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On The Table Read, “the best entertainment magazine in the UK“, filmmaker Shane Stanley talks about his career and the work that went into his next film release, Night Train.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Shane Stanley about his life and career, highlights from his work in the film industry, and the creative process behind his new film, Night Train.
Tell me a bit about yourself.
My name is Shane Stanley and I’m a filmmaker. I have worked consistently in the industry for the better part of 35 years as either a writer, producer, director, or film editor. Often, I still do all the above on my projects.
I first started in the industry at 9 months old, when a casting director for for Century 21 Realtors saw me at a barbecue and asked my father if he would let me be the baby in the commercials. From there I did over 100 projects in front of the camera before I was in the 4th grade. I’ve worked steady in the industry most of my life, with well over 600 projects to my credit in one capacity or another.
When did you first realise you wanted to make films?
I had grown up with a father who was a working actor/aspiring filmmaker. Once he turned into a full-time filmmaker, when I was about 6 or 7, I loved working with him on the old film edit machines and learning how to use the old Arri 16mm cameras he had. I had other interests, mostly motorcycles and music, but when I started seeing films like “Chariots of Fire” or “The Black Stallion,” I really enjoyed them and started to want to make movies because of how those films made me feel as a viewer.
I made my first attempt by re-writing Rocky III, I loved Stallone’s work, and I think my first draft was only 11 or 12 pages. I never did shoot the film, as I couldn’t find a good Clubber Lang character, but my brother Brett was great at playing Hulk Hogan and my then girlfriend had agreed to play Adrian. My dog Star was going to be Butkis. If only I had found a good Clubber Lang double for Mr. T, I think I would’a had a remake hit.
What is your favourite thing about films?
As a filmmaker, I love the challenge of having a concept and then delivering it to the world as a completed product. I mean, to look at a blank page on the computer and see it become an actual movie, that never gets old.
As a viewer, I love to see choices that are made from all aspects of the creatives involved. I can look at a film and see what limitations they may have been faced with as well as how they addressed certain obstacles and executed them, whether their hurdles came from budget, schedule or actor availability. I guess having cut films for almost 40 years and produced them for so long, those things really stick out to me and they’re fun to pick out. I can even spot the chinks in the armor when it comes to the big-budget studio films which will sometimes not be able to hide them, even with the endless money they have to make and fix mistakes.
What classes or research did you take to support you in your filmmaking career?
I learned on the job and by trial and error. I didn’t complete anything more than a high school drama class and I didn’t go to college. I actually took some of my high school finals early because in my senior year I was in Texas working on a film 1,500 miles away from home. I just jumped headfirst into the business after graduating school and had a few detours along the way.
My father wanted me to attend Brooks Institute up in Santa Barbara, California when I finished high school. But the fact of the matter was, I was a rudderless ship that was done with formal education and needed to find my way. Looking back, there have been times I wish I had some formal training that may have allowed for making some great connections, which in turn probably would have made the journey a bit smoother.
Where I am now, I think the education I’ve had by being IN the thick of it has paid off in spades.
What was your first film industry job?
I worked on camera as a child actor from 9 months old until I was about 6 or 7. But when my father started working as a filmmaker, I was working with him on his sets and was learning from him. His budgets were so low – he couldn’t afford a real crew, so he pulled from neighbors, friends, and yours truly. I was working in the grip and camera departments for him before I was out of elementary school and while still often appearing on camera so, I was doing double duty.
The first person to hire me outside of family was Rick Seigel, who owned Marathon Entertainment. He was Leah Remini’s manager and a successful television producer who saw something in me early on and gave me a chance to prove he was right. Rick and I are still good friends to this day, and I owe him a lot for taking a chance on me, a kid who hadonly worked under his father which can be a real tough hire.
I hadn’t been shaped by the world or gotten my ass kicked by real life yet. I had been protected by a father who loved me and taught me, but it was nothing like the ‘real world’ out there which has little or no margin for error and is quite unkind.
What was your most recent film industry job?
Well, I am my own boss, so if that counts, I produced, directed, and edited a film called “Night Train” which will release in the US on January 13, 2023. I am very proud and excited about it.
