Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Michel Shane of Shane Gang Pictures Is Helping To Change Our World
Believe in yourself. You are in the field and know as much as the next guy. You may not have the experience, knowledge, or understanding, but believe in yourself is what drives you and your gut.
As a part of our series about “Filmmakers Making A Social Impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michel Shane.
Quebec-native Michel Shane has been a successful entrepreneur for more than 30 years, having achieved great success in the film industry as a movie producer and founder at Shane Gang Pictures. He is best known for his work in developing, creating, and executive producing the blockbusters Catch Me If You Can and I Robot, and financing Northfork, to name a few.
Michel has just completed a documentary on the horrors of the Pacific Coast Highway in California titled 21 Miles in Malibu. This passion project created to bring awareness to the dangers of this iconic roadway will be released soon. He is also preparing a multi-part television series on Michele Sindona, the Howard Hughes of Italy, who had his fingers in world affairs for over 20 years and at one time was one of the richest men in the world, that no one knew.
He is co-founder/co-CEO of Infinite Percent Partners, a natural products pharmaceutical company based out of Hawaii, California, and the UK. Michel is the Chair of The Emily Shane Foundation. In 2015, he received a Lifelong Achievement Award from President Barack Obama.
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?
I have always been a person who never felt that I had limits. If I saw something interesting, I would explore it and then do it, whether I knew about it or not, because this has been my driving force throughout my life. Even now, as the world changes, I look at subjects and trends to see if there is an opportunity.
I grew up in Montreal. I attended law school in Michigan, hating every minute. I decided this was not for me, so I quit. I returned to Montreal and was trying to figure out what to do at 22. Sitting at my mother’s kitchen table, I said I could go into computers or video. This was the beginning of personal computers and VCRs. Having always loved film and wanting to be in the entertainment field, I chose video.
I started to read about the industry, went to my first trade show, bought my first rights, and figured out how to duplicate and package them. I loaded up my car and started selling video cassettes from my car’s trunk to video stores. My first company was acquired by a group of businessmen who saw bigger things. I became the buyer and started to travel the world buying films. I acquired 145+ movies, and this started me on my journey. I was a kid exploring, and within six years, I was on the road to being a producer by recognizing a new opportunity. Quebec had started tax shelters for films, and I saw the possibility to work toward making films for this unique opportunity. During this time a director I was working with gave me Catch Me If You Can to read. That started my journey to where I am today.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your
There are so many. The most impactful story was how I acquired the rights to Catch Me If You Can. We were doing a tax shelter film in Rome titled Christmas at the Vatican. The director Roger Cardinal was doing his second picture for me and fast becoming a great friend.
He was about to board a plane for Rome, but before leaving, he handed me a book and said, “Read this, you will love it, and I won’t tell you how to get it.” He left. I felt that was odd, but Roger was a great practical joker. In a previous film, he put a P.A. in a coffin ( it was a film on Dracula). Then, when George Hamilton was about to deliver his line, he had the P.A. jump out and scare the daylight out of George. We must have laughed for an hour.
I read the book and loved it. About a week later, Roger called me from Rome and asked why I hadn’t called. Had I read the book? I told him, ‘Why should I call? You said I couldn’t have it. Yes, I read it and loved it.’ Roger said I will tell you, but you have to promise me that I can direct it. I told Roger I couldn’t make that promise, but as my friend and someone I loved to work with, he would always be my first choice. But I didn’t own it and had no idea what the journey would be. Roger said that was good enough for him and told me how to get in touch with Frank Abagnale, and the journey began. It took over a year to buy from another producer and an 11-year journey to the screen.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The most amazing thing is being a producer. You get to interact with the most amazing people, either because you are working with them or they are interested in film, and what you do. I have met people who usually would have walked me by and not given me the time of day, except that I make movies, and that intrigues.
Obviously, many actors, directors, and producers, because that is my industry, heads of state and leaders, but I think the most interesting was the Dali Lama. I met him several times because I was working on a film about the life of Buddha.
