This latest iteration of our Insider Interviews Series is with producer Shannon McIntosh, one of the three judges of the second year of Industrial Scripts’ screenwriting contest, The TITAN Awards.
Shannon McIntosh BiographyEmbed from Getty Images
Interview with Shannon McIntosh
Going back to the beginning, was there one Eureka moment where you thought, “I’ve got to get into that business?“
Was there anything you saw at the cinema that lit the fire?
How do you look back now on the early days of your career?
What year was this?
“I started spring of ’93. And so Miramax had Pulp Fiction going into production. It was on the heels of the success of The Crying Game. I started one week before the Academy Awards for The Crying Game. And little did I know exactly what all that meant. But there I was young and enthusiastic and away we went.
I reflect very well on my early days and I think a lot of it is because the staff and leaders of Miramax were among the best and brightest. We were all young, hungry and somewhat workaholics. We all loved movies. Together we worked on this amazing library of movies and it really was at that crossroads when smaller, independent movies were getting recognized.”
We could talk about the challenges of indie film, as you know, that have gone on in recent times. Does it look like absolute halcyon days back then – in terms of financing? Was there that slight Gold Rush, moment-in-time feel?
“I think it was a bit of a Gold Rush at that time. It was exciting though because fresh new voices could be heard. There was a way for the movies to get out there. They could platform the theatrical release, turn it into home entertainment and do well with that. TV sales were up then too. There was HBO but it was still the fledgling days of cable. So people were buying movies for decent prices.
A lot of these filmmakers were able to do well, get their movies made by some smaller companies and get their voices out there. And as such, it was a Gold Rush. It’s probably very similar to today’s streaming world where a lot more folks are getting their voices out.
But what is different is now you choose your platform. There’s not the home entertainment window, per se, that sometimes could save the financials on a smaller movie that may have done decent at the box office but not great. So you don’t have that – you kind of choose your lane at the moment.”
Do you view this stuff, particularly in indie film, as cyclical? It’s almost every 20 years. For example, there’s the 70s and Scorsese and Coppola and everybody else surging out of New Hollywood. And then about 20 -25 years later, you get Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino and Sex, Lies and Videotape. Is the business never in that much trouble for long, because we always find a way?
“I think we always find a way. Maybe you’re exactly right on the every 20- 25 years. But I think when you’re in it, you see the ebbs and flows at all times.
There was the year – and I was in studio at this time – when home entertainment just skyrocketed. Everything was gold, even the stinkers were gold. And then suddenly, five years later, they’re not gold. But then along comes Blu-ray and there goes the market again.
So there’s always this constant ebb and flow that changes the dynamic of what’s happening and how things get made and what’s affordable.Embed from Getty Images
Now it seems like streaming though allows for more things to get made. But do you decide to stream or do you decide you’re going to fight the theatrical fight?
What’s interesting right now is that every conversation about your content was along the lines of: “Are you streaming or are you theatrical?”. This is ahead of the pandemic. Those conversations were huge at that time. And now it’s even worse because whether or not people go out to the theater is really driven by health and all that.
I am one that firmly believes that the theatrical window will come back strong once we are through the pandemic and people feel comfortable to go out – all ages of people.”
On that note – there was an interesting Paul Thomas Anderson quote recently where he said, “Licorice Pizza isn’t going to be the thing that gets people back into the theater, as much as I love my own film. Spider-Man is going to get people back into theaters”. Where do you fall on the whole Marvel vs Scorsese argument? Are they just a necessary evil these days and we cross our fingers that if the family had a good time at Spider-Man, the mom and the dad might cough up and go and see Licorice Pizza? Is it just that we’re in bed with the enemy now?
“It’s been that way for a while. You get your movies that are your giant blockbusters, not just necessarily the Marvel movies but other movies. And they get butts in seats, which is important.
But ahead of the pandemic, Licorice Pizza and some other movies would do steadily well just because people like you and me want to go see those movies. My kids want to go see those movies. My kid saw Licorice Pizza in the theater twice, for example. It was in December when Omicron was surging and they were were like, “We’re gonna go early in the morning and we’re gonna sit in the back and we’re gonna mask up”.
So I think where there’s a will there’s a way. Because some things are better in the theater and you want to see them in the theater. I think there’s quite a few movies that a lot of us want to see in the theater because that’s where they deserve to be seen.
