Episode 133 — Director Ryan Connolly — Film Riot


Click here to listen on iTunes!

Get on the VIP insiders list!

Check out www.VFXRates.com.

Upload The Productive Artist e-book.


Episode 133 — Director Ryan Connolly — Film Riot

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 133! I’m speaking with Film Riot’s Ryan Connolly. I’m really excited for this one! Ryan runs a filmmaking channel Film Riot on YouTube and he’s made several amazing short films such as SENTiNEL,Tell, Losses, PROXiMITY.

It’s been great to get his insight on the filmmaking process, how he got started and how to raise the bar on your skill sets. Please share this Episode around. I’m sure Ryan’s insight will be valuable for many people!

Let’s dive in!



Ryan Connolly is a filmmaker. He is also a founder and host at Film Riot, an online resource and community for filmmakers. Ryan is also the owner of production company Triune Films where he produces weekly online content and films like Tell, Losses, PROXiMITY, and several others.

Ryan began studying storytelling on his own before pursuing his formal training at Full Sail University in Florida. After graduating, he started working at a PC game company Alienware. He eventually left that job to start Film Riot. By now, Film Riot has over half a million followers and it continues to build its audience and community.

In this Podcast, Ryan talks about clocking in your 10,000 artist hours, using failures as opportunities to learn — and gives advice and resources to aspiring filmmakers and storytellers.


Ryan Connolly on IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3426076/

Ryan Connolly on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ryanconnolly

Ryan Connolly on Twitter: @ryan_connolly

Film Riot Website: http://filmriot.com

Film Riot Channel on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/filmriot

Film Riot on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/filmriot/

Film Riot on Twitter: @filmriot


[-[1:17:32] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to chat! Ryan, do you want to quickly introduce yourself? 

Ryan: Yeah. I’m Ryan Connolly. I’m a filmmaker out of Dallas. I’m also the host and creator of Film Riot. I’m a bit of both: I’m a filmmaker and I’m an educator. Although I never really thought of myself as an educator, but I’ve been called that enough time. It’s not like I was intentionally trying to educate with Film Riot. I was just trying to put this information I’ve learned and hoped it would inspire or give a leg-up for people. But I mostly see myself as a writer and director.

[-[1:16:54] Allan: That’s a good point! I kind of was allergic to that word. But after a while, I realized: you can be a lot of things. For you, was it just a chance to nerd out about all this things and share them with people? What was the purpose of posting things out there, if it wasn’t for the purpose of educating people?

Ryan: It was definitely multi-faceted. At the time, there was no such information out there. Now, it’s absolutely everywhere. We have Martin Scorsese and Ron Howard coming out with online classes! I mean it’s all over the place and it’s impressive! Back then, all  you could find was some prop making, After Effects tutorials or camera reviews. There wasn’t anything about the process of filmmaking. I came from a background where I had no mentors. I was in South Florida and I had no connections whatsoever, and I had to learn everything on my own.

I went to film school at the time when you had to, in order to get the information. After school, I was working for Alienware, running their video studio, the game division of Dell. They hired me because I was a jack of all trades. It was cool to go in there and practice my craft. It was a lot of fun and educational. A friend of mine was really discouraged and asking if he should go to film school. He didn’t think he could afford it. That gave me the idea for Film Riot. I thought what if I catalogued everything I was learning. More in a way of “You want to be a filmmaker, so do I, let’s figure it out!” That was my motto with the show: “Here is what I’m doing and hopefully it inspires people to get out there and do it too.” We’ve gone about things more unconventionally. I hoped it would inspire people to pick up their camera.

On the other hand, there was the thought of “I want to be a filmmaker”. But I didn’t have any network, why would anybody pay attention to me? So I hoped to build a community and I would at the very least have an audience to make films for. Of course, there is no quitting until I make my first feature! I’ll always be fighting for it, even if I put the feature online for free. It’s not about the money — it’s about doing the thing. So if I build a community, we would be helping and they would be helping us by being our audience. People say it’s about the right place and time. We feel really fortunate to be that lucky to have it work out!

[-[1:12:04] Allan: Do you think in this day and age, crowd funding is a huge opportunity? In the old days, funding a project would require a lot of ass kissing and time commitment. Do you think with all the power of the community on the internet, there is an opportunity to skip or enter through the side door, even if it’s just about showing a proof of concept and proving that there is an audience out there? In the last couple of years, there’ve been more opportunities or new angles; and more importantly, new audiences.

Ryan: I think we’re at a time now where it’s like, “What are you trying to do?” You can make a feature for $0 as long as there are people who are willing to do it. You can shoot on weekends, over a period of time. I know people who have done that. Or is this a million dollar idea? I think that there is such a large avenue, it’s endless!

