Looking Through The Lens with Sheldon Candis

8 08 2011

Filmmaker Magazine’s annual 25 New Faces of Independent Film has been an incredibly enlightening adventure into the up-and-coming talents of the filmmaker world.  Over the next few weeks we’ll showcase some of those talented folks that were highlighted by Filmmaker Magazine 2011 batch.  We start our series with Director Sheldon Candis.

Sheldon Candis was kind enough to take part in an email interview with PSD.  We discussed his Baltimore roots, his USC education and of course his films.  Here is our chat with the talented young Director Sheldon Candis.

1.  Sheldon, as a Baltimore Kid I gotta ask what you think of The Wire? Ok just kidding, but can you tell me about growing up there and when you first got bit by the film/art bug?

THE WIRE is one of the best worlds ever to invade our homes!!! i had a serious addiction to that show, i would force myself to stay awake to ‘power disc’ through seasons!!! I wish it never ended.
I grew up in Baltimore during the late 80’s it was a great time. going to orioles games at the old memorial stadium, feeling like you had lost a family member when Len Bias died. my family is an interesting mix of characters, anything from ministers of huge churches to standing on the corner hustlers. my great aunt lived next to the mayor at the time Kurt Schmoke, a Baltimore P.D. squad car was always parked out front. so Christmas dinner’s at her place with ‘criminal family members’ in attendance was always interesting. You grow up fast in Baltimore, you become wise beyond your years, and ‘Old Soul’ they call you at a young age mainly because you are taking two city buses or a city cab to get to school when you’re nine years old. also, you’re hanging out late hours of the night, roaming the streets, at least i did because i was an only child. 

my love for movies came from two places: 

1. my father would faithfully take me and mom to see movies on Sunday evenings down at the inner harbor. we would go to Bennigans for dinner and then to see a movie. man, it felt like we were rich on Sundays! also, my dad used to show me rated R movies. seeing THE FLY at age nine, really alters you a bit! 

2. my grandfather had a huge VHS collection, i would sit on his floor, inches from the screen. I must of watched STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, RAMBO, ROCKY over a hundred times as a kid.      
2.  What pushed you towards Southern Cali and USC rather then staying in the North East with NYU?

I randomly told my mom when i was a kid she would have to come visit me in LA one day… she laughed and said, ‘ok baby’ sure enough before my 21st baby, my mom, dad and i were packing up everything I owed in my dented up infiniti G20 and road tripped 42 consecutive hours across country to LA. i thought about NYU, but it was that USC Film School acceptance letter… WOOOO-HOOOOO! best day of my life!

3.  What was your USC experience like?  What stands out about being part of that program?

I learned a tremendous amount at USC. it’s an amazing experience to learn everything in the craft of filmmaking. i was a part of the last class to shoot, develop, hand cut, and project super 8 film. we would drag big projectors to class shoot it off the wall and play the soundtrack off a cassette player! next semester it all went digital. there are some of the best professors in academia at usc. whether it’s prof. Drew Casper Hitchcock class, Dr. Todd Doyd’s black-xplotitation, Tom Holman’s intro to sound or Leonard Maltin’s 466, where u see movies before the are released to the public. i took my mom to Maltin’s class with me once, we were in the back, she was squinting to see the professor, she says, ‘that looks like that film critic?’ i said, ‘mom, it is that film critic!’ haaaa! 

what sticks out the most, and what i am most grateful for is what is taught the most and hammered in your head at USC is ‘storytelling’. how every aspect of filmmaking is about telling the story.  

4.  Austin, Tx has a huge “food cart/truck” tradition (only NYC actually has more then ATX) and so I’m curious what made you do your piece BUTTERMILK?

I was really inspired by the owner of the buttermilk truck. her name is Gigi Pascual. she’s a a very talented female chef, with a great truck she runs with her boyfriend Ryan. 

5.  Before we jump into your other films, you have had a long relationship covering Asian Film Festivals across Cali and NYC.  Also with the subjects of The Dwelling, I’m curious when you first got interested in Asian culture?  When did you get connected to the festivals and do you have any fun moments that stand out from these shoots?

I think it’s very interesting and auspicious how i got involved in the coverage of modern asian cinema and then getting the opportunity to make a documentary on two homeless men living along a river in tokyo. i really have Eric Nakamura to thank for this, he’s the owner and creator of a asian pop culture magazine giant robot. i met him through the a producer named Clinton Otteson. i’m a huge fan asian pop culture, i’m actual a nut for it! my mom says, ‘i’m half asian!’ really you haven’t seen movies until you see films like OLD BOY, SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENEGANCE, LADY VENGANCE, THE HOST, MOTHER, and INFERNAL AFFAIRS. these movies are crazy cinema! they’re infectious with inspiration!

