Shane Stanley and Bret Michaels on the set
If you are like me you know Shane Stanley best from his work with Bret Michaels and Poison, but as I found out, he is a very interesting soul to say the least!
For those of you that don’t know, writer/producer/director Shane Stanley won his first Emmy Award when he was seventeen for “The Desperate Passage Series,” which he worked on alongside his father Lee Stanley. The series went on to earn thirty-three Emmy Nominations and won thirteen statues.
In 2001, he launched his own production company, Visual Arts Entertainment that produced the number one box office hit, “Gridiron Gang” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Before that, Shane struggled in a rock band as a drummer that opened for The Stone Temple Pilots, Lenny Kravitz, and The Black Crowes back in the 1990’s. And an avid motocross racer (getting his first minibike at three) has won two Grand Prix Championships. The latest film he directed, “My Trip To The Dark Side”, stars Jason Pace, Ryan Judd, Brienne De Beau, Courtney Gains and Emmy nominated, Sean Kanan and is the story of a man who’s had a successful film career and can only find employment working in the adult entertainment industry as a means to provide for his family. Shane took the time to speak with us while in post-production.
Maximum Ink: What is your newest movie “My Trip to the Dark Side” like?
Shane Stanley: It was shot in a style of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” meets “Entourage.” I’m a huge fan of most of the HBO dramas but also single-camera comedy/drama, which has finally become the norm. I’ve always liked that docu-drama style of filmmaking and saw this picture as the perfect opportunity to utilize it.
MI: Can you tell us a little about the storyline without giving away too much?
SS: “My Trip to the Dark Side” is the story of a man who’s had a successful film career but since falling on hard times can only find employment working in the adult film industry as a writer/director. Sadly, it’s based on a true story - a chapter of my life I had shelved for over a decade. Back in 2000/2001 I hit a string of bad luck, and with some of the unions facing a strike that certainly didn’t help. I hadn’t worked in over 8 months and the only shot someone would give me at the time to write and/or direct was in the adult film industry, or so I thought. LOL. “My Trip” is basically the true experiences I went through during that very brief stint. I will say for the record, I never did any porn and they came to me, I didn’t pursue them.
MI: How does this film differ from your past efforts?
SS: It differed in a lot of ways but like so many of my previous projects, once the idea got into my head, the script came very easy. When I mustered up the balls to tell this story, I had the first draft of the script finished in four days. I knew ahead of time the actors that I wanted to work with, so I wrote each character with a specific player in mind, which made directing this film a trip unto itself. I have done a lot of ‘based on a true story’ type projects before, “Gridiron Gang” being a classic example, but on the other side of the coin, it was tough for me because having lived this story personally, I would sometimes find myself torn between “that’s not how it was actually said back then”, versus, “hey, that was a pretty good take the actor gave me.”There’s a lot of nudity and profanity in “Dark Side”…it’s not gratuitous, it’s just the way it is in the adult film industry and I knew if I was going to tell my story, I couldn’t pussyfoot around. It was important for me to not only bring my audience into that world, but also let them experience the transition our lead character goes through from making mainstream movies to porn. Believe me, it’s a whole different ball of wax.
MI: Can you tell us a little about the actors/actresses in the film?
SS: Our lead, Shawn Stone is played by Jason Pace. Jason is a fine, fine actor who was the male lead in the CBS television series “Girlfriends.” I had the pleasure of meeting Jason when he auditioned for me on another project and I knew I had to work with him…when ‘Dark Side’ started breathing life, I knew he was my guy. Ryan Judd plays his sidekick. Ryan is best known as the Taco Bell guy - he’s got a few big national ads for the franchise airing right now. He and Jason (Pace) have a very “Midnight Cowboy” vibe like Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight did together…a great on-screen chemistry.
Our leading lady is Brienne De Beau. Brienne is great. She’s Sharon Stone meets Bridget Bordeaux with something a little extra. She played the lead’s wife and was a lot of fun to work with. She rolled with a lot of shit on set, especially since our crew was bouncing from scene-to-scene going from shooting our “own” porn scenes to things like her cooking dinner or just being a loving wife. Sometimes we had to remind ourselves, “hey, we have a lady present,” and check our language.
Emmy nominated actor, Sean Kanan who is best known for playing Deacon Sharpe on “The Young and the Restless” & “The Bold and the Beautiful” as well as Mike Barnes in “The Karate Kid.” Sean really stepped it up for us by going way outside of the box and went into a very dark, demonic place to portray the character of David Prince, who owns the porn company our main character gets mixed up with.
