This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 313: York Alec Shackleton Director Of Disturbing The Peace .
Ashley: Welcome to Episode #313 of the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing York Alec Shackleton, who was on the SYS podcast a while back in Episode Number #236. I will link to that in the show notes. Check it out if you haven’t already listened to it. In that episode we talk about sort of his origin story, how he got into the business and worked his way up. York is back with another film called Disturbing The Peace starring Guy Pearce. In this episode today, we’ll be talking about that film, how it all came together, how he got involved with it. Lots of ins and outs on that, so stay tuned for that interview.
Quick announcement, each year I put together an annual list of the best low budget screenplays that have come through the SYS system. I got a little behind with the shooting of the movie in December, but I did get this out the first week of January, so it’s now online. A big congratulations to all the writers who were chosen. Congratulations to Ronald Thompson, Erica Myers, no relation to myself, but she does have the same last name. Dan Topo, I think he is an Australian writer, Andrew Erickson, Jeff Scott Phillips, Kate Mueller. Again, congratulations to all of those writers for writing great scripts and getting recognized again within the SYS system, and now hopefully by being on the budget list we can bring a little more attention to your projects.
Anybody can check out the budget list and so I will link to it in the show notes. If you find this episode valuable, please help me out by giving me a review on iTunes or leaving a comment on YouTube or retweeting the podcast on Twitter or liking or sharing it on Facebook. These social media shares really do help spread word about the podcast, so they’re very much appreciated. Any websites or links that I mention in the podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. I also publish a transcript with every episode in case you’d rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find all the podcast show notes at www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcast and then just look for Episode Number #313.
If you want my free guide-How To Sell a Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can pick that up by going to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional logline and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really, it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I’m interviewing director York Alec Shackleton. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome York to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
York: Well, thanks for having me on, man. I appreciate you having me here.
Ashley: So you were on the podcast before, it’s Episode Number #236. I will refer people to that episode to learn more about your early career and how you got to the point where you’re now directing feature films. I will link to that in the show notes again for all the listeners. That’s Episode Number #236. So today we’re going to talk about your most recent project, Disturbing The Peace starring Guy Pearce. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or a logline. What is this film all about?
York: Yeah, it’s basically a small-town marshal who is the only cop in town and he has chosen not to carry a firearm because of some stuff that’s happened to him in his past. And a group of bikers come in and decide that they’re gonna take over this town and rob the bank and ultimately go for the armored vehicle that’s coming out, and he’s got to stop them. So he decides by the end of the time to carry a gun again and single-handedly, he takes out this group of bikers who are there to take down the bank and ultimately the whole town.
Ashley: I got you. So how did you get involved with this project?
York: This is a project that kinda came to me once it was already set up. Guy Pierce was attached to the project, the screenplay was written and they needed a first unit director for it. So they’d come to me with it, and I don’t know if you remember last time we spoke, we talked a lot about earlier films in the ‘80s and the fundamentals of storytelling and how a lot of those earlier films were just very rich and full. So this is the kind of stuff we’d been looking for. You know, we would just love movies like Roadhouse stuff from the ‘80s like that. And this had a lot of that feel to it. And the producers wanted something that kinda had a contemporary Western feel to it. So we just felt like it was a perfect merger of those two ideas.
Everyone was really on the same page about it. So that was kind of the whole way it came together and what we were looking to accomplish with it.
Ashley: Yeah. Tell me just about sort of the logistics of how this comes together. Was this through your agent, you have an agent that represents you as a director and so the script kinda got passed down. They were initially considering you for second unit director, is that what I’m understanding? And then you pitched them your take, so they said, “Let’s get York to be the main director.” Maybe just walk through that process, because I know there’s always screenwriters that are just interested about how they can get their scripts attached… how they can get a director attached to their scripts.
York: Yeah. At this point it does come through an agent or a manager, these come with offers attached to them. These are projects that are already funded and have start dates and are ready to go. So it’s a little bit different than going out and having to shop your own screenplay around and raise funding. When you kinda get to that stage, it’s really a matter of just looking at the material and deciding is this something that you can get behind and believe in. And with a project like this where you’ve got someone like Guy Pierce attached to it, it just brings a lot of value to that project because he’s somebody who everybody wants to work with and you learn it an enormous amount when you get those opportunities to work with actors like that.
