We had the good fortune of connecting with Brian Shackelford and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Brian, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I have a very intimate relationship with risk taking. As a black indie filmmaker, everything I have accomplished is because I was willing to take the risk. I have been told more times in my career what I would not or should not be able to do then I have been encouraged to succeed. In fact, if I had not taken the risk I have in my filmmaking career, I would not be a part of this article. I have always described myself as being very comfortable having one foot one solid ground, and one foot right on the edge. Sometimes that foot that was on solid ground is dangling in the air, but the other foot never leaves the edge. The edge is a very uncomfortable place for a lot of people. Some like to visit, but not many like to stay for any amount of time. My comfort on the edge comes from the mere fact that it is the only way I was able to get anything accomplished. It comes down to that same old question. “How bad do you want it?” I think of risk like this. How much of a chance am I willing to take on myself. I am not a big gambling man, but I do enjoy my time in the casino. What I have learned is that there is no such thing as a sure bet. But betting on myself is a bet I will always be willing to make. I will always invest in myself, because I know how bad I want it, and can control the level of effort I put into it. I can’t control the outcome, but I can control how hard I go after it. I always say that you can not expect anyone else to invest in you, when you have not invested anything into yourself. Will you stumble and even fail along the way? Yes. But how do you view failure? That is something you have control over. Failure is nothing more than learning the steps necessary to succeed.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
As a film director, writer, and editor I consider myself a visual storyteller. Whether telling my stories or the stories of other writers my end goal is to visually bring the world in which the story takes place to life, and envelope the viewer. I love that filmmaking is such a collaborative experience as well. I am constantly learning, growing, and stretching, and meeting amazingly talented individuals along the way, that I get the honor of calling friends. The one thing that I think sets me apart in my visual storytelling is the ten plus years of editing experience that I have. I will be the first to admit the working as an editor has made me a much better director. My editing background allows me to experiment when it comes to composition and performance because I have already edited every scene in my mind before shooting, so I know exactly the pieces I need, and where I need the impact to be. I have heard it said that filmmaking is nothing more then the combination of beautiful little pieces. I think there is a lot of truth to that. I think another thing that sets me apart from others is my willingness to take risk. I love to push the envelope because I think greatness is found on the outer edges. Even the willingness to explore what exist on the outer edges leads to pleasant little surprises, that would have never been discovered had you not taken a second to say “what if?” I try not to beat myself up when I fail but I am hard on myself when I fall short of my set goals. Lastly, I am able to apply laser focus once I set out to achieve a goal. It’s something I developed in my pursuit of sports. I played semi pro baseball but was never able to make any further before I chose to stop, raise my daughter, and pursue film. Playing sports is where I developed what I call Tunnel Vizion, which is the name of my film company. It’s the ability to let all things on the sides of your goals fall out of focus, and tunnel in on the thing are pursuing, whether it be a baseball or a film. In the indie world of filmmaking, there are so many films that get started, but not all of them will finish. I am proud to say that I have crossed that finish line a few times, and I am still just scratching the surface of what I am capable of. So far in my filmmaking career I am most proud of my last two film projects. They both involved taking major risks, and they both paid off. I am proud of the documentary The Color of Medicine: The Story of Homer G. Phillips Hospital because this film has brought attention to the extraordinary achievements of African American men in women in the medical field that have been overlooked for far to long. The documentary has won best feature documentary three times and is currently being distributed by Vision Films. The story follows the rise and fall of the first all black hospital that trained over two thirds of all African American doctors practicing today. The hospital was considered the number one hospital in the world from 1935 to 1979 when it was forced to close by armed guards. I am proud that I along with my producing and directing partner Joyce Fitzpatrick, were able to not allow another story of the outstanding achievements of African Americans be swept under the rug. I am also very proud of the narrative, family film Hidden Orchard Mysteries: The Case of the Air B & B Robbery. I grew up a big fan of Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. Hidden Orchard Mysteries is an updated version of Nancy Drew with two girls of color solving the mysteries that occur in their neighborhood. This is the first film that I shot in Atlanta with an Atlanta crew that did an amazing job. Can not speak highly enough about my first AD Jeff Bowden who orchestrated the gathering of the crew and equipment, and my DP Frazer Lockhart who helped take this film to an entire different level. Again I am honored to work with both of these men as well as call them friends. My entire camera department aside from Frazer was filled by women who brought their A game every day. We were able to shoot the entire film in fourteen days and had a phenomenal time along the way. It was hard to accomplish this film in such a short amount of time with the limited cast and crew we had, but it all goes back to “how bad do you want it.” We all came together and made it happen, and could not be happier with the result. My producing partner and I decided to attend the American Film Market for the first time this year to present both films, and that is where we met Lise and Kristen from Vision Films, and they have treated us like family ever since. Now it all may sound like a hollywood fairytale but it is more a sign of putting in a lot of hard work. I have definitely put in my ten thousand hours, I am a firm believer that in order to be good at anything, you have to get the bad one’s out. The only way you can do that is by continuing to show up and create. I have so many things that I shot that I never released, or tried to release or at