I am proud to say that I just released a documentary “Six Feet of Separation” which is my directorial debut. In it, I teamed up with Arlene Barshinger (Host). She aided in finding the interview subjects from across the globe. These subjects are from various walks of life and share with us their experiences during the initial lockdown stages. There were individuals from Italy, India, Australia, Greece and more. We even had an ICU Nurse in New York who worked specifically with COVID-19 patients. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with Kevin Sorbo, Dee Wallace, and all of those wonderful individuals. Looking at the documentary now is an eye-opening experience. It’s like looking at a time capsule of what happened when toilet paper and paper towels were a priceless commodity. You can also see all the racism that the Asian community was facing. The documentary rapidly became an outreach project, many interviewees expressed gratitude that we gave them an opportunity to share what they were going through. I am proud to have been a part of that.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawnda Christiansen, an independent film producer, director, screenwriter, musician, and author. Her recent book release The Slayer Chronicles -Volume 1, is now a feature film releasing in 2021 that follows the life of Raven Cross, a vampire slayer. Her focus in film and books is to highlight the innate human capacity to change by finding the strength within and she’s a ghost hunter by night!
Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?
When I was a kid I was all about becoming a rock star. I sang competitively and had many family members who were professional musicians. My grandfather was the guitarist, but I was just a little song bird and I sang, everywhere I went. He would always tell me that Patsy Cline was my cousin (no one in the family believed him until the day my dad found proof on Ancestry.com). I had other professional musicians in the family as well and my dad told me he was arranging for me to connect with my Uncle Gene Henslee in Oklahoma, to record my first album. Sadly, before we got to that point I turned to drugs and stopped singing.
My years of drug addiction were pretty gnarly with multiple suicide attempts, self-mutilation, and a total loss of hope. One night, a wave a paranoia led me to another suicide attempt and it was in that moment that I had a moment of clarity, I just knew, I had completely lost my mind. I said a prayer. I had never prayed before in my entire life, but on that day I said “God, if you’re really there, and you care at all about me, please just let me die or help me live. I can’t keep going on this way.” I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but it did. It was actually a shocking turn of events that led me into a treatment center shortly afterwards where I experienced one miracle after another (read the full story in my book Miles to Go on Broken Wings).
Thanks to the miracles I experienced I found myself a new path in life as a substance abuse counselor, where I focused on sharing with others the miracles given to me. In time, I ended up singing again when I was forced onto stages at these fundraisers for the treatment center. The stage fright was indescribable, but I got through a two-night performance and singing became a part of my life again. From there I went on to learn guitar so that I could sing and play my favorite songs and I was fortunate to have my late grandfather’s acoustic guitar on which to learn.
A time came when I developed an interest in making a movie about my story in the hopes of sharing the miracle with more people than just one client at a time. A few years later that dream became a reality with my first film “Junkie”, and my first book” Miles to Go on Broken Wings” (formerly titled Junkie: Broken Wings). It is interesting to see how some reacted to the story of Junkie because they don’t believe that an addict can change. The stories do not elaborate on a forgotten dream of being a professional musician because I didn’t choose to include that in the story line. But I am proud to say that I have written and recorded original songs for all three of my feature films. One of my goals in the next couple of years is to release my first album. I wanted to share all of that here because I want anyone who reads this to know, each day offers us a chance to do things differently. Realize that forgotten dream. Dream a new dream. Just do it and never give up!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
My friend Arlene Barshinger and I have a lot of funny stories stemming from being women in the industry. One that we still laugh about today is or attempted kisses from men in this industry. One day I was having drinks with a famous and attractive TV actor. As he was leaving he hugged and kissed me, which left me quite surprised. I told Arlene about it and how it was sweet. He kind of has this tough exterior but once you get to know him you realize that he’s this cuddly teddy bear kind of a guy. Arlene said, “Yeah, I can believe it.” Then I asked her if she could take the reins on a lunch meeting about our project in development, she said she would and would call to let me know how it went. About 3 hours later she calls me to tell me that after the meeting she drove him to the airport and he attempted to kiss her goodbye. Then she says, “I can’t believe this, literally after you told me about your hug and kiss I have this other guy trying to give me one. At least yours was cute!”The funny stories of this nature go on, in that she has various men asking to see things like her hands, and one who wanted to see her feet (weird). Whereas on my end of the world, anytime I mention I’m going to go do something I have someone who will try to find out exactly where I am going or what I am doing. Then they try to invite themselves. She and I laugh all the time about the scenarios we end up in, all the while we wait for someone to ask us out on a proper date ☺
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Before I ever considered being a filmmaker, and long before ever finishing my first book, I was a huge fan of the “Buffy” and “Angel” TV shows. When the day came that “Junkie” was becoming a reality, someone pointed out Christian Kane as a possibility for one of the main characters Sheriff Corbin. I didn’t think that would ever happen. I mean, Junkie was my first film and Christian was kind of a big deal, but it did. My first interactions with him weren’t all that amazing, but some years later we began discussing another project together. One night, over drinks, I commented on one of his past films “Hide.” I stated that I thought it was a great movie, but I was a little perplexed by the ending. He then began explaining it to me, using an episode of Angel as an example. It happened to be my favorite episode of Angel. I suddenly went from Producer to fangirl and couldn’t stop giggling. I was sitting, in a bar having drinks with Lindsay. The guy I’ve been watching on TV for years. I had forgotten about all of that until that moment, and then… well, I embarrassed myself.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m really excited about my first vampire book “The Slayer Chronicles, Volume I”, which was recently published. Also recently published are 2nd editions of my first two books. Those new editions are Miles To Go (Broken Wings), and Miles Two Go (Firefly). I am in production on a horror film titled “Into the Further.” In development on a psychological thriller “Subject Unknown” and the sequel to Junkie.” I am also in development on a Twelve-Step Program documentary titled “Broken Wings” and an anthology book about the law of attraction.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I am inspired by Rosa Parks. She did what Eleanor Roosevelt challenged us all to do which is to do one thing every day that scares you. I am inspired by anyone who stands up for what they believe in and act with integrity, as if someone is watching even if no one actually is.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?
