Frequently Asked Questions for the filmmaker of Searching for Angela Shelton
How did Searching for Angela Shelton affect you?
The best thing it did was open my eyes to see how so many people are in pain. That caused me to release my judgements of others and have great empathy for the human race. It really made me love people more than I thought I could. I’m proud to see what some live through and move on from, myself included.
I also met and became friends with many social workers, forensic nurses, healers and advocates in the trauma and recover movement who continue to this day to inspire me with their dedication and compassion.
For those who want to make a career out of breaking the cycle of abuse, there are Masters of Social Work programs available at accredited schools.
It amazes me still to see how this film is passed from person to person. New people discover it and a decade later I still hear from people who were then inspired to quit their jobs to fulfill their dreams, leave abusive relationships, find their path to healing, break their silence and move on from a past of trauma. I feel that I am truly blessed to have been a part of this movie.
In 2001 I began Searching for Angela Shelton by randomly calling 76 Angela Sheltons that I found on the Internet. Forty ended up responding to me.
What inspired you to go Searching for other Angela Sheltons?
As a screenwriter in Hollywood I wanted something to do during the Writer’s Strike of 2001. The strike never ended up happening but before I found out it was called off I’d already begun speaking with Angelas across the country. I noticed a common thread of rape, incest and domestic violence stories among the Angelas and I decided to make the movie, strike or no strike. I also had many dreams about this film before I made it and throughout the process that kept me dedicated to breaking the cycle of abuse.
How long did it take to make the movie?
It took 57 days to shoot Searching for Angela Shelton and three years to edit it. During the editing process the project went through three editors. It’s remarkable how very different our visions of the project were. In the end, I started from scratch and edited the film myself, because that’s all I could afford. But like most of the Angela Sheltons say in the movie, everything happens for a reason. The real catharsis for me came during that editing process. I literally had to piece myself back together after listening to and dealing with so many stories of rape, abuse and incest, my own included.
How did you manage to release the film?
The first limited edition DVD became available on the searchingforangelashelton.com website in response to the huge number of requests from rape crisis centers, shelters and survivors all over the world. The film has not had an official release or followed any Hollywood rules. Instead, via word of mouth, it has inspired a movement of healing and breaking the cycle of abuse – and that movement keeps going forward day by day.
After being told that “documentaries don’t make money” and that I “should put this little movie aside and go write a studio movie,” I made a commitment to myself and my investors that I would make sure this movie thrived.
After appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show I received a few offers to buy the movie outright, taking all of the DVD rights as well as control of the movie and the movement away from me. I thought that resembled handing myself over to a perpetrator and decided to keep the movie independent. I have since been able to start paying my investors back, which has surprised many of them!
How much making your documentary cost?
It cost about $300,000 to make. One of the main reasons was because I believe that artists and crews should be paid and well fed. I received many discounts while producing the film but insisted on paying everyone something.
Where did you get the money to make your movie?
Searching for Angela Shelton was never fully funded and still raises money today through DVD sales to keep the website going. The film was kept afloat during the process of getting it out into the world by friends and supporters who believe in the power of its message. Some invested cash, some bought t-shirts and a lot simply gave money. I also threw a party to raise funds in the beginning. The party’s theme was ‘Help support Angela travel across the United States to meet her namesakes’. Everyone who attended the party and donated money is listed in the credits of the limited edition DVD. Mark Ordesky from New Line Cinema sent the first check and made it possible for me to rent the motor home and start the journey. While on the road I almost ran out of money completely and the project was then saved by Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Allen, and a longtime friend of mine, Chantal Moore.
“I invested in this film because I wanted to help break down the wall of silence that imprisons far too many women and children suffering in the hands of sexual abuse; the bitter silence that protects perpetrators and their epidemic of abuse in this country and around the world. It is time to shed light where so much darkness has had far too much power for far too long.” ~ Chantal Moore
When I came home to start the editing process more money was needed and my longtime friend, comedian Jamie Kennedy, came to the rescue. My best friend, Tudor Boloni, and his entire family provided desperately needed funds.
