Sung Antiheroes: An Interview with “Goin’ Down the Road” Director Donald Shebib

Director Don Shebib on the set of "Down the Road Again"
Director Donald Shebib on the set of “Down the Road Again”

Paul Lynch’s 1973 slice-of-life film “The Hard Part Begins” (previously discussed in a profile of Lynch on this blog) may never have seen the light of day if not for Donald Shebib. Three years earlier, Shebib directed and co-wrote “Goin’ Down the Road,” a downbeat tale of two drifters that is still considered to be the benchmark of Canadian cinema. In the glorious days of tax shelters and government support for the arts, Canadian films were free to be as unglamorous, gritty and down-to-earth as the underdogs they depicted. When the money ran dry, so did the depth; by the early 1980s, Canada was mostly known for horror and exploitation films.

Like Lynch, Shebib was mostly relegated to television work by the mid-1980s. Unlike Lynch, however, he never made any feature films that could be called exploitative (though few are as gripping as “Goin’ Down the Road”). Also, though “Goin’ Down the Road” was hard to see outside of Canada for decades (it is still not on Netflix), its everlasting legacy convinced Shebib to shoot a sequel, “Down the Road Again,” released in 2011 (and now available on a double-DVD with “Goin’ Down the Road”). Though poorly received critically, Shebib feels the sequel, made on a higher budget than its grainy predecessor, is the necessary completion to the original story.

After studying film in Los Angeles, Shebib returned to Canada where he made many award-winning short documentaries in the late 1960s and early 1970s for the National Film Board of Canada and CBC. His favorite film, of any in his repertoire, is “Good Times, Bad Times,” about war veterans, and it sadly can’t be seen anywhere. Only two films from this era are available, on shoddy prints that can be seen on YouTube: “Basketball,” a profile of an effervescent high school coach, and “Satan’s Choice,” an up-close-and-personal look at a Canadian motorcycle gang.

With the exception of “Between Friends,” a somber 1973 portrait of two aspiring surfers that plan a mining robbery, none of Shebib’s feature films produced after “Goin’ Down the Road” have quite the same resonance. But they all share a common interest in, and empathy with, the extraordinary aspirations of ordinary people, be it goofy teenagers trying to launch their rock band (“Rip-Off”), a bored businessman whose only highs come from running (“Second Wind”), or an Italian prisoner itching to climb Mount Kenya (“The Ascent”).

A profile of Shebib’s career is long overdue; since all of his films except “Fish Hawk” (about a boy’s friendship with a Native American) and “Running Brave” (in which Robby Benson plays a persecuted Native American world-class runner) are not on Netflix, Shebib seemed a fitting person to interview for this blog, and I was grateful for the opportunity to interview him. (I am also extremely grateful to Chuck Shamata, star of “Between Friends,” without whom I would never have seen that terrific film; it was produced by the lawyer Chalmers Adams, who has never released it on the video market and who responded very tersely to my several emails). The only feature film of Shebib’s that I could not find was the 1992 family drama “Change of Heart” (also produced by Adams), though it is discussed in the interview below.

Throughout our 90-minute phone conversation, we discussed the very different shooting schedules and budgets of “Goin’ Down the Road” and its sequel, Shebib’s difficulties working with Michael Parks (on “Between Friends”) and Margot Kidder (on “Heartaches”) and his distaste for most Canadian films.

“I got a lot of shit for being a male chauvinist pig for ‘Goin’ Down the Road,’ which is horseshit. So the girls weren’t so bright, so what? When you’re working in a pop bottle factory, you’re not gonna find the brightest chicks chasing after you.”

GP066624_xl DTRA_PosterSam Weisberg: “Goin’ Down the Road” was a huge hit in Canada, right?

Donald Shebib: It ran four months in New York, it ran three months in Boston, two months in San Francisco. It got a very poor review from [Richard Eder at] The New York Times when it opened, and then about two weeks later, somebody re-reviewed it and gave it a fantastic full one-page review. Pauline Kael gave it a rave review, I think that was the one that kicked the Times over. And then also Judith Crist from The New York Post gave it a rave review, and Richard Schickel. It got better reviews in the states than it did in Canada.

