Adi Shankar is a young producer who is building a name for himself in the entertainment community, working with some of Hollywood’s biggest box office stars such as Liam Neeson, Brad Pitt, Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe.
At just the age of 28, Adi Shankar made a brand for himself by producing a string of critically acclaimed, R-rated, violent action and crime feature films through his production company, 1984 Private Defense Contractors.
Most recently he produced the fantastical crime thriller The Voices starring Ryan Reynolds, directed by Academy Award Nominee Marjane Satrapi which premiered at Sundance this year to great reviews.
His impressive filmography as an executive producer includes Machine Gun Preacher, (starring Gerard Butler and Michael Shannon); the critically-acclaimed commercial hit The Grey (starring Liam Neeson), which opened number one at the US box office, and was featured on the New York Times “Top Ten Movies of 2012” list – this made Shankar the youngest producer ever to have a number one independent film at the box office, the critically-acclaimed cult phenomenon ‘Judge Dredd’ reboot, Dredd; the lauded gangster drama Killing Them Softly starring Brad Pitt, which was in competition at the 2012 Cannes film festival; then came 2013’s crime thriller Broken City starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe and the action-drama Lone Survivor starring Mark Wahlberg based on the 2007 New York Times bestseller by the same name.
Shankar’s upcoming releases include the crime-drama, A Walk Among The Tombstones, starring Liam Neeson and written and directed by Academy Award Nominee Scott Frank.
We had the opportunity to talk to Shankar to ask him about his experiences producing films. Have a read about what he had to say…
To be perfectly honest, I find the whole concept of “box office stardom” slightly offensive. As an actor myself, I work with and sometimes employ other actors – actors who don’t recognize the Hollywood value hierarchy that’s ubiquitously imposed on them. The fact that some laymen feel that one actor is worth more than another doesn’t change the peer group dynamic. When you’re on set, everyone is equal. End of story.
What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Everything I’ve worked on thus far has gone towards earning a seat at the adults table.
What was it that fed your passion for film?
I grew up all over the world. By the time I was 18, I had lived in Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Chicago, and Rhode Island. I was traveling constantly, rarely staying in one city for more than a few years. The only consistent threads in my life were film, and to a larger extent, storytelling. No matter where I was in the world, I could always sit down and experience a universal human story. That’s something that really stayed with me. It’s only by telling stories that I can bring together everything I’ve been through and experienced in my life and make sense of it all.
How did you get your big break?
Unless your name is Jamie Dornan or Robert Pattinson, there is no such thing as a “big break.” The big break is a myth that’s been perpetuated to sell magazines and bus tickets. Any actor, writer, director, anything, that’s had actual longevity in their career will tell you that on the road to success, there never was one big break, but rather a series of major and minor victories, and even more setbacks along the way. The sooner that aspiring creatives stop waiting for their big break and start actually working on their craft, the better off we’ll all be.
Take a look at some of Shankar’s work in this 30 second video:
How would you describe your film education?
My film education was very fragmented. I became a sponge, watching everything, even the crap, reading any book I could get my hands on, talking to filmmakers whenever I could. I’m still learning, as should everyone who works in this business. I hate cliches, but this one’s true: the moment you think you’re done learning is the same moment you start stagnating.
Based on your experience, what are three bits of advice you would give to new producers wanting to produce their own movies?
1. Don’t wait for the system to validate you – it won’t. You have to prove yourself in your own way and then “they” will come.
2. Respect your elders – but if you don’t believe that you can eventually surpass them, or at least add something significant to the dialogue, then get out now because you’re dead weight.
3. Develop your voice as an artist, no matter what job you’re trying to do. A distinct artistic voice is the backbone of any long-lasting career.
What are you currently working on?
Many, many projects at any given moment… Sadly, most of them will never see the light of day – and that’s just a reality of this industry. More than half of all projects in development will never become a movie (or short, or TV show, or whatever it is) – and that margin gets even tighter when you take existing IP’s out of the mix.
Fortunately, my track record has afforded me the opportunity to be experimental in the projects that I develop. Here are some that I’m particularly excited about: A gangster film set in a world where humans and puppets co-exist, a 90-minute crime drama told in a sitcom format, and a hidden-camera feature based on a popular television show.
Bonus Question! If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive who would it be and why?
I’d have dinner with James Van Der Beek, one of my best friends. He’s a wealth of knowledge when it comes to navigating all things in the public sphere, and he’s a guy I know I can turn to, time and time again, when I’m trying to make sense of the emotional turmoil that living and working in Hollywood inevitably creates. He’s also a great actor.
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