An Interview with Chris Dane Owens

From beauty pageants to straight-up reality TV, Chris Dane Owens has not been sitting on his laurels. Owens has been enjoying success in a number of different entertainment fields. He’s an Emmy nominated television series creator / executive producer and a motion picture producer, as well as an internationally known rock musician. Owens brings it all together with great passion for communicating ideas and storytelling on multimedia platforms. For as much as he has in store for the future, what a privilege it was to hear it straight from the source. Let’s go back and share the moments we were able to snatch with the visionary and see what exactly he has in mind.

Your television career boasts an impressive array of credits, including co-creating and executive producing the #1 rated series Instant Beauty Pageant. What drives your passion for reality TV, and how do you approach developing original concepts for the small screen?

As a person that loves art, it’s always exciting for me to leap into different creative disciplines. Each one has its own journey.  Writing songs for example, tends to be very quick and emotionally uplifting to do. Just pick up my guitar, turn on the recording equipment, and within a short time you have a brand-new tune. Also, creating music videos is a really thrilling process as well, I think because it has the least number of rules.

Creating television show formats has always been done with my TV business partner Jerry Biederman. He’s a super creative guy and we have a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other. I think it’s why we have hundreds of formats in our catalogue, because we just really enjoy the process.

We loved working on “Instant Beauty Pageant.”  We did three seasons and filmed all over the US and Canada.  Mark Wolper, of The Wolper Organization was a terrific producing partner, Debbie Matenopoulos and Cameron Mathison were the hosts. They’re both wonderful people to work with, and the show was nominated for an Emmy.  

I can still remember the day Jerry and I created that concept – we were sitting on the floor of my office, eating some Chinese food, and we were thinking it would be funny to take a traditional beauty pageant concept and turn it upside down.   

Developing for reality TV is exciting because you can literally come up with an idea on Tuesday and be pitching it to a network by Thursday.  Next of course, you need a heck of lot of luck and very good timing to get a series. But the creative process is fairly simple.

With Biederman/Owens Entertainment, you’ve created over 300 original concepts for reality series and sold 80 formats to networks and production companies worldwide. Can you share your process for pitching and selling these concepts, and what do you believe sets your ideas apart in the competitive television landscape?

One of the greatest compliments we consistently hear when pitching shows is that we bring the buyers concepts they’ve never heard before. Being original is important to us. We tend to only go out with ideas that have a certain positive energy behind them as well. Our Animal Planet series, “Who Gets the Dog?” was a pet adoption show that followed the story of one dog per episode as it gets chosen by one loving family. It was very heartwarming and something that we are quite proud of.

Producer Ben Silverman was our first agent over at William Morris, and he gave us great advice early on, about making sure we present the networks with truly unique ideas.  So, during our brainstorming process we tend to reject all sorts of concepts to hone the ones that truly feel the freshest.

Music has been a lifelong passion for you, from receiving your first electric guitar at 13 to becoming an internationally known rock musician. How does your musical background influence your storytelling, both in your music videos and in your filmmaking endeavors?

It’s funny, out of all the things I’ve been fortunate enough to do professionally so far, I still just consider myself a musician. I love music so much. Creating my “Blue Stone” album and working with producer Damian Valentine was an incredibly meaningful time in my life. It felt like there was an invisible presence guiding me. A lot of this music came to me in dreams, to be honest.

I tend to view songs as a stories, and not only my work, but the work of all artists. There are concepts contained, philosophies expressed, and emotions conveyed that can go right to the soul of a person.

When we started to craft the “Shine On Me” music video, I went straight to my sketchpad and began to draw out most of the visuals you see in the video. Creating fantasy characters, set in their own time and place, seemed to be a great way to communicate ideas and emotions.

I remember I was at a restaurant at the time and a waitress walked by, looked at my pad and said, “I don’t know what you’re working on, but whatever it is, it looks really cool.” Those are the same sketches that later became most of the imagery in the first music video.  They just kind of flowed from my imagination.

