Three Days Gone: An Interview with Scott McCullough


Please tell us about yourself. I understand that you have had experiences of making great commercials and working with add agencies. How did you start your career, and how did you get into the world of filmmaking?

During the search for a viable career after realizing architecture was not quite the right fit, I answered and ad to be an extra in Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times”. In the audience, I recognized the Assistant Director since I was doing production assistant work around town. I was then asked to help on the crew as a PA for the remainder of this film. Interest sparked; the seed was planted. I eventually worked with Prince on over 34 projects as director, cinematographer, and his cameraman.


As a filmmaker of both fictional and commercial projects, who or what are your influences?

Of course, the great Steven Spielberg and many classic directors too vast to name all provide inspiration but more specifically - David Fincher, Ridley Scott, Tony Scott, Michael Bay…all have a common start with commercial and music video backgrounds. They broke in at a time where this was an easier (and expected) since they had some connections with great companies to help them make this happen. It’s different now and harder for anyone to gain entrée into the narrative realm. I trust that there is a Bruckheimer or a J.J. Abrams out there that can see my work and experience and aide it further into opportunities for me where they can gain as well.


What is your vision as a filmmaker? What types of stories you endeavor to tell through filmmaking?

I always find myself attracted to aspects of thriller, action, and humor. My action work in commercials have circled this type of style and with NASCAR experience and working with Prince during one of his most productive times, it’s relevant and natural to apply my experience to these stories. I don’t anticipate getting an opportunity for a musical, but strange things happen in this business!



What are the most difficult aspects of making a film today? Similarly, how has Covid-19 affected independent filmmaking in your field of work?

Filmmaking is a very specific skill that requires some knowledge in a lot of different areas. I worked in all the aspects and positions with the industry, so this assists my preparation. Filmmaking is like painting a huge mural from an inch away from the wall, so a good sense of the entire project is needed.


The hardest aspect these days is the sheer amount of people entering the trade without applicable skills. Having a drone and plugins on your laptop while shooting on the iPhone is not going to help you when a team of studio or agency execs are staring down a problem facing the production. Having hundreds of produced projects backs up those moments of tension that can come up on set or in post at almost any time. I find the reduction of great creative and producer teams from agencies over the last years has shifted the business in bad ways. In commercials, great creative is rare to find and that usually goes to the big-brand directors or allocated to a specific sector of director.


Budgets are more challenged now, yet crew rates keep raising and especially in LA, little has been done to aid the cost of production so things can get done more economical. Finding opportunity to work remains the biggest challenge but experience and proven success will win out on projects that have smart people.


COVID adds about 20% to the budget (in time costs and protocol). It’s a responsibility of all of us to be safe and be a community for all. One project I did utilized a remote shooting via phone, FTP and more. It was a bit of an issue because the agency is not on set (with no agency producer either), and they cannot experience the situations as they unfold or what’s facing a director. A creative director caused a severe delay by demanding shots and radical changes to the approach/shoot at the worst possible time. Adding a completely new and unplanned approach to a scene which indicates that their attention was not fully engaged in prep. Or it indicates panic. Either way, during prep on this project, I presented creative concepts and solutions for 80% of the project that the agency should have focused on but didn’t. The project was completed with success, but it was a battle to make the 12-hour day comprising of 7 scenes, 9 speaking roles, 15 talent, two location moves (one of them 50 miles away).


Your film focuses on an interesting story. What made you want to make Three Days Gone: Based on the Life of Lucas Snow? And who exactly is Lucas Snow?

This story was somewhat contained and had interesting elements within it - like the exploration of the stresses of egos in friendships during a time when the drug war in Los Angeles was booming. Lucas Snow is based on a real LA drug-runner who wanted out of the life, yet his deep connections and underpinning resentment from the competition made this difficult - and deadly. I am fascinated how people can change (good or bad) and the degree of that dedication they commit to steers behavior.


The film sat on the shelf wallowing for years in a strange, venal whirlpool, hijacked and marginalized by an obstinate producer from the very moment it wrapped.

Then, COVID-19 hit.


During the shutdown, I decided I’d re-write the film in the edit room, re-working every single frame to where I thought the film should (or could be) creatively, and thus, revitalizing the project. I removed extraneous characters and confusing plot points, created a new narrative structure from existing material, and featured amazing performances from a cast deserving a much better presentation.” McCullough also served as an Executive Producer and part owner on the film (and written permission to do this). Fueled with additional blessing of the original writer, Oliver Coltress, McCullough created what could also be described as a thrilling television series pilot.



It needed complete restructuring from frame-one to showcase something new and with much more merit. The film has 9 festival wins and 24 nominations in prestigious directing awards.


Your cast includes great, recognized actors. I am sure people would want to know more about the production and your process of selecting and directing/guiding the actors.

When this opportunity came up to direct this, I was excited about the challenge of it being a twelve - day shoot featuring a talented cast with vast location needs. We attracted some amazing actors we wouldn’t otherwise have had. We had five or six hundred submissions for each role and as a director, this was a healthy challenge. I was honored to work with the great Patrick J. Adams (Suits), the amazing Michelle Stafford (13-time EMMY nominated/two-time winning actor for The Young and the Restless) and the talented Christopher Backus (Truth Be Told, Mindhunter).


