Cultmachine’s Sharon Jordan and Shannon Luster sat down with SHONA MCWILLIAMS for an interview centering around her thoughts on producing, acting, editing, and more.  Shona McWilliams is a well-respected producer collaborating with Andrew Tiernan on several projects including DRAGONFLY that she also edited.  Shona is a well-known actress too, acting alongside such notable actors like Andrew Tiernan, Judi Dench, Bob Hoskins, and others.  This interview explores Shona’s experiences in film both in front and behind the camera.         

Shona McWilliams in "Dragonfly"

SHARON JORDAN: You are talented in many venues, including acting, editing, and producing.  And you are nearing the release of releasing the first feature you produced, DRAGONFLY.  When will DRAGONFLY be released?  What can you tell us about this film?

SHONA MCWILLIAMS: Well, we’re currently finalizing the post-production on the film and doing a sound mix, so once that’s complete, hopefully we will be taking the film to Festivals in 2014 and attaining Sales and Distribution.  It’s a neo-noir thriller set in London, about corrupt police and politicians.  But Andrew Tiernan, the Director, is so secretive about it, I can’t give too much away just yet; he’s always shouting at people for posting things online.  I know he won’t mind me saying that. Ha ha.  It was a challenge for me to produce, act and edit the production, but it was a really fulfilling experience.  Some days, I had to remind myself which hat I had on, when you’re trying to do an emotional scene in front of the camera, and the sound person is asking you about the location next Thursday.

SHANNON LUSTER: On your upcoming film, DRAGONFLY, you were also cast as one of the lead actresses.  What was it like working with Andrew Tiernan and Ann Mitchell? What are some of your favorite memories from DRAGONFLY?

SM: “DRAGONFLY,” is an ensemble piece, starring some very experienced Actors and Actresses, like Mark Wingett (QUADROPHENIA) and Ramon Tikaram (THIS LIFE), for example, have done a lot of work, sometimes I could feel very intimidated by that, but they were so kind and made me feel very relaxed.  For me, working with Ann Mitchell was a pleasure, as she is an actress I have always admired the work of, especially Widows, so getting the opportunity to talk to her and hear her advice was fantastic. 

"Dragonfly" director Andrew Tiernan and Shona McWilliams
Andrew, the Director, had finished working as Ephialtes in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE and used the money he earned from that to pull the whole project together, luckily he is respected by a lot of people in the industry so he can pull a lot of favors and get a great cast and crew together.  Without investors looking over his shoulder, he could create a project that was fully his vision.  He explained to everyone that he wanted to create an environment that was very much in keeping with the style of work that John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands were embarking on in the 70’s and I think that he achieved that, as everyone had their input to the piece and I feel it comes across in the film.  Of course no film is without hiccups, and we had plenty, but we overcame them with a great team effort, I’m so proud to be a part of it. 

A favorite memory for me is getting to work in a beautiful Country House owned by Martin Gore, of Depeche Mode, I’m a massive fan of the band so was over the moon, but unfortunately, he wasn’t there.  But I got to see how megastars live.
SJ: As a woman working in the realm of producing, what type of advice would you give to other women who want to become producers?  What obstacles have you faced?

Shona McWilliams
SM: Be prepared to face obstacles.  It’s part of the job whether you’re a woman or not.  You need to be able to stand your ground, but also be fair, and you have to be extremely organized.  I think the only thing about being a woman is coming up against sometimes misogynist attitudes, but I seem to have a radar now to be able to tell when that attitude is coming up and laugh it off.  But most offenders of it, I don’t think they realize they’re doing it, they show their cards.  That’s life though.  Other than that, my main advice is to keep your projects and ideas close to your chest, if you’re onto a good thing, other’s will want to be in on it, or to steal it and make it their own and not credit you for your hard work, which unfortunately has happened to me and I learnt the hard way.

SL: You acted as Gracie Kramer in the film MRS. HENDERSON PRESENTS. What was it like acting with Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins? Any favorite memories you would like to share with us?

SM: I feel blessed to have had that opportunity in my career to work with Dame Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins and having a scene with both of them was so nerve-wracking and exciting.  They were the most kind, considerate and generous actors you could possibly imagine.  I spent a lot of time talking to Mr. Hoskins and also the Director, Stephen Frears.  As it was one of my first jobs, you start thinking, “Oh it’s going to be like this all the time,” but unfortunately those opportunities are very far and few between, I’m just glad I got to do it.

SJ: You edited on DRAGONFLY, FLUSH, and BREAK CLAUSE.  What type of editing software do you use and why? Do you have any tips for aspiring editors?

Shona McWilliams in "Dragonfly"

SM: I use Final Cut Pro for editing.  I had previously used tape to tape editing when I was younger and learnt how to use Cubase for sound edits.  So learning Final Cut was a challenge for me, as I was teaching myself from scratch how to utilize and manipulate a new software, but you make mistakes and learn from them.  Quite literally.  Also we’re very lucky to live in the age of the Internet, as there’s always search engines and YouTube to get “how to” advice from.  Luckily, I have some great friends around who were able to give me pointers when I felt unsure of myself.  But my tips would be to any aspiring editors, is firstly, just give it a go, you never know until you try and don’t be afraid to be daring in how you edit, try to have your own unique style as well as conforming to what is required technically.

SL: I heard that you were born in Bellshill, Scotland. Is there anyone who inspired you to pursue a career in the entertainment business and if so, who?

SM: I’m still being inspired by people, probably too many to mention.  I was born at Bellshill Maternity, and firstly lived in Hamilton, Scotland, but my Father’s work took my family up and down the UK. 

Shona McWilliams
When I was young, my parents encouraged me to do many creative hobbies, so I trained in dance from the age of 3 till I was 15; I also learned to play musical instruments such as flute and guitar and learned how to write music.  I guess I always wanted to perform in one way or another, so when I stopped doing Ballet, as I grew too tall, I started going to Drama Classes and realized that it was something that I really loved and wanted to make my career.  So I followed those ambitions and managed to attain a place at Goldsmith College in London. 

SL: Is there anything else that you'd like to talk about that we haven't covered?

SM: I would only say that my best advice to anyone whether it be Acting, Editing, Producing, Writing, Directing etc is to get out there and do it, nothing is stopping you, you don’t need backing, you don’t need approval, and don’t wait for the phone to ring, as it probably never will.  You create your own destiny and it’s not queuing up going into talent shows on TV, it’s being prepared to starve and live like a struggling artist and being happy with that life.  And when you do get a job turn up on time, learn your lines and leave your ego at the door.
SJ: What's next for Shona McWilliams?

SM: I have a couple of ideas in the pipeline for future projects, but I’m just waiting for Mr. Tiernan to decide which he’d like to do.  But in the meantime, I’m going to go horse-riding lessons and maybe bake a Victoria Sponge as I’ve rekindled my love for Baking and enjoying finally having the time to do it.