Indie films are blowing up and at the forefront of the dark comedy genre is Ukrainian born Yuri Shapochka. A newcomer to the American film scene, Yuri recently wrote, directed and produced his first feature-length film, Clubhouse. Clubhouse stars Tim Abell (Soldier of Fortune) and Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy, The Devil's Rejects) and tells the story of what happens when an Iraq war veteran restores an old mansion. Yuri took time to talk about Clubhouse and his thoughts on filmmaking.
You are originally from the Ukraine, were you involved in the film world there?
No, but I was involved in the TV world. I participated in a television program known as Vybor, (meaning "choice" in Russian), a show that was a critical look on Ukrainian political life. I was fortunate to work with a brilliant journalist Vladimir Kornilov who is now one of the top political experts in the Ukraine. Radical nationalism, political crimes, and corruption – those subjects were hot top topics in our programs, as we intended to bring them to the light.
What brought you to the United States?
It happened by chance. I was going to Birmingham in England, but made a mistake and ended in Birmingham, Alabama instead.
Is Clubhouse your first full length feature film?
Besides the TV shows and documentaries back in Ukraine, I directed several short films here in the US, and it opened the moviemaking world for me. Clubhouse is my first full length feature.
How would you describe the film?
It’s a black comedy, my favorite genre. To describe it, I can give you a quote from the Birmingham News regarding my film: “This is a story that had to be set in Birmingham. All that avarice and artifice. That crooked mayor and the conniving cops. The injudicious judges, the plots and the slots and way, way too much murder.” This is an excellent description.
What drew you to that particular storyline?
Some real people and events have had inspired me to write this story. When my close friend, a wheelchair-bound person, was arrested on his own backyard for a fictitious “zoning” violation, a judge yelled at him “Stand up when you’re talking to a judge!” Another friend, a veteran who lost half of his body in Iraq, was arrested for a minor traffic violation, then a judge told him that “his disability is not an excuse to break the law” and sentenced him to 90 days in prison. A previous governor of Alabama is in jail. Same as an ex-mayor of Birmingham. Same as one of the richest local business tycoons. There are many stories and enough inspiration for more movies.
What would you like the audience to come away with after seeing your film?
Tim Abell, the lead actor in the movie, called Clubhouse a “morality tale.” I agree with him. It is a thought-provoking story. I wanted to show immorality through the unusual actions of usual people. I wanted to tell a story open to diverse interpretations. My goal was to have a compelling look at friendship and betrayal, honesty and corruption, love and aggression.
How did you end up shooting the film in Alabama?
I lived there for many years and I love Alabama. I like Southern people, their hospitality; their honesty and respectfulness. When they say something they mean it. I came to Alabama with no grasp of the English language and no clue about local life, but I found only support and friendship there. I am grateful for that. I made several short films in Birmingham, including “Six Blocks Wide,” a film that featured an entirely black cast in the story of an inner-city community’s struggle against a cruel drug lord. The story, based on actual experiences of a Birmingham patrol officer, intertwined beauty and heartbreak in a torn community. That experience and support of my local friends encouraged me to shoot a feature film in Birmingham.
Did you cast the film there?
The cast includes Hollywood actors: Tim Abell (Soldier of Fortune), Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy, The Devil's Rejects), Dimtri Diatchenko (Indiana Jones, Chernobyl Diaries), Christopher Murray (Saving Grace), and Katharine McEwan. It was wonderful experience to work with such experienced cast and the ensemble acting was consistently strong. Tim Abell, a former US Army Ranger, played Robert McKenzie, a disabled veteran, who restored an old clubhouse. Birmingham actors were great too. Character actors Ronald Dauphinee, Patrick Hale, Scott Page, Robert Hill, and Mark Sellors are very well know in the Alabama’s theater and film world.
Which filmmakers have influenced you the most?
One of my favorite directors is Luis Bunuel. He is the father of cinematic surrealism and one of the most unique directors. Also, Federico Fellini, who created his original cinematic style uniting surreal carnival with razor-sharp social satire.
How would you describe yourself as a filmmaker?
When you’re passing through the gates between absurdity and paradox you might find a glimpse of truth. I’m searching for this glimpse with my films.
By Carly Zinderman, JustLuxe Magazine