Article By: Maria Shamkalian
What is your most recent success and how did you accomplish it?Most recently, I was able to produce two feature films here in Philadelphia. "Between Wars" starring Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos, Goodfellas), Harley Flannagan, Juliette Valdez, and myself. I also wrote and produced "The Recovery" again starring the very talented and beautiful Juliette Valdez and myself. I was able to produce both these films with hard work, dedication and an ample amount of pre-production. I utilized the connections I made over the years and brought value to those who were working on both projects with me.
How did you get started in the film industry?
When I was 18 years old I took a job at a live virtual reality game in Wildwood, NJ. A live actor was part of the game. I worked that job for three summers being one of the headlining acts. In college I took an acting class as an elective and wound up with the lead role in the following semester's play. After that I transferred my major from biology to a double major in film & theater, I never looked back. Now I regularly attended classes at Playhouse West - Philadelphia for the last four and a half years.
Why do you choose to work in PA?I'm born and raised in Philly so I have access to many locations and lots of connections throughout the city. I produce in L.A. and New York too but there is just so much less red tape here, it's way easier to get a project into production in PA.
What are some of your favorite shooting locations in Pennsylvania? There are so many amazing spots in and around PA, it's hard to pick one. I would say my most used location would be what is referred to as "graffiti pier" down on the waterfront in Philadelphia. It's just a beautiful spot with the city as the backdrop.
What do you love the most about your job? I love telling stories and having people feel, learn, or grow because of them. When someone connects emotionally because they relate to the story then you have the power to change people and even the world.
What is your most memorable, most awkward, or funniest on set story?
I've been very blessed to be a part of a lot of different types of projects but one of my favorite moments ever was rehearsing with Michael Imperioli for the film "Between Wars" He was a true artist. He didn't care that I was a nobody and I didn't care that he was a somebody. We just both loved the craft of acting and wanted to bring as much truth and life to our scenes as we could. It was all about the craft and the work for us. It was such a great collaboration. It was very humbling to see such a professional have no ego and be so willing to listen to my ideas and work as a team. I'll never forget those rehearsals on set.
Do you have any upcoming Pennsylvania-based projects?I have several projects coming up, most notably the feature film "Ugly-Pretty" written & directed by PA native Hollis Sherman-Pepe and starring Lindsey Shaw (Pretty Little Liars). facebook.com/uglyprettymovie I'm also currently developing a t.v. show titled "Home Grown" directed by (PA director) Todd Wolfe, that hopefully will go into production later this year. Both will be filmed in PA.
PAFIA has been working hard on increasing the film tax credit in Pennsylvania and bringing more film work to our local crew and talent, but we must all unite to really make a difference. What can you tell our elected officials about the importance of PA film industry and the difference it has made in your life?If PA could compete with some of the other tax-friendly states then the local crews, cast, hotels, locations, merchants and other vendors, would all win out if we had more film shoots here, which will off-set the tax breaks to the production companies and studios because the local people would make more money and pay more in taxes. It would contribute to the economy big in the long run. It would be a win-win for everyone.
What is your advice for the aspiring actors and filmmakers? Some steps to take? Some mistakes to avoid?For this answer I'm going to steal the answer my teacher Tony Savant gave and I quote "For actors, please, please learn your craft, study it, work at it daily like musicians and dancers and the artists. Work to become the kind of actor everyone would be dying to work with. This means not only being great at your craft, but being a complete professional in every sense of the word. It takes years of continual study and work to be excellent at it. Take it seriously, become excellent at it so you can contribute effectively on any project you are a part of. It’s hard work, but it should be joyful work if you love it. If you don’t love it and want to be great at it, then disqualify yourself and do something else. As a filmmaker, producer or technical person, learn through doing. Get on as many sets as possible to do it a lot. And, for both actors and behind the scenes folks, read, continue to educate yourselves, watch and study films, study all the best films, understand what works, then go and do it. Begin with short films, five minutes. If you can tell a great five minute story, then make a ten minute, then fifteen, and so on. Actors, make your own films, don’t wait to get hired. But, perhaps before that, educate yourself. Everyone should read “The Art of Dramatic Writing” by Lajos Egri, so you understand the anatomy of a story and it’s proper construction. It’s the best book on writing ever. And it all begins with the script. If you don’t understand story construction or what makes a good script, forget it. Read “Making Movies” by Sidney Lumet. Read “On Directing” by Elia Kazan, and “Kazan: The Master Director Discusses His Films”, with Jeff Young. It’s a series of interviews with the greatest director of all time. Read every book by and about Kazan. Watch YouTube interviews with all the finest directors and filmmakers and actors. Directors, study some acting so you understand that process and so you can help actors and speak to them intelligently. For everyone, help out on sets. Get on as many sets as you can and learn as many jobs on set as you can so you are knowledgeable and also appreciate that making a film is a collaborative effort and all jobs are to be valued." The only thing I would add is to be respectful and kind to every last person on set, you never know who they are or who they will become in this industry, don't burn bridges before they're even made.
What are some good strategies to find more gigs?
Be willing to work for experience. Don't worry about money initially, that'll come later. First learn your craft and then how to apply it on sets. Bring the production value and put the story first. Be early, work hard, and only leave when the job is done. Be pleasant and someone who makes the stresses of set life feel lessened. Don't be a burden to production. When you're not on set keep learning, reading biographies, studying movies/scripts. Make your own content and learn by doing. Finally, if you don't know something, when on set, ask someone who does.
What are some of the most valuable lessons that you have learned about this industry and wish you knew earlier?
Learn your craft. Be patient while learning it. This industry is the only industry where a person can wake up one morning and decide "hey, I'm an actor or filmmaker" and then people believe them. If tomorrow I said I was a doctor or lawyer no one would believe me because I didn't learn those skills. The professionals in this industry worked hard and studied for years to get there. If you show up and claim you're a professional without any training or work put in then you're doing your self a huge disservice and most likely will ruin that opportunity for yourself.
What is your favorite film shot in Pennsylvania?Hands down "ROCKY" it's one of the films that made me want to become an actor/filmmaker in the first place. Especially, if you know the back story and the struggles Sylvester Stallone went through to getting it made. Still inspires me to this day.
What is your favorite project that you worked on?
Again I am very blessed and have many fond set experiences for different projects but if I had to pick, I would say my feature film "The Recovery". The cast and crew were all dear friends and fellow students at Playhouse West - Philadelphia, I got to work along side my lovely and talented girlfriend, Juliette Valdez in some very powerful and emotional scenes. Plus the story is about overcoming addiction and very personal to me, to be able to tell such a story with people I care about is just a blessing.
What is your biggest aspiration in this industry?
To be considered the type of person that everyone is dying to work with because of my dedication and excellence in the craft of both acting and filmmaking.
What would be the best way for our local PA cast and crew to submit to your upcoming projects?
Hit me up on instagram @shaunpaul89, check in on my IMDB for upcoming projects or keep an eye out for casting notices on film.org.
Pennsylvania Film Industry Association (PAFIA)461 Cochran Road, Box 246Pittsburgh, PA 15228(717) 833-4561 firstname.lastname@example.org