My own awareness of independent American filmmaker SHANE RYAN is relatively new. It was through my own involvement designing the poster art for Albert Pyun's latest film that his name caught my attention. When I began to research his work I realised that I was already familiar with so much of it. His AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER trilogy had already found its way into my collection and other titles like MY NAME IS A BY ANONYMOUS and WARNING PEDOPHILE RELEASED have been under my radar thanks to various publications and message boards. Working entirely independently with budgets that could fill the front pockets of his jeans, Shane's films are confronting and controversial. Some critics have labelled them as vile and reprehensible while others have heralded him as a visionary and a pioneer. He captures the world through his lens in an honest and often shocking way and he makes no apologies for any of it. Since I began delving deeper into his catalogue and started interacting with him he has become a filmmaker I admire immensely. His films express so much emotion and I can't help but feel that we're seeing an ongoing exorcism of his own inner demons and frustrations towards the world around him. His work has started to consume me and influence my own approach to filmmaking and I had to invite him to discuss his career. Lucky for all of us he was more than happy to share.
What's one of your earliest movie memories as a child?
Commando, maybe. I remember having a huge crush on Alyssa Milano and thinking Vernon Wells was unlike any action film bad guy (although that implies I had seen other movie bad guys onscreen but he was the first to stick with me and be remembered); Bennett seemed real and even spoke highly of and respected Arnold's character, which made it much more menacing to me, especially as a child. And now I've been in movies with him! I do have a faint memory though of when I was maybe 3, being in the theatre with my dad and seeing a preview before the movie even started that freaked the shit out of me, so my dad had to take me to the lobby and calm me down. He told the story years later, I believe it was a trailer for a John Carpenter film.
Did you grow up in a film-loving environment?
Yes and no. My dad works in the business so I started learning about film from a very young age. I regularly attended Charlie Chaplin film nights at the grandson's house of Charlie's cinematographer, got to hang out with Lita Grey (Chaplin's ex-wife) as my dad works in film restoration so Chaplin films were of course on his list. My first "pro" film job was even helping restore Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse. I spent 20 years of my life hanging out at my dad's work - Image Entertainment (Major Laser disc Distributor back in the day, now Blu-Ray/DVD/Theatrical), where I even remember my dad working on Albert Pyun films! Image is where I really learned how to edit movies, and where I would hang out with filmmakers, actors, John Wayne's kids (when all these people came in for commentaries), and basically where I just got a major lesson on the history of cinema and could learn through the living family members of legends. I even got to QC the release of a Bruce Lee film as a kid (I believe it was Enter the Dragon).
My mom, however, was very athletic. She was a horse vaulter, martial artist and loved to ski. Did I mention she's blind? Not only does that make her accomplishments as an athlete amazing and inspiring, it also goes to show that my own mother has never and will never get to "watch" a film, including my own.
I think both my parents have taught me a lot in very diverse ways. So, with my mom it was minimal to no TV. She wanted me out and about. I hated sports but I did love being active, so I think the two balanced out. Which is why I think Jean-Claude Van Damme became my biggest influence. He was a film guy, but he was known for amazing athletic accomplishments in film. So, he was the perfect combo for me. Bloodsport is what got me into him at a very young age, which really sparked my love for movies. It also motivated me to be active, and start taking karate, which I think my mom loved since I just couldn't handle team sports like baseball and soccer and such. It also got me wanting to make karate films so my dad got to start teaching me how to edit and make films. Although I can not forget Shô Kosugi. I did have a love of ninjas before I heard of Van Damme, so I was all about Ninja Turtles, Revenge of the Ninja, and Enter the Ninja; those were my favorites until Bloodsport. I guess this was all around the same time I saw Commando, so not really sure which was first big movie memory.
At what age did you decide to pursue filmmaking?
