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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Exclusive: Interview with Ryan Robins, Director of "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea"!

Ryan Robins is a short film writer/director who you may remember as being responsible for the high quality production values of "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea", both films created under stressful time constraints and yet so polished looking that you would never know it.

Check out the reviews, watch the films, and then get back here because Ryan discusses everything from the short film form, the difficulties of producing a film of worth in such a short time frame and the importance of inspiration and surrounding yourself with a great team.

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FCSFR:  According to IMDb, before you attended the University of North Texas for filmmaking, you were a Dallas area poker player/dealer. What made you decide to switch to filmmaking?  

RYAN ROBINS: I was playing poker in Dallas for a couple of years after quitting my day job. I used to play in underground clubs and then moved onto internet poker just as it started to become very popular. I then moved out to Vegas where I played for a few more years, ultimately getting a bit burned out from the grind when I decided to just play part time and deal poker part time. I really enjoyed all of the wonderful people I got to meet and it definitely sharpened my own game getting to sit back and watch so many hands play out. But I knew that was nothing I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I started to think about the future and film just kind of popped into my head one day. I had never actually thought of it as a career before then. I found a school back here in Dallas and graduated this last Summer. Now I can't possibly imagine doing anything else. The funny thing is how similar filmmaking is to poker. My skills like creativity, analytical thinking, reading people and endurance which were critical in poker; actually translate perfectly into directing movies. The great thing about both is you never stop learning and you are always honing your craft. 

FCSFR: Your LinkedIn profile states that you worked for ten months as a producer for Silent Reel Studios. Could you talk a little bit about Silent Reel and what you were able to accomplish there? 

RR:  Silent Reel Studios was actually a collective production group of filmmakers from the University of North Texas. I networked with some other very talented, fervent students and we used the production company as a platform to really showcase what we were capable of. We definitely didn't have the budgets or equipment that we truly needed, but used that as a challenge to see what we could still create with limited resources. When you start from nothing, you really learn how to stretch a budget and get extremely creative which is the best part about it. 

FCSFR:  You are currently the Writer/Director for Tektite Studios. How has your filmmaking life changed since Silent Reel? 

RR:  Yes, I moved on from Silent Reel as I began to start looking to get on some bigger projects. Tektite has been a wonderful experience. It has allowed me to be a part of so many projects over the last year and really dial in my style and skill set. And the chance to grow my network of cast and crew is always at the top of my list. 

FCSFR:  What writers and directors have influenced your work and why? 

RR:  So many amazing filmmakers have influenced me over the years, its hard to narrow down the list. Definitely some of the film school brats like Scorsese, Coppola and Spielberg had a huge impact on me. There is just something about the fibrous, gritty films from the 70s that opened my eyes to the possibilities of filmmaking at it's finest. The free reign those filmmakers had during that time period; coupled with their raw talents and drive to prove themselves, created some of the most iconic films in our history. I have also learned an incredible amount from Hitchcock and Kubrick. Both men were master craftsman who set themselves apart in terms of preparation and dedication. Every single aspect of their films and I mean every piece of mise-en-scene that appears on the screen was thoroughly thought out and plays perfectly into the subtext of the film. Honorable mentions: Milos Forman, Michael Mann, John-Pierre Melville, SIdney Lumet and the Coen brothers. 

FCSFR:  You have several writing credits to your name in addition to being a fairly prolific director of short films. How does being involved in both crafts influence the films you've created thus far?

RR:   Well one of the best things I would say about writing is it really helps create the film in my head, long before it even gets into pre-production. I am able to work through things and eliminate problems that I come across that otherwise might not be noticed until production, or even worse, in post. Plus it allows to take my time thinking through the characters and their motivations; which gives me that much more insight when discussing those character arcs with my actors. 

FCSFR:  How on earth did you manage to get that airplane for "Fish in the Sea"? So many short films or low budget films in general are extremely claustrophobic, but that shot really opened up the picture. 

RR:  "Fish in the Sea" was for the National Film Challenge and was a 72 hour film race. That being the case, I decided it would be best to procure a few location options; so when we received our genre and elements, we would have a few things to work with and not be totally scrambling at the last minute. I had actually been wanting to shoot an airplane scene on a project for awhile and thought this would be a great opportunity if it managed to fit within the story we would end up creating. I actually know several very talented pilots and approached a couple of them to see if they would even be available. Now you see, we needed two pilots and two planes in order to get all of the coverage we needed. Luckily two of my friends who work for American Airlines and own their own small planes were free, but on call for that weekend. I let our writer, Chris Olson, know right up front that it was at our disposal if he wanted to work it into the story. And luckily the main location we chose looked like an island…..so what better way to get there? Then came the day to actually shoot that scene and low and behold our pilots were called into work. I scrambled and made some phone calls and luckily two more talented pilots provided their services at the last minute. As always, we ran short on time but managed to get what we needed before the sun went down. I am always so grateful when other people go out of their way to help my vision come to life. It never ceases to amaze me what people offer up to help out a young group of filmmakers. I think they see how hard all of us work and how passionate we are in our crafts and do what they can to help pitch in. And I am forever thankful for all of the help we have received, as these films simply would not get made without it. 

