Writer | Director
Trinidad & Tobago | US
Studio Anansi Profile
We talked to Ryan about the making of the film and his thoughts on his work and filmmaking in the Caribbean.
This film for me is about the choice between what is right and what is easy. I chose to tell this story because I wanted to explore how bonds between people can either be strengthened or broken by traumatic events. The story was really a combination of my own personal experiences, those of my friends and family mixed in with my imagination. Initially, the protagonist of the story was to be Justi,n and it was about his last day in Trinidad before he left for university. Upon further exploration, we found the Luke character was much more engaging and complex.
Did the film turn out the way you envisioned? If yes, in what ways. If no, why not?
It did turn out the way I envisioned in that the emotional core of the script was brought to life on screen by the actors. The cinematography and sound design really set the tone of the film well and the editing kept the images dynamic and interesting. That being said, in retrospect you always realize how things could have been better in every aspect, but I am proud of what we were able to accomplish.
What was the most challenging aspect of making the film and why was that so?
Performing the logistics of pre-production in Los Angeles, but having to shoot in Trinidad was the most challenging part of making this film. Everything you think should be simple, becomes exponentially more complicated. Permits, rehearsals, location scouts, dealing with vendors, the time difference, the island-time difference…the list can go on. We had done a lot of pre-production and myself, the producer and DP arrived 2 weeks before the shoot only to find everything we planned had fallen through. We had to pick up the pieces and were producing day-to-day, often times not knowing where the next day’s shoot will be. We had no margin for failure. It was “If we don’t get the shot we don’t have a movie” – so we found a way to get all the shots.
If you were to pick an aspect of filmmaking – producing, writing, directing, cinematography, editing – which would be your favorite? why is that? – which do you dislike the most? and why is that?
My favorite would be directing. Bringing my vision to life on screen is one of the most fun, fascinating, challenging and rewarding things I can think of doing with my life. It makes me think beyond what’s on the surface and lets me encourage others to do the same. Least favorite would be having to log all the footage and sync it up with sound after shooting is done. I have a lot of respect for the Assistant Editors doing that job, because to me it’s so tedious. Oh and yes I had to do it for this film, but I had help.
If you did not have to think about a budget, what film would you make and who would you cast as the lead actors? (ideal world question)
Don’t know exactly what that movie would be yet, but I’d want to do a really thought-provoking drama that reminds us to keep striving for higher ideals. Not sure who would be in this, so I’ll just list some actors/actresses I admire. Tom Hardy, Meryl Streep, Jessica Chastain, Miles Teller, Samuel Jackson, Anthony Hopkins, Djimon Honsou, Gary Oldman, Edward Norton, Rosario Dawson…I could keep going.
What do you want the audience to take away from this film?
First, I want them to be entertained. I say this because it was a story I came up with as my thesis film to complete my degree. I can’t honestly say I had some really profound message I wanted to share with the world. However, since then I have better understood the responsibility of the filmmaker and how wisely he should choose the story he tells and how he tells it. Second, I would want them to take away the idea that the moral high road is its own reward. I read a quote once that “The evolving soul is not made divine by what it does, but what it strives to do.” I think the path to perfection is perfection in itself.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became a filmmaker.
As a child I watched a lot of movies and television and it must have just soaked into me via osmosis or something… I would write plays in school to get out of doing actual class work and when watching movies I would always be thinking about how I would have done things differently. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a filmmaker until right before I applied to college. Until then I wanted to be an archaeologist/anthropologist. I realized being a filmmaker is one of the best tools to not only investigate the human condition, but to share it with the world.
Did you use any visual references during preproduction? What was that process like? What did you choose from?
Yes. City of God and A Prophet were great inspirations for the cinematography. We had no production designer or art department, so all the art and color palettes in the film existed before and after we shot. The locations themselves became the most important visual references given the guerrilla-type shooting we did to tell the story.
Describe some your best experiences while making the film and some of your worst. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything?
Collaborating with the cast and crew in general was the best experience I had making this film. To see how everyone embraced the story and did their best in executing their role. I would say the worst experience I had was the fact that our crew was so small and I was one of the only locals on the crew. I had too many “hats” to wear during production, other than directing. I remember shooting through the night, then having to drive interns home to far away locations… then getting stuck in the morning traffic…and getting very little sleep. If I could change anything it would be to have a larger crew.
I think the wave will continue building the more we invest in the art form. When I was a boy growing up in Trinidad I never knew I could be a filmmaker. Had I started back then, my craft would be way ahead of where it is now. This sort of encouragement is necessary from both the governments and private sectors of the Caribbean countries. Also, investment must be made in providing the proper infrastructure for filmmaking. When I shot this film, there were very few vendors I could rent equipment from and there was no guarantee I’d get what you needed or at a price Icould afford. If the infrastructure and platform continues to grow so will the success of the movies coming out of the region. If not, it may well just plateau into mediocrity or talented filmmakers go where there is more opportunity to work.
When I think about a Caribbean film aesthetic, what comes to mind is the diversity of ethnicities and locations created by colonization. It is the melting pot of many different transplanted cultures and has sprung up it’s own unique identity. The stories are smaller and more contained – much like the islands they are shot on, giving rise to more personal stories of the human struggle…rather than an action/adventure stories, with high stakes. As we put up on screen these images of ourselves to show the world our culture and way of life, we also bring light to those things in our culture we want to change. It is a process of self-reflection in an attempt to evolve beyond the fetters of our past.
Story story story! And everything else in the movies (cinematography, editing, sound design) just drew me deeper into the story. These are films everyone should watch especially if you want to direct movies.
Honestly haven’t really seen enough Caribbean films so the closet/best answer would be City of God. Great storytelling in every aspect, but especially the way they brought to life how a person from that region actually tells stories ex: going off on tangents to explain things that become relevant later on.
There are so many directors I admire, I’m not even sure how to answer this without going for the clichéd responses. I’m going to go with Sam Mendes. I think he is an amazing filmmaker and has the sensibility to do movies like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, then transition seamlessly into the Bond franchise. Road to Perdition has just the right amount of poetic violence. His collaborators are some of the best in the business and all speak very highly of him. He won an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Director for his first feature and as a small cherry on top, his father is a Trinidadian and is related to my high school principal.