It really was a fairy-tale experience,” Shana Feste says of getting the chance to make her first film “The Greatest.” “I went from working as a nanny one day to the next day getting on a plane to direct a movie starring Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon. It’s hard to believe it actually happened.”
But like most overnight indie-film success stories, Feste’s big break was prefaced by more than its fair share of delays, disappointments and false starts.
Feste grew up in the tony beach community of Palos Verdes, Calif. “My parents had a little beach shack, which I lived in until I was 12. My mother made jewelry, and my dad, well, I guess my dad did a little bit of everything.”
It wasn’t until after her parents split up that Feste discovered her passion for movies. “My dad was pretty laid back, and when we’d visit him on the weekends, he’d let my sister and I rent as many videos as we could carry. We’d spend the whole weekend watching movies and eating Cap’n Crunch and Top Ramen. As a kid, you really couldn’t ask for anything more amazing than that.”
Inspired by the films of Hal Ashby and the domestic, character-based American dramas of the early ’80s, Feste enrolled in U.T. Austin’s screenwriting program. Soon after graduation, Feste wrote a few specs before realizing she wanted to have more of a say in the filmmaking process. She enrolled in AFI’s producing program and began helping her classmates in the directing program bring her screenplays to life, while working as a nanny to pay off her student loans.
Feste’s first shot at directing ended up being a prolonged process of near-misses. Her first script, “Love Easy,” based on her parents’ relationship, went through the usual rounds of getting cast and financing, then having it all fall through. She decided to switch gears and write a new story about two parents grieving over the death of a child. Within months, Feste had an agent, a producer, Brosnan and Sarandon in the leading roles, ace d.p. John Bailey onboard to shoot, and, most importantly, a start date.
“It was a strange process, because in order to get your movie made, you have to convince everyone around you that you know exactly what you’re doing, but of course you have doubts,” she says. “I was ridiculously scared that I was going to fail in front of everybody. I guess I kind of faked it until I made it.”
Brosnan, who was also part of the producing team, says he was confident from the get-go. “Shana was smart and passionate from the start,” he says. “She had it in her eye, never got rattled, picked the best people and listened to what they had to say. She kept it simple and told her story — on time and on budget.”
Home base: Los Angeles
Inspired by: “My parents, specifically the vulnerability, sadness and humor that they exposed me to growing up. I also love the films ‘Coming Home,’ ‘Harold and Maude,’ ‘Ordinary People’ and my favorite film of all time, ‘Terms of Endearment.'”
Rep: Susan Solomon and Sarah Lemkin at Endeavor