Your music video “Shine On Me” gained widespread acclaim, earning recognition as “The Best Video of the Year” by the New Yorker magazine. What inspired the creation of this video, and how do you feel it resonated so deeply with audiences worldwide?

We had a fantastic production team on the music video, including Robert Short who’s an Academy Award winning VFX wizard (Beetlejuice, E.T.) and Jason Schulz who is a gifted commercial producer, and the talented Jennifer Barlow-Grodsky was our amazing editor. Everyone was really in synch with my idea to make a stylized music video that looked like the trailer to a high-end fantasy motion picture.

When “Shine On Me” took off, it really blew us all away. TV host Chris Hardwick was doing a show back then on the G4 network, and he gave a big shout out to the video, which helped put us in high gear.  

We were contacted by TV Networks that wanted to put the video in rotation on their music video programs. This included the US, Australia, Canada, France, and Japan. All looking for the HD version of the video. This led to lots of record sales and terrific fan emails from various cities and countries, and all very much appreciated.

In terms of why it connected with so many fans, there doesn’t seem to be just one reason.  I have been told many times that the song really uplifted people, and then the marriage of the song with the fantasy visuals is quite inspirational and hopeful.  In the end, it’s all about the light of love, and the power of love in the world.

At one point I was contacted by the producers of the NBC show, 30 Rock, and they requested signed CDs and photos, and their comment to me was interesting. They said, they tend to watch my music video when they got stuck creatively, as though the video somehow inspired a new way of looking at things. I am a big fan of Tina Fey so that meant a lot to me.

Also, the animators on the show “Family Guy” reached out to me and invited me down to meet them, and Seth MacFarland at their studio. We went out for dinner together. They told me that they were really inspired by the song and fantasy visuals as well.

I have learned that fantasy is not everyone’s cup of tea, but people who like it tend to really seek it out, which I’m very grateful for. I feel a deep connection to those people.

The success of “Shine On Me” led to the creation of Empire Queen: The Golden Age of Magic, a feature film available on Amazon Prime Video. Can you share the journey of bringing this fantasy world to life on the big screen, and what challenges did you encounter during the filmmaking process?

With the success of “Shine On Me,” and my second fantasy music video, “Light Speed,” I was contacted by a Hollywood agent. He said, “This fantasy world you guys are creating is really cool, have you ever thought about turning it into a feature film?”

So, that got us thinking about what kind of story we could tell in a long format. Could we take our silent characters from the music videos and flesh them out with dialogue and interesting scenes and characters? We began working in earnest and developed a treatment that we liked.  

It was right around this time that our movie project found its angel.  Producer Kiki Korol comes from a diverse business background and was the first to step up and secure our initial funding. This got the ball rolling in a profound way, and we started filming in Oregon that year. Other welcome investors came along, but it was really Kiki that put the film in motion, and we all love her for that. She is also a fantastic producer and brought so much creativity to the film.  

We asked “Shine On Me” actress Ciel Post if she would star in the movie as Arra Winter, the red-haired maiden.  Ciel was totally up for the challenge and signed on. We all think she’s just fantastic in the movie. She has a great talent for comedy.  

We also got so lucky with actress, Mary Elise Hayden who played an evil queen in my music videos. Mary jumped at the chance to sink her teeth into the role of the wicked Queen Wendolyn.  And of course, Jason Schulz and I would be there to bring our music video roles to life as Captain Sterling and Commander Jade Cross respectively.  

We wanted to make the movie feel as big as possible and try to contextualize as much of the music video themes as we could. So, we ended up shooting for 100 days, with over 100 costumes, in all sorts of diverse locations.  

We filmed on snowy mountains, on horses, under water, in lush forests, dry deserts, on a ship, and in rugged caves where we had to lower the production gear on ropes. It was quite exhausting at times, but really a thrilling adventure overall.  We did our own stunts too, so that added even more peril to the quest.

