By Andrew Buckner
Today I have the great honor of speaking with writer, artist, actor and director Skip Shea! Welcome! Can you tell us about yourself?
Thanks for having me. I’m a filmmaker.
What were some of your earliest influences and inspirations?
I was in high school in the 70s. This may just be nostalgia speaking, but I think it was an amazing time for film and filmmakers. And for whatever reason, the people I knew not only talked about actors but we also discussed directors. It was a very small school and I was also involved with theater so we had to be involved in all aspects of production. So we grew to appreciate directors at a very young age. Martin Scorsese, in particular Taxi Driver, and Woody Allen were very big influences at the time. Annie Hall seemed like a revolution of storytelling to me. I was unaware at that point of the influence of foreign films by the like of Fellini or Bergman on his work and all of the rules they broke. I also grew up in a town with a drive-in. Quite a few in the area at the time. So I’d also be able to see films like Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left and Tobe Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These were not my mother’s Hitchcock films. Which I loved but, outside of Psycho, very safe films. And I loved them. So many films and filmmakers to list. Wicker Man, Don’t Look Now, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Midnight Cowboy, Lenny and All That Jazz. I wanted to create something like that.
Before being a filmmaker, you were a visual artist. What can you tell us about this time period in your life?
That period has never ended. I started at a very young age. I loved to draw. I would study and copy Batman comic books when I was five years old. By the time I was in 3rd grade I had an illustrated book I put together on display at the Worcester Art Museum. Some sort of display about the local young artist. Something like that.
How did your visual artistry assist you when you first stepped into the director’s chair?
It assisted tremendously. I knew how I wanted to compose each shot. I could easily look at a space and block out what I didn’t need with ease. It makes it easier to communicate with the DP when you know exactly what you want.
In 1999, you produced, penned and performed a one-man stage memoir called Catholic (Surviving Abuse & Other Dead End Roads). It shares many of the same themes as your 2016 debut feature, Trinity. What can you tell us about this work?
In a lot of ways it’s the same work. In some points, literally. Parts of the one-man show are in the movie. I had an art/poetry exhibit called Catholic Guilt on display in a very small gallery that I helped run, that no one would visit. A very safe way to pretend to be telling my story. A story about surviving clergy sexual abuse. One day two very lovely people came to the exhibit and told me I needed to get this exhibit to New York. And I thought if I could get an exhibit in New York it would be hanging there. But that old love of theater kicked in and I thought I’ll do a one man show in New York. I started writing in in June of 2005 and I was on stage in New York that December. Like Trinity, I felt it is important to tell the story not so much to educate the masses as much it is for others who have suffered through clergy sexual abuse or any type of sexual abuse as a kid. So many end up with addictions or worse, commit suicide. The one-man show had a lot of comedy in it. I wanted to show that is better to make fun of them then give your life to them. It takes work, years of therapy. But it’s worth it not to give another minute to them. Like Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”
In 2011, your poetry was used by Jon Faddis, a Jazz trumpeteer, for his Songs of Mourning. This took place at the September 11th Tenth Anniversary Commemorative Concert at Symphony Space in New York City. What was this experience like?
It still doesn’t seem real to me. That was such an amazing honor. Dignitaries like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor were in the audience. Listening to a jazz great recite a poem I wrote. And it’s really not a poem about the attack as much as it is about grieving. I lost one of my twin daughters, Shawna, in a car accident in 1999. She was 16. Grieving is a very private thing. It has to be. Most people are uncomfortable around it. They don’t want to see it, it makes them feel unsafe. So we do things like give people three days bereavement leave and respect them to come back and be fine and productive. The level of ignorance around the grieving process is staggering. Or its denial. But it became a very public and shared process after the September 11th attack. For a short while anyway. The poem was about our ability to grieve together at that one moment, even if mine was more about my daughter than the nation. But loss triggers loss. Ultimately it’s all the same.
In 2013, you directed the horror short, “Ave Marie”. What inspired this wonderful work of art?
It was a sequel of sorts to “Microcinema”. A woman in a mask extracting justice. Microcinema created a little buzz so I wanted to keep it going while I was writing feature length scripts. I think it was a story on NPR where I heard about Alessandro Moreschi as the last castrato singer. Then I heard him sing. I thought about how insane the notion would be that families would gladly hand their son over to the church, to be castrated to sing for the Pope. And to consider it an honor. It’s crazy. But it really isn’t when you look at the global crimes of clergy sexual abuse of children within the Catholic Church. It’s so bad that the UN wrote two reports on it as crimes against humanity. But how has the world responded? So I wanted to make a piece avenging all of the boys who were castrated. It seemed only fitting to have women do this in the woods, considering how the church slaughter pagans during the Inquisition, destroying the cultural heritage of the regions and then stealing their property. And it was a huge bonus to find Moreschi singing “Ave Maria”, a song to the divine feminine. So the short was born.