The Dali Lama was a fascinating and, of course, thoughtful man. I could listen to him speak for hours. It was intriguing to talk with him. The knowledge he shared and his view and insight will stay with me forever. I will say that this man had a great sense of humor and made us laugh quite a bit.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
That is such an interesting question. There are many because of what they have done or their impact on the world. I think I have to choose my childhood hero, which is a strange choice for a child. Alexander The Great, he has inspired me. He conquered the known world. His empire stretched further than anyone at the time. He built libraries and cities. The thing that made him my hero is in his own way, he had the concept right, and he was just way ahead of his time. Alexander felt that religion caused our differences and conflicts. He thought if we all had one faith, one way of life, it would be easier for all to get along. At that time, the two main powers were Greece and Persia. When he conquered Persia, he started to create his plan. To incorporate the significant thoughts and ideals of these two people into one. Though it is more complicated than that, the concept is right. Besides land grabs, most wars are caused because of our differences and our religions. Look at all the wars through time. How many have been caused because of our religious differences?
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 very involved in bringing goodness to the world. It has nothing to do with my success or who I am but instead because of the need. The first thing I am involved in is “Passing It Forward.” The act of doing something for someone and not expecting anything in return to me is everything. A simple act that allows us to create change.
I am one of the founders of The Emily Shane Foundation. The main program at the Foundation is the S. E. A. (Successful Educational Achievement) Program, which services disadvantaged middle schoolers in the mainstream classroom and at risk of academic failure. We provide academic tutoring and mentorship, focusing on critical organizational and study skills. Only those who could not otherwise afford this essential support, which is not available within the educational system, are identified to participate.
S. E. A. students are at risk of falling through the cracks and/or don’t fit the mold. Often frustrated or left to struggle on their own, these children often choose the wrong path, whether it be drugs, gangs, acting out, low-self esteem or depression, or other adverse outcomes. Our work aims to provide a safety net to catch these students and help set them on a positive course.
Each child in the S. E. A. program must do a good deed, “Pass it Forward,” for each mentor/tutor session they have. This way, the program is not free, as free has no value. The child learns that he is getting something, and in return, he did something of value, no matter how small that is. This teaches the child to become an active member of their community. We can hope as he grows up, they can possibly become a socially conscious adult!
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?
This story is not a pleasant one; it was a life-changing moment for my whole family and me. On April 3, 2010, my youngest child Emily was at friends having had a sleepover. It was spring break. We were planning to go to a film. Emily called and asked to be picked up. She had enough and wanted to come home to do something else. I asked if she could wait about 20 minutes as I had some work, and she said she would rather not, so I went to pick her up. While waiting for the light to change so I could turn on Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), I saw a car speeding and driving crazily. I shook my head in disbelief. Well, that car, that driver, took my daughter’s life. He pointed the car at her and killed her while trying to commit suicide. He lived. She did not. This was life changing. My 13-year-old daughter was gone, and in a split second, my life was changed.
That was 12 years ago, but in time that is yesterday. Not something you get over but learn to live with it forever. You realize that you have a choice when a tragedy like this happens. You can go into the darkness or go to the light. My wife and I chose the light. We decided that this tragedy, as defined as it is, would not be what drove us forward. We had two other children, and their lives couldn’t be ruined more than it was.
That night that she died, I thought of the “Pass it Forward” as a way to remember her. Emily was a child who cared and hated seeing people in distress or loneliness and acted on it. She often at school would invite over a child that was eating alone or help out someone lost. This drove me to do this to honor her.
My wife thought of the Foundation to help middle school children. Emily struggled in school. She had a processing issue. It was not severe enough to need special education, she was mainstreamed, but she needed help to get things done. My wife found out that there was nothing in the school system to help children that were mainstreamed. So, with the help of a beloved teacher who had taught for 30+ years, they created the S. E. A. Program ( Successful Educational Achievement) and started The Emily Shane Foundation with three children 10 years ago. We have helped change the lives of over 1,000 students to date.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I have a favorite story that I like to share. A girl joined our program. She was struggling in school. She and her mentor/tutor worked hard to get her grades up. She stayed with us through middle school and then went to high school. We never heard from her again.
Then a couple of years ago, she applied to be a mentor/tutor. She was in her first year of college and wanted to give back. She said that the S. E. A. program saved her and taught her to get organized and how to study. She tried to return the favor by mentoring a middle schooler. That, to me, says everything. It shows the program’s effectiveness, making you achieve your life, and how the “Pass It Forward” can be impactful.
Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?
There are, by being involved. I always say that I was always a caring, giving person, but when it came to being involved, I left it to others. When Emily died, that changed my life had to have meaning. I no longer left it to others to create change and help. I took it upon myself.
