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Safe House 1618: An Interview with Calvin T. Shepherd

Please tell us what inspired you to enter into the world of films?

I’ve always loved movies. My sister and I would constantly beg my Dad to take us to the local rental store in my hometown. I grew up an hour away from any movie theaters so that was always so special to me to get to go. When I was in high school, I had an amazing English teacher, Kathleen Kelley, who I still talk to today. She would encourage us to do creative projects where I made my first and most terrible films. I could tell then I felt really at home, even just making the iMovie, rushed, made with friends, garbage fire movies, I felt really at home doing it. So when I got to college, one day after some traumatic events, I decided no more backup plans and dove straight into making movies. I’ve made three feature films since then and don’t plan on stopping.

Filmmaking is a laborious job, so what keeps you motivated?

I mean, I just really love doing it. Filmmaking really is a laborious job and it’s even more laborious for me, especially with Safe House 1618. I’ve self funded all of my feature films while working day jobs, but Safe House 1618 came about not long after I got laid off from one of those jobs because of the pandemic. So in order to fund the movie, I worked 13 hour days, six days a week at a sand and gravel mine, then came home to do zoom calls with the cast and Eli Solt as we planned what we would do. Then when it came time to film, I took the 2 weeks I was allowed off for the entire year, filmed for two weeks straight, which at some points was more exhausting than the mine being as we would film until like midnight or later and then get up at 3 am to go continue, then the day after we wrapped, I was back at the mine. Honestly, when you are doing jobs like that, getting out of bed is the worst and a tremendous struggle. But when it’s for filmmaking, your head pops off the pillow like you are wide awake. It’s the best job in the world.

How do you choose your star cast?

Well, it’s a variety of ways. I like it when actors are excited to work with me. From the moment I met her at a film festival, Matison Card, who plays Lee in Safe House 1618, was consistent and excited about working for me. It’s this that caused me to only think of her when I was creating Lee in my head, and I’m so glad I did because she was incredible. Jasmine Day is by far my closest collaborator, someone I love with all my heart, and she gets every page. She’s always told me someone just needs to give her a chance, she works hard and auditions a lot, and then she read this script. She came to me and said, “I am Joe.” I was blown away because it was in the conviction in her voice. I knew she was. Craig, No. 1, and Ronan Kelley spun in my mind between Jesse Davis, Ryan Fredericks, and Cody Alban. I like to meet actors, see what they are like, where they think they can go, and play the movie in my head over and over again with the different possibilities.

Do you think taking an audition is the best way to cast for a movie or documentary?

I don’t know. I didn’t audition for this film. I was in a unique covid-ran situation with this one and had to keep it small. I do think auditions are important. It really just depends.

Do you agree many filmmakers fail to understand the importance of editing?

I definitely don’t. I know how to operate editing softwares enough, but it’s an art. I start the process by writing a screenplay, that’s my first art form. And then directing really is just finding people who are incredible at their art forms. From acting, to camera work, costume design, ect. And as far as editing goes, Eli Solt and Garrett Brady are masters of their editing art form, in my opinion. Eli and I have worked together on all three of my feature films. Him and I just understand what the other is trying to do, without even speaking. It’s really cool. Eli and Garrett had that come to life when editing Safe House 1618. I call Garrett the “Missing Link.” He helped with the edit but also added an element we did not have before in being our colorist. The movie I wrote only works because of the edit. And that only works because of Eli and Garrett. I couldn’t do it without them. They are magicians.

Who are your filmmaking influences?

Very early on my Dad introduced me to the one and only Quentin Tarantino, like so many others before me. I think a lot of filmmakers try to emulate Tarantino’s filmmaking when I think the best route is to try to emulate his love for films. His love for film is contagious and I’ve learned so much by just loving movies. From there I fell in love with films from all the greats, Scorsese, Craven and Carpenter, Leone, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Fincher, Burton and I have a massive love for Kubrick. There is nothing like a Kubrick film. They are the gold standard. Every film I make has new and diverse influences, because with every film I make I do a deep dive into a genre or filmmaker. Currently, I am extremely influenced by Dario Argento and giallo cinema. So be ready for some crazy things to come from that.

How do you choose a script that you are going to direct?

I write all the time. I’ve written close to 200 screenplays that will never see the light of day, I’ve had to make every mistake in the book and now I’m happier with the scripts I produce. After every film, I write multiple scripts and ideas. And it feels like nothing ever wants to work and work the way I want it to. And I get stressed and down on myself and angry as if that’s never going to change. Then, usually, I start writing something new, and when I do, I have deja vu as if I’ve written it before. That’s when I know this is what I’m going to make next.

Where do you see the film industry going in the next 2 years?

In two years? A copious amount of Superhero films and remakes. I would love to see a new era of film arrive and us independent filmmakers are going to lead that charge, but it’s going to take more than two years. Despite some of my heroes who I just talked about constantly preaching the importance of movies being on film, digital cinema is going to bring the new era. The ability to make films for much cheaper will create the change. But we need to be extremely creative on how we utilize the digital format. What can we do that films shot on film cannot? Both visually and narratively.

Do you make films to entertain the audience?

I try not to worry about that too much, I try to entertain myself when I’m writing. Keep myself engaged with the story. I think that is the best way to do it.

Which actor, according to you, is the all-time best actor?

Can I say Jasmine Day? Or is that a biased answer? I love my whole cast so much. I can’t wait until they are all superstars in their own right. They all will be. Greatest of all time? This is such a hard question to me because I love so many different actors. I don’t know if there is an all time greatest… because I see performances every other day that blow me away. What I’ll do is give you an actor who’s been fun to watch recently. When I’m watching Peacemaker, I cannot wait to see Freddie Storma show up as Vigilante. He is incredible. That scene in jail just kills me. I can’t stop watching it.

What are your goals when you make a film?

The only goal you can have, to create a film I’m proud of. Something I want to show to people. I can be a very competitive person and I do want to win, trust me… and I’m very proud and excited when we do. But it can’t be the only goal. I want to tell a story, have something to say with the film, and create something I’m proud of. This is never a goal, but somehow, I also always come away with some of the memories of my life with some of the most amazing people.

What role does music play in a movie?

When I’m making a film, I am constantly attempting to find the rhythm of the story. Music is a very important part of that. When making a film, I am always listening to new music. I am searching for the sound that will make the rhythm. It’s fun because at this level, I’m looking through local artists and I find some incredible talent. I am very proud of the Safe House 1618 soundtrack. Those are songs I return to often now. Score, being that it is produced in post-production, is always my favorite part of putting the film together. I am not musically inclined at all, so when the artist of the score, in this case the amazing Wyatt Jordan, brings me the score, it always blows my mind what he comes up with. It’s everything I imagined in my head, but also something I could’ve never expected.

How do you ensure that production is on schedule?

Honestly, I give us no other option. I make tight schedules and work with efficient people. I haven’t had a problem.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

Well, I can’t give too much away… but I’ve finished the script I know I want to do next. I’m very excited about it and those I have shared it with seem to be very excited about it as well. I’m working on getting funding sorted out and hopefully we will be working on it soon, because I cannot wait to bring this idea to life. I’ve felt in hindsight that Safe House 1618 was too tame for my taste. So be ready… because it’s about to get both crazy and f***ing weird.


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