“Ave Marie” was the winner of the Audience Award at the Interiora Horror Festival in Rome, Italy. It was also entered in 20 festivals worldwide. During this time it received awards in Montreal, Canada, Providence, Rhode Island and Tallahassee, Florida. What was this experience like?
It’s a wonderful and very unexpected experience. In particular in Rome. It’s nice to know that a piece you’ve created can have an effect on people.
How important do you think film festivals such as those mentioned above are to making or breaking an Independent filmmaker?
I think it’s so important I’m involved with two film festivals myself. I help with the Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and the Shawna Shea Film Festival which is a fundraiser for the Shawna E. Shea Memorial Foundation, Inc. I work with filmmakers Chris Di Nunzio, Nolan Yee and Jason Miller on Mass Indie and we go to great lengths to support and push true indie artists. It sounds silly to say true indie artists but there is a level of filmmakers who generally pay for their own movie and don’t have big money producers behind them. So they have to be innovative and creative to make their films. And part of our philosophy is that we won’t show a film that we’ve worked on so every minute programmed goes to someone else. Not that festivals who do show their own work are wrong. That’s totally understandable too. It’s a great way to show your film to the people who’ve worked on it. Screening in any festival is important because, and here’s where I answer your question, in order to get to the next level where producers with money exist, a filmmaker needs to have a proven track record. It helps.
“Microcinema”, from 2011, also had similar popularity and acclaim during its film festival run. What inspired this composition?
Microcinema was inspired by the very tired rape/revenge horror genre. I remember Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave and the impact they had on me. There are so many that copied these movies but went to the gratuitous side. Making us endure brutally long rape scenes. And there is a sub-culture of viewers who get off on this. The types who rate horror movies by blood, gore and boobs. So I wanted to make the anti-rape/revenge movie. I tried to set it up like it would be a formulaic short but turn the tables very quickly where the woman never becomes a victim. And then have a short three minute or so endurance test of a man being brutalized. This isn’t revenge. He pays just for thinking about what he wanted to do to this woman.
You have stated that “Ave Marie” and “Microcinema” helped make Trinity happen. What can you tell us about the deeply personal and abstract horror gem?
“Microcinema” and “Ave Marie” helped to make Trinity happen because of the success those shorts had, so I was able to gain a certain level of confidence from the cast and crew who would have faith that I could do it as well since most of them know the reason behind telling the story. As I decided it was time to take the next step and tackle a feature, I thought if this is my first, I should make the movie I want to make. The karmic aspects of Microcinema, justice exacted on a sexual predator, and Ave Maria, justice for castrating boys, didn’t get to the core of clergy sexual abuse. That danced around it. The movie I wanted to make would be directly about that subject.
What was the process of filming Trinity like?
My process is the same. I write it. I meet with the actors and DP. Talk about the characters and look of the film. Then shoot it. I know people often think the process of making these movies are cathartic experiences for me. They are not. I’m well beyond that. I would say the one-man show took care of that artistically for me. So it wasn’t as challenging as some may think. Plus it’s a tight schedule. Just have to get it done.
Besides twelve directing credits currently to your name, you also have a dozen writing credits, five editing and cinematography credits, producer, camera, sound department and even a composer credit for a song you created for the 2010 short, “They Serve Breakfast Here All Day Long”. Have these different experiences helped shape you as a moving picture artist? If so, how?
I got into this late in life. I think this first short I finished was in 2009. I was almost 50 years old. So I viewed shorts like minor league baseball. Learn the process, see the mistakes in production, get it all under my belt so that when I did Trinity I was as prepared as I could be to face the challenges. So doing as many aspects in production on the shorts helped me to learn the process. And, probably most of the time, it was a necessity. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself to get it done.
What among these aforementioned traits do you find most enjoyable to do? Why?
I enjoy it all. I was born a creative type. I don’t know why but it’s what I love to do. As long as I’m creating I’m happy.
Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to tell us about?
I do and not yet.
Do you have any final thoughts for us?
I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. I can get longwinded. Thank you for having me.
Thank you for your time! Best of luck on all your future endeavors!