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May 10, 2016

SCA Alumni Stories: Sheldon Candis

By Eileen Kwon

With experience working in a plethora of storytelling mediums, Sheldon Candis ’03 possesses a distinct and focused voice as a filmmaker. Candis shared pearls of wisdom about the endurance needed to achieve any artistic dream. He also reflected on his own experience after graduating from SCA, and discussed the ever-evolving nature of his creative voice.

What is your fondest memory of your time as a student at SCA? I was part of the last class at SCA to shoot and process and edit a project with a super 8 camera in 290. The very next semester it went digital. And I’ll never forget what it was like making 290s: shooting, begging your friends to be in your film over the weekend, staying up all night on Sunday trying to hot glue and edit your film together. And on Monday, racing across campus with a big projector in one hand and a tape recorder in the other. Then, finally projecting your movie against a white wall in the darkness of the classroom, waiting to hit play on the tape recorder to perfectly sync the sound and the film. That’s something I’ll never forget.

How has your experience with a super 8 camera affected your adjustment to the digital era of filmmaking? I’m really thankful for that experience with super 8 because I cultivated a full appreciation for the economy of storytelling. First of all, you only had a certain amount of film because film was expensive, so you really had to be disciplined on what shots you were shooting. And since you had to physically hold and cut the film together, I’m thankful for that tangible experience with filmmaking.

What was your experience like at SCA in terms of finding your own artistic voice as a filmmaker? I always tell people not to rush into filmmaking until you know what it exactly is that you want to say. And for me, it took some time but then once I honed my craft and discovered what I wanted to say, I knew it was time for me to make a film. I then wrote LUV with my SCA alum brother Justin Wilson ‘98 with Jason Berman ‘06 as producer. LUV inherently was imbued with my voice, which is characterized by characters always searching for family, and more specifically, boys searching for father figures.

I keep in mind what one of my SCA professors told me: Write what you know. I try to write from my own experience. No matter the genre, whether it’s science fiction or an emotional drama within indie cinema, Justin and I are always going to focus on that theme of what it is for a child to have a coming-of-age moment.

What was your experience filming an advertisement for Under Armour with Misty Copeland? How do you think your creative vision and skill as a filmmaker was shaped? Creating and working with Under Armour and Misty Copeland was a blessing. That opportunity to tell stories within the medium of advertisement pushed my craft as a filmmaker even further. I learned a lot since it resembled working within the studio system or with a network. I had to constantly push what was best for the story but also I had to adhere to what the brand wanted. As a filmmaker, I want my voice to be a hybrid like a docu-narrative that makes the story feel viscerally real through hand-held camera work, which would make the audience’s connection to the character feel somewhat like a documentary. But also within that frame, having cinematic moments—moments that are designed cinematically, almost like an alchemy of the two disciplines of feature filmmaking and documentary filmmaking. I was able to experiment with that in my work for Under Armour and ESPN’s 30 for 30.

Could you share about your work for ESPNs 30 for 30? My first 30 for 30 centered on the untold story of the greatest high school basketball team in history: the 1981-83 Dunbar Poets in Baltimore. They went 59-0 over two seasons. This team produced eleven Division I college basketball players and four NBA players. The leader of the team was a 5 foot 3 point guard by the name of Muggsy Bogues. He became the shortest person in NBA League history. It’s a story of their greatness on the court and the troubles of the 1980s Baltimore.

I grew up in the city, admiring these guys. And to be the person to tell their story some thirty years later is pretty awesome.

We’re in post-production right now and hopefully ESPN will give us a holiday release in December.

What were some challenges that you faced while filming? The real challenge is always this conflict that arises when you work for a studio or network. At my core, I’m an indie filmmaker, but I have to work between my indie sensibility and my responsibilities to the studio or network. I have to navigate the tricky road of staying true to the story I want to tell while still adhering to what the studio requires of me. That’s the toughest thing. How do I not compromise my vision but also not alienate myself from the studio that hired me?

I’m thankful that I’ve gone through this now and not at the beginning of my career. I don’t think I had the experience or ability to maintain that balance when I was first starting out. But now, I’ve learned how to apply notes from the network while staying true to the story I believe should be told after working for Under Armour and for the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation.

Going back to your beginning stages of breaking into the industry, what were some difficulties that you faced? Getting used to hearing “No.” It’s a thousand No’s before one Yes. I knew, in order to be a director, I had to write myself into the directing chair, understanding that no one was going to hand me a directing job.

Now, I say, “Persistence cracks all resistance.” Nobody can prepare you for the years and years of rejection that you’ll face after graduating from SCA. It’s usually years and years of just figuring out how to survive and how to keep moving towards your dream. I embraced the idea that achieving my dream was a matter of “when” and not “if”. A big part of that is the perseverance and endurance of staying the course. That’s the part SCA can’t prepare you for. SCA gives you the tools to hone your craft and helps you identify what it is you want to say and how you’re going to say it, but once you graduate it’s up to you to not let go of your dreams while working your butt off. That way you’ll be ready when the right opportunities come along.

Someone encouraged me before I graduated and told me this: “No matter how hard the horse bumps you, don’t let go. Even if the horse is dragging you through the mud, don’t let go.” And I experienced that after graduating—I didn’t make my first film until eight years after I graduated from SCA.

How do you hope your work connects with its audience? As filmmakers, we have a responsibility to go beyond just entertaining. Through our stories and films, we have to entertain but also educate the audience. When we come out of SCA, we’re some of the most talented, gifted craftsmen of cinema that exist. We had the opportunity to go to the best film school in the universe, meaning if they had a film school on Mars, our school is the better film school. We have a real sense of the power of story, in the sense that we can create a piece of art that sparks conversation. That’s what makes SCA students and graduates so exceptional. So, I believe it’s important to really consider, outside of all the years of struggle that will happen after graduation, what do we want to say to the world?