Shane Bagwell (second from left) works on the set of a professional project.
Bagwell works on one his classmates' films during his senior year at Interlochen Arts Academy.
Shane Bagwell’s (IAA 15-17) first job on a professional film set was, in his own words, “ridiculous.”
For starters, Bagwell found his first gig not in a movie hotbed like Los Angeles, but in his hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. Bagwell also sidestepped traditional entry-level roles and jumped straight to second assistant camera.
But the biggest surprise came when the film, The Wretched, became America’s number-one movie.
“The directors and producers didn’t have much notoriety, and the talent was relatively unknown,” Bagwell said of the indie film. “I wasn’t sure if it would be seen by anybody at all.”
To Bagwell’s surprise, the film spent six weeks at number-one and earned more than $1.2 million. Its unprecedented success was the result of COVID-19’s effect on the film industry. With indoor theatres closed, major production companies postponed the releases of their summer blockbusters. Drive-ins turned to indie filmmakers for fresh content, creating an opportunity for The Wretched to become a top-grossing film.
“It was very cool to see,” Bagwell said. “Brett and Drew Pierce are the sweetest directors I’ve gotten to work with. They’re so hardworking, and they deserve the world. It’s really helped boost their career.”
Bagwell’s career—and path to The Wretched—began when he enrolled at Interlochen Arts Academy in 2015. “It was an amazing place for me,” he said. “The Academy set me up with great knowledge and gave me a good understanding of storytelling.”
Bagwell entered the Academy knowing that he wanted to be a cinematographer. As the Film & New Media major is primarily focused on directing and screenwriting, Bagwell worked closely with faculty to develop his own path through the program. “Michael [Mittelstaedt], Lesley [Tye], and Andy [Hiss] helped me hone my skills as a director of photography,” he said. “I was able to shoot movies almost every day after school. I was on some kind of set constantly.”
Bagwell’s constant presence on Interlochen’s sets led to numerous opportunities to collaborate, both inside and outside the classroom. One notable extracurricular project was “How the Moon Fell from the Sky and No One Even Noticed,” an original musical film written by fellow Interlochen Arts Academy alumnus Jack Fossett (IAA 15-16).
“It was super difficult,” Bagwell said. “At the time, I was also shooting for a number of in-school projects, and it was very close to the end of year. There were a lot of sleepless nights where we stayed up doing homework to make up for shooting time.
“But it was amazing to be able to create something that would have cost thousands of dollars in the real world. We were able to make it on a small budget because we were surrounded by artists who were willing to give their time. Visual artists helped us paint sets. The whole orchestra played for us. We had free crew members all around us. All those hands being able to come together—there’s no other situation like that.”
After graduating, Bagwell decided to take a gap year before heading to New York University. As a result, Bagwell was perfectly positioned to join the crew of The Wretched.
“I was spending time in Traverse City and figuring out what I wanted to do,” Bagwell said. “I was planning on working on a movie for New Line Cinema as a production assistant. Then [Director of Film & New Media] Michael Mittelstaedt said he had an opportunity for me in Traverse City. Michael had set me up with a nice recommendation, and after several rounds of interviews, I was hired.”
While Bagwell had extensive experience working on shorts on Interlochen’s sets, a professional feature was a new challenge. “I was really thrown into it,” he said. “The first week was kind of my training period. I had to be a functional crew member while still learning.”
Bagwell continued learning throughout the filming process, gaining industry knowledge from a team of experienced New York-based crew members. “They convinced me to move out to New York City and try it on my own without going to college.”
The gamble has paid off: Since moving to New York, Bagwell has booked gigs for clients including Nike, Under Armor, Huawei, and more.
“I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great mentors from The Wretched who were willing to bring me to sets,” Bagwell said. “They’ve taught me a lot, from how to make a professional reel and how to develop meaningful relationships with people. I’ve been working and getting paid while getting my industry education.”
Now, Bagwell is paying that mentorship forward to his classmates from Interlochen. “I’ve been helping some of my friends from the years below me,” he said. “I’ve been bringing them on projects with me, teaching them how to crew, and getting them exposed to the industry.”
Although Bagwell’s career is just beginning, his future in cinematography looks bright. “I’m very lucky to know what I want to do so confidently at such a young age,” he said.