FCSFR:  Both "Ostinato" and "Fish in the Sea" feature female protagonists who seem to be, at first, living some kind of idyllic existence which is then irrevocably shattered. Thematically they're similar, and also both feature some of the same talent in front of the camera. Was this an intentional connection, and would you consider reuniting with Sarah Adams and Chase Austin again for a third outing? 

RR:  I had actually gone through a string of films with male protagonists when "Ostinato" came around and I was anxious to bring in a wonderful leading lady. But as always with a 48 hour film race, I choose not to cast every part until we begin to hash out the story. Fortunately, we always get a pool of very talented actors who always seem to put their schedules on hold to see if we can fit them into the story. I know they are just as eager to compete and showcase their talents like the rest of us and that is exactly why I go after a group like that. The two genres we drew for those films were horror and thriller. And it just happened that through the process of pitching ideas and hashing scenarios out that they became similar thematically. They both share many of the same psychological thriller aspects and play on the psyche, as I was hoping to keep the audience on the edge of their seats for both films. I worked closely with my cinematographer Evan Burns to help bring those deep seeded feelings to life. We decided to use several steadicam shots in both films, as it provides a unique perspective to the audience. This technique allows the camera to really get up close and personal with the action and I love having Evan use the energy of the scene, mixed with cues from the actors to guide some of the movements. I feel it delivers a very realistic tone to the films which usually draws the audience further into the stories. As for the question of Sarah and Chase; yes, I definitely recognized a unique connection between these two actors on "Ostinato" and wanted to see how I could work with that aspect further in "Fish in the Sea". They have a great chemistry together and they both share that wonderful, natural screen presence. Of course, I would love to revisit working with those two again in the future. 

FCSFR:  Several of your films were produced for the 48 Hour Film Challenge, but you would never know it from the quality of the films themselves. What are some of the unique challenges of trying to rally a crew into producing something of merit in such a short time frame? 

RR:  Thanks, I appreciate that. That is the end goal of every race, to create a good film that doesn't have to rely on excuses from the hard challenges of doing everything in just 48 hours. There are so many tests in a 48 film race, which I think is what makes it so exciting. First of all, you have to be crazy. Second of all, you have to have a cast and crew just as crazy as you are. Luckily, we are all crazy. In our races, no one gets to sleep the first night, there is just too much to prep for. And once we wrap, if we managed to shoot it all that day, then everyone else gets to go get some rest other than the producers, AD, editors and myself. The rest of us have to pretty much go non stop the whole time. As for technical challenges, they are endless. You just have to learn how to roll with punches and just find solutions as you go. There is just something satisfying about laying it all on the line and seeing it come full circle in such a short amount of time. It is a drain on everyone and we are totally spent by the time it is over, but we create so many wonderful memories from those films. Like I said before, my cast and crew are troopers. They want it just as bad as I do and they sacrifice everything during those two days. But I will tell you this, not much brings a group together quite like a race. I am proud to say we go in as individuals but come out a family and that is the way I like it. 

FCSFR:  You've filmed a number of well made short films. Do you have any plans to tackle anything larger? What's your dream project? 

RR:  I love short films and have learned so much from the process. I will keep making them, but I do have plans to move onto something larger. My great friend and cinematographer Evan Burns and I are currently working on a feature length script that we hope to get into development in the near future. We are anxious to dive into a feature, as I believe it will really showcase what we are capable of. My dream project will probably keep changing to be honest. Right now the dream is to make my first feature film, but I am sure as soon as it is over I will be ready to hit the ground running to make another one. I feel that I will always try to better myself as a filmmaker, so I will always be looking ahead at ways to grow as an artist. 

FCSFR:  You made the decision to go for film, and you did it, and now you're making award winning short films and tons of appreciation. If you could go back, and tell that younger self one thing about the journey you've been on, what would it be? 

RR:  I have only been making films for a couple of years now, but I am not sure I would even tell my younger self anything. I believe I came into this industry at this point in my life for a reason and I love every second of it. I have an energy, a drive and a passion for film that I wouldn't trade for anything.

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Thank you so much to Ryan Robins for his amazing answers, and we hope we see many more great films from him and his crew soon!



Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!