While at the Waterfront Film Festival, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dakota Skye Director John Humber, Screenwriter Chad Shonk, and Lead Actor Ian Nelson for an interview. After watching this coming-of-age film about a teenage girl with the super power of knowing the truth behind all the lies people tell, I found myself unexpectedly drawn in and charmed by the humor and originality that made up what would have otherwise been the ordinary teenage drama of Dakota Skye’s life.
Damian: Tell me a bit about the casting process and the development of the film.
Humber: We saw so many actors for each of the main parts. We cast Eileen as Dakota Skye first, and then we had eight actors read with her. Ian was in the final three call-backs, after effectively pretending to be a smoker as a gimmick during his first interview. Eileen and Ian played off each other well and raised the bar for each other. It was more than chemistry.
Nelson: Working with Eileen was incredible.
Damian: What were some of the things that surprised you during the filmmaking process? What were some of the unexpected quirks or details?
Humber: JB [Ghuman Jr., who played the role of Dakota’s boyfriend] brought a lot of life into the movie. With every take, he never did the same thing twice.
Shonk: He had an energy and playfulness about him. JB had a long rat tail in his hair that he insisted was “so punk rock.” He wanted it for portraying Kevin in the movie, and we let him keep it. He also really wanted to work in wearing 3-D glasses into a scene. All three [lead actors] brought something unique to the characters, and they ended up being different in the end than how I originally saw them in my head.
Humber: Yes, but now I can’t imagine it any other way.
Damian: This film was portrayed from the first-person point-of-view of a teenage girl, and it appeared very believable. Chad, how did you put yourself in her shoes, so-to-speak?
Shonk: I am a 16-year-old girl. I think that every character that you write is you.
Damian: I’m a big fan of well portrayed superheroes. If you could have one super power of your choice, what would it be?
Shonk: I was a comic book kid too. I wouldn’t want to fly though. I’d probably choose invisibility, and not just for the obvious perverted reasons of being able to spy or whatever. I don’t like to be in the spotlight.
Damian: What are your favorite movies so far for 2008?
Shonk: Not Indiana Jones.
Humber: In Bruges.
Damian: You are all living in Los Angeles now, but didn’t grow up there. What cities do you consider home?
Humber: New York, but L.A. is great for pursuing a career in film.
Nelson: Philly. I like the contrasts of L.A. though. You can look around and see every other car is a Prius hybrid, but the rest are all huge gas-guzzling SUVs like Hummers, and half the time both are parked in the same driveway.
Shonk: I like L.A., but Atlanta is home.
Damian: I always ask if people partake in multiple forms of creativity. Do you practice any other creative pursuits or outlets, in addition to directing, writing, and acting?
Humber: Photography. I used to draw. In addition to directing, I still write and edit — anything that has to do with film-making.
Nelson: I consider my L.A. driving skills and art form. In addition to acting, I also do some directing and filmmaking. I’m working on a film short right now.
Shonk: My prose skills have atrophied. There are different skills involved in writing screenplays. If I could do anything, I’d be starting center field for the Cincinnati Reds. I also plan to be a U.S. Senator some day.
Damian: What advice do you have for other aspiring filmmakers?
Nelson: Do that thing that you love. It’s not all glitz and glam, so you have to love it to pursue it.
Humber: Quit if you can be happy doing something else.
Shonk: If you really want to pursue it, don’t have something else to fall back on. Although, I could be happy maybe teaching some day. Essentially, film is still narrative. It hasn’t changed in essence over the years.
Damian: It sounds like you all really bonded while making this film.
Humber: Well, it was a first feature-length film for most of us. Chad and I have worked together over the years, often on other people’s feature-length movies, but most of us hadn’t met before. 17 of us got tattoos together at the end of the project, including my Mom. She helped out a lot. We shot some scenes in her house. She cooked for everyone, and she suggested I enroll in a class at my old film school to cut back on the budget while using the school as the set for Dakota Skye’s high school, after every high school we approached turned us down.
Shonk: The tattoos are all the same, but in different sizes and in different places. Eileen wanted it to be a skeleton key, and John drew it.
Damian: Thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with me. It was great getting to know you, and I wish you all the best with the film.