When I started being harassed by perpetrators and had to deal with legal threats, more of my friends invested money to keep the movie protected. Karen Catchpole, Eric Mohl, George Penny, Carol and Anne Micheluz, Eric Gold and Scott Salter all believed in and supported Searching for Angela Shelton.
Survivors around the world continude to donate money, purchase the DVD, and even sent me food while I was creating the limited edition DVD and VHS. Our goal was to get national attention for the movie and the cause.
Jamie Kennedy was the one who told the producers of Oprah about my mission and movie. As cash began to dwindle with post-production costs, I personally liquidated all my savings and my IRA. I then sold all of my stocks. I was just about to sell my house when I became Safe Side Superchick and was able to pay my mortgage for a few more months.
Shortly after, 48 Hours ran a special about me making the movie and it was seen by Rosie O’Donnell. Rosie contacted me and sent me the money to keep my house while I got the DVD out into the world. Today non-profit organizations buy the movie in bulk. Survivors and supporters of healing, from all over the world, also purchase copies of the DVD, which brings in the funds for the movie to move forward daily and do things like create the soundtrack that is requested so often.
Have the Angela Sheltons ever met each other?
Yes! CBS’s 48 Hours Investigates flew most of the Angelas to Los Angeles in 2004. They got to see the rough cut of the movie and finally meet each other. Many of them still stay in contact today.
Do you stay in touch with the other ‘Angela’s?
I stay in touch with the other Angelas as much as I can. I want them to be treated like princesses and queens so I’m always looking for more press opportunities where the Angelas can be flown in, put up somewhere luxurious and well fed. I never wanted an Angela to have to pay for anything. I also send any new Angela Sheltons who come forward a free DVD. Angela Shelton-Virginia and I probably talk to most. We have both been involved in workshops on incest and domestic violence. I recently got an email from Angela Shelton New York that made my day too. I love me some Angela Sheltons!
Do you still talk to the Anonymous Angela?
Yes. Anonymous began drinking again when her perpetrator father died. She called me from the hospital. After another battle with her addiction to alcohol, Anonymous made another commitment to sobriety. The last time I heard from the anonymous Angela, she was sober and happy but it goes up and down.
Will you be making other movies on the topic?
After being exposed to so many stories and hearing about the epidemic of abuse for so long, there is no way that I can ever turn my back on all of the survivors who have contacted me and who I have personally met. My goal is to create projects that inspire and empower all survivors of abuse to heal and lead joyful lives. There are currently a few projects in the works.
What enabled you to be so honest in the movie?
I was pushed by a power greater than myself to go Searching… It was the Angelas themselves who inspired me to go and confront my own past as well as my father. And it was the survivors around the world who contacted me and inspired me to keep moving forward after I returned home with the footage.
I was forced to face my past while making the movie. In order to push it forward, I also had to heal myself. My commitment is to be of service to the world in gratitude for the survivors who contacted me helped and inspired me with my own recovery. So the people made an honest woman out of me, you could say.
How come your father was never put in jail? Are you able to arrest him or will he continue to be a free man?
In 1979 my step-siblings and I were removed from my father’s home and placed into foster care. The case that followed ordered that my father receive treatment and never have contact with any of the children again. He was not charged with a crime or given any jail time. He later married another woman with children. There isn’t a statute of limitations in North Carolina if there was digital insertion, which there was.
After I appeared on Oprah and 48 Hours, the district attorney in the county where my siblings and I were molested reopened the case. Months later, I went to speak at the hospital in that county and was approached by many people in the community who told me that the judge was a perpetrator and kept all child abuse cases sealed. After hearing from so many other survivors in similar situations, I wasn’t surprised. Making this movie was in no way a way to have vengeance on my father but it amazes me how well this secret is covered up through the layers of the system. But I see changes happening.