At 7 was when I first started making my own films, I believe. I tried making a feature when I was 10 and again when I was 15. But I always hated the idea of directing. Especially in my late teens, everybody thought I wanted to direct, and I would get pissed at them for saying it. My passion was acting and writing, I simply made my own films so I could tell stories I wanted to tell and play characters I wanted to play. Nobody was directing me in my own scripts so how else was I going to make things happen than by doing it myself? I despised the idea of being a filmmaker. But when I was 20 I started working on a feature film and became obsessed, and before I realized it I was now an adult, and I was professionally pursuing filmmaking.
How did you get into it?
It started because of my dad showing me how to edit. He first showed me what an edit was when I was 5. It was fascinating because he showed my friend and I how to make us disappear with a simple jump cut. So, then when I was 7 that's when I attempted to actually make a film that I could edit.
Who have been some of your biggest influences in filmmaking?
As a kid it was definitely the Van Damme ordeal. He was the big spark, and what made me want to be in movies and write scripts. But the film that got me into wanting to make films I saw when I was 19. It's called The War Zone. Tim Roth the actor directed it, and the film instantly changed my life, what I viewed as art, and the way I believed that film could affect somebody. It simply moved me beyond words I know how to express thinking back in that moment after walking out of the theatre.
Do you feel restricted being an independent filmmaker or liberated?
Both. I get very upset, sometimes daily. I think "I have no money, I can't support myself, I have to do every fucking thing on my own, I'm 34 goddamn years old and still struggling at this when I got friends barely out of high school getting paid for it, I lose relationships, my own sanity, I have to promote myself, personally deal with haters and death threats, let people insult me over and over, work a dozen full time film jobs without pay just to be able to finish my mother fucking movie cause I wear every stupid hat, I hate this fucking shit, I want to quit, this sucks." That's a pretty daily fit I throw. But then I think, "what if I had 50 million dollars to make this? That would be awesome, I'd be able to buy dinner and shit. Probably have a small apartment. Pay off at least some of my debt. I'd also get to work with sets, big time actors I admire, have an editor, a d.p., lighting, producers, publicists, composers, and a hundred other people working with me. But shit, I couldn't just think on the fly like I do and have control, or let go of control; let's shoot over here instead of there, let's tell this story instead of that, let me change this edit here, this actor there, let's run down the street and shoot this in 5 minutes, let me make another cut of this, and script - what script?" - etc.
Get it? My whole way of making movies has come from having no money, just going with the flow and seeing where the ideas take you. Let it have a life of it's own. Let it became a true work of art. Having nothing makes me strive for something, everything, anything; and that's the ultimate form of creativity, is the need and want and desire to express your thoughts, feelings, emotions at all costs; to struggle, lose and sacrifice along the way. To have feelings behind it all, not just money and creatively-mindless business bullshit.
So, is that restriction or liberation? I've never had a budget to tell the difference between being indie or mainstream, so what do I know?
What inspires you?
Life, mainly. I might see something in a movie and think it's cool, or inspiring. But I get inspired by true stories, animals, people, locations, emotions.
Aside from funding what is the biggest challenge to making films so independently?
Finding people who "get" me. If you "get" me then making the film is easy.
After that it's editing. Editing is where I make or break the whole thing, and it's all up to me completely at that point, so it's very stressful, insanely time-consuming, and the biggest love it/hate it part of it all.
You have become quite prolific with the amount of work you have produced in a short period of time. What drives you?
You know I was not letting anything drive me for nearly 2 years. I almost completely lost interest in film just after I shot The Owl in Echo Park. Which sucked because I got some great footage and fun times making that. But I just suddenly lost it. I was alone, lonely, depressed, penniless, still couldn't find acting work after all the contacts I've made (which I still strive for after all these years) and movies just didn't entertain me or awe me anymore (making them or watching them). I started and ended an entire relationship since then, spent a year being sort of a dad to someone else's kid who I grew completely attached to, and I felt better acting as a father-figure than as a filmmaker, then got heart broken over losing her (the girl and her daughter), ended up insanely distraught after that, I think even suicidal. Then Albert asked me if I wanted to star in his movie, and it was very, uh, weird. A guy who's films I grew up watching, even remembered my dad working on them at Image, wants me to star, like "star" in his film when I can't even get one-liners in anything else? Oh, and I have like 3 days to memorize an entire feature script, with dialogue on every page??!?! Since I could never get acting work I didn't think I could even memorize more than a page. But something hit me that day, it just said, "do it mother fucker, you got this. You ain't got shit else, so what will you lose by giving it a shot?" And if you succeed, you know you're an actor. I thought I was going to completely fuck up, and then I didn't. I really think that experience changed me. A lot. That was only like 12 weeks ago, and yes since then I started making several more features, got more acting work, made several more shorts, have been working on scripts, got more distribution deals, I mean, what the fuck? Really.