But I think PTA is right – his movie may not get the exact box office we need. But it’s important box office because I do think there should be something for all audiences. We don’t all want to see the Marvel movies and we don’t all want to see Licorice Pizza. Some people want to go see a good rom-com, some people want to go see a good musical.”Embed from Getty Images
There’s an interesting quote from Colin Vaines, where he said: “My taste is basically at the commercial end of art house or the art house end of commercial”. How would you try and define Shannon McIntosh’s taste?
“I don’t know if I can define it as well as Colin defined it. But I would probably say I prefer more arthouse movies. But then I range anywhere from Cinema Paradiso to Il Postinoto to Apocalypse Now.
When I look at the movies that I love and adore, it could be a war movie, it could be an action movie. My taste is diverse. Even with the movies that I make, there’s a big diversity.”
What’s always fascinating about producing is that it’s such a broad banner. There are so many micro different producers – some are great numbers people, some have great taste, some are all about the talent relationship. What parts of the role really got you going?
“Well, I would say because of my background, there are very few people who come from knowing about all aspects of moviemaking, from pre-production to production to post-production to life well beyond the movie’s initial release.
Whenever I come on to a film, I really go in as a partner to whatever studio that I’m working with, or whatever independent movie I’m doing, to then get distribution. It’s a skill set that’s been acquired from just my years of work.”
Would you say to young producers that they should try and experience as diverse a spectrum of the business as possible?
“What I always say to young people, young producers, young people wanting to break into production is: “No job is too small”. No job is too big and no job is too small. Turn every stone over and learn all of it.
When I jumped out of grad school, I got turned down in a lot of places for being “too overqualified”. And I was like, “But no, I’m not, I want to learn”. I think having that willingness to learn all aspects is key. That’s important, really, in all of life. But especially if you’re coming up and wanting to be a producer – you’ve got to learn it all.”
Can you tell us about some of the highlights of the early years? Obviously, Good Will Hunting is a seminal film and Cop Land and some of the other big films that you’re credited on.
“Yeah, those were heyday Miramax movies, right? So with Good Will Hunting, you had a very experienced director coming in working with two young, up and coming writer-actors. And it was pretty magical to watch Matt and Ben work with Gus and attracting Robin Williams to it.
Those were the magical days when new voices could be heard. They were able to attract a proven star to do that. I have very fond special memories of Good Will Hunting – watching them bring that movie to life, watching it go out to the Academy Awards and seeing careers that exploded from there both in writing and acting.
With Cop Land, Jim Mangold was a young director. He’d done one movie (Heavy) and connected with independent producers who were pretty powerful – Kathy Conrad and Cary Woods.
Watching a young up and coming director work with some heavy hitters – Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro – was wonderful. You saw Jim take control of his voice and really make a great movie.
Again, that’s the beauty of what Miramax and New Line and some other smaller companies were able to do. They gave these young voices and writer-directors a shot. I mean now Jim Mangold, he’s everywhere, right? He’s got Academy Award nominee movies, he’s got action-adventure movies that do quite well.
And when any of us see each other, we all harken back to really great times when we were young and making great movies. It wasn’t just the people that worked there, it was the directors, producers and writers that we got to work with. And they are still on the cutting edge of the industry and leading forces within it.”
At this point, were you doing a lot of observing and thinking: “Well, when I’m a full producer on one of these big productions, I’m going to play it this way, I’m going to play it that way”. Did you feel you were just picking up a huge amount? And were you beginning to form views of how you would come to do it in the years to come?
“Not at all. I was a full-on executive working. And you’re not just working, you’re working for the success of that movie and the success of the company.
I think when I went into Miramax, I thought, “Oh, I’ll stay a couple of years, and then I’m gonna go out and make movies”. But because I went in at full bore with all the wonderful other colleagues that I worked with, we had a tremendous time.
I didn’t really ever go, “Oh, well, when I leave now, this is what I’m going to learn”. You learn by doing. And that’s how it was. When I think back, it was what I was putting into it and what I took away from it that gave me the intel to how I work today, which is similar to how I worked as an executive. The challenge starts at the top. And when you treat people with respect and dignity, and you work harder than anyone else, that’s how things become successful.”
