I caught up with director and writer York Shackleton to chat about his very interesting life – he invented the "rodeo flip" in snowboarding and his dad worked with some very notable people in Hollywood – the challenges of the film-making process, his process and much more as it relates to his newest, the based on a true story action movie 211.

Officer Mike Chandler (Nicolas Cage) and a young civilian passenger (Michael Rainey Jr.) find themselves under-prepared and outgunned when fate puts them squarely in the crosshairs of a daring bank heist in progress by a fearless team of highly trained and heavily armed men. 

The film was inspired by a real bank robbery that happened in Los Angeles in 1997 referred to as the Battle of North Hollywood. The shootout was an armed confrontation between two heavily armed bank robbers and the Los Angeles Police Department. In the end, perpetrators were killed, twelve police officers and eight civilians were injured, and numerous vehicles and property destroyed by the nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition fired by the robbers and police. Due to the large number of injuries, the number of rounds fired, the weapons used, and overall length of the shootout, it is regarded as one of the longest and bloodiest events in American police history

The incident sparked debate on the need for patrol officers to upgrade their firepower in preparation for similar situations in the future. It marked a significant time, as before this bank robbery police officers had never used assault weapons. Standard issue side arms carried by most local patrol officers at the time were 9mm pistols or .38 Special revolvers with some patrol cars equipped with a 12-gauge shotgun. When this robbery happened, the bank robbers went in so fully armed that the police were under-prepared and outgunned. Afterward, law enforcement ended up changing a lot of their rules so officers could carry heavier weaponry with them.

See some raw L.A. news footage of The Battle of North Hollywood below and catch 211 on Digital HD and VOD now.

Raw LA news footage of The Battle of North Hollywood.

Hello York and welcome to The 405! I was wondering if we could start by learning a bit about your history, particularly what got you into film. Also is it true that your dad wrote for material for Lenny Bruce and Sir Ernest Shackleton is an ancestor? What has your dad taught you in terms of writing?

It's interesting; I was actually just talking about this with someone else, when I was very young, my father was in the entertainment business. Before I was born, he was running around with Lenny Bruce, and Fonda, and Hopper and all those guys. He was working a lot with Lenny and writing a lot of that comedy with him, and was actually managing a lot of what they were doing in those shows.

We all know that situation where it kind of got out of their control, so he kind of left Hollywood after that and he was living down in the desert when I was born.

When I was very young, I was hanging around a lot of these guys, they would be at the house and hanging out with my dad, but I didn't know who they were, as we were living out in the desert.

So, it wasn't until I got older that I kind of found film on my own.  My dad has never really supported me in that business, never even really put that opportunity out there, so I was very drawn to sports. My life took me into snowboarding, and it wasn't until I got to snowboarding, and I had an agent, and was doing a lot of commercial stuff – it was new, everybody wanted to see it in films, and I was doing that kind of stuff – but I found my own way into the film business.

Fascinating.

At the point in time, my father was really a bounce board for me, where I was doing it, and I’m like  just want my career and to do something like this, and he gave me a lot of ideas on subject matters, and the type of stuff that I had been choosing and going forward with subject wise.

Absolutely fascinating. Getting right into 211, what inspired you beyond the Battle of North Hollywood, to make the film? If I'm not mistaken, there hasn't really been a movie which has explicitly pulled from the Battle of North Hollywood, granted Michael Mann's Heat was pretty close in spirit and substance but was actually two years before the robbery.

We really used that as a rough starting point of an idea. When we first set out to do an action movie, we had some parameters we put on the film of how we wanted to shoot it, how we wanted it to look and feel, and ultimately what the finished product was going to look like.

So, I started to view this project more analytically, and started kind of reverse engineering in thinking, ok this is the end point where everyone wants to be. So, I’m going to create some stepping stones to get to that place.