So, again, I should thank Albert for taking that chance on me. I think him randomly doing that, and believing in me, somebody I grew up on, saying "you did good, you got this," it got me my drive back. I really haven't felt this way, this motivated, in over a decade. Granted I'm still penniless, struggling, feeling lots of envy, not all the shoots are going good, in fact many have gone horribly wrong, two features the damn actresses actually quit on me and fucked the film from finishing! But it doesn't stop me anymore; every hang up I brush off, say "fuck you and oh well I'm on to this now." And, well, I guess you can call that "drive."
Your work is confronting. How have your films been received by people?
All over the map. I've had about every reaction I think one could have. Which I try to look at as a good thing regardless of how negative or positive it is. You want people to talk, be sad, angry, motivated, understanding; anything but silence.
Is there any one film of yours that is most personal to you?
My Name is 'A' by anonymous.
Your Amateur Porn Killer trilogy is perhaps your most renowned work. Was it always intended as a trilogy?
Hell no. It wasn't intended as anything. I made it as a fluke during another down time in my life. I was going to shelve it and then decided to see what a few people thought. One critic really, really despised it and two loved it in ways I wouldn't have thought people would react. I suddenly felt like I had something, maybe my "War Zone" (though it's nothing like it and I wouldn't compare it to the brilliance of that film) in the way that it evoked tremendous emotion while being a film about rape, and, more importantly to me, manipulated rape. But a sequel never ever crossed my mind at any point in my life, for any film, let alone doing a trilogy. And now we're setting up a 4th spin-off, basically franchising it. Who woulda thought? Definitely not me.
Why do you think it has resonated so much with people?
Many different reasons for many different people. Some for all the wrong reasons. But a "bad" person, or a "perverted" person, is going to be inspired by something, anything, everything, at some point. For the people who seemed to really "get" the films for what I hope are the right reasons; I guess the first one just struck a nerve. It let you know that this is real. Real rape is not as fun, or as horribly dramatic, to watch as movies make it out to be. It can be a real, slow, drawn out, seedy, sick, manipulation of the mind. And you should feel guilty for having wanted to see it. You should think about it long after it's over. Question it. Question yourself. Question the world. And I think the film hit quite a bit of people that way. The ones who praised it, at least. Even ones who despised it still seemed to have "gotten" it, and yet some who loved it seemd to have completely missed the point. Then again did I really have a point? I made this in 3 hours with no money or time to think and no script or any real idea of where I was going with it. So, again, who the fuck knows. Although maybe this sick stuff is just in my blood, so it comes out naturally. And it resonates because I don't force it, I don't force these ideas, they're real, they're there...I just let them out.
A recent release of Amateur Porn Star Killer was converted to 3D. What's with that? Do you recommend it?
Not at all. That was a decision made up and done by the distributor. It's being released again as a box set trilogy in 2D, the way that it should be.
Some of your films feature children working with very controversial material and themes. How has it been working with kids and how have their parent's been behind the scenes?
My best experience was working on "A" because of the kids, and "Owl" because of Kevin Gage. People over 50 bring character, people under 20 bring wonder. That's what I've realized with this question. Kevin barely has to do anything, I just enjoy watching him; he's got his experience, his life, and his struggles written all over his face. Kids have everything ahead of them; their exploration with the world, their hopes, their fears, their confusion about how and why and what to understand.
