Interview ~ Screenwriter Director Shawn Tolleson

I am introducing a new component to litebeing chronicles, the Interview Series. In this series, I will be interviewing people whose worldview and contributions align with those reflected in the blog.

If you would like to be interviewed , please contact me here: contact

My first subject is the incredibly talented and versatile screenwriter, actress, and director Shawn Tolleson. I was approached to blog about her upcoming project Saturn Returns. This film’s title speaks for itself: it is a story about what happens as you approach and navigate your first Saturn return. I am so excited to share my interview with you and spread the word about this fabulous upcoming film.

Since this is an Indie project, sufficient funding is crucial to getting the film completed. At the end of this piece, you will find out how you can support the film. Please reblog generously so all Astrology lovers can get involved and contribute in some way!

So please give a warm welcome to Shawn Tolleson:


Shawn Tolleson, Writer/Director  Shawn recently won Best Screenplay in the Mountain Film Festival for Saturn Returns.  She directed a proof of concept short with Martin Sheen for her feature film Shakespeare’s Henry IV.  With her writing partner, she optioned the book Down, Boy! A Girl’s Guide to Housebreaking a Man and sold the feature pitch to Warner Bros.

An accomplished theater director, Shawn has staged acclaimed productions of Shakespeare’s King Henry IV, Part 1, Howard Korder’s Boys’ Life, and adapted to the stage and directed the Tennessee Williams short story In Memory of An Aristocrat. Shawn also directed the world premiere of Sam Shepard’s one act play, It Wasn’t Proust as well as the world premiere of Joshua Rebell’s Black Tie Affairs. She has written and directed five short films that have played internationally in over 20 film festivals including Brussels and Brno, and was a writer/director on thirteen episodes of Dean Devlin’s, the first show on the worldwide web created parallel to a network television show, FOX’s The Visitor with John Corbett.

Shawn holds her B.F.A from the North Carolina School of the Arts in acting and directing.  As an actor she has performed in over 100 plays including the works of Shakespeare, Shaw and Tennessee Williams.   She is an alumna of the Sundance Producer’s Conference, was a runner-up for the ABC/DGA Episodic Directing Fellowship (top five from over 500), and was a finalist for the Film Independent Screenwriters Lab and AFI/DWW. Girls Reeling It Together (aka G.R.I.T.) a group of female directors that Shawn founded in 1999, has been profiled in the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly and is active today in creating opportunities for female directors. She worked extensively as a production manager and line producer of over 100 commercials, music videos and high fashion stills shoots. Credits include the Rolling Stones’ music video Rain Fall Down, Vogue and W Magazine cover shoots and spreads, and commercials for BMW, Coke and T-Mobile, to name just a few.  For credits and resume, please visit

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Welcome Shawn to litebeing chronicles.  We are very excited to have you as our first participant in the new Interview Series. I am thrilled to hear all about Saturn Returns. But first, can you share some of your background?What led you to writing?

I started as an actor, then directing theater. When you are a part of telling stories, you begin to want to tell your own stories. I never thought of myself as a writer. I found I had stories to tell. And writing was the way I wanted to tell them.

In the 1990’s I did The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It was life changing. I especially loved doing the morning pages exercise and after I was finished with that process, about 3 months later, I came out a writer. I feel that the discipline of the morning exercises was very freeing.  I like discipline and structure.

Sounds like Saturn is a theme for you then?

Well I have my moon in Capricorn and Saturn in the 7th house.

Makes perfect sense to me!

So I am a blogger and a screenwriter.

Oh you are a fellow blogger! Tell us about your blog.

Let me explain. I am a filmmaker and a career coach in the entertainment industry.  I give entertainment professionals the practical tools they need to accomplish their dream career.  So I blog on very practical stuff usually.

Where can we find you?

So what brought you to Indie film-making?

As a director, there are lots of challenges. In order to gain credibility, you have to finish your first feature. I love studio movies. Yet studios are making less smaller, character-driven movies.  The smaller ones are being made independently so that’s what led me there.

