Shane P. Allen makes a smooth landing in Clint Eastwood’s Sully
The title’s a two-edged nod to both titular pilot and what the NTSB wanted to do to his reputation. Considering the guaranteed happy ending, it’s amazing how much suspense director Clint Eastwood is able to mine. A huge “what if?” opens the show as the Captain, experiencing a form of pilot PTSD, dreams what might have happened had a decision to reroute to Laguardia ended in disaster. It’s a question that haunts our hero and drives what Harry Callahan would have called “the pencil-pushing sons-of-bitches” at the NTSB. Sully is as much a sock on the nose that big government insists on sticking where it doesn’t belong as <em>American Sniper</em> was a negative appraisal of the American military. No actor currently at work is better suited to play this type of hero than Tom Hanks, and it’s been ages since a director put his congeniality to the test the way Eastwood does here. Hank’s Sullenberger is by far Eastwood’s most untarnished standard-bearer to date. Not even Nelson Mandela came off looking this good.
A call came in from Shane P. Allen, a 53-year-old Tierrasanta resident and realtor by day, eager to talk about his performance in Clint Eastwood’s Sully. Here’s how the happily married father of three (“my wife and I still smile at each other”) scored a seat on flight Eastwood.
Living in San Diego since 1987 (“that makes me an honorary native,” he laughs), Allen spent a decade working in Los Angeles, with much of his time spent acting and studying at the Playhouse West.
“When we met, when we first married, I told you I needed ten years,” Allen reminded his wife.” I’m a SAG actor who worked on several TV shows, but there aren’t enough parts for us to live off of.”
He decided to “back away from acting” until 2012 when he quit his job as a branch manager for Prudential Reality and went back to selling real estate on his own. “Acting is what I sweat,” he says. “I can’t quit it.” Realtor by day, Allen has worked on 30 projects – including two national commercials – in the past two-and-a-half years.
His first film as a director was the 30 minute short, Jane’s Toothbrush, a love story about an agoraphobic who can’t leave the house and is married to a woman with OCD. This was followed by Child of Thorns, a devout drama about a man trying to piece his life together that actually gives “Christian Films” a good name. The ultra-low budget short features a remarkable special effect – a character in the all-color film appears in black-and-white – that Shane said was, “90% makeup and 5% CGI.” It’s as seamlessly executed as anything we’ve seen in recent Hollywood productions.
The casting director wanted someone who looked like Billy Campbell, the CEO of the Discovery Channel at the time of the water landing. “There are a lot of websites out there for actors,” says Allen, “but only about four that casting agents rely on.” He sifts through sometimes 300 to 400 submissions a day to see if any are a good fit. In the case of Sully, he was pulled by a casting director who specializes in “under fives” (roles that call for five lines of dialogue or less) and “atmosphere,” aka background players.
Allen was one of nine “featured players” flown to New York to work on set. Most of his scenes take place in a raft on the Hudson River, a body of water he calls “one of the nastiest cesspools anywhere on earth.” Each member of the “Sully 9” was assigned their own stunt-double. “It’s so nasty,” Allen recalls, “that after one of our doubles fell in the water he was immediately given a tetanus shot.”
Here are three things Shane Allen learned from watching Clint Eastwood direct:
1) “He uses a slateboard for visuals only; it’s never clapped. He never says ‘Cut!’ and he never calls ‘Action!’ He picked up the habit after working on so many westerns in the past where they don’t yell on the set for fear of spooking the horses. Even during the extraction scene – with 400-plus people on the pier – he did not say, ‘Action!’ It’s very zen-like on the set. Actors drop their emotional state and character the minute the scene ends. On an Eastwood set, everyone is hyper-focused on what’s happening. Even stars like Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart remain focused on what Clint and cameraman Tom Stern are doing. With one calling for takes to begin and end, the flow and energy always stays at the same level.”
2) “He uses natural lighting as much as possible. The only lights that were used to illuminate the inside of the plane came from a 2x3 foot lightbox with a diffuser taped to the side of it. It keeps the pace of the film moving forward and keeps the energy at a more consistent level. When you’re working with someone who wants to light each scene artificially there’s a wait of sometimes three to four hours between shots. That’s just one of the reasons Clint prides himself on bringing his productions in ahead of schedule.”
3) “During the five weeks I worked up on the picture, he never did more than four takes of any particular shot. Compare this to someone like David Fincher, who reportedly shoots 35 to 40 takes just to get one shot. Say you and I are in a two shot and my best performance was #3 and your best was #38. Fincher would manipulate the digital data by literally splitting the shot and combining the two performances. In some cases, Clint’s been working with the same people at his production company, Malpaso Films, for over 20 years. He doesn’t have to ask twice for anything. Everyone is going to come to the job, do what they’re supposed to do and love to do, and he can hang his hat on that.”