Over the years I have ‘virtually’ met many people, and have ‘virtually’ met many great ones. One of those is Mr Shaun O’Banion who not only have I swapped a great many Tweets with but also had the pleasure of recording several episodes of my audio podcast with. To hear some of the stories of his adventures in the film world is such a treat and he is also a super nice guy too as well as having a filmography that would make a film geeks heart explode.
Drawn to the business from an early age, Shaun got his first film industry job after reading the infamous tale of Steven Spielberg sneaking onto the Universal Studios lot. At age 17 he walked through the gate, past the guards and though he didn’t get signed to a director’s contract, after only three months of daily lot sneaks, he was offered a permanent job on the Spielberg production of SeaQuest, DSV where he worked for the series’ first season. From there, he segued into feature films (including two with Spielberg himself!) and never looked back. So it is with great pleasure that Shaun took the time out to answer the Spending Time With..online questions.
What’s the most ‘starstruck’ you have been?
Back in 2001 I had the opportunity to work on a film with Al Pacino… in fact, my job would be to run the film’s base camp, so I got to have quite a close interaction with Mr. Pacino. I suppose that on my first day on that film was possibly the most starstruck I’ve been. Here was this living legend and I was meant to be just… interacting with him normally. Another one was Sir Anthony Hopkins who, when I first met him, insisted I call him “Tony.” That took a bit of getting used to. Both were as nice as you’d hope. Al even took a photo with my dad when he visited the set!
What was one of the most memorable films you saw as a child?
For me, there were two films that collectively created the one-two punch that caused me ti want to be in film. These two films – in ’81 and ’82, respectively, changed the course of my life… The films were RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and E.T.. Prior to seeing those films I had never thought about the fact that people made films… the idea that that could be a job one could pursue. In ’81, RAIDERS scared me, exhilarated me, and had me on the edge of my seat. A year later, E.T. had me as emotional as I’d ever been – literally crying in a theater. And when the name Steven Spielberg came up at the end of the film I recognized immediately that it was the same name as RAIDERS, I began finding any information I could about that man… I joined the E.T. Fan Club, bought the soundtracks to the films and decided then that I would make films,
What is one of the best pieces of advice you can remember being given?
Have you ever gotten someone’s autograph? Which is the most memorable for you?
SO many… Obviously, Spielberg and RAIDERS are a huge part of my life… so of all the autographs I have, I’d have to say that my signed cover page for the RAIDERS script is one of my most prized possessions. It was signed by Spielberg, Ford, Karen Allen, Frank Marshall, and Kathy Kennedy.
Do you have any traditions that you have when you are involved in a project?
I’ve only made three films so far, but I started taking the principal cast and department heads out to an early dinner the week before the shoot and that’s something I plan to continue… I feel like it’s a great bonding exercise and unites everyone in a unique way.
What was the most recent book you read?
I tend to be busy reading scripts mostly, but I read every book that Robert Crais releases – and usually in a day which always means I have to wait years for the next one, He has a series about a private detective in L.A., and the combination of his great characters and settings that I grew up around makes for great reading,
Out of all the projects you’ve been involved with which one do you feel the most proud of?
Choosing one to be proud of is kind of like being asked which is your favorite child (if you’re a parent). They are all incredibly special because they were all such unique experiences their own way… but I suppose, if I had to choose, I’d say THE AUTOMATIC HATE. It was the last film I made and was an incredibly difficult experience for me in a variety of ways… but what makes me proud of the film is that it was a step-up in almost every way from my previous two films, and because it was the same writer-director from my second film, you can see the evolution in skill, story, cast, etc. It really was a leap forward for nearly everyone involved and I just thing it’s a solid film.
What film scares you?
I always go back to THE DESCENT. The combination of bloodthirsty creatures and being trapped in a cave underground – the claustrophobia – is just extraordinary. I thought it was awful in the best way,
What is the ONE single coolest movie geek thing you own?