– What is that you’re trying to do?

– How do you see this needing to be accomplished?

– And what route do you take?

I’m definitely on my own path, the way I’ve been crafting how I would get there. Everybody I know is going at it in a different way. There is no one way of doing it anymore. There is obviously the Hollywood system, but it also has its different paths as well. But it’s definitely an exciting time where you have crowd funding or the ability to build a following. Or if you put out something that is unique and it looks great — there is an excellent possibility of it getting picked up. And even self distributing is a totally viable possibility at this point, or getting in front of places like Netflix.

The one thing I see the most is that people aren’t willing to put in the time and play the long game. For years now people have been asking [me], “Why aren’t you making a feature?” Why do we keep making short films? And it’s because I try to be as objective and honest enough with myself as possible on when I’ll be ready to make a feature, and when I’ve put in enough time and gained enough skill — so that it’s worth a damn. Where somebody can sit down and commit two hours [to watch my film] — and I can deliver on my promise.

[-[1:08:09] Allan: Ninety minutes is such a big commitment these days!

Ryan: Big commitment! And that really means something to me. A lot of us only have one shot at it, especially if you’re in the public eye already. I’ve always been very conscious of that. I need to build my network of people, build my team that I can rely on, and then be in the place what I’m envisioning — then I can actually put [something] up on the screen. And recently, I finally got there. But it took a long time, because I did it all on my own.

And a lot of people either don’t think that way, or they don’t put in the time. Put in those five years of making short films. Those short films are just demo reels of what you can do. Stuff like that is what ends up getting you phone calls from agents and managers, and getting you meetings, getting offered directing positions. We just did SENTiNEL which is just a sequence of shots (https://vimeo.com/248374832). We did it for 200 bucks and it really helped us bring together a team with which we can do the next one. Those are the types of shorts that I’ve had the most offers [after]. It’s explaining that you can give the complete experience. Now we’re doing a 17-minute short — which is the longest short we’ve ever done.

[-[1:05:18] Allan: I don’t know how you can do a short for $200. I can’t got to lunch with that much money!

Ryan: Yeah, man! It’s about putting in the time to create that network. It’s been 10 years in the making, for me. And we’re all passionate and we’re all going on this journey together. My composer will often compose for extremely cheap — or for free for me — because he knows I’m loyal to him and the second I get a feature, he is my composer! He’s along for the ride! Same thing with my team. The sound designer, the DP’s I’ve worked with. You are hopefully building this team, this family that will continue on together. We all have the same vision. But it took 10 years to build that team. Which a lot of people don’t want to do because it takes time or they’re impatient. Which is totally understandable!

[-[1:03:51] Allan: I think most people don’t understand it. I’ve never made a short, but I’ve collaborated with others. But it’s a massive commitment, mentally, physically, emotionally. So I think most people don’t go through the process. I was thinking about my friends Jonathan and Josh Baker who are directing their first feature Kin. They’re Australian as well, we grew up together. When they moved to New York to direct, they had a lot of feature films thrown at them — but they didn’t feel they were ready. You need to go through that trial by fire. All those things lead to future success.

Ryan: I totally agree! I always say failure is the bridge to success. If I don’t fail a little bit, what do I learn? I don’t believe in failure as a concept people have. You only fail if you didn’t learn anything. If something fails big and you just learned from it — that’s a pretty big success. Because they amount you’ve learned from that would have probably taken five projects. So whenever something fails big and it gets a negative response — it’s hard to gage it on YouTube. Even if everyone loved it, there is one person, like, “This sucks!”

[-[1:01:22] Allan: I love those metrics. It’s like 1,000 to 1. All it takes that one comment. “Fuck everything!” So you actually read the comments? I hear that [with] Reddit and YouTube, there are no holds barred.

Ryan: I try! It’s depends on the project. When it’s stuff that I care about, I read it to an extent. With writing and directing, you’re really putting your heart out there. Negative feedback doesn’t bother me: “I personally don’t like that, or your filmmaking.” I really like reading that stuff because it’s like failure: I’ve failed to capture his imagination and I want to know about that. I also understand I’m not going to please everybody. That’s just how it is. But still, I really like to read those opinions. That’s how I really learn. I’m my own worst critic; and next time, I’m going to try even harder.

It’s the comments that are extremely dismissive or just cruel. Those are the ones [where I wonder] why am I reading this? You’ve just spent all this time — and you have somebody dismissing it. And it’s the wording like “it’s lazy writing”. When they start throwing words around that actually dismiss the work — that’s what frustrates me. That’s when I stop reading. Those people ruin it for the rest of the comment section.