Why is your father’s face blurred in the movie?
After editing the movie, I sent my father a copy of the movie with a letter saying that I had finally forgiven him. He and his wife answered by sending me a cease and desist order from their attorney, ordering me to stop showing the movie. The letter claimed that “Mr. S. has never done those things.” In order to get an insurance policy for the film to air on television, I had to hide my father’s face even though he had signed a release. His face was also blurred in the clips on the Oprah Winfrey show. CBS’s 48 Hours Investigates did not fuzz the clips they aired. After reading the court papers and the release my father signed, they were not worried about the cease and desist order.
Does the movie lose some impact by having the perpetrator hidden?
I was upset in the beginning when I had to blur-out my father’s face, thinking that I was still protecting him and therefore letting him off the hook. Since then I’ve received hundreds of emails from survivors all over the world thanking me for hiding his face. In doing so, they said they were able to project their perpetrator onto him. I never looked at it that way before but I like that outlook on it now. It fits the film. Because the story is not about my father just like it’s not about me. We represent a much bigger picture. This is an epidemic.
Haven’t I seen Searching for Angela Shelton on TV?
Clips of the movie appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and on CBS’s 48 Hours Investigates and a special one-hour version with never-before-seen footage aired on Lifetime on April 22, 2006.
How many versions of Searching for Angela Shelton are there?
The original DVD and VHS that we started selling on the website are one-of-a-kind limited edition versions. There were only 10,000 made to show those that own this copy that they were there in the beginning. And now I have no plans of stopping my work with and for survivors. I’ve also created another DVD with more never-before-seen footage. This one is similar but different from the limited edition DVD. I prefer the new one. The graphics are better and I was able to explain a few more things in the movie as well. It also includes an optional director’s commentary throughout the film, which is really funny.
Are you and your brother, Steve, still close?
Yes! After Steve agreed to appear in the film we did some major healing. We remain very close today and even went on vacation together. Steve is awesome.
How do you cope with relationships after what you’ve been through?
After I went “Searching…” and heard from thousands of survivors from all over the world, I made a commitment to heal myself and then help others do the same. I have done a lot of work and been able to find balance in my life. Today I have healthy relationships, a healthy home life and relative peace of mind. I breathe better now too.
Did you find that the movie brought you the closure you were hoping for?
I knew that the experience would be cathartic for me when I began because I made the decision to tell my own story along with the other Angelas’ stories at some point. What I was not prepared for was confronting my abusive father on film. After I spoke with my father for the first time in 12 years about the abuse and got nothing from him but denial, I was faced with another catharsis. After not getting the response or the father I had always wanted, I realized that it was my own responsibility to heal myself because no one was going to do it for me. It was the Angelas who inspired me to keep moving forward in my healing and I did find closure on my pain and continue to peel back the layers of becoming a whole healthy human being.
What are you doing now?
Due to the overwhelming response, I was gifted with the Angela Shelton Foundation with the mission of inspiring and empowering all survivors of abuse to heal and lead joyful lives. It laid dormant for years and after a brief time of trying to reach our budget we only got 1/4 there. The board voted that the best thing for me to do as an example to other survivors was to go live a healthy life and go back to writing books and movies. We donated all of the non-profit work to Darkness to Light.
I became recognized as one of the more outspoken voices for survivors of trauma and go around the world speaking to various audiences. I blog at www.angelashelton.com and I travel the world sharing this film and speaking to audiences about ‘Removing the Sword of Trauma’.
I am also the superhero in the Safe Side video series. I am Safe Side Superchick, who teaches children how to be safe. The videos were developed by Baby Einstein creator, Julie Clark, and America’s Most Wanted creator, John Walsh.
After years of working to inspire and empower those working and healing in the trauma world, I have now moved into a new sector of advocacy by helping teachers with an interactive book series that helps advance vocabulary and creativity. The books center around the hero Tilda Pinkerton