Shawn Welling is an American photographer and film maker who began his career as a dance choreographer and theatre performer.
He is the founder and current sole owner of the Planet Funk Dance Academy in Houston, Texas. Planet Funk an organization whose dance teams have toured globally.
As a filmmaker, Welling features well know dancers in documentary, feature length, and The AXI web series films -currently at 25 Million Views.
Shawn Welling is winner of over 50 accredited IMDB Film Festival awards including awarded Best Film in 2009 and Best Director 2011 from Houston Press and the coveted WOD Industry award for Best Film Director awarded in L.A. at the Avalon theatre in Hollywood.
Creator of the viral dog film sensation "If I Could Talk" with 80 million views on Facebook.
He lives with his wife, Michelle, three dogs, and macaw, in Houston where he owns and operates Welling Films.
WINNER Charleston International Film Festival "Audience Choice Award" - IF I COULD TALK
Welling's work was the cover story of the April/May 2011 issue of Photoshop User Magazine. The magazine, covering Adobe's product, was interested in his "prestigious" work.
In addition, Sony Music made use of his talents in 2012, "to capture the amazing motion of famed dancers Les Twins." French scientific journal Futura-Sciences also used Welling's photographs of the dancing duo to illustrate a story on twin phenotypes. His non-dance-related photography also appears as high quality stock photography in many publications.
America's Next Top Model contestant Hannah Kat Jones used Welling's services for a professional photoshoot. After Welling's working with her, Jones landed a recurring role on the Disney Channel's Austin & Ally as Carrie, a romantic interest for one of the major characters, played by Calum Worthy.
AS PUBLIC SPEAKER
Shawn has, over the years, also become a much sought-after public speaker, due to his knowledgeability and engaging stage presence. He has spoken at colleges and universities across the country, as well as film festivals, and literary conventions. Welling has spoken at institutions of learning as varied and prestigious as Texas A&M and California Polytechnic State University.
In 2015, Welling was a featured panelist at The International Wizard of Oz Club OzCon, for the West Coast Premiere of his short docudrama, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. The convention, mentioned in the film itself under the former name of Winkie Con, invited Welling and his screenwriter to speak at the popular and historic event in San Diego, CA.
Welling's speaking engagements and master classes have taken him to every region of the United States. These events, both live and televised, have made Shawn Welling one of the most sought-after dance speakers in the Houston area and beyond. Welling spoke at the 48th annual WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival about the new frontier of seamlessly integrated drone footage, a technique which he has used for years. It was at this master class that Welling met Isabella Blake-Thomas, an accomplished English actress who would star in his next film.
Welling's first venture into film came when he was involved in proceedings with the city of Houston to protect his Planet Funk Dance Academy and decided to "make a film that documented his fight to save his dance studio from closure by the city of Houston." The footage became his documentary film House of Dreams, which film earned Welling 'Best Director' awards at both the 2006 and 2007 WorldFest-Houston.
This win made him part of an elite club of filmmakers whose first awards came from WorldFest-Houston, including such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, and The Coen Brothers, among others.
His 2009 documentary film The Messenger: 360 Days of Bolivar, chronicled the life of four men living on the Bolivar Peninsula during the year leading up to the devastation of Hurricane Ike in the Galveston Bay Area. Among other accolades, it won the Houston Press award for best local film from the Houston area and sold out an impressive nine showings at the historic River Oaks Theatre. Additionally, city councilman and radio personality Michael Berry served as a producer on the movie, after having been an important figure in Welling's legal battle. Berry's fellow associate producer, Todd Spoth, relates a story from the film's winning weekend at Worldfest," when "An older lady pulled [him] aside following the initial screening to... express her liking for the work. She turned out to be in charge of the selection committee for the Sundance Film Festival and invited [the filmmakers] out to next year's festival."
In 2011, Welling's feature film Project Aether, earned Critics Choice Awards for 'Best Feature', 'Best Actor', and 'Best Overall World Premier' by the Houston Film Critics Society, as well as a Best Local Filmmaker Award from Houston Press, which described it as "a patchwork of the sci-fi, horror and conspiracy theory genres." That year, the Houston Press quoted Worldfest president Hunter Todd as saying that the competition was so fierce that if Spielberg were to enter his Remi-winning film to the competition that year, "it might not win, because shorts have gotten so good."
Also in 2011, Welling began filming The Legend of DarkHorse County, a feature film starring Olivia "Chachi" Gonzales. The film began as an episode of AXI, but upon finding out Gonzales was strong enough as an actress, Welling decided to create the project as a feature film. The film also features actor Lee Majors, of television's The Big Valley and The Six Million Dollar Man fame.
Late in the filming process, Welling added on film veteran Michael Biehn, of The Terminator, Aliens, and Tombstone. Following this project, Biehn asked Welling to be his Director of Photography for his next film. In 2012, Worldfest showed The Messenger, in addition to a sneak peek preview of "The Legend of DarkHorse County."
Welling's feature, The Legend of DarkHorse County, won the director and cast a great deal of recognition in 2014. At the Lagniappe Film Festival, the film received honours for best actress and actors in the horror category. Actor Nick Nicholson also won the festival's prestigious award for the best supporting actor overall, under Welling's direction. Nicholson also was nominated for the same honour at Houston's International Film Festival, Worldfest. Chachi Gonzales, a frequent collaborator of Welling's, won the best supporting actress award, there. The film also won the coveted Platinum Remi award for best theatrical feature film at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival. This is the highest honour the festival awards.