I found the whole experience captivating. Working with these great actors I casted was very rewarding. Infusing new life into those performances benefits every single person who worked hard on it. It’s a testament to the power of editing and showcasing another aspect I love.


What is the most challenging aspect of filmmaking? Since you have experienced the transition from commercials to fiction, what were the challenges you faced?

Still the issue of “name-brand director” seems most frustrating and difficult hindrance. Although it’s been proven by studies that directors with success in other genres prove to have great success in a transition. Knowing that, experience and proven tenure would only benefit any project. However, the existing tendency of director hiring is short-sighted, at best.


Cited articles:

https://americanfilmmarket.com/is-hiring-a-first-time-director-a-risk/

https://filmonomics.slated.com/beginners-luck-ec33f8304c41


How was the film received at film festivals around the world? Please tell us about your festival run.

I have been thrilled and humbled by the great responses I have been getting. The actors are getting attention and appropriate acknowledgments:

https://www.indiefilmcritics.com/post/the-exhilarating-and-fast-paced-crime-drama-that-is-three-days-gone

https://www.fullshotcinemag.com/post/three-days-gone-based-on-the-life-of-lucas-snow-directed-by-scott-mccullough

2021 Athens International Monthly Art Film Festival - Won, April Award - Best Directing - Honorable Mention

2021 Best Film Awards Best Director Award Best Director/Finalist

2021 Best Global Shorts Nominated, Best Global Short of the Year/Best Short

2021 Bucharest ShortCut Cinefest/Nominated: Best Actress/Won: Best Actor

2021 Dubai Independent Film Festival Nominated, Best International Narrative Short and Best Director in Short and 2nd place, Best International Narrative Short, Best Director in Short

2021 FILMHAUS: Berlin Film + New Media Competition Nominated: Best Director, nominated: Best Action Drama and Best Film, nominated: Best Supporting Actor, Nominated: Best Lead Actor. Nominated: Best Film, Best Narrative Medium-Length Won

2021 Hong Kong Indie Film Festival Nominated, Best Short Film

2021 International Short Film Awards. Won: International Short Film Award Best Director

2021 Kalakari Film Fest Nominated, Best Short Film

2021 Lonely Wolf: London International Film Festival Won, Festival Award and Outstanding Achievement in Cinematic World-Building, Nominated, Festival Award: Best Streaming Television Series or Pilot Episode, Nominated: Festival Award Best Film (Medium Length)

2021 Montreal Independent Film Festival Nominated, Best Director

2021 New Age Cinemas and Scripts Won, Jury's Choice Best Director

2021 Paris Short Film Festival Nominated, Best Short Film and Best International Narrative Short Film

2021 Reale Film Festival Won, March Award, Best Action/Crime Film

2021 Seattle Film Festival Nominated, SFF Award, Best Actor, Nominated, SFF Award: Best Ensemble Short Film, Nominated, SFF Award: Best Thriller Short Film [world competition], Nominated, SFF Award: Best Director Short Film

2021 Seoul International Film Festival Nominated, Seoul International Film Festival Award, Short Film Main Competition

2021 Sydney Indie Film Festival Nominated, Festival Award: Best Director

2021 Tokyo International Monthly Film Festival Won, November Award, Honorable Mention

2020 Chicago Indie Film Awards Nominated, Chicago Indie Film Award, Best U.S. and International Narrative Short

2020 Toronto Film Channel Nominated, Best Short Film

And others.


What project(s) will you be working on next?

I’m in editorial now on a quarter Million-dollar music video…a budget that’s rare with a lot of visual effects, choreography, and thematic elements. I also have 8 film and series projects in active development.


Biography:

Scott McCullough has amassed (140+) festival selections and top honors for his directing and is best known for major commercials with NASCAR, Ford, GM, Budweiser, Pepsi, Kubota, Target, NAPA, EA Sports, and many more Fortune 500 clients (over 200 credits). Remarkably, Paul Newman personally requested McCullough to direct his final motion picture appearance featuring his Champ Car racing team.

​McCullough has numerous motion pictures in active development as the director/producer for the Vietnam PTSD film with Martin Sheen "Captain for Dark Mornings" (22MM), dark comedy/road trip "American Saviors" (8MM), road/heist "No Cops with Wedding Rings" (5MM), horror/action 26 Floors (18MM), and McCullough served as a writer and major contributor on the music biopic featuring Sublime’s legendary front man Brad Nowell in "What I Got" (8MM). Series projects include creator/director for the veteran based dramatic series "Spent Rounds" and "Holiday Motel" and several other exciting assignments are the works.

McCullough collaborated directly with music legend Prince during one of his most successful times in his career including the gold RIAA rated (over $1MM sales) "Gett Off", "Diamonds and Pearls" and "Sexy M.F" home videos. Additionally, over a dozen live concerts equate to possibly the most filmed credits with the icon ever.

​McCullough was the creator, writer, and director for R.J. Reynolds Thunder Theater 70mm NASCAR experience film 100% and No Bull, described as the world's largest mobile theater and first of its kind immersive in-theater effects - now known as 4-D.