SW: How long did it take for the film to be established as the quintessential real-life Canadian movie?

DS: Pretty quickly. It’s been on television off and on for years and years and years. It’s been seen by probably more Canadians than any other film.

SW: You’re pretty critical of “Goin’ Down the Road” but do you appreciate that the movie is so well-received?

DS: I’m surprised by it. I never expected it to get any commercial distribution. I was just hoping for a couple of screenings. There was no real reason why I made it. (pause) Ah shit, the Blue Jays just got tied up in the ninth. Fuck!

SW: Why do you think “Goin’ Down the Road” is a less complete film than the sequel?

DS: I think “Down the Road Again” has a better script, more emotional. It will never have the effect the original one had, that was kind of a unique film in its own way, but it was also filled with flaws, a lot of montages, musical sequences–there were far too many. What it had going for it was Paul Bradley, which this film didn’t have because he passed away several years ago. “Down the Road Again” makes “Goin’ Down the Road” a better film, because it explains a lot of the unanswered questions in that film.  It’s a complementary film more than a sequel. It’s quite an experience to see the two of them back to back.

SW: When you made the first film you didn’t have the characters’ back story, so why did you originally think the characters were behaving the way they did?

DS: It was very much a poor boy, rich girl sort of thing. I would think there’s some sense of “A Place in the Sun,” a poor boy falling in love with Elizabeth Taylor. It wasn’t a direct influence, it was just a film that affected me and was in my mind when Bill [Fruet] and I wrote the film. I basically wrote the story and Bill wrote the actual dialogue.

SW: When did you start developing the sequel?

DS: Just about a year before I made it, in 2009. It just fell into place.

SW: What event inspired the writing of it? Were you back in touch with the cast?

DS: Well, [actresses] Jayne Eastwood and Cayle Chernin, both of those ladies pushed me, for the last four or five years, and finally I said OK. Then I figured, Paul Bradley is dead, maybe it’s a good idea to make the beginning his character’s death.

SW: Had you been in touch with [co-star] Doug McGrath?

DS: Well, occasionally we worked together on a couple TV shows. I knew he was still acting and he’d also moved back to Toronto, he’d been living in L.A. for 25 years. So once I thought I had a chance to make it, I talked to him about it.

SW: Was the budget significantly higher for the sequel?

DS: It was under $2 million and the first one I made for $25,000.

SW: Was there a limit to the look you wanted for the original that you were able to get for the sequel?

DS: Well, I was able to shoot the sequel on film, which was a big help. I didn’t want to shoot it on videotape. But I had more time to make the original and more leeway. The first one was done non-union, this one was done with a union crew. It adds up pretty quickly. I would have liked to have $3 million. There were things I had to cut because I didn’t have time to shoot them. It wasn’t easy to make the film.

SW: What were the lengths of the two shoots?

DS: I took eight weeks to shoot the first one and five weeks to shoot this one.

“I don’t see modern films. I loved ‘Pulp Fiction,’ to an extent, but I’m not interested in these people who go around making drug deals and killing other people and beating people up. You know, fuck ‘em. I’d just as soon beat the shit out of them.”

SW: When do you think Canadian filmmakers started to lose their freedom in general, as far as control over the film’s subject matter?

DS: They have freedom but they’re all low budget independent films, as they are in the States. I’m not a big fan of most Canadian films to begin with.

SW: Even from the “Goin’ Down the Road” era?

DS: There weren’t that many made then.

SW: I would compare it to something like Paul Lynch’s “The Hard Part Begins.”

DS: That’s probably the closest one.

SW: Is the main reason you don’t like the industry because the films started to get more commercial?

DS: I find Canadian films in general to be devoid of real conflict, devoid of story in the best sense of the word. You ever see “The Defiant Ones”? This is a movie about a white racist guy and a black guy who hates white people, and they’re handcuffed together and they have to escape together. That is a classic story. You have to follow that paradigm to make it a piece of entertainment. But most Canadian films, the white guy would be a member of the NAACP.

SW: But judging from some of your films, including “Goin’ Down the Road,” not every film needs a cathartic ending.