When did you first come across Quentin Tarantino then? When did you first physically meet and what were your impressions of him?
“We would talk on the phone when he was finishing Pulp Fiction. And the first day that I actually met him in person was the day that he won his Academy Award. I had to come out to LA for some other business and so was at the viewing party and afterparty that year for the Oscars. And it was his birthday and at some point, he walked in the room after winning his award and I said hey, “I’m Shannon” and he’s like, “You’re Shannon!”
Anyway, so I don’t forget that day. Because one, he won the award, and two, it was his birthday. And when you talk to someone on the phone for a while you feel like you know them but you’ve really never met them in person. We always got along well on the phone.
And after that, I worked with him as a studio person. I’ve always had a great working relationship with him.”Embed from Getty Images
Do you have a favorite Tarantino script that you read prior to it being produced? Have they all landed on your desk past Pulp Fiction?
“I didn’t read the Pulp Fiction script. It was making its rounds, but I wasn’t in that type of position. But I read Jackie Brown because we’d already been working together and so I got that one ahead.
And I became one of the lucky few to get to read Quentin’s scripts before they were even going into production.
So I’ve always felt very privileged to read his words early. And I think one of your questions was did Once Upon a Time in Hollywood come fully-formed? Quentin gives a script to people when they’re fully formed in full to read. He’ll read scenes to people at times over the phone. But when a script is handed out, it’s fully formed.
You could go out and shoot that script tomorrow and it would be close to what you imagined would become the shooting script.”
Newer writers can get quite frustrated in terms of what they write not being given the same license, for example, that say a PT Anderson script will get. So when a script comes in from an established auteur, a PT Anderson or Quentin Tarantino for example, how much note-giving is there if any?
“I think it’s a misnomer that once someone becomes an auteur that there are no notes. There’s probably no script that doesn’t get a note. I can’t imagine it. Whether you’re a studio executive, the head of a studio, the development executive or the production executive, there’s always notes to give.
Now, when you’re a Paul Thomas-Anderson, or Quentin Tarantino, or Martin Scorsese…I think some people are so critical of themselves and they work through it for so long, they get good at editing themselves. Till they think it’s ready to go to the world.
Now, they do still expect notes. Quentin absolutely expects notes. He expects people to tango with him and give him thoughts and ideas. PTA would as well.
I think this misnomer is that when, especially a young writer gets notes, that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. The ones you just can’t even figure out how you would give notes on, they do exist. But notes should be encouraging. That would tell me I have something worth working through.
But whether you’re on your second, third or fourth draft, once you put it out in the world, people have perspectives. Are they the right perspectives? Maybe, maybe not. These may not be the exact right notes, but they’re my notes and as you dialogue, we get through what they should be.”
As you moved up the ladder, have you found generally speaking the bigger the star the easier they are to work with?
“I mean, every person comes with their eccentricities, their own things. And for the most part, I have been really lucky to work with great stars. You know, oftentimes it’s a person that you think shouldn’t give you a problem that does.”
The bigger up you go, because they have the least to prove, the more amenable and easy to work with they are?
“Yeah, I think that they’re grateful to be there too. They realize they’ve done well, and they’re appreciative.
It’s great when your stars and your leads come on time, come early, are prepared and know their lines. They are working with other actors who may be intimidated to work with them. I mean, that’s what you really love is when you see these superstars who reach across and really embrace everyone around them, from the crew to the other actors. It’s lovely to watch.”Embed from Getty Images
Did you have any family connections to the business?
“None. Just fighting my way in.”
That’s the best way, just sheer sweat and tenacity. But it must have been a bit of a euphoric moment when you realized “Oh, my God, I’m actually producing a movie with essentially the two biggest male movie stars in the world, and they’re in the same film”. Did you ever pinch yourself?
“I mean I feel so blessed to have made that movie and to work with all the people on it.
In a Tarantino movie, we have our family that comes back together to make his movies. And so I’ve known so many of our crew members going back to…really Jackie Brown, which was the first one that I was on set for. And there are even a lot of the same people who worked on Reservoir Dogs with him.
So it’s bringing together a family. When you have that, and you have stars who are lovely humans, that’s important. That’s why I said earlier about it coming from the top – you start to lead with how you treat people with dignity.