As far as the latest “job” for hire? I was hired to produce and direct a film for one of the major studios this past summer but due to some intellectual property issues with the script, legal pulled the plug 6 days before production began. It was a bit of a letdown, but these things happen. The project is being re-written now and should go sometime in the spring, so I am hopeful it all comes together. I think it would be a fun break from what I have been doing to go work for ‘the machine’ and get my ass kicked a bit. It can only make me better at what I do, and I see it as a fun experience ahead.
Tell me about a favourite experience in your career. Something that stands out in your memories and makes you want to find more experiences like it.
When I was on my last day at “Entertainment Tonight,” as an assistant editor, we all knew we were being laid off with the Viacom takeover at Paramount. They happened to be filming “Clear and Present Danger” that day and a crewman from the film recruited me as they were shorthanded. They were doing pickup shots and re-shoots so I helped wherever I could. One minute I had a suit on and was a background actor and the next I was hauling gear in the Grip & Electric Department.
The best part was Harrison Ford and Willem Dafoe were there working and when they called lunch (at 2AM), I went off and sat on a curb by myself to get out of everyone’s way. About five minutes into my meal, Mr. Ford walked over wanting some quiet time as well and asked if he could sit with me. We sat in silence for a while then he just struck up a conversation. We talked about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in this crazy industry and had a great conversation – just the two of us.
When the evening was over, we wrapped up and as everyone was saying their goodbyes, I was in the grip truck helping to stow away gear and my boss said, “Dude, Harrison Ford is asking to see you.” I walked out and there he was waiting to say goodbye. He shook my hand and said all the nice things people say after a nice encounter. That by far was the most memorable experience I have had in the industry as he was the biggest movie star on the planet back then and it was great to not only meet one of my all-time favorite actors but to see what a genuine and kind soul he was.
What was your toughest experience in your filmmaking career?
Being fired from network television. I was working as a production assistant on a hit show and we had a guest director by the name of John Rich. John was a legend. He had directed everything from “All in the Family,” “The Brady Bunch,” to “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” to only name a few. There was one rule mandated by my boss: do NOT talk to John Rich.
Well, two days into his being in our production offices, I was in the snack/break room making a sandwich. Mr. Rich walked in and asked where the coffee cups were. The problem was, Mr. Rich had been on my family’s boat as a guest for a recent funeral of screenwriting legend, Wells Root, who happened to be my father’s mentor and dearest friend. Mr. Rich recognized me right away and we started talking. My boss walked by, saw us engaged in a pleasant discussion, called me into her office, and I was fired on the spot.
Looking back, I should have said something, and I know Mr. Rich would have vouched for me, but honestly, she was one of the worst human beings I had ever encountered. I saw it as a wonderful excuse to just move on with my life and rid myself of her toxic behavior.
Oddly enough, she hasn’t worked in this industry since that job as a production coordinator for a major network. I think she was new to that position, just didn’t know how to handle the power she was given, and loved the control.
What is the title of your current project?
The film coming out next is “Night Train.” It stars Danielle C. Ryan, Diora Baird, Joe Lando, Ivan Sergei, Joseph D. Reitman, and a bunch of other great actors.
What inspired you to make Night Train?
We love making movies like the old Hal Needham films such as “Smokey and the Bandit,” “Cannonball Run,” and “Hooper.” We like to take the Burt Reynolds character and put him in the passenger seat while putting Sally Fields behind the wheel. This is exactly that and is a wonderful mix of action, thrills, and spills.
What is the main conflict of Night Train?
It’s about a single mom struggling to make ends meet as a Hollywood teamster who evades capture by a ruthless FBI Agent while running black market medical supplies in her legendary souped-up pickup truck.
How long did you spend in production?
The script was written by England’s own CJ Walley. He delivered an amazing script which he conceptualized during the heart of the pandemic. When I read it, I knew I needed to make it. We spent five weeks shooting “Night Train” with a couple of extra stunts and chase days because we our stunt team was busy on “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.” We had to wait until they had returned from their stint in Hungary to finish our “little” film.
How long did you spend in post-production?
Post went faster on “Night Train” than any other film I have done. I think I had it cut in about 6 weeks, then with mix and color probably another 5 weeks whilst the music was being composed. It’s been ready to go since June of last year with the target being our January 13th, 2023 release.
Did you work with a writer, or write Night Train yourself?
Yes, I worked with CJ Walley, one of my favorite writers who happens to live in the UK. I love working with CJ and feel honored and blessed to not only collaborate with him, but to also call him my friend.
Would you do the same again?
