Dark Dramas and Twisted Psychologies - Southern Style: An Interview With Filmmaker Ryan Blake George
|Ryan Blake George and Heather Horton in 'Edge'|
Further showcasing his ability to create and sustain gruelling tension with deceptive ease is his second short, Mississippi Sound. The winner of Best Short Film at the second Yellow Fever Film Festival in Belfast last August, the film focuses on past misdeeds dredged up when a pair of cousins fishing on the eponymous river find revenge on their minds. As a producer, George’s film work is no less daring or inventive and includes the bizarre Western/Sci-fi/Steampunk hybrid Nickel Children, the offbeat tale of a young boy who witnesses his parents’ murder and is forced to survive in an underground illegal child betting ring.
Currently working on setting up the New Orleans Horror Film Festival, I thought it high time I caught up with twenty-something Ryan Blake George to chat about his work, the challenges of indie filmmaking, Alfred Hitchcock and what attracts him to the darker side of story-telling…
|George calls the shots in front of, and from behind the camera, in 'Edge'|
Psychological horror and thrillers appeal to me most, as do dark dramas, comedies, and my newest interest ‘Steampunk.’ My good friend Kevin Eslinger turned me on to Steampunk with his film Nickel Children. The subgenre has great Victorian themes and a darkness that is new to me. Most of my own ideas come from current situations; I take my own experiences and try to find their darkest potential. There is nothing scarier then reality… You sit there and think, “Damn this could really happen!”
Your first film, a short entitled Edge, is the study of a woman’s psychological breakdown. Where did the idea come from?
I had a break up and thought I would try to work off my own resentment towards relationships at the time. It was a nasty winter with rain and snow for two straight months. I had bought a bottle of Jim Beam and sipped enough to start thinking outside of what was comfortable for me. I must say a little whiskey can really pull out some internal struggles, sometimes.
|Heather Horton as the disturbed Jamie in 'Edge'|
Overall the film went very well and we even wrapped a day early. Shooting is always a new experience and will always have good and bad moments. As a writer, getting there is always a problem. Hopefully by the time the script is locked, I know the theme and story well enough to experiment during shooting. The marriage between theme and story is the most difficult part for me. Most successful films seem to always have their theme, genre and story laid out before us at the beginning. Edge was difficult because I’m trying to tell a woman’s story and when you’re not a woman, well, it’s pretty tough!
Your second film, another short, Mississippi Sound is no less morbid. Essentially a two-hander, it explores the increasingly sinister dynamics between two cousins fishing in the titular river. What was the inspiration for it?
I always wanted to shoot something with a Southern Gothic theme. I had grown up in south Alabama and wanted to use the culture. I was inspired by actually taking trips up to the swampy family fish camp over the years. The main antagonist Paul was based on my grandfather. His life stories were crazy. He was shot, ran over, owned a strip club, and was married, we believe, at least five or six times. I wrote that film on location one hot summer day – along with a few adult beverages. The area has so much character within the people. All you really have to do is sit back and watch.
Was it a difficult shoot? What were the most challenging aspects?
Yes, Mississippi Sound was very difficult to shoot. But with elements and obstacles such as the sun, boats, waves, heat, mud and alligators, who could complain? We were living the filmmakers’ dream at the ultimate location. The most challenging aspect was getting to and from the location. You could only get to the fish camp by boat and that was close to a two hour boat ride. Oh, and most of the crew refused to get in the water. Those city boys, for some odd reason, had never thought they ever had to set foot into those muddy, alligator infested waters. You should see them whining on some of the outtakes. Once a fish jumped out of the water and slapped the camera assistant in the face!
Given the bleak denouements evident in your film work thus far, is it fair to say that as an artist/filmmaker you are drawn to dark subject matters? Why?
Dark subject matters entertain the hell out of me! Either you dig the dark genre or you don’t. I never thought I would end up doing these types of films. I’m not a dark person by any means; I just enjoy the escape to the not so normal and intriguing side of life. I was raised in a southern American family. They have no clue as to what the hell is wrong with me! I guess I’m just a junkie for the dark side.
|Jesse James Locorriere co-stars in 'Mississippi Sound'|
I like to think my films leave the audience thinking. I always rate a film by how long the film stays in my mind after I watch it. I want people to be satisfied but hungry for more. My films are dark in theme, but more psychological in story. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.”
Hitchcock created suspense and put a dark twist on it. Rope is one of my favourite Hitchcock films; amazing suspense in such a simple, one apartment setting. I admire the hell out of how he put things together. Stanley Kubrick is anther big inspiration. He gave all of himself when he made films. Like Hitchcock he knew where he was going with his films from the beginning. The Shining was a big influence for me. The build of suspense and character in the film is timeless. Both directors are true legends in filmmaking.
Throughout your career so far you’ve worked as a writer, director, an actor and a producer – do you have a role you prefer over the others? How come you’ve adopted so many roles?
When I was four or five, I would write plays entitled Santa vs Batman or Indiana Jones vs The Joker. I would spend the day doing set design all around my bedroom. Stringing Christmas lights and drawing on notebook paper, were the basics in my productions then. I always made my brother play the good guy while I played the bad guy. He hated that! I guess it all started there.
If you can start out in writing you will most likely get a better understanding of being an actor or director. Producing is fun for me. I get to stay on the sidelines when shooting and make sure that the project can be the best it can be. If I had to pick two roles that set my creative demons free, they would be writing and acting. Those go hand in hand in my mind. As an independent filmmaker, you learn to take the role that completes the project. If someone wants to cast or hire me I always ask them to have me read before they say yes. I would hate for them to miscast a role that should have belonged to someone else.
What are the most rewarding aspects of working as an independent filmmaker?
The most rewarding aspects in filmmaking are friends and freedom. Most of the independent filmmakers I work with love doing what they do. I love it; they love it – makes shooting a breeze. Having the freedom to create doesn’t hurt much either.
|Ryan Blake George and Jesse James Locorriere in Mississippi Sound|
I don’t think I was ever able to make the decision. I tried to run away from filmmaking multiple times. Even after film school I tried to give up and take a non creative job. If you are a creative person, sooner or later you will figure out that those jobs will never work for you. It can be your curse or blessing. Live it, own it, and love it.
Can you tell me about any current projects you’re working on?
I’m currently producing a film titled Divination with JT Seaton and the beautiful and legendary Lynn Lowry. She is an amazing person and a talented actress. I’ve also been busy on a new horror feature about Bigfoot! It should be a nice twist on the current take of the legendary beast. My latest project, again with JT, has been The New Orleans Horror Film Festival. A couple of my horror filmmaking friends and I put it together. It was created by filmmakers, for filmmakers. Submissions are opening soon and it will run from October 28th – 30th in the New Orleans French Quarter.