Now more than ever, the pandemic and what it has done to middle school children who lost those two years of learning. Yes, they were in school, but at that age, it is tough to learn how to work on your own. The first thing is to get involved and somehow find the time. It’s individuals that make the difference.
We are a village, whether a big one or a small one. Your actions and reactions make a difference, so make them count. A good society is created by individuals caring for one another. We are so disenfranchised that we must find a reason to come together and work together toward a better future.
Government can make all the differences with changes in the laws, helping fix problems. Still, it is unrealistic to presume this will be done at this time. We are too polarized, unfortunately.
What are your “Five things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Wow, just five. That is a tough one.
- You should find a mentor who has more experience in your chosen field. To help you with the hard decisions, someone who is a coach routing for your success. I never had anyone to lean on — all my mistakes were my lessons, and these are hard lessons, especially starting out. I failed several times because I didn’t know what to do and had to make decisions on my own.
- If you have a clear idea of your career path, join a big company in that field and learn from their work. Let your learning curve be from that company. This goes back to the first statement. I never had this opportunity because of what I wanted to do. They were new industries, and if I had waited three years, they would have matured. The opportunity I saw would not be there. It is a hard call.
- Listen, learn, then act. Obviously, right?… sometimes when you are young, it is not. One story that I often recall… I was talking to a very successful producer in the film world. I had been in that world for ten years and was still struggling. I had some success but not enough to sustain me. He said, “Michel, you know how you make money in the film business?” I was all ears. The secret someone was going to tell me. I answered, “Please tell me.” He looked me straight and said, “ You have to start with money. You can’t make it any other way.” I was devastated. But at the same time, it gave me the determination to succeed.
- Believe in yourself. You are in the field and know as much as the next guy. You may not have the experience, knowledge, or understanding, but believe in yourself is what drives you and your gut.
When I bought Catch Me If You Can, everyone told me that it was a terrible story and that no one would ever want to do it. I bought it from a producer who had spent 10 years getting it made and failed. But I loved the story, not the story of a kid kiting checks and meeting girls but the actual story. The story of family and belonging, of a teenager who was lost and only wanted to belong. I didn’t care he, a successful man, couldn’t get it made. I could, and I did, too. Another 11 years, and here we are 20 years later, and it still plays all the time. A classic film that everyone said would fail.
- Admit when you are wrong and own your mistakes. People have a higher regard for those people who know they have made a mistake and own it. There is always a reason for a mistake…always. I believed this guy or that guy was supposed to do that and didn’t. It was your decision to put your trust in someone, and they failed you. Own it, live with it and learn from it because you will lose your mind repeating the same error repeatedly. I was too trusting when I started, and it takes a few burns from that before you toughen up. Let people earn your trust. Don’t give unconditionally.
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?
This is easy; the future is yours, not ours, or time is spent. It’s up to today’s young people to make a difference and create the changes that have not been made. Stop listening to the noise. The world is a beautiful place. Move out of your comfort zone and help start the change you will need to continue and create the world you want to live in.
We are very blessed that many other Social Impact Heroes read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the U.S., whom you would like to collaborate with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Since I play and work in so many different worlds, there are several people that I would like to collaborate with or meet.
I think that women make all the difference. As a man, we approach things very differently than women. We lack compassion, and many instincts that I believe are second nature for women. I may not know what I am talking about, being a man.
For The Emily Shane Foundation, I would love to meet and talk about the foundation with MacKenzie Scott and Laurene Powell — two powerful and compassionate women that would understand what we are trying to do.
A person I admire and would love to have a discussion with is Sacha Baron Cohen. Now that he is finally not the character he is playing. A brilliant actor, writer, and director,
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be sorry it is Friday night and happy it is Sunday night because to live any other way is not to live.”
I love what I do, so there are no defined time or borders. I just do it. I have worked with people worldwide, so the time difference was sometimes challenging, but it made no difference. It is awful to be miserable in your job and just live for two days on the weekend. Sometimes you can’t help it, but I am fortunate as I have been known to say,
“I have never worked a day in my life.”
How can our readers follow you online?
This was great, thank you so much for sharing your story and doing this with us. We wish you continued success!
Filmmakers Making A Social Impact: Why & How Filmmaker Michel Shane of Shane Gang Pictures Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.