Courtney Gains, who’s best known as Malachai in “Children of the Corn” as well as other great rolls in “Memphis Belle”, “Colors” and “Back to the Future.” I had worked with Courtney in 1997 on “No Code of Conduct” and he had just wrapped co-starring with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson on “Faster” in February. When I told Dwayne about the project, he said, “Brother, you should use Courtney Gains. I just worked with him and he was great!” I reached out to Courtney the next day and catered the roll for him once he was onboard.
Kathy Christopherson plays the manager. I can’t say enough great things about Kath. What hasn’t she worked on? “Entourage”, “Private Practice”, “Dexter”, “Californication”…and the list continues. Man, she was terrific and really knows how to create comedy within drama. We had the pleasure of working with Ron Masak, who, of course is best known for playing Sheriff Mort Metzger on “Murder She Wrote” but also stared in classics like, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”, “Harper Valley P.T.A.”, and “Ice Station Zebra.” I’ve known Ron my whole life and it was so great to work with him again. He brought an element of class to the production that considering all of the smut, we greatly needed.
All in all, we had a great cast. Alisa Reyes (“American Family” & “Boston Public”) Krizia Bajos (“How I Met Your Mother”). Krizia is co-starring with Jenna Dewan right now on a film and we’re lucky to have gotten her. Keep your eyes on her, she’s certainly a star on the rise. We had a great cameo from Tottie Greer, who’s a huge international supermodel as well as a handful of people in the adult film industry who were a total pleasure to work with and made this project that much more fun day in and day out, if you get my drift. Ela Darling played a porn star and surprisingly, she’s a pretty good “actress” too. I also have to mention our crew who worked tirelessly and did an incredible job. I was really fortunate. I don’t think I can remember a group of people who pulled together and worked so hard with such a great attitude 110% of the time.
MI: When can fans expect it to be available in their areas?
SS: I made ‘Dark Side’ without a distribution commitment. Risky, I know but that’s not why I made the film. This one is personal and a story I needed to tell. I think we all can relate to how the economy has affected us and this is a story about a filmmaker who knows nothing else but doing what he loves; making films. I have an offer the table for home video/DVD and I think I’ll wait ‘til its finished to make any decisions. I know they say “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush” but I’m in no hurry…it’ll find the right outlet(s) at the right time. It was also designed (and can be edited) down into a television pilot for cable a la HBO, Showtime or FX. The episode potential for this is endless but we’ll see how it all shapes up. I just want to get it edited and we’ll see what we see when we see. We’ll most-certainly hit the festival circuit in 2011, so that’ll be fun. A lot of people poured their hearts and souls into this project and its always great to see them get rewarded for their efforts.
MI: What are some of your future projects and plans?
SS: I’m supposed to start “Destiny’s Kiss” in the fall. It’s nothing too highbrow, just a slick action thriller with a lot of twists and turns. The script is going through its final polish now and I am anxious to sink my teeth into it. I believe that’s starting in August or September. After that, I hope to finally shoot “Corners.” That film has been slated to go twice already and fallen out. It’s been a tough one to get financed, mainly because I am adamant about using unknowns as my leads and that doesn’t help in this tough economy, especially with its subject matter.It’s the story of a young man living with Down syndrome whose short life and dramatic death impact the small town in which he lives. “Corners” has been a passion project of mine for over five years now.
I’m very excited for Bret’s autobiography, “Roses & Thorns” to come out. It was in many ways great to see it come to fruition after all these years and timely with the with the wild roller coaster ride of a life he has had from his humble upbringing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to the tremendous success he has had with Poison and of course, most recently with Rock of Love. I was both very proud and honored to be able to write that with him. It will be released by Simon & Schuster.” In between, I’ll keep writing; hopefully work with Bret Michaels on another music video or three - something that would be fun. We discussed it just the other day and I’d love to work with him again. He has his health back and that’s all that matters.
MI: How did you get your start as a writer/director/producer?
SS: I actually wanted to be a musician. I played drums in the same band for over 12 yrs. We got close a few times but never broke past the opening act or demo-deal status. In 1994, I decided our band should make a music video. My father is a filmmaker, so I had cameras and edit machines at my disposal. I had worked in/around the film industry my entire life and had some success in it, but wanted nothing to do with that business. I made the video for the band and we sent our demo and video to Capitol Records. Three weeks later, I got a call from a VP there regarding the package, and we set up a meeting. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think they were interested in signing the band.