[-[58:08] Allan: Yeah, of course! I’m exactly the same way, I’m always looking for: How could have I done this better.? A lot of people around me see it as “Allan, stop being so negative!” It’s not that. It’s about looking at everything as a learning experience. Forget all the emotional stuff associated with it — can I get something out of it? [If someone says,] “It all sucks!” Yeah, but tell me why so I can get some valuable information out of it. 

Ryan: And [it depends] on the tone of what they’re saying. Sometimes, you can totally tell if it’s a troll who just wants me to get mad and fight them. Sometimes, there is a disconnect that the human being who’s made this thing is going to read these comments — and you would never say that to their face. To those, sometimes I’ll respond. There’s been an attitude adjustment in our community. I feel like we’re in a kinder community. A lot of people followed that lead and there is no reason to be an a-hole about it. Sometimes, a nice conversation can come out of it. Even uneducated opinions are valid opinions. If it didn’t work for you, I want to know why.

[-[55:45] Allan: It is an interesting subject! With the internet, there is a lack of that accountability. It’s more about having your opinions into the abyss. If it were the case where someone would think if it would hurt someone, they’d think twice.

Ryan: Totally! And often, I would think: Who sent this to them and how did they find it?

[-[54:26] Allan: It is pretty rare when I get some trolly thing. And I do think when you’re putting your heart and soul into something, it’s a good thing that you’re getting opinions, positive or negative. I get intrigued: What’s going on with them to say that?

Ryan: I get a lot of those where people attack your appearance. What does it have to do with it at all? I’ve been doing this for years, so I have a pretty thick skin. It really doesn’t bother me anymore. I usually just laugh it off. When it’s venomous enough, they aren’t mad at me. This is their way to hit a punching bag. I have responded to some intense comments.

[-[52:01] Allan: And that’s the worst thing you can do because it’s so mature and responsible! You’re taking their power away.

Ryan: One way they try to come back and say, “No, shut up!” Or they don’t respond. Or they [do apologize]. That’s been the approach I’ve always tried to take. You don’t know what they’re going through. Hopefully, our comments are helpful.

[-[51:13] Allan: I look back at the one time I tried to respond to something on a forum after several attacks from the same person. I look back and I regret it. In real life, the guy has been an a-hole to everyone else. But all the attention went to the fact that I responded. Lesson learned: Just walk away! It’s only when you bring attention to something, that it matter.

Ryan: Because you validated it. I’m usually pretty quiet or I am strategic in how I respond. I want other people to see how we handle comments like that and so that other’s follow our lead and it makes for a nicer community.

[-[49:18] Allan: Let’s talk about you and how you started. Out of curiosity, did you always want to be a filmmaker? Did you have the support of people around you? What was your experience like in being a creative, where it takes so much work and rejection before you finally start getting some traction?

Ryan: I don’t ever remember not wanting to tell stories. It may not have been in the shape of filmmaking — because I was, like, 5! But I had this trunk of props I got for Christmas and I would put on shows for my family and get reactions from them. I was around 8, I believe, when my dad brought home a video camera. Whenever I would put on shows, they wouldn’t always see what I was seeing. So when we got the camera, I looked through the view finder, I realized that by recording it this way, they’d have to see it the way I was seeing it. And that was sort of a big shift for me. I started doing everything with the camera. To my parents’ credit, they let me run around with it. My parents have always been supportive. My dad’s message was always, “If you’re passionate enough about the thing you want to do, you can accomplish anything! You just have to put the work in.” He instilled really great work ethic in me.

I started it so young that the thought process of how hard it is or how hard it is to make it [didn’t even register]. I was young enough to be dumb enough. I loved it so much, I was never not doing it. There was never a Plan B! That’s the only thing I every pursued. I was in a youth group for a while and I was able to show things to an audience of kids. They gave me free reign to do anything. It was really great and educational!

I went to film school after that. I went to Full Sail because I wanted something that was as short as possible but technical in information. I didn’t want to go to a school that was going to teach me about character or story through their lens. I wanted to craft it through my voice. I think Full Sail is a school where you’re going get out of it only what you put into it. A lot of my classmates hated it and left the labs early. They’d stay for the mandatory amount of time. More often than not, it would be me and the instructor left — which was great for me! I was taking advantage of working on the same cameras that Peter Jackson was shooting King Kong on!

[-[44:14] Allan: Which was a RED 1? I recently found this video where he was endorsing it.

Ryan: No, that was film! I could be wrong. Now, I’m going to look that up!