least get into a film festival that never made it. As an indie filmmaker you have to get comfortable hearing “no” and you continue to search for your “yes.” There are so many gatekeepers out there who’s job is to weed through the landfill of films by saying “no”. Your going to hear no way more then you will hear yes and you have to get comfortable and accept that. The no is not a reflection of your upbring, status in life, or personal preference so do not attach the no to anything personal. It simply means your film. or idea, or concept is not what they are looking for. I know so many creatives that embody the no as a personal assault against them. Especially when it comes to actors. You have to develop a bullet proof armor that allows no’s and creative criticism to hit you but not hurt you. Some of it may be valid, but it does not make or break you. I can honestly say that the little bit of success that I have experienced is because I was not afraid to break every rule, I was not afraid to put in the work, I am always learning, and I continue to invest in myself and take chances on myself. One of the biggest lessons I learned is that as a black indie filmmaker, I am not selling my one or two or even three film ideas. I am selling myself and my ability be a visual storyteller, and that is something I can repeat over and over again, regardless of the story being told. It has been my experience that you will be discouraged more than you will be encouraged. You have to find that spot inside of you that does not need the outside accolades, or the outside recognition. Once you can tell a story for the sake of telling the best story you can, you start to find magic. I love being able to tell versions of the stories that I grew up on, as well as pushing the limits of my creativity. I do not like to be limited to one genre because the stories that I would like to tell, just like the stories that have affected me, cover many different areas. I will be content telling stories that simply would not exist, unless I told them.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If I had a friend visiting I would have to go into total tourist mode. LA is so big and we are all constantly on the go that we forget about the beauty that we race past every day. I am a big fan of the water so we would definitely have to hit Venice beach and Santa Monica. Both are great places to eat, drink, people watch, and soak up Los Angeles. Since we have a week we can spend full days at these spots. There is that much to see and do and don’t forget you may want to do nothing and just be. No place better to be. I would also make day trips of all of the following: Sunset Blvd. Got to see the walk of fame and Hollywood Blvd. Gotta get a shot of the Hollywood sign. Then we would hit the glitz and glam of Beverly Hills, and the Hollywood Hills so you can see how they live Big Willy style out in LA. We would hit a Dodger game. A laker game. A Clipper game. A Rams game at the new stadium in my old stomping ground of Inglewood. I was raised in Inglewood and my parents still live there. I was actually born in the Midwest in Racine, Wisconsin. My parents moved to California when I was five. Been here ever since. I like to say I am a Westcoast kid with Midwest sensibilities. We could take an hour drive to Morongo Casino for nightlife, gambling and drinks, or two hours to San Diego for a change of scenery and beach nightlife. Four hours we are in las Vegas, Nevada. We would hit the small hole in the walls for some of the best authentic meals, plus your high end restaurants where you never know who you will see eating next to you. From high class baller, to relax and chill, you can have it all and both in the same night if you want it. I am a more laid back personality. Love to get out and socialize but only go big when I have to.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This is a great section to include because I am a firm believer that it takes a village, and very seldom do you get a chance to acknowledge those who have influenced you along the way. There are three people that jump into my mind immediately. The first is director Francis Lawrence (Hunger Games, Red Sparrow, I Am Legend). I worked on one of his very first music videos as a Production Assistant. The song was “Come Wit It” Amad featuring Ras Kass and Saafir for the Street Fighter Soundtrack. I remember this vividly because I had to pick up Ras Kass and Saafir from the airport and we clicked immediately. I was attending Loyola Marymount Film School at the time and that is the same school Francis attended. I told him I was in the directing program and he would always tell me to stop what I was doing, and would have me look through the camera and tell him what I saw. Then he would explain what his vision was for the scene. He did this a number of times during the shoot and some of the other PA’s were a little upset, but they were not in the directing program. Something so small, had such an impact on me early on in my filmmaking. The fact that he took to the time to share his vision, and ask me about mine was life changing. The second person is my first film instructor John Stewart. He challenged me to never settle, and taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned in filmmaking. “Always take a second and ask yourself, what if…” I will never forget when Mr. Stewart, I still feel odd calling him John so….when he picked my film to represent our filmmaking class to be played in front of the entire film school I was surprised and nervous. There was one instructure, Mr. Howard Lavick that tore my film to shreds during his review of the film, which he does in front of the entire film school. I learned how to take creative criticism like a champ that day. But then John Stewart followed by saying “Every now and then in a teachers career, you get excited about the future of one of your students. Brian is one of those students.” To this day I do not know what he saw in me, but I am so glad he saw it, and was not afraid to let me and the entire film school know. Lastly, these are two people I see as one and they should probably be first because without them I would have never been able to go to film school, and that is my parents, Les and Claudette Shackelford. They were not a hundred percent on board with Film School at first but they have always been a hundred and ten percent behind me. I can not put into words what it means as a child when your parents support and believe in what you want to do and hopefully become. They SACRIFICED so much for me to go to Loyola. I put in caps because of what they went through to put me through school, it chokes me up now when I even think about it. That is why I am so thankful to have this opportunity to allow the people who helped mold me know how much there time and investment into me means to me.
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