Shannon Malone-deBenedictis: Letting the Work Inspire You
No matter how many accolades you receive, they will fade, and the plaques in your honor will eventually be removed and replaced with new ones. Of course, receiving recognition for the creative work you do is an important part of staying motivated as an artist, but today’s guest believes that it should be the work itself that inspires you, not the awards you collect for it. That being said, today, we are honored to welcome our first-ever Emmy Award-winning artist, Senior Vice President of Development and Production for Red Rock Films, Shannon Malone-deBenedictis!
“We really wanted people to come away with an emotional experience as well as go, ‘Damn, whales are cool!’” — Shannon Malone-deBenedictis [0:29:10]
A former video installation artist, Shannon is a creative storyteller and a leading figure in film development and production spanning several genres. Notable projects include Secrets of the Whales, winner of the 2021 Emmy for Best Documentary or Nonfiction Series, as well as Penguin Town and Shark Week.
In today’s episode, Shannon emphasizes the value of patience, determination, and collaboration, highlighting the critical roles that great storytelling and constant curiosity have played in her decades-long career as a documentary filmmaker. We also touch on why the ability to work well with others is more important than raw talent and discuss some of the challenges that come with pitching films to investors before Shannon offers her practical advice for filmmakers, plus so much more! Make sure not to miss this down-to-earth and insightful conversation with the one and only, Shannon Malone-deBenedictis!
“'Holy shit! I have won an Emmy!’ I went to public school, I am from the depths of suburbia, I haven’t finished paying off my student loans, and even though I am 51-years-old; holy shit! We got up there and we’re holding hands and Brian Skerry, who had the original idea, who came up with the book, we said he should make the speech. He gave the speech and thanked everybody. Then, we walked backstage and I remember grabbing Brian Armstrong, my partner and President of [Red Rock Films], and hugging him because we had been working on this for three years. This had been such a part of our journey at this point and—oh, my God—never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined that something like this would happen.” — Shannon Malone-deBenedictis [0:35:50]
Key Points From This Shannon Malone-deBenedictis Episode:
Shannon shares some insights into her career trajectory, from graduating with a degree in Video Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and, like many artists, promptly starting an office job before ultimately returning to filmmaking later on when she landed her first editing job at Discovery Channel. When she joined Red Rock Films in 2013, Shannon had already been in the filmmaking industry for over a decade, and she highlights the fact that it takes time and a whole lot of ‘hopscotching’ to find your niche and get recognized for your work.
“I went to public school. Nobody in my family is in the arts at all. I come from a family of lawyers and I was still paying off student loans at that point, went to college on grants and student loans because my family had no money, and here I was winning an Emmy.” — Shannon Malone-deBenedictis [0:39:03]
Speaking of recognition, listeners learn what it was like for Shannon and her team to win an Emmy for Secrets of the Whales, their remarkable four-part docuseries that ventures into the world of whales to reveal life and love from the perspective of orcas, belugas, narwhals, and humpbacks. You’ll also find out about the patience, collaboration, and determination it took to film the series and Shannon’s belief that studying the culture of whales will play a key role in our ongoing efforts to protect them.
Shannon shares some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about the use of drones in Secrets of the Whales, the controversy that came with creating the film, and what it was like to work with Sigourney Weaver, who narrated the series, as well as how she believes COVID and our deep, human need for connection contributed to this project winning the Emmy. She also maintains that you are only as good as your last project, which gives us some insight into why Shannon glorifies the work she does over any of the accolades she receives for it and believes that simply having talent doesn’t mean you’ll get work; you have to be able to work with others.
“I like to say I tripped into getting into television, [but] life throws you hurdles and you’ve got to find a way to get over them and keep moving forward.” — Shannon Malone-deBenedictis [0:09:00]
To close, Shannon shares some of the amazing travel opportunities that her line of work has afforded her, she emphasizes the roles that great storytelling and an innate sense of curiosity play in documentary filmmaking, and we discuss some of the challenges that come with pitching films to investors, plus Shannon offers her practical advice for filmmakers, so don’t go anywhere!