Most people probably couldn’t imagine giving up everything they’re familiar with in their lives – career, home, husband – and starting fresh. That’s just what Shawna Cox did about a decade ago and she hasn’t looked back since.
After discovering her inner actress during night classes at Calgary’s Company of Rogues Actors’ Studio, Cox set out to produce her first feature film, One Night in Seattle. She practically led a double life: Shawna Cox, oil and gas cubicle worker, during the week and Canadian Film Girl, director extraordinaire, on the weekends. Feeling protective over the story she had created, she opted to fill the cast with talented actors from her classes and stand behind the camera as the director rather than in front of it as an actress. “I guess I’m a warrior – protect the story!” she says.
The decision to pursue acting and filmmaking led to the divorce of Cox and her husband. Eventually, she quit her oil and gas job to take on filmmaking full-time, though she notes this career is the farthest thing from a traditional full-time job. She became obsessed with her projects: “It was like nowhere else was more important.
“More than just a story, I realized it’s actually opened up a seed that’s a part of me and the things that have always been driving me,” she says. “It was so great to get on a plane and drop that life behind that didn’t make sense, like getting divorced and potentially going bankrupt and all these other things. It just was like escaping to a truer side of myself.”
Though the feature film was only supposed to take three months to complete, it ended up taking five years. While recuperating from a broken ankle in Vancouver, Cox came up with another idea – to cover the world-famous Dakar Rally. She bought high-tech equipment, promised content to people and booked a flight. One day before the rally was set to begin, terrorist threats forced its cancellation. It was a huge blow to Cox financially. Still, she didn’t let the setback dash her documentary dreams – they simply changed course. Rather than documenting the journey of the racers, Cox documented her own journey: that of finding her dream and trusting herself to follow its path.
Cox finally finished her feature film with the help of 118 Kickstarter backers who raised more than $16,000. The film premiered this past June at the Manhattan Film Festival in New York City and Cox is returning once again to Kickstarter to try to fund the post-production of her travel documentary, Overland and Outposts.
“I’ve taken this project as far as I can,” Cox says. If she reaches her goal of $12,000, she will spend the next six to eight months working on a rough cut of the film with the help of her backers, who will have the chance to give feedback on weekly episodes of a private web series. Then, she will then be able to pitch the project to networks such as National Geographic and Discovery, in the hopes of getting backed for a final cut.
It would have been easy for Cox to dismiss her filmmaking dreams as impossible to achieve, as so many dreamers do. But she didn’t want to be the one standing in her own way. “I just followed my heart and trusted that things would work out and they kind of do. Sometimes not the way you expect them to, so you have to be open to things being different.
“With film, I just love that – in my mind – it’s collaborative and it’s alive and you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you have to trust the process,” she says. “It is just this overwhelming desire to tell an honest story in a way that connects with people and, hopefully, makes them feel heard. It’s almost like when people can see their own story, they feel like they’re not alone. Don’t give up; it’s a crazy world out there, but it can also be crazy awesome.”
By Jessica Melnychuk