DS: There’s gotta be a conflict. There’s an Andrea Dorfman film from seven or eight years ago, “Parsley Days.” The girl from “Juno” is in it, when she was about 14. It’s a very sweet little student film, about a girl who gets pregnant with her boyfriend, and someone tells her that if she eats tons of parsley she can have a natural abortion. Her boyfriend has a store on campus called King of Condoms, ergo, it ain’t his fucking kid. In a standard Canadian film, the boyfriend would work in a hardware store. What’s that got to do with her being pregnant?

SW: Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?

DS: I don’t see modern films. I loved “Pulp Fiction,” to an extent, but I’m not interested in these people who go around making drug deals and killing other people and beating people up. You know, fuck ‘em. I’d just as soon beat the shit out of them. It’s a cynical view of the world, of society, of life, of human emotions. It doesn’t appeal to me.

I watch TCM religiously. My favorite filmmaker is John Ford. He never made a bad film. I like Frank Capra, William Wellman, Howard Hawks, the French filmmaker Marcel Carné. I’ve always liked David Lean, especially his early stuff. I loved [F.W.] Murnau. “Sunrise” is one of my favorite films.

These films made from 1930 to 1934, the Pre-Code films, are among the best Hollywood films ever made. People always think 1939 was the sort of glory year of American film. Actually I’d say it was 1933. The films made before the code were infinitely superior. I’d never heard of them, before TCM opened the vault.

“Unlike golf, if a guy is shooting in the 90s or 100s, and he wants to play in the PGA tour, you just say, ‘Buddy, you can’t even break 80. Get a life.’” But you can’t say to a director, ‘Your films are terrible.’ He’ll say ‘Oh, that’s because you don’t understand them.'”

A not-quite love scene from "Rip-Off" (AKA "Virgin Territory"), 1971
A not-quite love scene from “Rip-Off” (AKA “Virgin Territory”), 1971

SW: What inspired the story for “Rip-Off”?

DS:  The guy who distributed “Goin’ Down the Road” said he wanted to make a film about teenagers, so I just sat down and started to write it. It was very rushed. A lot of it’s pretty silly, a lot of it is funny, a lot of it’s corny. But I saw the writing on the wall about everyone wanting to be creative. Nobody wants to work anymore, everybody wants to be a writer or a rock star or a movie director or actor. Well, not many people are actually fit to do it. Unlike golf, if a guy is shooting in the 90s or 100s, and he wants to play in the PGA tour, you just say, “Buddy, you can’t even break 80. Get a life. The numbers tell you right now you can’t do it.” But in being a director, you can’t say to a guy, “Your films are terrible.” He’ll say “Oh, that’s because you don’t understand them.” There are no hard numbers. That’s what I saw coming 40 years ago. Everybody wants to tell their life story.

SW: You were noticing that lots of people weren’t listening to their loved ones or friends that maybe they weren’t so talented?

DS: It all sprung from the hippie hair period, five or six years prior to that.

SW: How challenging was it to make the kinds of the films you wanted to make in the ‘70s vs. the ‘80s?

DS: It was much easier in the ‘70s because of the tax shelter they had going for awhile. But it just got very hard. They made so many bad films over the years. The most successful Canadian film ever made was “Porky’s,” made by an American, Bob Clark. But nobody’s ever made a film that’s really broken through. And when they do break through, with a film like “Goon,” it’s nothing but standard exploitation films

“The whole thing was a big fucking ego trip. He [Michael Parks] should have been horse-whipped. Someone should have taken him out back, pulled down his pants, and just tanned his fucking ass with a cat o’nine tails, and make him absolutely fucking…really suffer.”


SW: How’d you come up with the story for “Between Friends”?

DS: An American friend of mine, Claude Harz, we’ve been working together for 40 years. We have a few projects we’re trying to get made. He was a story editor on “Down the Road Again,” he actually wrote a lot of it. Claude wrote “Between Friends” on his own and brought it to me, and I put the whole surf element in it.

The problem with the film is that Michael Parks turned it into something else. Claude originally wrote the film for Warren Beatty, he was married at that time to Tuesday Weld, whom Beatty wanted to be in “Bonnie and Clyde,” not Faye Dunaway. Claude got to know Warren. It was a much funnier film. Michael took all the humor out of it. He’s weird. A terrific actor in a lot of ways, but weird.