And so when you’re getting an offer and you’re not selling the screenplay, there’s just different decisions and different things that you’re looking at for your career. And I would say to the screenwriters that are trying to sell their scripts, it’s not about being a first unit director or a second unit director. What I meant by saying first unit is they wanted somebody who knows how to work with actors, somebody who knows how to shot list movies, not somebody who just is gonna come out and get the pretty shots and put it in the can. And so I can tell you that you wanna work on your craft and you want to start doing some work and start making some short films. That’s what did it for me.
It was short films, documentaries, then all of a sudden making my own features and when you’ve got some work under your belt a lot of these production companies and studios, they’re nervous about giving projects to first time directors because there’s a lot of money on the line and there’s a lot of actors’ careers on the line with stuff like this, especially if you have a Guy Pierce. And so they want somebody who they can feel comfortable and says, “Look, this person’s got experience. They know what is coming down the road in front of them and they know how to handle these sets and make these days.” That’s really the best advice I can give, is to master your craft and know how to run that set and make every single day count because you’re not on a project that has just endless funding.
So you have to really be limber and make sure that you’re maximizing every single day on set and getting all the best shots you can get.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. And just, I wonder if just briefly you would have some sort of just general advice for a screenwriter who is looking for a director for their project and it’s in the early, early stages. What do you recommend to somebody like that?
York: Well for me, I wrote a lot of what I was doing in the beginning myself, so I didn’t deal too much with having to find directors because I obviously wanted to be a director and that’s what I was working towards. Being a screenwriter who’s not director is kind of a vulnerable seed because as a writer you’ve got this vision and you’re conveying this vision on the page. But now once it’s on the page, it needs to now take on a whole other life where it’s gonna get conveyed onto the screen, which is two stages really, filming and then editing. Both of those have such a big factor in what ultimately ends up coming out in the end. So I feel for a screenwriter the most important thing is to make sure that whoever you’re gonna get as a director has the same or at least close to the vision that you ultimately have for that project.
That goes for the studio or the production company they’re going to use to finance it and make it as well because so much can change throughout that process. And if you are very attached to your material and you see your material being done a certain way… That’s I think why you hear a lot of those stories about writers passing on deals and it’s like, “Hey, you’ve never even had anything done before but you’re passing on this deal.” And it’s like, “Well, because that’s not the way I see this film being done.” Years go by and then all of a sudden, a film does get done the right way, and what do you know? That’s Martin Scorsese, boom, he just popped. You know what I’m saying? That’s how crews like that begin because the writer says no and holds on to the vision.
So I would say that make sure that whoever you’re gonna get in business with sees it the same way that you do or at least close to it. You can figure that out by looking at their previous work. I mean, if somebody has just done the same type of film over, over and over again, and you’re expecting them to give you something different for yours, more than likely it’s gonna be fairly similar to what you’ve seen them do in the past [crosstalk] people and getting acquainted with what their work style is, I think is the best way to decide who would be the best person to go with.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So just take us back again. You mentioned Roadhouse was a film that you guys liked and sort of maybe the tone of this one. Was that something that the producers came to you with or was that something that you read the script and then you’d come back to them and say, “Hey, I see this as kind of a Roadhouse picture.” What I’m really asking is like what did that process look like in terms of them interviewing you, them deciding you? I mean, maybe they sent this script out to other directors and other directors came back with slightly different takes on it. Do you know why ultimately you got this job, other directors didn’t? And again, what did they actually come to you with? Was it just the script and did they have some sort of ideas already laid out there?
York: Yeah, so anytime you come onto a project like this, the team that’s already there has ideas and the direction they’re going in. But as a director, it’s really your auditioning process, very similar to an actor. So you’re gonna go in there, you’re gonna read the screenplay, you’re gonna go in and you’re gonna give them your read on it. Now, the way I see this film being done, just my initial gut instincts, I see this budget done this way, utilizing these types of actors, these types of performances, this kind of balance between the action and the drama. Talking about reference films that I would feel like it would be like. So I’m gonna bring up Roadhouse and stuff like that. They have the screenplay and they’ve got a rough idea of wanting it to be a contemporary Western, something along those lines.
