Indie Producer Shaun O’Banion From Ravenwood Films Talks Business


Ravenwood Films started in the indie space looking for a broad spectrum of materials at the lower budget level,” said producer Shaun O’Banion. As the company evolved, their interests expanded and the company spent considerable resources to acquire book options and collecting IP to potentially produce. When this acquisition plan didn’t pan out as he’d hoped, O’Banion rethought his business strategy.

Ravenwood reconsidered the projects they already had on their slate for a number of years. “We dropped the projects we didn’t think we could get over the finish line or fallen out of love with,” he continued. They were left with a leaner slate of more viable projects.

Shaun’s producing partner Shannon originated a period racing drama through her production company and Ravenwood later joined forces with her. We raised development funds, hired a writer, and brought on some bigger name producing partners. The screenplay wasn’t where it needed to be, and then, after several drafts, our partners at the time (an Oscar-winner and BAFTA Nominee) suggested Shannon take a stab at the draft since she originated the story. This led to more projects being internally generated at Ravenwood Films with Shaun’s current writing partner.

What Exactly Is An Indie Film?

I think in the current climate, an independent film is more focused on human stories as opposed to grand spectacle,” he added. He cited the three feature films he produced, “Dakota Skye is a coming of age film about a teenage girl, Girlfriend is about a boy with Down’s Syndrome who falls in love with a single mom and, The Automatic Hate is about two cousins falling for each other.” These stories don’t require too much money to make or many locations to shoot.

Ultimately, it’s character that allows Shaun to decide if he’ll invest in a project. “I need to have some connection with a character in that journey. I have to find something within myself that recognizes their need.” But stories are only the first step to making a film. As a producer, O’Banion also considers how they might accomplish the script to screen process. “I look at the resources I have to get a film made, but also something I haven’t done as a challenge.”

Every producer wants to be surprised

Every story has been told many times over. “What you need to do as a writer, is take that thing that we expect and twist it.” The element of surprise will take Shaun along for the ride even if it’s not a film he’ll typically watch.

Creative Screenwriting Magazine

Shaun O’Banion is reluctant to advise writers on the current needs of the marketplace. “The industry doesn’t know what it wants at the moment. So don’t write what you think the industry wants or needs.” Even for writers who track industry trends, their screenplays will hit a producer’s desk a year or two after a popular film was greenlit. He advises writers to, “Write the thing that inspires you and let that be the guiding light.” O’Banion strongly feels that if writers write something that is meaningful to them, there’s somebody out there who’ll respond to their material.

The producer also commented on the cyclical nature of the industry. “Trends that go away will come back.” No screenplay ever goes away. It’s always on your hard drive so you can always return to it. “You can’t anticipate what the audience will want in the future because the average development period of a film is eight to ten years.

Ravenwood Films is currently based in the Czech Republic and Shaun is also a member of the Producers Guild Of America. The geography is neither a help or a hindrance for Shaun due to the miracle of technology. “While being in the same room together is great, but not being so doesn’t preclude you from getting work done.” Although he misses the water bottle tours with the big agencies, Los Angeles is only a flight away.

The advent of streaming means that many projects are bought for global release. “A writer anywhere in the world can get a deal.

Advice To Writers

Shaun O’Banion is also a script consultant, so he reads many scripts, many from newer writers. If your script isn’t formatted or littered with typos or slug lines that are vague or don’t make sense, he’ll immediately flag you down as an amateur. He’s also noticed that many writers don’t read a lot of scripts. “They don’t have a sense of what’s come before. You need to know the rules in order to break them.” He also advises that screenwriters watch many movies – particularly those that didn’t work. “Read the script while watching the movie so you can reverse engineer where things went wrong in the film.

Even if a screenplay requires several further drafts, Shaun can sense early on whether it’s likely to succeed or not. “If the spine is there, I hope there’s a way for screenwriters to educate themselves to improve their writing.” There have been instances where he’s advised writers to hire other screenwriters to rewrite their scripts if the story is interesting and there isn’t sufficient improvement in each draft. “Each draft must move the needle.

In more recent years, many screenwriters are encouraged to become more involved in the production process and become bonafide producers. O’Banion doesn’t necessarily encourage or discourage the practice. “Some writers are more suited staying in their rooms by themselves, while other writers are more writer/directors and can thrive on set. It’s all based on the individual.” He also noted that newer writers should focus on their writing before expanding into directing. “Writers need more agency in the ‘getting made’ process.”Studios have a poor understanding of the development process.

Screenwriters who are educated in the production process are better positioned to advance their careers.

O’Banion doesn’t feel that the types of stories vary all that much between formats and platforms. “Storytelling is storytelling. What does matter is the amount of time required to tell your story.” A feature may not have enough story to warrant adapting it into ten hours of television.

Many screenwriters, either by necessity or choice, write alone. “At some point, you need to collaborate,” indicated O’Banion. “Unless you’re going to direct your script, you have to hand it off.

Collaborations come with compromises. Many suggested changes are logistical or practical. “Writers shouldn’t be too overly attached to their babies. They should subscribe to the idea that the best idea wins.

Some writers like Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, David Lynch, and Charlie Kaufman have such a unique and specific voice that allowing too much external input will neutralize their stories. “Producers should trust the process with such writers that the characters and worlds these writers have created already to go.


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