Interview : York Shackleton, writer/director of 211

Once an adventurer, always an adventurer – apparently this was passed on down through the family genes to actor/director/writer York Shackleton.

As a descendant of one of the greatest explorers who ever lived, Ernest Shackleton, the writer/director of the upcoming film “211” was one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever had (I am a huge Shackleton trivia buff). Not to mention that Kenneth Branagh himself starred as the English Antarctic explorer himself in “Shackleton” awhile back on A&E.

Moviehole: How are you related to Ernest Shackleton?

York Shackleton: I’m a distant relative on my father’s (Richard) side. It’s such a great story. Not a lot of people knew about this story, I knew about it and as I start getting older, people started associating the name with my name. Everyone in the Shackleton family is related. I was just happy they found some buried whiskey (in the Antarctic) and someone sent me some.

Moviehole: How did the film come to be named 211? And how did you start working on this project?

YS: Over the years as I continued to make films, I started off doing documentaries as I felt I could hone my skills as a filmmaker choosing stuff like prostitution in Tijuana. I used my skills to get people to open up and talk to me. I chose more dramatic subjects which I was studying, such as silent films, and honing my craft — I could use those skills with not a lot of budget, choosing things which were based on a true story. The films were holding their own with top quality films, and we felt we needed to move into action, so we developed a screenplay,looking on what we were doing in our career to step it up, to do something on a larger scale and get into the mini or major studios as opposed to independent productions.

Moviehole: How did you get into film, and into acting/writing/directing?

YS: When I was born, my father Richard was in the entertainment business and he was a child actor — he ran with (Steve) McQueen and (Peter) Fonda. He was also involved with Lenny Bruce, my dad was his writing partner, and he was also involved in the Lenny Bruce fiasco. After that happened, he got discouraged and got out of the entertainment business and went to Palm Springs and met my mom. But a lot of these guys were around the house and I didn’t know about these guys until I got older. I had a lot of energy and I was into sports and I was into snowboarding — people said I could do stunts but also gave melines because of the way I looked. I was getting to the pointwhere I wasn’t able to get more into sports as younger guys were coming up and the industry was exploding in snowboarding.

I started to do acting and quickly realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be, but I had more of an engineering mind like insnowboarding and inventing things and progressing forward. I spent time on talking to directors in how they did things. I was inspired and I picked up a pen and started writing; I said “now I’m going to be doing this” and doing stepping stones on where I wanted to be.

Moviehole: What was the biggest challenge about making this film?

YS: It’s never the same, you have to understand the craft and stay true to it through all the curveballs and through compromises. Making films is a collaborative process, there are a lot of needs with financial and actors and marketing, it’s never really one major thing — it’s an overall process to go over the hurdles to keep the momentum moving.

Moviehole: What was it like to work with Nicholas Cage and how did he get involved?

YS: It was a huge honor, we had written a screenplay and with the studio we didn’t know who we were going to get, so it was a humbling experience and something you take very serious. We quickly saw eye to eye about the character and how to go after it and we stayed true to what we did every day. We were making art everyday coming up with cool ideas, experimenting and having fun every day.

Moviehole: This was based on a real incident (“Battle of North Hollywood”) – how did you research it?

YS: I grew up in SoCal and I know for us, we’ve had an enormous amount of wild situations; we’ve had riots and all these different things so there was not any situation that stands out. Once we knew we wanted to do action we said, what’s it going to be? We wanted to be confined to one location, it was more like a mission for me to find something that fit in that, so I remembered the North Hollywood situation and thought it was a great deal with a stronger production value and realized the story itself had a whole cult following about it. There were people talking about it and there is even an exhibit in the police department at the L.A. Police Museum in Pasadena; you can touch the car and the bullet holes. I thought this had a following — we were not trying to remake it and I developed subplots that had as broad a demographic as possible. You can relate to one of the police officers, or the kid riding along or a hostage in the bank.

Moviehole: What are your upcoming projects?

YS: I’m working and writing all the time and I’m doing a film this summer with Guy Pierce called “Disturbing the Peace” about a small-town marshal fighting thieves who are trying to steal from an Indian casino.

I’ve also got one project that I’m doing that is a remake of an80s cult film classic with a major studio, putting together a screenplay. I’ve been developing all my own material up to this time to translate on screen, with my production company Endurance Pictures (“Endurance” was the name of Shackleton’s Antarctic sailing ship).

Moviehole: Any advice to acting/directing newbies about breaking in the business?

YS: It’s a tough business to break into. My acting teacher — his name is Scott Sedita — said that everyone who stays in the business has a chance of making it – he is an amazing actor/director, with an enormous amount of knowledge. You really have to get into it and start doing it, it might seem easier said than done. I started off writing and wrote a short film and got an award. I chose screenplays first that were million dollar films, so I did this little short and it was realistic and it got one or two doors open, then I met another couple of people.

You don’t have to be born into it, you can do a little work and it gets a few doors open and if you are dedicated to your craft it will line up, I can prove that as it happened to me. That was my eighth feature film with experience and connections and that’s where the tenacity comes in. You have to have a practical business mind. My short film about prostitution went to the Cannes Film Festival and also won some little awards, then I got invited to UCLA. I studied the business of film and what everyone needs, about what made things much stronger, about how this studio wants this type of genre and that’s what I wanted to be. It all came though when I educated myself — so get out there and educate yourself. 

“211” was produced by Millennium Films and is out June 8th through Momentum Pictures in theatres, digital HD and on VOD.

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