So you start chiseling that down. I come in with very specific ideas of how to accomplish what they want, but also even make it more well-rounded. I’m gonna bring in ideas like, let’s look at what we’d like Roadhouse, stuff like that to see how they got good production value and really great action sequences or fight sequences. Because the script was written in that way. It had those sequences written into it. So it’s really an audition process and you go in and you give them all of those ideas and then it’s up to them if they feel like you are the closest to what they wanna see with the movie. It’s very similar to casting an actor. You’re gonna try to find someone who is already in real life as close to this character as possible so that they can go the rest of the distance every single day consistently without being very difficult for them.
Ashley: Did you ever go back and talk with Chuck, who is the screenwriter of this and sort of talk about your ideas as far as Roadhouse and kinda stuff. Because when you were pitching the project, the first thing I thought of was sort of a contemporary high noon. And I just wonder if that’s because that’s your take on the material or if that was Chuck’s original take on the material and you guys just were in sync on that.
York: Yeah. That was definitely Chuck’s original take on the material. That’s what was sort of pitched to me in the beginning when the project came to me. So that was the bit of information that I knew going into the project. Okay, this is what they want to accomplish. For a filmmaker it’s important I think to always kinda know what your end goal is because if you know what everyone involved wants to accomplish, then that can kinda help give you what the end goal vision is and then it’s very easy to kind of backtrack and create stepping stones to get to that place. So it can become a very analytical process.
Ashley: Yeah. What are some of the things about this screenplay that you particularly liked when you read it? Maybe you can just list off some things. And again, even just some things in general, but if there are some specific things about this screenplay that you really liked I’d be curious to hear those.
York: Well, I just thought it was a fun all around screenplay. You don’t see a lot of that stuff these days come around. Everyone I think is really trying to push the envelope visually. This script was something that I saw that had a story and it had a lot of depth to the story and the underlying character arcs that I just enjoyed digging those out as a filmmaker because that’s what I was taught to do. Without that I feel like I’m not doing my full job, if I’m not really digging into the performances and all of that. And so I just saw that that was there and it looked like a fun sale. But I also love challenges as a filmmaker and I think that when you try to bite off something with this level of actors and that level of action and that many guns, and you try to do it in a short period of time in a small town in Kentucky with not a lot of resources nearby, that’s a challenging process.
Outside of just the filmmaking process itself, I love challenges and doing things that [inaudible 00:13:35] often that most people would say they wouldn’t be able to do. It’s more of just like a personal goal.
Ashley: Sure. Were there some things about the script that you thought needed to be changed? And I’d be curious to see how you approach those, because it sounds like this project was pretty well developed by the time you got involved. But were there any things that you thought needed to be changed and how did you approach that?
York: No, it’s one of those things when you start converting over from preproduction to production and it just becomes a logistic thing. You have to be able to make changes because if the script’s calling for a certain number of something and you don’t have that there where you’re at, then that change is being forced upon you. And so it’s really important for you to be able to make quick educated compromises on the fly in order to not compromise the integrity of the whole overall film. So there really wasn’t any changes that I wanted personally made per se, other than just trying to expand dialogue here and there and give the actors more meat to chew on and working on the dialogue with the actors, those types of changes.
The rest of it really is just changing the [inaudible 00:14:48] production [inaudible 00:14:50] just comes calling for [inaudible 00:14:53] this type of motorcycle, but we can’t get that type of motorcycle but we can get this type over here. And then you’re saying, “Okay, well if that’s all I got, I got to make that work.” And now you’re becoming creative on the fly right now to figure out how to not lose what the underlying root of the scene or whatever you’re dealing with is.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. How many days did you guys shoot?
York: We shot 18 days and we were done with principal photography about 17 days and then a second [inaudible 00:15:22] went on to just do about a cleanup for us.
Ashley: I got you. And what does a crew on a film like this look like? How many GNE guys DP, how many ACs? I’m just curious sort of the scope of something like this.
York: I mean, it’s a down and dirty crew for sure when we do it like this long location. And I would prefer to have really just a small handful of really good people opposed to a very large crew and not everyone’s fully experienced on it. Only in a situation like this. On larger films, it’s much different and you’d have a lot of people sorting out every single problem. But with this one we have a good DP, we’ve got a good gaffer, and then each of them is gonna have like four underneath them for their ACs and assistants and that stuff. We’re gonna have a really good production coordinator and we’re gonna have a good AD and we’re gonna have a really good art department, and this is gonna be one guy, maybe two at the most, because we’re gonna split the props and the art.
