This week’s Certified Film Threat in Progress comes courtesy of filmmaker Ryan Harper Gray, who is currently crowdfunding his latest film, “This is a Love Story,” through IndieGoGo. Ryan took some time to run the usual Film Threat gauntlet of questions…
Assume no one at Film Threat has heard of you: who are you, how long have you been making films? What films have you made?
First off I’d like to say thanks for doing the article on the film. I’m very excited to be connected with one of my favorite film web-zines. In reference to your question about how long I’ve been making films, I think I started making feature narratives in about 2006, maybe 2005, as a lead actor and collaborator with other directors.
Before that, I spent most of my time working in the theater producing and writing original work from traditional narrative to the avant-garde. I was also making a slue of experimental short films trying to better understand this medium that quickly became less of a curiosity and more of an obsession. My curiosity with experimental films brought me to a screening in Austin, TX where I met the filmmaker Jon Jost, who if your readers don’t know they should check out www.jon-jost.com. He has been a prolific filmmaker who’s been around since the 70s. He’s a maverick who has been making truly original and truly independent movies his whole life. The New York Times has referred to him as the American Godard. I think that says it all.
We made three films together. Our first one, “Homecoming,” premiered in 2006 at the Venice Film Festival. After that I went on to make a film with a man called Blake Eckard called “Sinner Come Home.” I believe he has another movie coming out later this year called “Bubba Moon Face.” Once I had done my second feature as the lead this was probably around the time where I started to want to get back to some serious writing and directing that I had done in the theater, but it wasn’t time yet. I subsequently made two more films with Jon Jost, which have shown around the world, and a handful of other movies I was the lead actor in.
After being the lead in multiple independent films and also being involved in the collaboration in the ways the stories were told, naturally I wanted to write something to produce myself. I wrote many screenplays and began many more but this was the first one, to be completely honest with you, I felt as though I could shoot on a low budget, pull it off and make it a really powerful piece of cinema.
So I began to really develop this story and after writing my first, or fifth, draft I took it to a friend of mine, Yen Tan, who you may know as the director of “Ciao” and also the graphic artist behind some of the most original movie posters the independent film world has known; or at the very least has seen at this level all created by one person. He’s made a ton of posters for a ton of wonderful films. If you don’t know who he is, check him out, and hire him.
His help on the screenplay was extremely important for the development of the story. He really made sure I was pushing the script, fighting to develop the characters and all-in-all making sure the script was good.
Once I felt like I was happy with it, and it was clear it was connecting with him in a much stronger way, I decided I was going to take it to some actors who I was wanting to work with and see if they wanted to be a part of it. I figured if it connected with them, the way it connected with Yen and me, we’d make the movie. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been up to for the past few years. Acting in a slue of movies and trying to get this one off the ground. This will be my directorial debut in the feature narrative category.
What is “This is a Love Story” about?
Well I’ve always had a fascination with the human experience and the kind of complexities behind what drives us to do things. The drive to do things in our cultures that are social rules made up by man, but don’t always align with our nature as human beings, like in our DNA. And the complexities of modern monogamy are something we’re now evolved enough… wow that’s really presumptuous, maybe I shouldn’t have said that…
We can look at it and say monogamy is not really natural. It’s a choice. And it’s a hard choice. It’s something we have to work hard at, to stay focused, even though our DNA is telling us to pursue multiple relationships, or sexual attractions, but we choose to stay monogamous which brings us to the idea of being lonely within the context of a relationship. Which is the other side of what I wanted to explore. I find the idea of humans choosing to be monogamous and going against their nature fascinating, and the idea of genuinely being lonely in the company of someone you love to be fascinating.
I love lonely cinema, to a certain extent. Perhaps I was just listening to too much Bon Iver when I was writing this script.
Where did the idea for “This is a Love Story” come from?
I totally skipped this question the first time I was looking at the answers I was going to give for this interview. I’m not sure why, but I’ll try to answer honestly.
I went through a divorce in 2006 and it was a profound experience that made me feel more connected to other people, rather than disconnected, even though I was losing who was then the love of my life. Let me try to answer that a different way. I’m a big fan of music and I’m a big fan of individual albums, not just songs, and I guess since then, and probably before, many of my favorite albums are what people call ‘breakup albums.’ So I guess if I was a musician and this was an album, this would be my one breakup album.
Who is in the cast? Anyone we’re familiar with?
First off I’d like to say we have a fantastic cast. Everyone I knew I had wanted to work with is in this movie. It’s their talents that make me feel extremely confident going to people and asking them for money because these kids are extremely professional, they can handle it. These are all people I hoped would do the movie and they all said yes. I feel like it has been a very fortunate situation. I know they’re not big names yet but they are all stars. First off I saw a movie called “The Other Side of Paradise” by Justin Hilliard, which was locally produced in Dallas, and the three leads were Arianne Martin, John Elliott and Frank Mosley. They captivated me from frame one and I was desperate to work with all three of them. And all three of them are in this movie. Frank Mosley also recently directed and released a feature called “Hold” which is probably one of the most interesting, low budget, minimalist films I’ve seen in a long time dealing with the subject of rape and I highly recommend it.
