Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John is the story of children trying to discover who there father really was. Intersection talked with Michael Shannon Michael Shannon John director Chelsea McMullen about the film after it showed at the 2016 True/False Film Fest.
This is the story of a man who has a family in Canada, with this older son named Michael and a younger daughter named Shannon. Then he moves to Thailand and has an older son named Michael and a younger daughter named Shannon. Over the course of this movie the children from Canada go to Thailand, and then one them goes to the Philippines to try to understand the father's murder there. And in the context of all this the children meet their namesakes in Thailand. The thing that was so amazing to me from the very beginning is you could not fictionally create people who are better characters than the children in the story. I mean the oldest Michael, the Canadian Michael, is in this rock band and he has this very gothic look to him. And the daughter does set design and produces things for horror films. I guess she's mixing up blood in a bucket in one of the scenes, and they're just very like expressive and sort of sensitive characters. How did you meet them?
I went to university with Canadian Shannon, and she had told me about her dad when we were very young. I think I said at the time 'Oh that would be a very interesting documentary,' and didn't think much about it. And at that time she didn't know that her siblings were named the same. She knew that there were possibly other siblings out there, but she didn't really know very much about them. And then it was only after she was sort of added by herself on Facebook, when she was sort of directly confronted and it seemed more possible to meet them and she saw this version of herself, that sparked something in her I think, a desire to really finally find out more about her dad’s past.
And there's that moment when she gets a message on Facebook from somebody with her exact name who is her Thai half sister, and it's sort of amazing. I mean it's that whole Facebook phenomenon that suddenly people you would have never known about otherwise are so immediate to you. How did you get involved in filming this? Because I imagine it's kind of complicated to approach anybody about getting deeply involved in their life, but it's complicated in a different way if you know them or if you're already friends with them.
Yeah for sure! I’ve made a couple films about friends and I don't recommend it. I don't know why... I want to stop doing that. But yeah, she asked me to make the film. We actually hadn't talked in years and then I guess when she got added by Thai Shannon on Facebook is when she decided she maybe wanted to make the film and then she approached me about it. So, she just messaged me and I thought we were meeting up for a drink. Then we were having a drink and I thought we were just there to catch up and she told me about what had happened, and that she had found these siblings, and at the time like you said about the Facebook phenomenon. At the time when we were in university together in our undergrad, it didn't seem that easy to find her siblings. She didn't know their names. She really didn't know anything about them and then she kind of pictured this journey she’d make like finding them in phone books and stuff, like more of a Carmen Sandiego kind of approach. But then like magic Facebook comes and then all of a sudden the person is just right in front of you, it's just so quick and immediate and it's so easy.
And you see so much of their life, you see their mom and their brother and their whole world.
Yes, exactly! So then the film wasn't really about finding them because they were found. So she asked me if I'd make the film, and I was kind of like 'Can you tell me the story again?' And I was scared, I was a bit tense because she was a friend of mine, but I was also like it's kind of an incredible gift for someone to offer you this, and choose you to make it. So I was scared but at the same time I was like I don't feel like I can really turn this down in a way. You have to push your friendship to the brink of breaking anytime you make a film because if you're not you're probably not making anything worth making, or that's interesting. So it's tough.
And as you met the people in this film, Shannon's brother Michael, who I don't know if you had known from university or not, and the other Michael and the other Shannon, they all come across as extraordinarily appealing people. They're really expressive and sympathetic and every single one of them when they were introduced I was thinking 'I would like to be friends with that person.' Is that coming through your filter that you had this experience with them?
For sure. I did know Canadian Michael a bit before, not super well, I definitely know him a lot better now than before the film. And then I actually went ahead of Canadian Michael and Shannon and met all of the siblings in Thailand and their mom. So yeah, I spent about a month with them before anybody even came out, and it was a pretty surreal experience to meet somebody’s family before they meet them and I wouldn't talk to Shannon about it. It was really awkward. I totally fell in love with Thai Shannon and Michael. I thought they were amazing. The way Michael speaks, when we were getting it translated in the moment it was like it was really quick, but when we had it formally translated when we got back and really understood what he was saying- he's like this brilliant linguist.
He’s very poetic.
Yes and I was like is this a Thai saying or something, and the translator’s like no that’s just how he talks. So I thought he speaks really poetically and they were all super compelling characters, which was really fun to sort of play them all off of each other. Editing them together and setting up each of their characters and trying to get them all finely drawn was really my favorite part of the edit.