SW: Why didn’t Warren end up doing it?

DS: I don’t know. I guess Claude and Tuesday split up and he left Hollywood for England, where he still lives.

SW: How did you cast Michael?

DS: I was casting for someone with some kind of name and I met him and he seemed like a great guy. I knew there were stories about him being a problem but I figured, “Oh, that’s just someone fighting against the studio system.” And the studios were right in this case. If you’ve ever seen “The Missouri Breaks,” with Marlon Brando, where he shows up with different accents and costumes in every scene–I mean, he was just completely drunk with power. And Michael was just like that. Brando totally fucked that film up. “Missouri Breaks” makes no sense. All of a sudden the main character is in a dress, and then he’s lisping like some silly fag. He was out to completely destroy Arthur Penn. Michael didn’t do quite as bad a job. But he had all of Hollywood wide open for him, and he just blew it.

SW: How would he alter the scenes?

DS: He’d play them with a different manner and he wouldn’t do some of the dialogue. I was an inexperienced director and I went along with trying to keep him happy, and he misused me and the film. So I finally had to just make the film into what it was. There’s a lot of terrific scenes. Bonnie Bedelia held the film together, and Chuck Shamata was great, and also the two old guys, Henry Beckman and Hugh Webster. And Michael just sort of mumbled his way through it. He took so much of the warmth and the humor out of the film.

SW: What did you want as far as comedy?

DS: It wasn’t comedy, like in a broad sense. There was just more warmth about it. And the character was more likable than this guy was, just a cold fish.

SW: When you told Michael to play a scene with more warmth, what was his reaction?

DS: I never had that discussion. I just couldn’t get him to play the scene. It was as simple as that.

SW: Why did the film get so locked up as far as distribution?

DS: It got very little distribution. It was a much more commercial film [originally]. It [became] so much of a downer. The story was down enough, but then to have him play in such a down manner, it lost a lot of its energy.

SW: Why did he want to do the film in the first place?

DS: Who knows? He had a chance to make a movie and get some money, and exercise his power. The whole thing was a big fucking ego trip. He should have been horse-whipped. Someone should have taken him out back, pulled down his pants, and just tanned his fucking ass with a cat o’nine tails, and make him absolutely fucking…really suffer.

SW: Did you have a lot of screaming matches with him?

DS: No, because I was terrified of alienating him. Once you start a movie, the actors have you by the balls. In the old days, that wasn’t the case, because the studios–you know, Louis B. Mayer would come down and fire them. The best way to make a film is to have a couple of bikers standing around. If the guy doesn’t do what [the director] says, they beat the shit out of him. There are a lot of actors that are ego-driven and are bullies. Being in a Canadian film, you don’t have the money or the power to say “Fuck you, you’re fired.”

SW: Have you seen him since?

DS: No. I got a phone call eight or nine years ago from Quentin Tarantino, who wanted to know what it was like working with him. I sent him a copy of “Between Friends” and he liked it.

Michael is a good actor, he’s just fucked up. He’s very anti-Semitic. He hates Jews. He’s always going on, like, “There’s another one that Hitler missed.” It’s outrageous. It’s one thing to be anti-Semitic and playing major league baseball. But to be anti-Semitic and playing in Hollywood where there’s so many Jewish people? Talk about self-destructive. Anyone with any brains would have said, “Gee, if I’m very anti-Semitic I’d better keep it to myself, because I’m working with Jewish people.” It was so fucked up and self-destructive, and he brought that same destruction to other people.

[NOTE: As I said earlier, Chuck Shamata was nice enough to loan me a VHS copy of “Between Friends” and tell me some of his thoughts on it over email. Here are the highlights:]

“What initially attracted me to Between Friends was the possibility of a paying job and the chance to work with Shebib. I’d seen ‘Goin’ Down The Road’ and loved it. It was the first Canadian-made movie I didn’t feel the need to apologize for. I recognized ‘Between Friends’ as the kind of film that moved me, its humanity and compassion for its characters. There were no bad guys, only flawed people who were desperately looking for a way out of a dead-end existence. The three movies that had the greatest influence on my becoming a film actor were ‘On The Waterfront,’ ‘East Of Eden’ and ‘The 400 Blows,’ films about many of the same themes as ‘Between Friends.'”

