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Triangle Downtowner Magazine

Local Filmmakers - Patrick Shanahan

Dec 01, 2016 09:00AM ● By Crash Gregg

Crash: We’re here with Patrick Shanahan for our second column on the film industry in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Tell us a little about your take on the film industry, what you do, and some of the projects you’ve been involved with.

Patrick: There’s a real dichotomy that exists in North Carolina’s film industry. There’s the side that makes motion pictures, documentaries, and television. Then there’s the video world. It’s not so cut and dry as that, but filmmakers tend to go to one or the other. The “North Carolina Film Industry” that is talked about politically, and that truly effects our State economy and local businesses really exists in Wilmington. The heavy hitters are definitely still LA, New York, Austin, Louisiana really… and Atlanta now, more than ever. There’s not nearly as many narrative filmmakers in North Carolina as there were before we lost the tax credit. 

I started a film collective about a decade ago called “Minds of the Independent Screen”, which was this high, lofty idea of “Hey, we can all get together and try to make movies ourselves.” I had just come out of film school and was shooting on 16mm, and none of these guys had even seen that before. So it became a crash course. We shot film after film, but eventually, one by one, we all went our separate ways. I learned so much during that process. Every script got better. Every film looked better. The sound got better, the lighting got better. We really put ourselves through our own grad school, in a way, and it was a ton of fun and it was good while we were in our twenties. But as we move into our thirties, there are really only three of us now from our team; Beau Vorous, Robbie Opperman and myself. We mentor film students from UNCW as well, but it’s the three of us at the core and we’ve rebranded as Denim Buffalo; a production company. Right now, we’re doing music videos and commercials in between our motion picture work, and we have some really big plans for the future.

I think part of being an independent filmmaker today, and chasing narrative work, is that you’ve got to be a little bit crazy and not really think normally or realistically. There’s a lot of let downs and rejection along the way. The three feature films I’ve released in the last several years were all serious labors of love. The first, The Carolinian, was a Reconstruction Era film. I figured I would do this epic feature film about a Confederate deserter that had made a deal with the devil to stay alive. I wanted to shoot it from the mountains to the coast in order to showcase our beautiful state. The film was way larger than we could handle back then and it was a lovely disaster, but it wasn’t a wash. I learned so much on that production. Next was Empirica. It was an Americana road film. We drove all the way across the country with three cars including a beat-up ’57 Chevy. We shot all day and night when we weren’t driving. It was a raw passion for the film that kept us going. It wasn’t permitted or sanctioned; we just went and did it. There were eight of us working on it and we shot it all on film rather than digitally. Though we shot numerous short films in between, our most recent endeavor and third large production was The No Hand King documentary. It’s the story about Rodney Hines, a local Raleigh legend who shattered the old world record riding a wheelie on a bicycle using no hands. The previous record was 272 feet. Rodney rode 16 miles down Highway 12 in the Outer Banks in 100-degree weather. Really, as great as that day was, the true story is about Rodney and the film is a testament to his life and all the hardships he’s overcome throughout the years.

We did two private Raleigh screenings at the Rialto and found a lot of love with this film. The No Hand King is on the festival circuit now and we have our fingers crossed for Full Frame Film Festival in Durham in April, but that’s a huge event and on a level all its own. Even Scorsese shows at Full Frame.

Crash: What’s next on your plate?

Patrick: We’re shooting a film in Spain this summer called Toro. It’s the sort of low-budget indie film that I love to do. It takes place during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona and opens with the running of the bulls. It’s really a beautiful story and I’m very excited about shooting out of the country for the first time. It’s going to be very under the radar. We don’t plan on informing Spain that we’re there to shoot. We’re just going to film it on the streets like a documentary, and for the set work, we can really craft some beautiful shots. So, it’ll be a hybrid film when all is said and done.

Then next fall, we’ll be shooting The Hounds of Dixie, which I’m really thrilled about. I’m working with a seasoned team from the industry in Wilmington and we’ve got a great production lined up for that film; including several Raleigh filmmakers. It’s a film I’ve been dreaming about my entire life. It’s the one film that, if I ever had the budget, I said would be the one to put Raleigh on the map, and put me on the map. The next year is going to be very exciting for our team and for NC filmmaking all around, I believe. 

Crash: So, other than more tax incentives or grants, what do you think is needed to help rebuild – or merely to build anew – the film industry here in North Carolina? 

 Patrick: We have serious local talent. David Hambridge for instance, Kent Willard and the Summit Collective, I mean, the list of great people here goes on and on. I want us to grow as a network. I’ve always had this idea for a central North Carolina Film Studio. The name just rolled off my tongue one day and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The idea is to facilitate productions across North Carolina. Starting from inception, pre-production, all the way through to distribution. Back in the 1920s and 30s, Hollywood did this with the big studios and brought everything in-house. It was vertically integrated, which was eventually done away with. It’s essentially the same idea, but instead of being purely for profitable reasons, it would also be to help keep talented people here in North Carolina; to keep them from leaving for New York or LA or Atlanta; where a lot of NC filming has gone. A common argument against film incentives is that the jobs generated are temporary, so this concept creates a more concrete, long term structure for filmmakers here in the state. It would boost our economy, foster so much growth and expansion, and help nurture people who are new in the industry. I’d love to see a centralized facility where experienced filmmakers and producers could work with and mentor new graduates, new filmmakers, and the like. It’s as much an incubator as it is a production studio. We’d get so much back in return from intrastate spending, job creation, and tourism. Most of our efforts in the NC Industry are to bring large productions to our state, and we do have a great grants program now, but I’m interested in building the Industry here, from within.

I’ve lived in New York and spent time in LA, but my home is here in NC. I love the people here, and I love all the local businesses and all the food, and I like seeing Raleigh’s transition and being a part of it. No way I could have walked away from that.

Crash: That sound like something that would truly foster a new generation of filmmakers and attract a lot of the talent lost in recent years. Where would you build your Film Studio?

Patrick: It has to be in the Triangle. I’m thinking of building it in Durham, which is still near Raleigh, close to the Umstead, and the Airport. Of course, my first thought was Raleigh, because that’s where my heart is and where our film office for Denim Buffalo is now. I love Raleigh to death, but Durham is forward thinking and what’s happened in Durham has been inspiring. That city is incredible. I love Durham. And we already have Full Frame Film Festival right in the middle of it, so it makes a lot of sense. The great thing about the Triangle, as everyone knows, is you’re right between the mountains and the coast: perfect for access to film locations. Also, Wilmington, that’s the other brilliant thing. With Screen Gems already there, we don’t need to build massive sound stages at our studio. We would love to partner with their facility because it’s world-class and we’re lucky to have it in North Carolina. The Studio here would be more of a hub for pre- and post-production with a massive team of production hands and professionals to generate work on everything from television programming to large motion pictures.

I also believe that state and local government could get behind it, though I see it driven by the private sector. There is money to be made in the film industry, both for the state, cities, and for those willing and excited to be involved as producers and financiers. It could be something inspiring that’s never been seen here before and could completely change the whole dynamic of filmmaking in North Carolina. It’s a large idea and now is the time. Losing the tax credit did affect so many filmmakers, especially in Wilmington. Filmmakers leave our state every day to follow the work. I was fortunate to not be sideswiped like so many were, but as we grow, we too are starting to feel the effects, and we are applying for and receiving grant money from the state now. So, I see a void and know we can band together to fill it.

To learn more about Patrick’s production company, Denim Buffalo, and to view trailers and photos from some of his recent works, visit

This article appeared in Issue 126 of Triangle Downtowner Magazine. Click the link to the e-issue below to read it online or to view the other articles from that month's issue.