Arianne Martin has just come off a hot streak playing a role on the TV show “Crash,” “Drive Angry” where she plays Nicholas Cage’s daughter and many, many more.
What can I say about John Elliott? Arianne claims to have discovered him and I can totally see why she calls claim to that because he is one hell of a talented motherfucker. [“Gunslinger,” “Prison Break”]
And to be completely honest, it was my relationship with Frank Mosley who helped bring all these people on board, including the inimitable Farah White. Farah was one of the producers on “Hold” and on Clay Liford’s “Wuss,” and is a very well established working actress. When I met Farah there was no doubt in my mind there was no one I had ever met who could play this part better than her.
Then there’s Amelia Turner. The part I’ve cast her in is complicated because she had to be a young person and she had to be the heart of the film. I’d seen her in Clay Liford’s “Earthling” and was very impressed. But when I met her at SXSW last year, upon Clay Liford’s suggestion I look at her for casting after he read the script, I realized that Clay was absolutely right. She was perfect and I cast her immediately.
And yes that brings me to my girlfriend Tiffany Lonsdale. She has been coming up the ranks as of late as an actress and is genuinely a force to be reckoned with: beautiful, talented and has poor taste in men. She’ll be playing opposite me as my wife and we’ll both be cheating on each other and struggling through the crowded lives of the characters we wear. So this should be an interesting dynamic.
How did you manage to get Adam “All I Do is Produce Hit Indie Films” Donaghey as your producer?
The truth of the matter is I knew Adam socially. I was supposed to be acting in “Earthling” but because of a scheduling conflict during that time I wasn’t able to but I did meet Adam and thought he was a great guy. At some point in our conversation I had mentioned I was working on the script for this movie and he asked me to send the script to him when I was done. So I did, and he read it. At that time he told me he was not looking to make another relationship film right now but he thought the script was something interesting and wanted to help me bring it to life. Adam has been intricately involved in every step of the process. He’s been a great support for me as a director and I highly recommend working with him and I hope to make more movies with him. I look forward to being in production and him being by my side because I couldn’t do this without him.
When do you start filming? How long will the shoot be?
Shoot dates are not currently locked down 100% as we’re still negotiating a few dates. As it stands now, we’re looking at shooting at the beginning of February, possibly a few days at the end of January. I’m hoping for a two-week shoot and perhaps a few extra days for second unit. To be completely honest we can’t shoot for very long because we just won’t have the money for it. The hardest part about this is the limited resources and time is definitely one of those. So we’ve got to shoot fast.
What problems/concerns/horror stories do you already have or still potentially foresee for the film?
Lack of money. I don’t have a lack of talent on this film. The talent I’ve already brought on and the talent I will be bringing on, that includes cast and crew, is incredible. The big limitation is lack of money. I will be making this movie for $25,000 or less. The reality is the only way I can pull this off is people are giving me breaks on their rates, or not being paid at all. Also that we get our locations for free and we get our equipment in kind. There are certain locations we’ve had to forego because we couldn’t afford them. For instance, we really wanted to shoot at the Winspear Opera House but their fee is $1000 day and to be honest, we just cannot afford that. My main frustration with the process is I’m not able to pay people what they’re worth. A ll of these people involved are professionals and if I were shooting this film for what they should be the budget would be well over $100,000.
Is this your first attempt at crowdfunding?
Why did you decide to crowdfund?
Well I’ve been studying it, better trying to understand the process, the successes and failures, and as we began the process of looking for money it became abundantly clear it was a viable option we could not ignore. And with much discussion we decided to move forward with this process.
Also when you do a crowdfunding campaign it helps to build buzz and connect with your future audience for the film. I think it’s as much an opportunity to fundraise, as it is to connect with your audience. It’s helped us raise our followers on Facebook and Twitter and ultimately it’s going to help us with the momentum of the film once it’s completed.
Do you have other financial resources or investors in place beyond the crowdfunding?
Well part of the momentum behind starting this whole process of raising money was because a man by the name of Jerry Waters, who is a friend of mine, came on and committed to a certain amount of financial assistance which led us to believe we could actually pull this off.
And then I had another friend of mine, David Scull, come up to me and want to get involved. David has been an emotional support along with helping out financially. He will be helping us put together some stuff in the future as well.
It was at this point I realized “okay we have some financial support so let’s make this happen” that we moved to crowd funding. We had a small foundation to build off of and we decided to open this up to all our friends, family and contacts to see if the support would continue; and it has.
I’ve been a firm believer you have to cast the net as wide as possible. With that said, I do believe you will have the greatest successes with fundraising in this method from people who have at least one connection with the project. Whether it’s someone who knows the actor, the director or even feels extremely drawn to the type of story that we’re telling. But the goal is to isolate people, or groups, who have that connection. But cast that net wide.