I am proud to say that I just released a documentary “Six Feet of Separation” which is my directorial debut. In it, I teamed up with Arlene Barshinger (Host). She aided in finding the interview subjects from across the globe. These subjects are from various walks of life and share with us their experiences during the initial lockdown stages. There were individuals from Italy, India, Australia, Greece and more. We even had an ICU Nurse in New York who worked specifically with COVID-19 patients. It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with Kevin Sorbo, Dee Wallace, and all of those wonderful individuals. Looking at the documentary now is an eye-opening experience. It’s like looking at a time capsule of what happened when toilet paper and paper towels were a priceless commodity. You can also see all the racism that the Asian community was facing. The documentary rapidly became an outreach project, many interviewees expressed gratitude that we gave them an opportunity to share what they were going through. I am proud to have been a part of that. It’s now available on Amazon Prime, Roku and DVD.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?
In the realm of filmmaking, my father always taught me that anything is possible with the right amount of effort. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in my life. I have learned he was right. My “aha moment” came when I saw Tim Russ working his magic on the set of Rellik. I knew at that moment I needed to make my film and Tim had to do it! On Rellik, I was the craft services person, and also an Associate Producer. I had been on many sets, helped with screenplays, helped with Crafty but had not mounted my own production. I had an ah ha moment and just knew that it was time for my true story “Junkie” and Tim Russ had to be the director. Roughly one year later, we completed Junkie. In regard to the documentary, my ah ha moment was when Disneyland closed. In regard to writing my books, I have been a writer since I was a little kid but I had not written an entire book. I had started quite a bit but never got to the finish line. I finally got to that finish line after I succeeded at producing Junkie. I would say that one ah ha moment leads to more just as each accomplishment does.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I have to say that when I released my first book Miles to Go on Broken Wings (formerly titled Junkie — Broken Wings) I was pretty nervous. In it, I shared a true story that I had not ever fully shared with anyone. I was contacted by a lot of women every time they reached a specific chapter in the book that tells a story of sexual assault. Each one of them had a story of their own to share and several have gone on to work on accomplishments of their own, stating that it was because of the inspiration they gained from reading my book. That warms my heart and inspires me to keep doing more. It is why I published the new edition “Miles to Go” which is double the length of the original book.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
Share your thoughts and feelings, do not keep them bottled up.
Stop telling yourself that you can’t do something. Challenge yourself. If you aim low you will always hit your mark, aim higher and higher and higher. Develop a mission statement for your life and do it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Networking is not about me:
I have learned the hard way that while I am judging myself based on my intentions, others are judging me based on my actions. Do the people I interact with know that I appreciate them? Networking is not a “me” thing, it’s a “we” thing. I think it’s important to write a list of things we can do for our network to show our appreciation, then do them.
You’ve got this!
I hate to say this, but I ran into a lot of people who didn’t think I was really going to make a movie. Most of them were people I had met on other sets who thought we were just “talking” about it but wouldn’t actually “do” it. It has happened with all three of my features, “Junkie”, “Six Feet of Separation” and “Slayer Chronicles”. On “Junkie” I did find myself questioning whether or not I could succeed. A lot of people will say that to you, and it’s because of their failed projects. Don’t listen to it.
Don’t stop until it’s finished.
The reason it took me 20 years to finish my first book is because I kept stopping to edit. Finally, one day a dear friend, who is also an author, said, “Don’t look at anything you have written until you get to the end.” Once I followed that advice, I finished the book in record time and even wrote a second one. I’ve recently finished a third book “Slayer Chronicles, Volume I” and am in the process of book four.
Producing a film is a managerial position. Tough decisions have to be made and sometimes people have to be let go. It is a lonely situation to be in, because it’s the position of the bad guy. The director often plays good cop while the producer has to play bad cop and terminating people is never easy.
You had the power all along:
I spent many sleepless nights worrying about situations, scenarios, potential problems related to films in pre-production and post-production. Those are potential years off of my life span that I will never get back. I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to take care of my emotional health. If something’s going on that is robbing me of those hours of peace, then something isn’t right. Period. I have the power to do something about how it is affecting me. It’s necessary to take action the moment things seem off. Those things could range from letting someone go or taking a day for “self-care”. Don’t delay. Don’t let a problematic situation take control of personal peace.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Look within yourself to find the ways that you can make a positive impact on the environment or society, then do it and video it. Share it on YouTube and social media with a hashtag. Make it a challenge for others to do it too. Be the change you hope to see in the world. #bethechange
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
My earliest memory of reading a book was at such a young age. It’s hard for me to recall but it was always Stephen King. Reading his books gave me so many ideas and I wanted to become a writer. I did write creatively all throughout my childhood and into adulthood. I never had the confidence to try and write my own book. I’d written plenty of research papers in college, and even written some screenplays, but a book? I would absolutely love it if Stephen King read my first attempt at a vampire story, “The Slayer Chronicles — Volume I”.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world, as on what needs to be changed in me, and my attitudes.” ~Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
How can our readers follow you online?
On Twitter: https://twitter.com/shawndadarice1
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shawndadarice
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This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!