I got to know Shane Abbess in 2009, when we started collaborating on my graphic novel series, The Hunter. Anyone who's ever read anything about Hollywood will know the movie business demands that people earn their stripes. In the years I've known him, Shane has earned enough stripes to become a tiger. After years spent pushing projects through the Hollywood studio system, Shane realised that in order to actually make a movie, he needed to do something different.
Shane Abbess and Dan MacPherson on the set of Infini
So, in 2012, Shane returned home to Australia, where he recently completed the twisted sci-fi thriller, Infini. Shane is due to direct his third feature in early 2015. His career is a striking case study for any filmmaker and I caught up with him during post-production of Infini.
"My first feature, Gabriel, was financed by people like my parents who took out a second mortgage. NOTHING makes you more responsible to an investor than when they're your parents and their house is on the line. Gabriel got me the attention of Hollywood where I spent many years in development stubbornly trying to make films I felt weren't being made. All the while I was learning the big end of town, which ultimately helped me decide to go renegade again and make the kind of film I wanted to make on my own terms - Infini."
When Shane first arrived in Hollywood, people introduced him as the next James Cameron. I've been introduced as the next Spielberg and the next JJ Abrams, so I'm familiar with the ego boost one gets the first time it happens. But you quickly realise that nearly everyone in Hollywood invokes the name of the greats whenever they introduce new talent to the town. Shane wisely kept his feet on the ground.
"Growing up I wanted to conquer the world. Then I started on that path and decided I was much happier making stories for people with like minds. So basically the extent of my ambition is to just be the best storyteller I can be - for myself and anyone else who wants to tune in."
Shane Abbess, Shadow Master
Shane writes, directs and produces and I find it interesting to understand how people who can do it all choose which projects to push ahead.
"The questions I ask myself are, is it original? Do we need something like this right now? Can I add something to this story that enhances the genre or lineage it exists in? Is it worth killing myself and many others around me to make happen? Ultimately, IS IT WORTH IT? Because making movies is really hard and takes years off my life every time I do it."
Having made an independent feature, I know that Shane isn't exaggerating. It's a stressful, physically, mentally and spiritually demanding experience. Without the resources of a studio behind you, it's also a challenge to motivate your cast and crew.
"The only way to do it is to rely on people's pride and passion. If you've given everything you've got, it becomes a domino effect for everyone around to keep pushing that bar and see where it can go. Everyone's so director and star driven these days that they often forget it takes hundreds of artists to make the complete picture. You give people that love, recognition and ultimately that arena to be the best they can be and believe in themselves, and you can make magic out of very little."
I've seen some of the footage from Infini and it looks awesome. The teaser trailer has drawn comparisons with Alien, but Shane promises that the film is unlike anything we've ever seen.
"Infini is not a horror film in any way. It's a very intense and unexpected ride. It also has a pretty potent message - like all good sci-fi should. It's unique in a time when so much isn't allowed to be. There's an energy to it which is quite unsettling if you allow yourself to go with it."
Some of the cast and crew were surprised by the lengths Shane went to while making Infini.
"A lot of people say I'm a 'method' director because I believe whatever we're doing is completely real. We're creating memories, not a movie. We're shooting characters and truth, not actors and a script. I only ever wanted to know the characters, never the people playing them - at least not until we'd wrapped. With the help of everyone in the production, I was able to create an environment where the cast could feel safe to take risks and empowered them to completely own their space. I wanted to direct from the shadows - be this ghostly presence that no-one saw but just felt at the end of each take. A rattlesnake of sorts - while everyone watched the tail - I had my fangs and venom into something or someone elsewhere. Duck and weave. Rely on nothing but the moment that's presented. Controlled chaos."
Shane Abbess Inspiring Controlled Chaos
Five Things Every Filmmaker Should Know
According to Shane:
1. Trust no-one but believe in everything.
2. If you're truly committed, the only end to anything is your own.
3. Live every second of the journey, because the destination isn't for you, it's for everyone else.
4. Appreciate and support the work of your peers - there's no room for jealousy or unhealthy competition - we need to see a hell of lot more than any one person or team can make.
5. If you live in the UK, buy Adam Hamdy a drink if you ever run in to him.
That's the kind of advice I can't argue with. For anyone about to embark on a career in film, Shane has the following sage words.
"Besides the biggest players, I don't see anybody getting rich off movies. The new hope is to survive and break even if you can. Just maintain a living out of it. Which is still a wonderful life because you get to make art. Find your creative family and bond it with integrity and love. Find your voice and challenge it till it's unbreakable. However long that takes. Then don't lose either or give them up for anything."
Check out the Inifini teaser trailer below:
For more on Infini, visit www.infinimovie.com