6. The Dwelling seems like such a different project to others you’ve done – tell me how that project came about?  How did you come across these two men and can you give an update on whats happened to them?

Eric Nakamura at giant robot called me and said hey, i go to Tokyo a lot and i always see these homeless men with these tiny homes they’re created, we should do a film on it. for me, my entire life i’ve wanted to go to Tokyo, to go and make a film, wow-zer! it was a truly humbling and inspiring trip… i would love to know how the guys of Sumida Gawa are doing nowadays. i wonder if the old man has won on any horse bets 🙂

7.  Sonny Listening obviously is a play on words off Sonny Liston, are you a boxing fan?  Casting wise you have a talented, if not small, cast – can you talk about the casting process you go through and what do you look for in your talent?  Also working with kids what was that experience like?  Also with your short film The Walk, what was it like shooting with not only a kid but also an older actor with a disability?

I’m a huge boxing fan! there will be another cultural experience or phenonemon like IRON MIKE TYSON! casting wise: you’re looking for kids that can be emotionally present and available with their feelings. vulnerability is the major point. kids have an innocence that we all relate to and when a kid is fully vulnerable and it comes across on screen, i think we all have a deeper connection to that child actor. think STAND BY ME, GOONIES, MAN ON FIRE, FINDING NEVER LAND, RABBIT PROOF FENCE, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE – these kids are killing these performances! we cry, cheer, applaud this little supernovas of light! Porter Fowler the old man THE WALK, is not disabled. I’m happy you believed so through his performance! he would be happy to hear it 🙂 

8.  L.U.V – seems to be a project that has grown quite rapidly, when did you and Justin first come up with the idea?  Did the project start out at the Film Independent Directors Lab or was the original short done prior? Casting wise on the feature length has pulled some amazing talent.  Can you talk about the incredible cast you have, both a wonderful mixture of house-hold names and up-and-coming newbies?

LUV has been with me since i was a kid in Baltimore. it’s loosely based on a relationship with one of my uncles and other older cousins of mine. Justin and I first started working on the script in 2003. we wrote over 45 drafts in a three year period. we’ve been pushing to make it for 8 years. i’m very thankful for film independent, they really championed the film and going thru the director’s lab really help make the script better, me better as a filmmaker, and brought so serious momentum to making it a reality. the short was born in the director’s lab. big shout out to actor RUSSELL HORNSBY, who’s now on his new tv show GRIMM, Russell really helped me at the grass roots, same for actor MALCOLM DAVID KELLEY, he was the kid on LOST. thankful for them believing in me.  

Jason Berman my producer did a great job sticking through some tough times to get this movie over the hump. it took a group effort with his producing partners Michael Jenson, Joel Newton, Gordon Bijelonic, Datari Turner and Derek Dudley to make this film real!   

CASTING: it’s a true testament to ‘if you write it and write it well, the actors will show up’. you still gotta get to them, but there’s always a way. i say ‘a thousand NO’s for one YES. someone’s gonna say yes. i will forever be thankful for my casting director Mary Vernieu, she did a kick ass job helping us put together some great talent. she cast some of the best movies of recent years BLACK SWAN, THE WRESTLER, SIN CITY. i mean she’s in the office making offers to DeNiro and there’s my tiny movie… I HEART MARY VERNIEU 

9.  Can you talk about your writing partnership with Justin, how do you approach writing together?

Justin recently got married, i told his wife Anne, ‘he was married to me first!’ she laughed, i didn’t. she knows she has to share him. i need his brain and creativity, she can have the rest of him! haaa! we have a great partnership, it always start with a ‘what if’ then we see if we can expound upon that ‘what if’. is there a full story and a compelling character within that ‘what if’. we both write outlines and treatments and then we break up the screenplay writing. if one person is very passionate about it, you give to him.  we are branding ourselves as the ‘driller’ guys, we write dramatic-thrillers.

10.  L.U.V. – is shot back in Baltimore, does this project hit home in more ways then just being shot in your home city?

Yeah, I always wanted to be the new Barry Levinson telling ‘my’ Baltimore stories. LUV is the beginning. 

11.  What is up next for you with L.U.V. and also with other new projects?

Godwilling LUV runs through the festival circuit. we’re writing a lot of new stuff. a new spec script, a tv pilot. another indie feature. sorry to be vague, we got some crazy ideas – being top secret about them until time is right to attack and then BOOOOOM! another Sheldon Candis and Justin Wilson cinematic experience! 

Sheldon‘s website, Cinephile Academy.

Filmmaker Magazine 2011 25 New Faces of Independent Film.




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