Then we’re gonna have a couple girl crew for hair and makeup and a small little wardrobe group. That’s pretty much it. With this movie you also have a stunt crew but these are all… we’re talking two to four man crews basically in each department and a lot of them wearing multiple hats. But you get down and dirty like that and everyone’s enjoying it and they’re in control of these departments you may tend to see a better quality of work.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. Were you privy to any of the process of getting Guy Pierce attached? I’m just curious to hear your thoughts on that just in terms of… you know, I get a lot of emails from people, “How can I get this actor attached or that actor attached?” Do you know anything about how you guys got Guy Pierce involved with the project?
York: Well, just like with directors and writers, at that point in your career you’re represented by agencies and management. And so they’re fielding offers is pretty much how it goes down, unless you’ve got some sort of crossover [inaudible 00:17:22] a type of relationship where you actually can go to somebody and say, “Hey, I’ve got something,” and I take you seriously and they’re interested in what you’re doing. But really outside of that, it’s done the traditional way, which is with offers. Those offers are gonna get taken seriously if they’re backed by a pay or play offer. So that means the studio and the people who [inaudible 00:17:44] are obviously gonna get taken more seriously when they make an offer because they can put their money behind it and say, “If this actor says yes, here’s their money and the movie’s ready to go.”
That’s what the agencies are looking for. They’re looking for paychecks. When an actor walks in the room, the agent wants them to build their career and make a lot of money. So you can get stuck in a pile and it never gets looked at. But the minute you can separate yourself from other projects by either having a lot of buzz about it, a lot of people talking about it and getting handed around town or by having money behind it where you can actually back a pay or play offer, which means you’re gonna offer the actor that role at a certain price. And if he reads the script and says yes, he’s guaranteed that money whether you make the movie or not.
And so it puts them in a situation where the agent can say, “Okay, while you’re on your vacation this weekend, read this script. There’s a solid offer behind it. And if you like it, this is a cool movie for you to do and it’s the type of material that you told me you’d been looking for right now.” So that’s where you need to fit yourself into that bottle somehow.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So what’s next for you? What are you working on now?
York: I’m doing a really cool project next I’m excited about. We’re doing… it’s a little bit a bigger budget and it’s dealing with animal cruelty and activism. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson?
York: So he was a part of Greenpeace and he went on to start Sea Shepherd where they’ve got these big ships now and they go out and they try to stop all the whalers, the illegal Japanese whaling and all of these people that are just out in the ocean just doing this long line fishing. And he’d written a book about his whole adventure all doing this, and it’s a very well-known guy for the whole thing that he did [inaudible 00:19:30] he still continues to do this day. So we’re gonna do his story next. It looks like we’ll hopefully be shooting in the fall.
Ashley: Wow. Yeah, it sounds like an incredible story although I don’t envy being out on the water for all those days shooting. It sounds like a lot of that.
York: Yeah. I never said my job was pretty [inaudible 00:19:49], but that’s what we gotta do to get it up on the screen so that you can go and enjoy it.
Ashley: Yeah, for sure. So how can people see Disturbing the Peace? Do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
York: Yeah. So we’re doing day and date on January 17th. It’s gonna be in theaters all across the United States. There’s actually a lot more theaters than I was expecting, and they’re gonna release it at the same time on, on demand and pay-per-view. So you’ll be able to catch it across all platforms and you’ll be able to see in a theater nearby if it’s something you’re interested in.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing? Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing I will round up for the show notes.
York: Yeah, the usual stuff. I mean, I post a lot of videos and stuff that I make and work on, on YouTube. I still use those platforms. But I’ve got Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I post a lot of photos on there and keep it all kinda up to date with what’s going on and just try to keep it fun for everyone.
Ashley: Yeah, perfect. Well, I’ll track down those links and I’ll put them in the show notes. York once again, I really appreciate you coming on the show and talking with me. Good luck with this film and good luck on your next film as well. Hopefully I’ll be here and can talk to you about that when it’s done.
York: Yeah, no, definitely. Thanks for having me. I look forward to talking again soon.
Ashley: Perfect. Sounds good. We’ll talk to you later.
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That’s our show for today. Thank you for listening.