As far as dealing with the subject matter; you know, behind scenes, it's all just fun and games. "A" seems very intense on screen, but everybody's laughing between takes, the parents were all there watching the whole time, the kids were even being coached between takes since I was lucky enough to get a kid's acting coach for the film since she happened to be one of the moms. And dealing with the kids is so easy for me, they're so easy to get along with; no diva bullshit, telling me I shouldn't shoot this way, they don't even complain that they're tired or hungry. They say never work with kids or animals but I say never work with adult actors, that's my biggest hassle. Again, maybe it's the way I shoot. Improvising for kids is probably just a joy, because they have that full imagination still. Adults, especially adult actors, want lines, want order, want professionalism; but I just wing everything. The way I shoot there's no sitting around for hours on end, you're always getting to act and goof around and since there's no script you can bring a lot of your own ideas, which kids can have a lot of. So, I love working with kids. I find it pretty easy, even with the subject matter. You just have to find the right parents along with the right kids. Again, people who "get" you.
Your films feel incredibly personal. Do you find the emotional connection to them exhausting?
Yes. Mainly the editing phase. While "A" was a blast to shoot that part only took 4 days. I spent a year editing it. It drove me very insane. I used to be a self-harmer and I don't know if it was from watching images of it over and over in the film, or because I was going through another breakup, but randomly one night when I was editing I had a relapse - hadn't had one in years - and I flipped out and went crazy and sliced open about 2-3 dozen cuts in my arm. I became so suddenly frantically depressed and randomly practically delusional that I didn't realize how bad I cut myself and I started bleeding all over the place. I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital but first decided to film it, then I edited it into the film during the cutting scenes. So, you want to talk about emotionally exhausting, or sacrificing yourself to your art, to your fucking film, this one was it. It literally, nearly, killed me.
To someone who has never seen one of your films where would you recommend they begin?
My Name is 'A' by anonymous. I don't really suggest my other films at this point. I gave everything to that movie, so it's all I really got to fully offer until I do it again.
Recently you starred in Albert Pyun's upcoming one-take film The Interrogation of Cheryl Cooper. Can you tell us about this experience?
As I mentioned I didn't think I'd be able to memorize the whole script in just 3 days for a 70 minute single, no edit shot, but I did. But then there was that fear of your co-star messing up. I remember the first take Tommie Vegas missed a couple lines so I just kept going and then it ended up working perfectly. Then we tried it again and I started missing lines but she kept going and it again worked out very well. And that's what having a great co-star is for; no ego, like somebody bitching saying "stop, so and so doesn't know their fucking lines." We, as actors, connected, and figured out how to guide the other one threw it, so it was great experiencing that as actor-to-actor. She was great and I thought we were perfectly cast together (so a major thanks should go to Chad Clinton Freeman from Pollygrind since he was the dude who foresaw and recommended we be paired up for it).
Since Albert couldn't talk to us during the whole film because it was just one take we really had to just find our characters and our direction from him before we did it, so that was interesting. He gave me suggestions and ideas but then just kind of let me role with it, and I really just decided to let myself be my character during the take. Not act it, be it, and it was quite exhilarating and the only way I think I could have pulled it off. So, it was truly an amazing experience and like I said, it got me my drive back. I only wish the experience could have been longer. I wish I could have had more time with Albert, hearing his opinions, suggestions, directions, trying new things, really getting to work with him more.
The film came together so quickly and was shot within a matter of weeks of conception (so it seems). Did such a speedy production scare the shit out of you?
Oh yeah, I almost passed on it, but that's when I said to myself, "you just gotta dive in man, if you pull this off, you can pull off anything," cause one reason I think I've always feared acting was because I didn't know how to memorize lines. So, I scared myself shitless into figuring it out by taking this film on with practically no prep or rehearsal time, or time to even memorize. And scaring the shit out of myself worked.
How would you rate your own performance in it?
Oh, come on now! I just wanted another take. I wanted to make it better. But Albert seemed to be really siked about it and said we didn't need it, so.
Who are some of your favourite filmmakers?