“Working with Parks was difficult. He initially viewed me as a ‘local hire’ without a sufficient track record and sent endless put-downs my way.  I hated the guy for his behavior, but was deeply impressed by his talent. Michael is a much better actor than he allowed himself to be at that point in his life, which was ruled by ego. Halfway through shooting, cast and crew were invited to a screening of an assembly of what we’d shot so far. After the screening, Michael got me alone to tell me how good he thought my work was. Things went a little more smoothly between us from that point and by the end we`d actually gotten to like each other a bit. I kept in touch with him and Bonnie Bedelia for many years. Michael made a habit of calling me to coach him on a French-Canadian accent for the recurring character he played in ‘Twin Peaks.’ Shortly after, he recommended me for ‘Death Wish V,’ which was also shot in Toronto, and we spent a lot of good time together then, but I haven’t talked to him since.”

Shebib naturally wanted to get his vision on film. Michael sometimes gave him a hard time, but so did Bonnie and I. We all disagreed with each other from time to time, and were mutually supportive at others.  Don has enormous respect for the old masters, like John Ford and Howard HawksWe were working on ‘Between Friends’ in late ’72, and we’d been blown away by new approaches that seemed to be less rigid in storytelling form, movies like ‘The Graduate,’ ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ ‘Easy Rider,’ ‘Five Easy Pieces,’ not to mention foreign filmmakers like Bergman, Polanski, the French New Wave. To me, these films and filmmakers were more economical, the exposition was less spelled out, the characters more human and less heroic than in earlier films. This is not to say we didn’t love, honor and respect Ford, Hawks, Capra or Huston. It was just a kind of generational gap in terms of expression.”

This movie’s total disappearance after its initial run has always puzzled me. I’m not sure if it would have given my career the boost I felt I needed at the time, but for all the flaws and my own cringe-inducing moments, I think it’s a good film and should have had a better fate. I have never [received] a nickel in residuals for ‘Between Friends,’ though it remains one of my  favorites, partly because it was my first starring role in a feature film, but also because it was tough and I survived it. “

“‘Heartaches’ wasn’t what it should have been. It was written about a fat broad. A blowsy, frisky, horny, whacky fat broad.”


SW: People have called “Heartaches” the female equivalent of “Goin’ Down the Road.”

DS: Yeah, and I got a lot of shit for being a male chauvinist pig for “Goin’ Down the Road,” which is horseshit. So the girls weren’t so bright, so what? When you’re working in a pop bottle factory, you’re not gonna find the brightest chicks chasing after you.

SW: The guys aren’t the brightest either. What I actually liked most about “Heartaches” is that it’s a film about two women sticking together after being let down by men, and yet one of them resolves things with her boyfriend. He turns out to be pretty sweet.

DS: That’s a film that wasn’t what it should have been. It was written about a fat broad. A blowsy, frisky, horny, whacky fat broad. Annie Potts was great in it. Margot Kidder was over her head. She played it pretty good, but it would have been a far better, more touching, funnier film with someone like Roseanne Barr in it. But the producers didn’t want to do that. When Margot read the script, she loved it and wanted to do it. And she was a big star then, so I knew that, if I agreed to let her do it, I could get the film made.

SW: I read that there were tensions between the two of you on set.

DS: She just didn’t like me. I guess she heard through the grapevine that I really wanted somebody else. And she’s not a very good actress. She was also doing–there was a lot of booze and drugs and shit going on. I mean, let’s face it, she ended up in a fucking dumpster with no teeth, right? So what does that say about her? She had a lot of trouble with a lot of different directors.

SW: Did she change the script or was she just difficult to work with?

DS: The script was changed somewhat but not the same way Michael did. She’s always been friendly towards me. She did a good job in it for what she had to work with.

The script was originally based upon a book called “The Bottle Factory Outing” [by Beryl Bainbridge], which Claude sent me from England. It was about a very fat girl, very much a Miss Piggy. I changed it from a bottle factory to a mattress factory. Eventually the script was so different from the book that we paid [Bainbridge] the rights for the book back. When she did see the film, she loved it.

SW: Were you happy with the critical response to that movie?