This was the third project in 2 ½ years I have done with CJ. I hope we can continue to work together for many years to come.
How did you find your cast and what made you choose them?
I texted most all of them as they were friends and actors we had already worked with, except for Diora Baird. I’ve wanted to work with Diora for many years but hadn’t had the chance. Shortly before we went into pre-production, I was talking with an old friend who’s a talent agent that used to represent a former actor/business partner of mine and she mentioned she had just signed Diora. I was thrilled to hear this and got her a script immediately which fortunately, Diora loved, and she gladly signed on to the project.
How big was your crew?
On “Night Train” we had about 30-35 people on set at all times. Would you choose the same size again? It was a good size crew and having worked with crews as small as 4 and up to over 100, I think it was a perfect size. We were never behind because of the crew size, and no one was sitting around with nothing to do either. We hummed like a finely tuned machine through the desert out in Palm Springs, CA for 4 weeks, then spent a few days in Las Vegas before wrapping up in the high-speed salt flats of El Mirage, CA (?). It was there we worked with Valerie Thompson, the World’s Fastest Woman, who went over 200 MPH on a motorcycle for us, doubling for our star, Danielle C. Ryan.
How did you find your locations?
I am easy to please when it comes to locations. For me, if it fits, it works. CJ and I made a beat-sheet of the script before he finished it, and we gave it to Levi Vincent of the Greater Palm Springs Film and Television Alliance. He went over the locations he saw we would need and took me and co-producer Neil Chisholm on a tour of the Coachella Valley. Just about everything he suggested worked perfectly. I took a bunch of pictures and emailed them to CJ in England who brilliantly implemented them into his final draft of the script.
Tell me some career goals.
You know, I just want to continue to make films with the people I love. We truly are a film family and to be able to do this for another 25 years or so with them would be awesome.
What would you like to achieve?
I have been very fortunate to accomplish the things I’ve done and to have my name on some projects that touched millions of lives one way or another. I don’t have a bucket list or any specific thing I feel I need to do at this point to prove myself. To have worked with the wonderful people I have worked with and to be able to provide for my family doing what I love over the years, I can look back proudly without feeling I missed out on anything and am comfortable continuing down this path. Anything else at this point is a continued blessing wrapped as a gift.
Tell me something you were surprised by, something you had never realised about being a filmmaker.
People stopped surprising me in the spring of 1993. Okay, maybe that’s a story for another day but I honestly was shocked to learn how so many people in the industry behave. Sure, there are pricks in every line of industry, but it seems ours is a breeding ground for some of the most mindless and entitled people imaginable. I think that’s why I’ve built a film family, because I sincerely believe what we do is such a blessing and to have toxic people around whilst living this dreamlife just makes it not fun anymore.
There was a time I wanted to get out of it, just teach and continue to write books because I was so miserable doing what I had always loved so much, and I couldn’t understand why. Then, one day I realized it was some of the people I had surrounded myself with and their attitudes that were making me loath the journey.
Once I got rid of them, I fell in love with it all over again and was able to get my head on straight. I truly believe you become a product of your environment and if you let people’s negative energy surface and thrive, it’ll bring you down to their level of misery and quite quickly.
What are words of advice you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
My advice for aspiring filmmakers is to go out and shoot, and shoot often. But fail and learn from your mistakes. I don’t have all the answers, but I know what not to do and have been doing it long enough to keep it together for the most part. If you allow yourself to fail, you can use those mistakes as building blocks whether you’re shooting with an iPhone or DSLR camera.
Hone your skills as you build your career or try to get your foot in the door. Learn what camera angles work, what your writing style is, and perfect it. And for God sakes, learn how to edit. That’s where films are really saved and often ruined, so learning your way around the edit bay will save you countless hours of heartache and confusion when you’re in charge and make the filmmaking process so much easier.
When I told my father I was ready to become a filmmaker, he said, “Great, you know where the edit bay is, I’ll see you in five years.” I went and edited everyone’s work I could and often for free. Heck, I was editing neighbor’s vacation ski trip videos. I took whatever I could get.
Over time, I made a very good living and career out of fixing other people’s mistakes as an editor and it wasn’t uncommon for a very respected film company or filmmaker to call on me to fix their problems they couldn’t solve.
Am I a perfect filmmaker? Hell no, and I’m far from it. But my film school came from there learning on other people’s money and it gave me the chance to really learn what worked, what didn’t and why.
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