In 2015, Welling premiered what is to date his most critically acclaimed project. The film, a short entitled "If I Could Talk," has won awards on two continents. In addition to being awarded the crystal award for Best Houston Production at the 2015 WorldFest Houston International Film Festival, the short has garnered over fifty-six million views and over one million shares on Facebook. With a heartrending and relatable (to any dog lover) story, If I Could Talk has become Shawn Welling's most popular film by far. A feature version and a short companion piece are in production.
In December of 2016, Shawn Welling was appointed the ambassador of Panorama China, a film program linking Chinese and American filmmakers.
Welling's 'Planet Funk' had its beginnings in Houston in 1998, and grew from an interest in urban dance music and dance. Shawn Welling's earliest dance influence was Michael Jackson, and Welling has choreographed, taught, and performed with Planet Funk teams worldwide. Planet Funk has been profiled on Bravo and The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The Houston Chronicle summed the group up in their piece on hip-hop dance in Houston, saying that "Planet Funk, which is primarily made up of formally trained dancers, is known for its fiercely athletic shows, high production values and Los Angeles funk style." Welling explained that he sometimes "has to hip-hop-ize the more classically trained" dancers at his studio. His influences, however, not limited to urban dancers, range from Michael Jackson to "old MGM musicals, Fred Astaire and even Mikhail Baryshnikov."
In 2007, Welling interviewed choreographer and MTV personality Wade Robson. Robson was a dancer for, and, later, accuser of, Welling's hero, Michael Jackson. Robson would go on to do clinics and training sessions at the Planet Funk facility in Houston.
Welling was invited by the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce to bring a Planet Funk team to perform at the 2009 inauguration of the RasGas facility in Qatar. Contacted by Nina Ridge of BUSACC, Welling acted as both choreographer and chaperone to 10 American children, ranging in age from 8 to 15, who performed a montage of the history of American dance genres for the celebration. Once selected by Welling, his young team had two weeks to perfect their performance about five decades of American dance styles for sheikhs and dignitaries.
He and his teams have also performed for festivals such as Dance Houston's second annual Urban Dance Festival Winter Formal in 2008, as well as performing on Good Morning America, shows for the Houston Rockets, NFL, and NHL, work with Cirque du Soleil on the Dralion tour, and perfomances on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Deborah Duncan, and Great Day Houston. They also perform regularly at venues like Warehouse Live, The Galleria, and their own studio in Memorial, just off of the Houston Marathon route.
RECOGNITION AS CHOREOGRAPHER
In 2008, a Houston Chronicle reporter went to Planet Funk for a lesson in urban dance for women. She described Welling as "a walking encyclopedia of dance history." She commended his conviction that "positive reinforcement is a big part of his mission" and quoted him as warning against laughing at or mocking other dancers. "The temptation for you to laugh or mock them is dangerous if you want to dance yourself... Always empower, because if you always empower, you'll be empowered when you get out in front of a group. You won't feel judged."
In 2011, Patti Parish-Kaminski, Editor in Chief of Focus on Woman Magazine wrote that Welling is a "world-renowned dance instructor, choreographer, photographer and now award-winning film maker", who is the "go-to guy for performers for the NFL, Cirque de Soleil and Broadway" and who "has made a name for himself in the arts", concluding that "his visionary talent is taking the dance world by storm."
In 2012, the Houston Chronicle called Welling a "renowned choreographer," as he choreographed and shot a dance routine for a Houston Texans cheerleader gone backup dancer's audition for Justin Bieber's Believe Tour.
Although Welling once described himself to a reporter as a "self-absorbed, amateur film director," Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer has noted Welling's Planet Funk Dance Studio to be "legendary." Falun Gong publication The Epoch Times proudly reported on Welling's opinions on the Shen Yun Performing Arts troupe's terpsichoral performance. He praised their work, while also letting slip a piece of his philosophy: the idea that, in dance, it is "so important not to dismiss humor because it’s what keeps the audience engaged." He also emphasized the importance of an experience wherein the audiences leaves feeling that "when I come out of here, I’m going to feel uplifted and kind of refreshed—and also get a little bit of laughter."
This sense of humour may part of what keeps his many artistic ventures so fresh and successful. In 2015, he was named recipient of the year's World of Dance Industry Award for Best Cinematographer.
AXI WEB SERIES
In 2011, Welling also began the web series AXI: Avengers of Xtreme Illusions, featuring the I.aM.mE Dance crew in a series of web films in the vein of The Twilight Zone, but "infused with dance and lyrical movement that have never been seen before."
The series has, so far, enjoyed a three season online run on YouTube, and has featured appearances by Chachi Gonzales, Lee Majors, Phillip Chbeeb, and others, including Incroyable Talent's Les Twins. Dance Spirit magazine lauded the series as "sort of “Once Upon a Time” meets “The Twilight Zone” meets insanely good hip hop—with a Tim Burton-esque quality that’s just creepy enough.
The fourth season is filming now, and will feature dancers like Hokuto "Hok" Konishi. In all, the series has amassed over 25 million views on YouTube.
Shawn lives in Houston, TX, with his two white Labrador retrievers and one cream-coloured English golden retriever, as well as a rare hyacinth macaw, a bird classified as vulnerable on the IUCN endangered species list. His love of animals informs his artistic work. His latest short, "If I Could Talk," reflects that fascination with animals, as its hero is a labrador retriever.
In 2015, Welling married Michelle Simmons, a local photographer, who has worked on several of his films. In early 2015, the Houston Chronicle photographed the couple, along with Welling's father, at a society benefit. Welling and Simmons married in mid-2015, and had their first child, Emma Rain Welling, November 11, 2018.