Upon my arrival and after the Pierre water was dolled out and small talk was through, they asked me, “Who did our music video?” I told them I did. They said that they had never seen a non-signed band with a video like that and asked me our budget. I told them it didn’t cost a dime and they made me an offer on the spot to direct music videos and EPK’s (Electronic Press Kits) for their artists. I’ll admit I was heartbroken, but realized that IF the industry I wanted to be in was only going to embrace me for my film making skills, it was time for a change. I quit the band the following month and never looked back. I didn’t take Capitol up on the offer because I wasn’t ready to be around the music scene and not be a musician. It was kind of like being asked to attend your ex-girlfriend’s wedding weeks after your break up.
I assumed Dad would hire me on at his company and when I told him I was ready to commit my life to the film/TV business, he said, “Great. Now go get a job!” He wouldn’t hire me. I started (again) from the ground floor as a production assistant on shows like Seinfeld, Roseanne and Sea Quest. At that point I just put my head down and did all of the necessary steps to move onward and upward from there.
MI: How is it different to work in the music industry as opposed to film?
SS: Working in Film/Television is similar in a lot of ways to the music industry…as your expressing yourself through art. Musicians are a lot like actors, record producers are like studio or network executives and the managers and agents often co-mingle and are ultimately one in the same. It’s great to work in music when I can, as I still have the chance to interact with what I guess was my first love. There’s nothing better than having your work satisfy viewers, whether it’s through a music video or a feature film.
The pleasure I get from people’s reaction from the work is equal, no matter how big or small the project may be. Sometimes a project you do won’t be successful by industry standards, and one day you’ll get a letter or an email from someone who was really touched by your work on a personal level.That means more to me than anything.
MI: Which of your past works are your favorites?
SS: Well, Gridiron Gang is my all-time favorite. It took 15 years to get made, but also because of the positive impact that it has had on so many people. Still two plus years later a week doesn’t go by without getting letters, calls or emails from someone about the effect it had on their lives in one way or another.
I’d say a lot of the work I have done with Bret (Michaels) comes to mind. Projects like “Go That Far” and “Raine” (his music videos) are things that I am very proud of. They cost so little, if any money to make, and came together in a day or two. It was usually just two friends with an idea. “Fallen” and “Driven” too…all fun and done on a whim with great results.
One of my all-time favorites is the first film I wrote and directed, “A Sight for Sore Eyes”, which starred Academy Award nominee, Gary Busey. Again, a project that came together in a matter of days,with virtually no money behind it but ended up winning everything but Sundance. It even got invited to screen at Cannes back in 2005. Funny thing was I wrote the first draft of that script the day I quit the music business to show my dad I was serious about being a filmmaker, but didn’t wind up making it until about 12 years later. I could never find the original draft so had to rewrite it from scratch. That process took me two days.
MI: What it is like working with Bret Michaels?
SS: Working with Bret is great. We’ve been dear friends since 1994, so he’s like the older brother I never had. How can you ever complain about working with someone you care so much about and with someone who has as much fun, if not more than you do during the entire process? Bret knows what he wants and expresses it easily. I think the fact that we’ve known one another for so long, makes it work it’s almost like often words don’t need to be spoken once were in the thick of things cause we know what the other guy is thinking. I’m always happy when he calls and wants to work on something together, it’s almost like a paid vacation, as some projects can be tough, but working with Bret is always a blast. The people who surround him are great to work with too. Team Bret is like an extended family.
MI: Do you ever miss drumming?
SS: I do and I don’t. When I close a chapter of my life, I close it. I started playing when I was 5, so in a sense I do. I have been able to jam with Bret over the years which was always a great time and about 2 yrs ago I bought one of those hi-end Roland drum kits but sold it after three months as I never played it and realized when I did, the spark was gone.
MI: What is it like to win two Gran Prix championships?
SS: Racing motocross was something I started when I was three. I always dreamed of that as a career (before music) but knew it would never happen. I was a local boy hero on a dirt bike, and unlike most guys got faster with age. When most guys hit their 30’s they slow down but I turned pro at 28,raced all over California for 4 more years and won those titles at 30 and 31. I was ranked #2 in the state for guys over 25, (I don’t know what that means, really) but winning those titles was a huge thrill for me and allowed me to close the book on that childhood dream and move on to focus 100% on my work, which I never really did when I was riding.”