Saipanpreneur Profile: Dan Shor and Ben Salas
Saipanpreneur Profile: Dan Shor and Ben Salas
The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
This week’s profile features a unique duo of visionaries and their mission to offer the world a unique vision of what life could be.
Dan Shor is an award-winning television/film actor, director, writer and teacher—living here on Saipan—whose performing credits include such popular films as Air Force One, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Tron, as well as such television series as The X Files, Judging Amy, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: The Next Generation and many, many others. (see wikipedia.org)
Ben Salas is an actor and producer born in Hawaii whose family moved to Saipan in 1985. He has lived all over the United States and has traveled to Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand as well.
For the past several years, the two were pursuing their individual passions. Ben, through his Slingstone Music production, as well as his Todo Balé Freelance Martial Arts, and Dan, through his acting, screenplay writing, as well as being a film/acting teacher at NMC.
The two met in 1995 when Ben, pursuing his film degree and honoring gift as an actor, registered for Shor’s film class at NMC. The two, realizing they had a lot in common, became good friends and, in 2005, inspired by similar visions began a collaboration on a unique project. Their final creation, State of Liberty: Looking for America, is the pilot episode of a not-yet-created television series Shor and Salas envision as being Saipan’s gift to the world of entertainment.
Why create this series, and these characters?
Dan: It’s very simple. In a world that is intent on blowing itself up and generating its purpose through hatred, in a world that’s dividing itself, the only people in the world who can reunite us are the artists. We have an absolute purpose through our art to express the reality that all people are basically the same. We’re all human. State of Liberty is a story about a microcosm of the world that populates this tiny little island. Our lead characters are Japanese, Chinese, Chamorro, Carolinian, Bangladeshi, Filipino, Russian, and stateside Americans. It is a complete universal representation, of seemingly different, but ultimately similar human beings pursuing life together.
Why Saipan for this series?
Dan: Well, we live here. But even beyond that, the most unique and amazing thing about Saipan to me is that it’s this huge, actually this tiny little melting pot...but, you know, it’s not a melting pot, it’s even better than a melting pot because your culture stays distinct and yet you’re right next door to another culture. And I’ve visited these worker houses, these shared rooms. ...Everybody is cooking, and the Filipinas and the Chinese are teaching each other how to cook. And that’s one of the amazing things about Saipan—the diversity and harmony. In this first episode, we just begin to touch on some of the really unique social interaction that happens here. There is racism here that’s even comic. One group hates another group, until they meet them.
Ben: One group is better than another, except for the ones that aren’t.
Dan: Everybody hates each other’s culture...except for the ones that they don’t hate!"
Ben: Stereotypes are placed on each other here, almost casually...You find that a person’s prejudice is not the flag-waving, war-mongering, hit-you-with-a-bat kind. They’re often the "isn’t that funny", "let’s all laugh about it" tongue-in-cheek kind where we can even tease you about it while we share a drink together. Everyone is sharing the same society, the same roads, and looking past each others’ cultural differences.
Dan: Or not!
Ben: But we’re not killing each other over it.
Dan: It’s comical at times!
So what do you want to accomplish through State of Liberty?
Ben: My lifelong dream, in regards to film, has been to not merely put my island people on the map, but to basically show how truly connected we are as filmmakers and artists.
Isn’t filmmaking an expensive undertaking? How did you pull it off?
Dan: When you see the quality of acting, the cast, the locations, and all the effort that went into it, if this were NY or LA it would have cost at least $100,000...or we may not have been able to do it at all! Here, it cost me a total of, hmmmm, let’s see, I bought a camera...
Ben: The camera was the budget!
Dan: Other than the camera, it cost me $1,000 in lunches to get this done.
Ben: We were able to do that here because of the unadulterated passion, commitment and dedication of those involved.
Dan: We—all the actors, and everyone involved—people like our editors Niles Hogue and Jerry Talosig, people like Raby Syed, a Bangladeshi actor in the film, we’re all passionate about creating a film industry here. We all have the exact dream. We all want to create works of art that portray what it is to be human...and here, Saipan, is an extraordinary place to do that.
