Shawn Burkett is an Ohio-based director and co-owner of Concept Media Films (with fellow director Ryan Stacy). He made his directorial debut with 2012 THE SLEEPING SOUL (co-written with Stacy) and has since been working steadily as a director, editor, cinematographer, writer and producer. With the release of his latest film BLUDGEON (review here), Shawn took a little time out to speak to Daily Grindhouse about the creation of Concept Media, his future work, and mixing directing with being a stay-at-home father.
Doug Tilley (DT): BLUDGEON actually took me by surprise. Its marketing materials suggest a rather traditional serial killer slasher film, but the reality is something much different. How conscious were you trying to skirt expectations, and is there a fear that viewers might be turned off by the change in tone?
Shawn Burkett (SB): I’ve learned to be somewhat fearless when it comes to whether or not someone will like or dislike a film. Everyone has their own likings, so it’s a gamble either way. I will admit that the cover art is kinda retro, but thus far I haven’t had any negative response.
DT: Let’s dig into your background a little bit. You were a full time touring musician before starting CONCEPT MEDIA FILMS with Ryan Stacey. How did that transition happen, and was there some initial trepidation about leaving music?
SB: After my first son (Conor) was born, I realized that I couldn’t be on the road all the time, and I didn’t want to miss my son growing up. It was extremely hard giving up the only thing that I was passionate about. At the same time I had always wanted to make a film, so I just refocused my drive towards film making. I still play music for my kids, because it’s a big part of who I am, and I’d like to pass that on to them.
DT: Since CONCEPT MEDIA FILMS started in 2010, you’ve both been extremely busy. How do you manage balancing the often grueling schedules involved with indie directing with being a stay-at-home dad?
SB: (Laughs) Caffeine was a huge part, but I have recently given it up. It turns out a case of Mountain Dew and 8 cups of coffee a day are bad for you. But it’s really about the passion to make films. I wake up at 8:00 am with the kids, and I get about 2 hours of pre-production work in during nap times until they go to bed at 8:00 pm. And then I have from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am to do everything I can each night. I’ve learned that sleeping is a luxury I can’t afford. (laughs)
DT: You recently took BLUDGEON to HorrorHound Weekend. What sort of reaction did the film get, and was it a positive experience?
SB: HorrorHound Weekend was amazing! We actually sold out of BLUDGEON by mid-day Saturday, and I had to drive back home to make more. It was nice to have people who are avid film fanatics buy a copy Friday and come back Saturday to talk about it. All the feedback was amazing and very positive. And several people admitted that they were expecting an average throwback to the 80’s serial killer flick, but they were pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the film.
DT: Ohio has a distinguished genre film history, but it seems like it’s really come into its own in recent years in terms of indie directors like yourself and Dustin Mills. What are your impressions of the film scene in Ohio? Have you found much support in the community?
SB: It’s funny you mention Dustin Mills because he contributed the digital FX to BLUDGEON. Dustin is a great guy and a phenomenal filmmaker, and he has helped me out a lot. Outside of Dustin, I haven’t received much feedback from other Ohio based filmmakers.
DT: BLUDGEON simply wouldn’t work without two brave and committed actresses at its center. Talk a bit about casting the film, and how you found Haley Madison (Quinn) and Erin R. Ryan (Joanna).
SB: Casting was a nightmare! (laughs) I had to cast, and re-cast several times before I came to Haley and Erin. I always find someone that I really, really like and they then flake on the project. Haley actually approached me about wanting to help out on a film, and she started off as a very involved producer. But after re-casting again, Haley decided she’d give it a try and I was sold. When I met Erin it was at a screening of my first film THE SLEEPING SOUL. Erin approached me after the film and told me how she loved it, and how moved she was. After that we became friends on Facebook and one day I asked her I she had ever thought about acting, and she replied the she was actually working with Dustin Mills on a film. At that point I was shocked that I didn’t already know that, and then I asked her to come read for a role. When Erin came to read, I made sure Haley was there to read with her, and It turned out that they already knew one another and at that point I saw their chemistry together and I was thrilled!
DT: What sort of fundraising efforts do you go through to put your projects together? Do you have a goal in mind when raising money, and do you write your films with a certain budget in mind?
SB: Normally I try to make a rough budget, but then it just goes all to hell. Most of the time, I try to keep it as cheap as possible, but do my best to have a strong storyline. Thankfully all the actors in BLUDGEON loved and believed in the script so much that they donated their time. It’s an amazing feeling when a group of people all feel the same about a script, and I am very thankful for the cast and crew that were a part of BLUDGEON
DT: What’s next for BLUDGEON and for CONCEPT MEDIA? I believe I read that you’re just starting pre-production on a sequel to your first film MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARES?
SB: BLUDGEON had been submitted to several film fest, and I’m putting my touring background to good use by setting up a screening tour in the mid-west. As far as Concept Media’s plans, we have indeed begun pre production on MIDSUMMER NIGHTMARES II: SUMMER’S END; which is written and directed by Ryan Stacy. Currently we are casting and raising funds via Indiegogo to help pay for the actors that we have coming from California, New York and Pennsylvania. Other than that, between Ryan and myself we have several scripts just waiting to be made.
DT: For those who want to purchase BLUDGEON or other films from CONCEPT MEDIA – or to keep up on your current and future work – what’s the best way to do so?
SB: BLUDGEON is available on Blu-ray & DVS at www.conceptmediafilms.com. Unfortunately we sold out of the film on VHS, but there could be a possibility of making more.
DT: Anything else to plug?
SB: BLUDGEON on facebook: www.facebook.com/bludgeonmovie
DT: What advice do you have for young or inexperienced directors looking to tackle their first film?
SB: I’m not sure if I have enough knowledge to give any advice. But you should learn everything you can about your camera, and to remember it’s easier to darken video in post than it is to make it brighter. Lighting is key.
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