Why did you choose IndieGoGo over another crowdfunding solution?
Well that’s an easy one. IndieGoGo lets you keep your money even if you don’t raise your goal; Kickstarter does not. So you have the ability to set ambitious goals instead of setting your goals low to make sure you get to keep all of your money.
I don’t like to think small, I like to thing big, and I felt as though IndieGoGo allowed me to do that. That is just my process, nothing against Kickstarter. I’ve had friends who have had great success with Kickstarter I just personally thought IndieGoGo was a better fit for me and for my movie.
Your goal is large, $25,000, and your funding campaign will be long. How do you maintain the proper momentum to achieve your goal?
To be honest, $25,000 to me seems like a really small goal in the context of making a full-length feature. But yes, I understand that it is a large amount of money to raise through crowdfunding.
During this course of crowdfunding campaign we fully expect for there to be individuals who are not going to donate through the site but will contact us directly and want to get involved, which is another benefit of IndieGoGo.
To keep the momentum we will continually be releasing new material, engaging our audience in conversation and changing up the perks in correlation with this article, so please check out the IndieGoGo page after reading. Also we’re constantly trying to connect with our fans on Facebook and to individuals who have shown interest in the movie who are not necessarily logged into social media as much, perhaps with live events and things like that. God I feel like I’m talking about way too much inside baseball right now, hahaha.
Where is the crowdfunded money going? Equipment, location, post-production, etc.?
The people who read your website are very informed about the process of filmmaking, so the short answer is: all of the above. I’m not seeing a dime from this. I’m not making wages off of it; every bit of it is going directly on the screen. I make my living working a side job and I know the value of a dollar.
If you do not hit your financial crowdfunding goal, what then?
I’m going to make this movie no matter what. With that said beg, borrow and steal. So everyone reading this please help me out; I don’t want to go to jail. Please everybody if you can’t afford to help us out, share it on Facebook, post it on Twitter, help us cast the net out as wide as possible.
In a perfect scenario, where are you and your film a year from today?
In a perfect world you and I are sitting at a table, doing an interview at a film festival and I’m telling you about how we just sold our movie. And how the audience can get a copy in their hands, or watch it on their DVR, or where they can go to their local cinema and see it. That is the perfect scenario.
Why should someone give your production money?
I’ve donated on several movies on these crowdfunding campaigns and will continue to do so. I love being able to give filmmakers some money. I do not have a lot of money to give, but when I do contribute, it feels great to know that I am contributing to bringing art into the world. I know that I just gave up a sandwich or a nice meal out and I don’t’ miss it at all. It’s like the greatest feeling in the world, I just put money into dreams… to sound completely pretentious. I love making movies and I love being a part of that process but it’s a chance to take $20 and say, “here, go follow your dreams, this is what I can give”. I mean if somebody needed $20 from me to follow their dream, the answer is yes. Filmmaking is really, really hard and one of the cools things about crowdfunding is the fact that it’s not one or two investors; you have a whole group of people who’ve got your back. The little family you make on set while filming a movie expands into something much bigger. So basically what I’m saying is: I’ve done it and it’s been very fulfilling and I think when other people do it they’ll feel the same.
When you go to bar, or a coffee shop or restaurant, you don’t mull over for a long period of time “do I want to spend $5 on this beer or $5 on that beer” you just get a beer or a sandwich or a coffee: these are not major financial decisions. So if you want to help out some artist with a small amount of money, or a large amount of money depending on how much you make, do it because you love art or you love the people or you love the story but don’t waste a lot of time thinking about it. It’s not that big of a decision, whether it’s my film or someone else’s.
I don’t know if that at all answers the question you just asked me but I hope people will donate because they love movies and they want to see some artists who have proven themselves over the years, bust their asses and make the best damn movies they can. And the proof that it’s possible is evident right now in the fact that we’re doing this interview that this has become a cultural phenomenon where people want to be a part of the solution of bringing new content/art to the world. And I commend Film Threat for always being on the forefront of the independent film movement. Thanks for the doing the interview.
If you’d like to know more about “This is a Love Story,” or we didn’t ask all the questions you’ve got, go ahead and comment below or head over to the “This is a Love Story” IndieGoGo page and comment there. Next week we’ll be back with a new project for you to check out but, until then, we hope you enjoyed this closer look at Ryan Harper Gray’s “This is a Love Story.”
DISCLAIMER: Donating or investing in a film or film-related project is always a risky endeavor, so it is important to keep that in mind before deciding to get financially involved with any film project. Film Threat, FilmThreat.com and our parent company, Hamster Stampede, LLC hold no liability or responsibility regarding any of the projects showcased on our site, their content or performance or the content or performance of any of the sites linked to in this article. Our involvement with the featured project is strictly what you see here: we find a work-in-progress project that sounds interesting to us, we ask all the questions we’d like to know the answers to and then we share that information with you, the audience. This should not be considered as personalized investment advice. What happens after you read this is your decision, and, again, before parting with any money for any film, think it through and BE CAREFUL.