So the first thing was looking for a subject matter that encompassed what we wanted structurally, and growing up in Los Angeles, I remembered that North Hollywood shootout. So I started researching it and I began realizing how much of the original story and the way it happened – the shootout aspect – really had a built-in three act structure and had a lot of what you need as a storyteller to translate a story up on the big screen.

So I thought, here's a great premise, here's a great root idea of what we want to start with. Then as I researched more of it and talked to people, I started realizing there's a cult following that still talks about the situation, discusses it and speculates on different backstories of why the robbers did it, who they think they were…

Interesting.

I thought that would give me a good opportunity to take the liberties that we needed to take to make this somewhat of our own story so that I could start to build in those subplots and those different characters that we needed to ultimately in the end make a well-rounded film and have the broadest demographic as possible.

Nicolas Cage as Officer Mike Chandler in 211.

Absolutely. The Battle of North Hollywood was incredibly intense. I vividly remember the video of the man with the machine gun firing on the LAPD in that urban setting. It's the kind of raw occurrence caught on video that really sticks with you. I was wondering if we could get an idea of your creative process behind catching that same sort of grittiness with your movie, that is, particularly in terms of the film's visual language.

Obviously, the realism was very important for me. I wanted to have a very documentary look and feel to the film.

I started out in the very beginning studying on my own, the fundamentals of story-telling with pictures and sound. Really the beginning stages of film-making – when it was all still silent film – there was an art form to that, and they were able to tell stories just with the pictures and [orchestra] sounds without any dialogue.

So, I did a huge amount of research and studied that early on in my career. That's a thing I think I carry with me into these subjects, when I choose things that are based on true stories. That's where I think I'm able to show the subject matter for what it is – without putting any sort of opinion in the movie – and that's where I think it allows the audience to make their own assumptions: on whether it's cool or not cool, whether they're supportive or not supportive, and that's where I think it all goes back to the experience for the viewer themselves – which is ultimately who we make these movies for.

That's a wonderful approach. I like it because it's not condescending; it allows viewers to make their own decisions while watching. What were some of the challenges like on the film?   

You know, any movie you make has enormous challenges which are always different. That's a lot of what's fun about the film-making experience. A lot of people think it's all fun and very glamorous but the truth is, it's a hard, hard job – you really have to grind, it's long hours, the sets are not clean, equipment's not clean, and it's an enormous feat just to complete a film.

That's what can make it such a fun experience – to know that every day is something different. I think the most important thing, is that you always – as a film-maker – need to be looking at the whole overall and never get too caught up in the specific instances of one thing or you'll start to lose your grasp on the completed vision you have in your mind.

L-R Dwayne Cameron as Steve MacAvoy and Michael Rainey Jr. as Kenny in 211.

I've had quite a few film-makers say similar things.

As long as you have that vision, then these obstacles that start to come at you need to be expected. Nothing's going to be perfect or easy when it comes to production: people are getting sick, people's schedules are changing, you have to be able to roll with that stuff and stay true to your vision so that you're making more of what I call educated compromises, and advance as opposed to being stubborn and not anticipating that this is going to happen so you better come up with something to accomplish what you need to accomplish or now it becomes detrimental to the finished creative product you're making.

Absolutely. One question I like to ask everybody: what films and directors do you consider most influential on you as an artist?

Because of the generation I grew up in, there's obviously Stanley Kubrick, who films are definitely the type I was inspired to push toward as someone who is just a fan of film.

You've got a lot of modern day directors now like Peter Berg who I really admire what they’re doing. How they tell their stories, finding good balances between the dramatic elements and the action elements.

So, you know Soderbergh and Peter Berg, even Taylor Sheridan now is directing and I think he’s on to a really great style.

Absolutely. Almost a grittier modern take on the western.

That's working really well right now with everybody who's out there. He's building quite the fanbase on his films.

I take inspiration from all areas but primarily the film-makers who are choosing realer subjects – edgier subjects are what I'm more drawn too.

Me too.   

And obviously just continuing to progress in the art form of making films.