Most GW graduates earning a degree in political science are more likely to aspire to take center stage at a debate than to take on the silver screen, yet 1999 alum Shane Morris has transferred his passion for politics into a big-screen career.
Morris, who got his big break last summer by writing the prequel to the 2005 “Dukes of Hazzard” movie, started out at GW with a love for politics. His career path, however, changed drastically over the years.
In the summer of 2006, Warner Bros. pitched an idea of a Dukes of Hazzard prequel based off of the popular 1970s television show to about 15 writers, including Morris, giving them only one week to come up with a script. “How do Bo and Duke get their car, the General Lee? How does Daisy Duke make her little Daisy Duke shorts?” the studio wanted to know.
Morris went home and did some research before writing, which included watching every episode of the television show.
“I used to love (the series) when I was a kid,” Morris said. “I wanted to make the movie in the spirit of the TV show.”
The studio eventually chose Morris to write the script, and finished shooting the whole movie in a month. The aptly titled “Dukes of Hazzard: The Beginning” DVD will be released March 20.
“It’s incredible pressure but it’s also very exciting,” Morris said. “They were taking a chance on me – I was a pretty green writer and it totally opened the door for me in Hollywood.”
“When I went into GW freshman year I thought I had everything planned out: I would do political science, then go to law school and eventually work in a district attorney’s office,” he said.
During his junior year abroad in Oxford University in England, Morris started thinking seriously what he wanted to do with his life, finally concluding that he did not want to become a lawyer.
In his childhood, Morris and his brother performed plays for his family in their house, eventually filming them and experimenting with more exotic locales like his backyard.
Morris started an independent project of writing a script under the mentorship of professor David Alan Grier in his senior year of high school. He later filmed the script, called “Due Diligence,” with his brother that summer.
“From that point on I was hooked on writing,” Morris said. I would often think, ‘God, it would be great if I could get paid for what I like to do.'”
Even though his degree does not directly apply to the job he now does, Morris says that his time at GW was certainly not wasted.
“It’s not so much the specific subject that you are learning, especially in a liberal arts education. It’s more of an approach and a way of examining things. It’s still about asking people questions and digging deeper and seeing what the people are like,” he said.
Now that he is a professional writer, Morris has two more projects in the works, both comedies.
“I got a chance to pitch another script to Warner Bros. called ‘Committed for Life,'” said Morris, who has finished the first draft of this tale loosely based on a true story. The movie will be about two FBI agents who pretend to get married as part of an elaborate sting to catch a group of mobsters.
The other project, with New Line Cinema, is based on the Redneck Games held annually in Georgia that were started after the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
He got the opportunity to do some fieldwork research by attending the games.
“It was stuff so outrageous I couldn’t make it up,” Morris said.
“I would much rather be doing this sort of research … it is much more fun that sitting at a desk all day,” he added.
These all-American Olympics include the hubcap hurl, bobbing for pigs’ feet and armpit serenades. Instead of a medal, winners are presented with a half-crushed beer can.
“It’s very highbrow,” Morris jokingly commented about the script. “My very own ‘Lawrence of Arabia.'”