunday.

Where would you prefer to go during your first visit to India?

I have never been to India. I have never been to India or Australia. You tell me what should I do (laughs). I would want to do all of it but I would need a curator, someone who would tell me what I am doing. I can’t tell you what I want to do in another country because the beauty of another country is that they direct you towards their best parts, parts that are different from anywhere else. What I wouldn’t want to do necessarily would be the touristy things, I wouldn’t want to go to the touristy places. I want to see what the people who live there, do there, I should see things that I’ve never heard about. So, plan it out and get back to me (laughs).

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First Published: Aug 14, 2018 18:32 IST