I don't know if I have "favourites" I just like filmmakers who stick to their own vision. Albert seems to always fight battles to stick to his own and never gives in. "You don't like my ideas? Fuck you I'm gone." You gotta admire that. And when he's not working with studios he seems to be able to do it his way. I admire people who have that attitude like Vincent Gallo and Jim Jarmusch. John Cassavetes would just improvise with friends and hand the camera to anyone, that's incredibly inspiring. Gus Van Sant likes to let things happen naturally like in Elephant and Last Days, really allowing the actors and film to create their own life and just by starting with a basic idea, and that I find amazing. Tony Scott was always pushing the envelope in action even on huge budgets and getting away with it and constantly got studio backing. I mean, look at Domino, wow, talk about pushing the envelope. His work, his visual style, was like a painting at times. Filmmakers like them are my favourites because they are actual artists creating something, doing their own thing, fighting their own battle, with or without budgets and studios, always pushing the envelope for their own personal needs. Now that's art. And to me, that's cinema, and that's a filmmaker.
If you were to have dinner with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Adam. I want to know why the fuck he let Eve talk him into stupid shit like eating something specifically forbidden by God of all beings. He set a bad example that still plays out to this day; women talk men into doing stupid shit that they know they shouldn't be doing. Thanks Adam.
What are some of your personal favourite films?
Taxi Driver and Rocky are my two favorites. As well as Jackie Brown, Chinatown, Out for Justice, The French Connection, Michael Clayton, The American, Bully (2001), Heat, Man on Fire (2004), Collateral, Rocky Balboa, Swingers, The Postman Always Rings Twice (either version), Hollywoodland, Training Day, Made, True Romance, Zodiac (2007), Lilya 4-Ever, Vanilla Sky, The Kid (1921) and Badlands. I'm sure there's plenty others.
What is a guilty pleasure movie that you are not ashamed to admit to loving?
The Recruit. I don't know why, I watch it more than anything. Al Pacino is just fun in it. And the idea of randomly becoming a bartender-turned super undercover CIA agent who hooks up with Bridget Moynahan is just too good to be true that it's simply a really fun film to live vicariously through on a regular basis.
The other is State of Play. I actually love what it has to say about journalism, the difference between a "blogger" and a real writer; almost like the difference between a hack and an artist. Somebody who wants instant fame, like Rachel McAdams' character, versus somebody who will take their time, say fuck the fame, and live dangerously to get the truth for their story, like Russell Crowe's character. And then it's all tied in with murder and conspiracy, just makes for a fun Hollywood film which actually has a message I love.
FakeShemp.Net is based in Melbourne, Australia and I ask most of my guests if they have any favourite Aussie films. Do you?
The Rover is easily the best film I've seen this decade. And that director's previous film Animal Kingdom was also one of the best films I've seen in quite a while. I know I tend to see quite a bit great Aussie films, I just don't usually remember the names of everything cause I watch all kinds of films from all countries.
So what's next? Do you have anything in the pipeline that we should keep an eye open for?
Oh too many things, actually. Albert's Cheryl Cooper film, still editing The Owl in Echo Park, acting in Samurai Cop 2!, would love to be in Albert's new Kickboxer film, acting in random things here and there, got a small part in Sean Cain's Jurassic City along with Vernon Wells, Kevin Gage, Robert LaSardo and Ray Wise, finishing up the script for The Birmingham Cycle (a woman revenge film I'm hoping Van Damme's daughter Bianca Bree can star in, along with say, Zoë Bell!), working on a spinoff to Amateur Porn Star Killer (called Ted Bundy had a Son), on the side I'm making this film about school shootings and bullies and victims, finally getting a release (I think) for The Girl Who Wasn't Missing (and My Name is 'A' by anonymous, of course), have several anthology films coming out (Dysmorphia, World of Death, Theatre of the Deranged 2, Paranoia Tapes), I think American Girls is also finally coming out (a film I co-produced), and whatever else I can get my hands on!
Shane, thank you for taking the time. Your work inspires me and I look forward to what else lies ahead.
Thank you very much, Sir.