And we’re so blessed that we all had the passion and that we were working on a movie that we all loved, and that we had kind people to work with. That is what’s really important. Did I pinch myself that the movie came out great and that it was well-received? I do because you work so hard. And it’s not just recognizing Quentin’s efforts, or Brad or Leo’s efforts, it’s recognizing our crew. What everybody put into that – the blood, sweat and tears – that’s what’s important.”Embed from Getty Images
How exciting was it to be Oscar-nominated? And what was that experience like? The “campaigning”, if you want to call it that.
“This is where I go back to the early days of Miramax when I was one week into my job and it was the Academy Awards for The Crying Game and I had no idea what went into any of that.
When you have a good movie, the campaign starts early. Or you get people to watch your movie and there’s word of mouth. And so ours had started pretty early. We went to the Cannes Film Festival. And from pretty early on people thought that we were a movie to watch for Oscar consideration.
We traveled the world with the movie, which was exciting. And this is pre-COVID. I think our movie hit at the exact right time because, by the time we were at the Academy Awards in February 2020, a month after that, the world shut down.”Embed from Getty Images
Tell us about the shooting of The Hateful Eight? Because it’s quite interesting as a physical production, especially comparing it to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. You’ve got one that’s a sunshine film and one that’s very determinedly a snow film.
“Yes, actually two things about that: We shot that movie on 65mm to project it in 70mm. So from the moment we decided we’re gonna make the movie, you’re preparing for your theatrical release.
There weren’t projectors everywhere in 70mm. So we had to figure out how we were going to roll it out to a larger audience. And I think Paul Thomas-Anderson had 10 projectors for his last movie ahead of ours. And so we got to 100. We had to start that but at the same time figure out how to shoot the movie on 65mm and in snow. And we were looking for a location…we ended up shooting in Telluride.
So we started pre-production and ran into doing a few days of pre-shooting ahead of Christmas 2014. And they had a lot of snow that happened over that Christmas. Thank goodness they had that snow because after Christmas, it was the driest it had been in like 50 years. They got no snow.
So we were on call seven days a week; if it snowed, we were out there. It literally just became an exercise of trying to get snow. The town was suffering too because they rely on snow to get skiers coming in. And so with the city of Telluride, we did a ski burn, where the mayor came out and they burned skis to hopefully get snow. And we took it a step further. I’d been reading about it and we got some Native Americans to come on to our set and do a dance that would hopefully bring the snow. And within a few days of that dance, we got our snow.
So it was a technical dance, and a dance with the snow and just hoping it would come and it came. And we finished our 70mm and we got it out there in 70mm.”
So would you say it was a more challenging shoot than Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?
“All movies have their challenges. I mean, for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, we had so many different locations. So we were shooting a few days in one place, then moving to the next place. It was local, so it was a little bit easier probably than being far away in Telluride. There we couldn’t decide that we were going to up and pick up and go on to do our stuff on the stage because we were far away.
So there were definitely probably more technical difficulties on The Hateful Eight. And just the research for the equipment and how to get it to work was hard. But for films and cameras, we were never down. We were always just waiting on snow. Mother nature!”
Do you come at things quite tactically? Some producers, you can see, might look at a script or a package and go “Well, I’m not crazy about this but I can absolutely see a route to market for it. I’m going to do this one, even though I’m not absolutely revved up about it. Because I know it’s got that route to market. And then I’m going to do a tiny budget movie that I’m absolutely bonkers for. And it’s going to be a bit of a nightmare, logistically and fiscally”.
“Well, you’ve got to have a passion for it. Because if you don’t, it’s just gonna show in every turn and everything that you’re doing. There’s got to be some passion there for you.
There are some where you’re absolutely bonkers for the script. You know it’s gonna land and that it’s going to get out there. There are others that you know there’s a marketplace for and you know that there’s an audience that wants to see that. Then there are others where you want to give people a shot.
And it’s what the TITAN Awards is all about – finding those new voices to get out there. Those are important too, to discover new voices, to find new talent. And so for me, you’ve always got to find a passion somewhere there.”
Do you have things that you love and hate to see in a script?
“You want to know that there’s a point of view pretty quickly. The things that really get me on a script is when they meander, and they meander, and they meander. You want somebody to have a point of view.