DS: Yes, it got a terrific response. Again Pauline Kael gave it a great review, as did Rex Reed. The film was poorly distributed by a very small-time distributor in the states. This was before the multiplexes, before Harvey Weinstein and people like that. If it was five years later, it would have had a much better chance.

SW: Have you tried over the years to get these films that fell through the cracks back on the map?

DS: No, you can’t revive a film like that. Once it gets out there, it’s tainted, and they don’t want to deal with it anymore.

[NOTE: Kidder, Potts and Carradine all declined to be interviewed].

“Being an athlete myself, it’s important to me, that if someone’s gonna play an athlete they better look like one.”


SW: You maMPW-42918de several films about sports and outdoor recreation. Have you always been interested in running and sports?

DS: I’m not interested in running at all, but I’m interested in sports and mountain climbing.

SW: Tell me about the process of shooting “Second Wind.”

DS: James Naughton was a wonderful guy. The script was weak in some ways, and I didn’t have time to fix it. I didn’t write it. It’s a nice little film. I like what it says and what it’s about, the guy chasing a dream, getting caught up in obsessions.

SW: Were there any scripts you were turning down during this period?

DS: No, I’ve hardly ever had anything offered to me. Most of it is has come from Americans or I’ve generated it myself.

SW: What was it like working with Robby Benson on “Running Brave”?

DS: Robby was terrific. A terrific actor and a tremendous athlete. He looks like a world-class runner. It’s the one film where I did have the luxury of a lot of money. I did it with like 70,000 extras. This was before CGI. Now it’s easy to make a crowd of 70,000 people, but I didn’t have that luxury then. I achieved it by shooting the running sequences during an Edmonton Eskimos football game. The track has eight tracks and I was on the other side, shooting away from the football field towards the crowd. I had permission from the Eskimos, I wasn’t shooting them anyways.

It was a good idea for a film, but the script had a lot of problems. I was trying to fix it during the shooting, it was very difficult. There was a whole bunch of shenanigans going on and I felt that I couldn’t take the proper time that I wanted to write the script properly, because the film had to be made that summer–the producer wouldn’t wait. There was a good chance the money would get lost.

SW: So that film had decent studio backing?

DS: No, it was all private money from Indian oil.

SW: Were the Native Americans happy with the depiction?

DS: I think they were. I mean, Robby looked more native than Billy Mills did, even though he’s a New York Jew. I met Robby because I played basketball with him. I was friends with Bob Clark who had done this film with him and Jack Lemmon in Toronto [“Tribute”]. I knew he was a terrific athlete and he looked like a world-class Olympic runner. Being an athlete myself, it’s important to me, that if someone’s gonna play an athlete they better look like one. A lot of people think that’s his best performance ever.

climb-video SW: After “Running Brave” came “The Climb.” Why mountain climbing and why that particular story?

DS: Somebody offered me the job to make the film, that’s all. It was an outrageously underfunded film. It was originally a co-production with BBC and CTV, and it was very difficult to make with so little money. A lot of the people never got paid. I didn’t get totally paid.

SW: I heard it was the highest altitude ever shot on film.

DS: I don’t know about that. Some of the second unit stuff was shot in Pakistan, which is where it actually happened, on Nanga Parbat, the biggest mountain in the world. It has the biggest face. We shot most of it in the winter in Alberta. We only had 12 days of shooting. The budget was $300,000 or $400,000, maybe $600,000. It was a very small crew. It was extremely cold.

SW: How did you get those frostbite effects?

DS: Just shooting in Alberta in thirty or forty below.

SW: Was it harder to get these films distributed in the US by this point?

DS: It was meant to be an hour-long film, for television, and I found a way to make it 85 or 88 minutes. They did make a sale on it, it played in some places. It was never a commercial venture.


SW: Tell me about “Change of Heart.” It’s the one film I can’t find anywhere.

DS: It’s about this sleazy gambler/hustler/con man, whose sister is killed in an accident, and her little girl, who’s about seven, has won $10,000 in a lottery. The uncle finds out and tries to con her out of her money, and they go off on this adventure. She’s never known her father, so she agrees to give him her money if he helps her find her father. And the father turns out to be this absolutely outrageous gay guy. The mother was friends with him and they had sex. The uncle is supposed to be like Uncle Buck. And I originally wanted John Candy to play it. If he had done that, it would have been a huge success.