What’s the series, and this episode in particular all about?
Dan: There are five different storylines. All are interconnected, not all are resolved in this pilot, but this first episode is mainly about a Chinese woman who is searching for her half-brother named America.
What do you want people to come away with after seeing this?
Dan: I want people to say, "I saw myself represented on film for the first time!
Ben: And for other would-be filmmakers, I’d like them to see that it can really be done here, and with everyday people!
Is there a particular scene in the film that you personally love?
Dan: This series is about finding freedom. Freedom means different things to different people. As you’ll see in the film, everyone has different dreams, desires and expectations. For me the most special moment is the very last beat, the final moment in the movie when two people of completely different background meet, and for one shining moment in their lives are free.
What have you discovered is the unique thing you bring to this life, and this venture?
Ben: I consider myself a unifier of creative people. I’ve always found myself bringing together motley crews of talent who would never have crossed paths otherwise. My friends meet my other friends, and magic happens.
Dan: The ability to fall in love...It’s the ability to open my heart and fall deeply and madly in love with the project I’m creating, and to inspire other people to open their hearts and fall in love as well.
What’s next in the developing success story of State of Liberty?
Ben: At the very least, I would like to see this series broadcast throughout the Pacific islands, especially New Zealand, the heart and soul of what we call ’Polywood" [Hollywood’s Polynesian cousin], the Mecca of filmmaking for Pacific island films where most stuff gets exposure.
Dan: My aspirations are huge! My fantasy is to have the series airing concurrently in every country that’s represented in the film.
With the completion of this first ever independent television pilot for a dramatic series shot entirely on location on Saipan, you’ve accomplished something quite unique. Any advice for entrepreneurs and filmmakers?
Ben: Never let anyone, and for that matter, never let yourself tell you it can’t be done. Don’t buy that for a single minute. It’s healthy to set personal goals. Just act on it, just do it...Even if you come from a small tiny place in the middle of nowhere, you can create something incredibly huge by following your passion.
Dan: We accomplished the absolutely impossible. People just don’t know what it took considering the environment, the history and there not being a precedent. But we did it. It’s not incredibly huge yet, but we’re on our way.
Any final words?
Dan: I hope that as a teacher that I’ve been able to inspire some people. Ben needs to do this. Ravy needs to do this. If I can help them succeed, I win. When they are successful, I win. If I get to do it with them, I win even more. Either way I win. ...This is just the beginning, though. We still have many more challenges ahead of us. I’m willing to give anything for this baby to live.
Ben: The ideal would be to get sponsorship from a local interest, investor, to finance future productions of the series. That’s our next step. Meanwhile people can enjoy the pilot episode right now on DVD. It’s done. It’s complete. And it’s in stock!
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After seeing the film myself, I can attest that if you’ve ever wanted to show your friends, or to have a way to capture what life on Saipan is really like in a living breathing animated way (blogs don’t quite capture it all) you can send them a copy of this DVD. You’ll be treated to beautifully captured and familiar scenes from popular locations around the island, see life from every perspective imaginable...and even recognize some familiar faces. Almost everyone will see themselves represented in some way this film. (Even the Jamaican(s?) on the island). And, given Saipan’s size, you’ll probably be able to tell your friends, hey, I know this or that actor, or I’ve been here or there on the island.
State of Liberty, Shodavision’s gift to the world is available on DVD, at www.shodavision.com.
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NEWS: Celebrate and support BeautifyCNMI’s one-year anniversary at a fundraiser banquet on Friday, April, 20 at Aqua Resort. Visit ww.beautifycnmi.com for more details or call 670 322-1234
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Until next week, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!
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A few weeks ago, a former workshop attendee and coaching client revealed that she nominated me to be considered for this year’s Governor’s Humanities Award here on Saipan. I thanked her, but I didn’t really believe I qualified because...(read why at www.jamaicaninchina.com/humanities-award)