I used to have so many props from movies – I had the hero license plates from MATRIX RELOADED for both the Cadillac that Trinity drove and the SUV the twins drove… Somewhere, I think I still have some money from the Bank of Zamunda from COMING TO AMERICA, but I sold a lot of stuff when I decided to move to Europe… I have a bunch of stuff in a box somewhere still, but I suppose I would have to say… I have this limited edition Drew Struzan print of Indiana Jones that was signed by all of the main cast and I also managed to get John Williams to sign it. I had it framed up with this sort of velvety, sand colored matte and it’s gorgeous. I don’t know if I have a picture of it or I’d share.
When you are being interviewed Do you prefer ‘interviews’ face to face, over the phone/podcast or by email?
I feel like, when it’s possible, face to face is better for everything, but being where I am, I end up conducting as lot of meeting over Skype, phone or email. But yeah, meeting in person is best.
When a film or TV show of yours comes out, what one person do you want to watch it first?
I don’t think I have one person. Really I just like to go see it with an audience of strangers… when people know you or maybe know what you went through to make something, there is this unspoken pressure on them to respond favorably… and while I tend to have friends who are brutally honest (my preference), nobody wants to ever hurt your feelings, so I find that I appreciate the reaction of people who don’t know me and don’t know all the behind the scenes intrigue the most.
What was the last album you listened to?
The Alan Silvestri score for AVENGERS: ENDGAME. It’s great.
With regards to your own projects? What are you working on that you can tell me about?
Wow. Well. We have about 10 projects in active development, but we’re feeling pretty good about our 1920s period drama THE BENTLEY BOYS which we’ve been developing with Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen. It’s a fascinating story with two really amazing lead characters and is wrapped up in and around the 1929 and 1930 Le Mans races. It’s a unique and just really exciting.
Let’s shine a light on some of your past work. Name another one of your projects that you are you most proud of?
This question is similar to one above, but I’m proud of all of them. Each one had incredible hurdles… we shot the first feature I produced in 16 days with one camera and a crew of about 14 people. The next film was done in 18 days on location outside of Boston and we had an actor with Down Syndrome in the lead role and an actor from the TWILIGHT series in a supporting role along with the amazing Amanda Plummer. My third feature, which I would say, for me, turned out the best of the three… was just a whole other beast. The hardest film I’ve ever done on a personal level for a variety of reasons, but in the end they all make me very proud that we were able to get them made and get them out into the world.
Do you remember who got your first autograph?
It’s probably not the first autograph I ever got, but I remember when I was about 14, I found out that they were doing a charity for the premiere of BACK TO THE FUTURE II at Universal City Walk… so I begged my grandmother to make a donation so that I could get a ticket and she did. At the after-party, which was in a big tent set up to look like the interior of Biff’s Pleasure Palace, I got loads of autographs… Michael J. Fox and others were all gracious enough to sign stuff for me.
If you can sit down with any one living person and chat to them for two hours? Who would you choose?
While I have had several opportunities to speak with him one-on-one in the past, I still have to go with Spielberg. There is so much more I would like to ask him that I didn’t get the chance to in the past.
What’s the most difficult thing about your creative journey?
I guess it would be the passage of time. As a producer, you don’t make money until something gets a greenlight, but it can (and most often does) take years to get a project to the point where you feel it’s even ready to go out into the world to try and attach talent or financing. There are days where you just feel like you should quit… that it’s not going to happen… and it’s not even down to one thing… there are so many roadblocks to getting a film made. You just have to keep believing and keep going. Sometimes you do get to a point where you realize you have to let a project go and it’s always heartbreaking, but this is not a business for the faint of heart and so often, tough decisions need to be made, I’ve been a producer for 12 years now and been in the business overall since about 1993. I’ve never had to do anything outside of film with the exception of a single year… so that’s 26 years in the business and I always remind myself of that when I’m feeling down about it. I managed to make a career in this industry without any connections and I’ve been extremely fortunate over the years to work with and learn from some of the best in the business. Even on its worst days, I am still one of those people that got to live my dream and who is so privileged to tell stories on a grand scale. I’m very grateful for that.