SW: Did he get the script?

DS: I don’t know the truth. I think he got it and his agent said, “You’re not even allowed to read it,” because it didn’t come with an offer. That’s too bad, because he would have been great in it. It’s a very funny script. It’s a classic redemption story. It was again made very cheaply. The guy who played the lead [Jeremy Ratchford], he was very young and he wasn’t very good in it. He finally gets really good in the last part of the film. The little girl was magnificent.

SW: When you’re a filmmaker and you’re making feature-length films every two to three years, and they’re not big budget productions, what do you do to keep occupied in between projects?

DS: I play golf. I did a lot of TV stuff for years in the mid-80s and mid-90s, but I’ve had a hard time finding work lately.

“‘The Ascent’ is all about Italian honor. Tony Lo Bianco called it ‘Wop on Top.'”

Vincent Spano as a cocky Italian POW in "The Ascent" (1994)
Vincent Spano as a cocky Italian POW in “The Ascent” (1994)

SW: Was “The Ascent” shoot just as fast as “The Climb”?

DS: It was 19 days, and it was very tough. One of the crew died in the first day of shooting. Mount Kenya is 17,000 feet. It’s easy to get up to 12,000 or 15,000 feet, but you have to do it in three or four days, you can’t just do it all in one day. You get mountain sickness and die. The guy who died was a local, so he should have been more climatized, but he went up too quickly. Vincent got mountain sickness. We were supposed to shoot 12 days in the mountain and we only shot 10.

SW: Was there a lot of legal problems because of the death?

DS: No. It was Africa, you know?

SW: It was based on a true POW story, right?

DS: It was based on a book. The producer had a place in Mount Kenya. We actually changed it a bit. It’s about a person caught between personal good and the common good. It’s all about Italian honor. A lot of it was inspired by that joke about Italy having the thinnest book of war heroes. The Germans were always bailing them out and had no respect for the Italian soldiers. The Italians were tired of being made to feel inferior by both the British and the Germans. Tony Lo Bianco called the film “Wop on Top.”

SW: Did you do a fair amount of climbing?

DS: No, I got up to about 15,000 feet. Once you get over 10,000, you start getting funny things, and once you get over 20,000, that’s the death zone. I had to train and get myself in shape before I could do that film.

SW: Was there something about that film that made you want to take a couple years off?

DS: No, any chance to make a film I take.

SW: Were there projects in between “The Ascent” and “Down the Road Again”?

DS: Not many.

SW: Are you directing anything right now?

DS: I wrote some scripts. I’m trying to get at least one of them [made]. One’s a romantic comedy, the other is a Hitchcockian sexual drama, a murder story. One might get some interest from Lifetime.

5 thoughts on “Sung Antiheroes: An Interview with “Goin’ Down the Road” Director Donald Shebib

  1. Nice R.

    I am trying to contact Mr. Shebib directly, if anyone can help me. It is about a found copy of an archival movie he made in 1967. Please pass my contact information along or give me an agent contact for Mr. Shebib? Thank you.

  2. Nice R.

    Thank you for your incredibly fast reply, Mr. Weisberg! I spoke with Mr. Shebib via email and received limited permission. I am uploading to YouTube via a limited, and private, link. I will email you the link. In the meantime, here is the description I wrote.

    “Directed by Donald Shebib of CBC, an documentary of the “hippie” life in San Francisco in the summer of 1967. Guest appearance by George H. Conger. A discussion of the politics of the day surrounding marijuana use and the Freedom movement. Includes footage of weddings and concerts in Golden Gate Park, The Diggers, Haight Ashbury, Job Co-op and other community services by, and for, themselves. I do not own rights to this video. Uploaded withe permission under Creative Commons Attribution + Noncommercial BY-NC use only.

  3. Linda Simione

    Ive been trying to obtain a copy of Between Friends 1973. I dont understand why a movie is made and it’s impossible to view. Please, if anyone has a copy or knows where I can get one or even view the film, please let me know. I adore the late Michael Parks and would love to see this film. Thank you so much

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