You don’t want to preach to people what the movie is, you want to take them through the story. And so often you’ll find shortcomings when people write so much dialogue that they’re just hitting you over the head with what the movie is about rather than showing you.
So I think it’s point of view. It’s getting to the point and not meandering.”
When you turn on Netflix or Amazon, it’s like there’s this wall of very polished 7 out of 10 content. Even with huge wealth resources, finding those genius projects is as hard as it was in the 20s, or the 70s or the 50s, right?
“Yeah, how do you find those really distinct voices that deliver the product that everyone loves? I think you’re right, even though there’s so much streaming product out there, there’s still the things that rise to the top.
I think there are amazing voices out there, they just have to have a platform. They have to be heard. Because I think sometimes some of these projects, if they weren’t brought in by known showrunners or directors or really known writers, they would get lost.
Finding fresh new voices with fresh ideas. That’s what I think we all need to be doing right now.”Embed from Getty Images
Are you looking to be almost shocked or amazed by some sort of point of difference? This is what we teach a lot of our writers; that if you’re gonna break in, bizarrely, of your 10 loglines, your wackiest one is probably your most likely route in because it won’t be like everybody else’s”.
“People need to stand out. It’s the fresh ideas and fresh new talent. It’s standing out from the pack. And so you’re probably right, what will stand out is that weirdest logline that you’ve ever had that’ll be different from anything anyone else would ever think of.”
What are you working on currently?
“So I’ve got a small independent movie – a lovely story with an up and coming new director, which we’re cutting right now. It’s called Start Without Me.
I’ve got a slate of martial arts movies that are lower budget martial arts movies that’ll harken back to the heyday of the martial art movie that people love. We’ll shoot a couple of those in Thailand and a couple in the States. So that’s on me now.
And I’ve got a few bigger projects that are in development, as well a few that we’re out trying to attract talent for.”
Just quickly on that point, that’s one of the big malaises of some of the bigger producers at the moment – that the major talent that really unlocks the serious finance is so booked up in TV. There’s not that many actors, when you begin looking at it, who’ve held out against TV.
“Right. So many of them are I think juggling between TV and the movies. But it feels like that with the movies, it becomes a case of whether they can fit it in between or not.
And a couple of these scripts, I absolutely need some diverse people. So you limit your pool. Who is a diverse actor who can get the movie to be greenlight-able and make it happen for the studio? TV is so big now.”Embed from Getty Images
What is your viewing split? How much TV are you watching? How much film are you watching?
“I would say normally it’s probably 50/50. Right now it’s Oscar time though. So I’m busy watching the Academy movies. So now I’m watching the documentaries, the short subjects and all of that. I’m trying to keep my good Academy hat on. I did jump out to watch a little TV with my husband last week.”
And are you developing much TV? Is that a route you’re going down?
“I’ve got a few things that are on the TV path and I’ve got one with Tristar TV that we’re about to go out with, with some notable talent. So that’s exciting.
I mean, there’s actually something I’m working on where I kept going, “Should it be a movie or should it be TV?”. And ultimately I felt like the richness of the world deserved TV.”
And finally, as a judge and ambassador of the TITAN Awards 2022, how do you feel about reading the winning projects? It’s not like the old days is it, where geographically, it was difficult to punch in, fiscally it was difficult to punch in. You almost had to be in LA. How important do you think talent identification programs are? And how excited are you about being part of the TITAN?
“I’m very excited to be partnered with the TITAN. We need more avenues for fresh voices to be heard and diverse voices to be heard. And so the fact that there’s a platform to consider that is great. Not just for movies but TV and everything else (that can be submitted to the TITAN).
It’s important. I think we have to figure out ways to be mentors, whether it’s with young up and coming talent, or people who are changing their lives and may not be as young.
But it’s important for us to have platforms for people to get their voices out there. And it’s important for people who are established in the industry to be adding guidance, to be reading and to participate in the next generation of voices.”
Shannon McIntosh was speaking as a judge of the second TITAN Screenwriting Contest, by Industrial Scripts. Read more about the contest and enter at the link below.
- Enter the 2022 TITAN Screenwriting Contest.
- View all previous Insider Interviews, here.
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1 thought on “The Insider Interviews – with Oscar-Nominee Shannon McIntosh”
Can a written story be submitted or does it have to be in script format?
Many thanks Mary