We had such a devoted and talented production team, and pretty much all the performers that were in the original music video came into the film.  Jano Janosik who played our masked enforcer, Lord Voss in my “Light Speed” music video did a fantastic job in the movie.  We did a lot of sword fighting training together before our big battle.

I think the icing on the cake for all of us was working with the stunningly talented composer, Nicolas Repetto. Not only is he the sweetest man to work with, but Nicolas literally gave us the film score of our dreams.  Recorded with a 70-piece orchestra in Budapest and live choir in Maine, he composed over two hours of original music!  

His majestic score really is a character unto itself in the film. Nick was another angel that came to this project at just the right time. Everyone loves Nick.

Empire Queen recently won the “Best Feature Film” award at the Sweden Film Awards. How does it feel to receive such recognition for your work, and what impact do you hope this film will have on audiences?

All of us are thrilled by the top Sweden Film Award.  We salute everyone that worked on the movie with that special honor. It really is a gigantic group effort to make a film, and we have a fantastic team.

“Empire Queen” is about to debut on iTunes, VUDU and Google Play as well, and those platforms are very powerful in their reach. We hope to meet as many fans of the movie and music videos as possible.

There is talk of a limited theatrical release for “Empire Queen” as well. The film looks and sounds fantastic on the big screen. So, if that happens, we may be traveling to various parts of the country and world to meet the fans and give everyone a high-five for supporting us.  In the end, we really hope people have fun watching our movie, and are uplifted by our story, scenery, costumes, and comedy.  As we say in the film: “Let there be magic for everyone!”

The film follows a daring trio on a quest to reclaim a legendary sovereign wand and restore magic in the kingdom. What inspired the story of Empire Queen, and how did you approach blending elements of charm, danger, and heart in this adventurous tale?

Working with the fantasy characters and themes portrayed in the music videos, our biggest challenge was in how to reinterpret them for the big screen. Early on, Jason, Kiki, and I had to decide what the tone of the film would be.

Movies like “Harry Potter,” “The Princess Bride,” or even “Guardians of the Galaxy” are a great inspiration to us because they take their drama quite seriously, but they also have a lot of quirky humor along the way. We felt like this balance would be the most in sync with what we wanted to create.

We tried to inject as much comedy as possible, but also have an underlying story that’s quite serious. If the heroes in this movie fail in their quest, a darkness unlike anything before would befall their realm. So, the stakes are quite high.

Additionally, we wanted to take people on a journey of beautiful natural scenery and rugged locations. The “Lord Of The Rings” films were a great inspiration there. We have gotten some terrific feedback already about how beautiful our scenery and cinematography are, and that the movie is an enjoyable escape.

The overall message at the heart of this film is the fulfilment of a Golden Age prophecy, where evil is defeated, and an extraordinary spiritual magic is bestowed to everyone in the realm.

As a creator who excels in multiple entertainment fields, what advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers and musicians looking to break into the industry and make their mark?

Things are changing so quickly with technology. I can remember the day when, if you wanted to make a record you had to stand in line and hope that a record company would sign you and invest in your career.  We’re just no longer there. The power is in the hands of the people like never before, and we love that!

My immediate recommendation is always to get some gear and really learn how to use it. If you want to be a filmmaker, get a drone, a good HD camera and start producing things, anything!  Short films, music videos, documentaries, make cool content for social media. The power is in your hands and that’s a truly profound thing.

Looking ahead, what projects are you currently working on, and what themes or stories are you eager to explore in your future creative endeavors?

Thanks so much for interviewing me, and the terrific questions you asked. This was great fun!  In looking towards the future, our whole team is focused on spreading the word about “Empire Queen” and reaching the biggest global audience possible. We do have plans to sequel the movie and continue our cinematic adventure. I think all of us would really enjoy putting on our costumes again and starting a new quest.

In the meantime, I think I might do a new music video soon.


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