Tell us about Saturn Returns.

Saturn Returns – a few inspirations. The main one – I was approaching my 40th birthday.  We as a society don’t have a lot of cultural rituals to celebrate.  We lack a lot of ways to process the milestones.  40 is a big one but I didn’t want to write about me.  30 was even more interesting for me.  So I thought it would be juicy to take a look at what it is like to turn 30.  A friend said there is the Saturn return phenomenon.  I was amazed and then did some research and it’s fabulous! It is really juicy thematically. I did the charts of the characters and then I read about those charts. Character development is so key to a good story.

Why does astrology play such a crucial role in this film? Is there an astrologer in your “family” ?

There is no astrologer in my circle but there’s an enthusiast. My production partner pointed me to certain astrology websites. I started using them to complete my characters. I entered data into the programs to get the charts.  I wondered “What characteristics would inform their conflicts?” I did reverse engineering if you will.

While visiting the Saturn Returns website, I noticed that all of the main characters have their Ascendants, Suns, and Moons listed. What are the links between their horoscopes and the characters? Also, 3 characters have the Moon in Scorpio – Was that deliberate?

There is a method to my madness. It was all very deliberate.

Is there a link between these astrological profiles and the people you cast for the roles?

I cannot say that there was. Casting is very gut-related. It is all informing.

You won best screenplay at the 2011 Mountain Film Festival. Congratulations! What was that like for you?

It was just great to have something I love touch people.  You do it to touch people. That’s the greatest reward.

What is the back story behind choosing The Eastern Sierra Mountains in Mammoth Lakes California. Why shoot there?

I spent a lot of time there. I wanted someplace beautiful that I could shoot.  I enjoy films where the location is a character in the movie, like New York City in Woody Allen movies. People use the Eastern Sierras for other film locations like the Alps. It is rarely photographed for what it is. It has a special night sky. We feature the night sky in Saturn Returns using time-lapse photography.

Wow, that sounds amazing.

The wonderfully engaging film Sideways was source of inspiration in developing Saturn Returns. What is the link?

There are a few touchstone movies for me. Sideways is one of them. Alexander Payne co-wrote and directed Sideways. The Santa Ynez wine country is where the film was featured. The wineries and lifestyles of the region were lovingly portrayed. The film-making captured comedy and drama.

Sarah Drew does a wonderful job portraying April on the acclaimed TV series Grey’s Anatomy. Why did you approach her for this project?

Sarah is amazing and she happens to be a friend of one of my partners. Relationships can really make a difference.

Many bloggers are looking to take their writing to the next level. Any advice?

Writing screenplays is not harder than writing a novel, but what makes it harder is that you are going to need a team and a lot of money! Ask yourself if there is any other form that will fulfill you.  So much is outside of your control if you write a screenplay. Do a reality check first.

Being a writer and getting a movie made are two different things. To write you sit in a chair and need plenty of solitude. To get a movie made you need to get out of that chair and make things happen.

The first Saturn return in particular is often such a crossroads in one’s life and how it is resolved can often determine the trajectory going forward. How was your initial Saturn return significant for you?

Two things. First – I met my husband on my 30th birthday. Very significant! We are still married. He is also one of my producing partners. Also, I changed courses from doing theater work to being a filmmaker. They are very different; a very big shift.

Do you think there will be more astrologically – themed films like Saturn Returns made in the future?

I hope it is more of a trend. I think there is a yearning for them. I don’t watch trends that way, but others who do think there will be more in the future. Cautiously optimistic.

Thank you Shawn for your time and I wish you the very best of luck with Saturn Returns. I know that everyone here at litebeing chronicles will be anxiously awaiting its release.

 To help out with the crowd funding campaign:

The Saturn Returns Team is also currently running a crowd funding campaign.  This is a great way to be involved in the film, because, how often do you really get behind the scenes of a movie getting made?  Here’s the link for you to check out.  There are cool videos of the filmmakers, too, so you can see Shawn and her partners in action.

Also, here’s the link to Shawn’s blog for entertainment career coaching:

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