[-[43:45] Allan: I wanted to ask you about Full Sail. Do you think that going to film school is important? I feel like if you want to be a designer, you have to go to a design school. If you want to do an open heart surgery, you probably shouldn’t learn that on YouTube. But there are some categories, where there are advantages to learning certain creative roles. You could do it on your own. But if you need structure or a network of people, [school could be a great thing]. 

Ryan: Yeah, for sure! There were people in my class who never picked up the camera — they just liked movies. I made enough shorts by then to know who much work it takes and how long it takes. Most of my friends didn’t like the production side of it. You have people who put their all into it. When it comes to the film industry, it’s so insane! It’s so hard to get into that if you don’t put every ounce of you into it — you’re never going to make it. Filmmaking asks for all of you, and if you don’t give it that, it’s not going to happen. Of course, I’m talking about creative lead roles. I definitely think that nowadays for directing, cinematography and writing — you don’t need to go to film school at all. A lot of people I really admire didn’t go to film school. Especially nowadays, there is so much information online! You don’t need to go sit under a professor who’s going to tell you how to do it. You need to go put in the time.

After I left Full Sail, my thinking was: I’m not going to learn how to be a filmmaker at Full Sail — I’m just going to learn where the buttons are. And then afterwards, I’m really going to start my training. Once you get out there and you start getting on sets and building your experience — that’s where the real education is: When you’re making things over and over again and failing over and over again. The more I made, the more I learned. I really don’t think you need [film school] at all. I definitely think it has benefits, for sure. It allows to focus on that one thing for a period of time. You’re also with like-minded people. As far as if it’s going to make you a good filmmaker or not? I think not! It’s going to be about how much work you put into telling your stories, regardless of where you went to film school.

[-[39:05] Allan: I like that! When do you think you got the first big wins? When did you feel like things were going to be alright and it was a sustainable career for you?

Ryan: As far as “things are going to be alright”…

[-[38:32] Allan: No, I know, I have to reword that! We’re in a creative field. Twenty years from now, we’re going to be like, “Am I going to be alright?

Ryan: Exactly! For me, being able to go to a film school — that was awesome. That was a big win for me. And then, getting a job at Alien [which] took me out of doing two or three jobs at once. I was able to just to do Alien. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do but it was in the field and I could play with visuals, figure out how to visually convey things. Like I said, I had a lot of creative freedom there. All my sketches helped me figure out pacing with comedy.

And then, Film Riot get recognized for Revision3 — which was originally called Making the Film. I don’t remember how many Episodes I did. Each one of them had a specific use on YouTube. Revision3 got some wind and guy named Ryan Vance took a chance on me. That’s what really lead me to everything I’m doing now. So that’s what I really narrow it down to: Film Riot was the biggest win and the luckiest thing of my life. It’s allowed to do what I’m doing and in a way that I want to do it. Like with this short film we’re working on right now, No one is telling me, “No”. And that’s great! I make sure to take feedback though. But I think it comes down to Film Riot actually working out.

[-[36:21] Allan: That’s everyone’s dream, that’s amazing! Jumping around a bit more to the technical side of things: What do you typically like to shoot on? What are your lenses? What are the typical things you rely on?

Ryan: I don’t really have them. Whatever we have, let’s just use that. What do we have? I jump around cameras like crazy. Like the one that we just shot on — which Canon C200, it’s a sub-ten-thousand dollar camera — but it totally looks like we shot it on Alexa.

[-[35:37] Allan: Were you shooting at nighttime? What was the reason?

Ryan: Daytime. A big part of it was that I tested it out and I really liked the camera. I knew we could get a bunch of them and it was action. And we partnered with Canon! But on top of that, I really wanted to shoot on C200 because I was thinking, “Here is what I’m doing — here is what I want to do.” And they were like, “We’re in!”

My thinking is: This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done; biggest crew in LA. I could shoot it all on Alexa. Or, I could put my money where my mouth is — and show people that [the price of the camera] doesn’t matter. This isn’t Alexa, this isn’t RED. This is a camera that’s within reason for a low-budget filmmaker to get. My DP Chase Smith did an incredible job. It wasn’t about the camera in his hands. It was about the experience and his talent and the way that it looked. I’ve always been a fan of the look that you get out of Canons, I really like that color!

But Alexa is definitely one of my favorite cameras, the Alexa Mini is the one I shot on recently. And anamorphic lenses. They have a really nice look to them. And it’s not like they’re 15 grand, they’re just 4 or 5 thousand — which is still a lot.

[-[33:34] Allan: I will say that out of everything you can venture into, I think cars are cheaper than cameras. When you start getting into glass!

Ryan: And especially lenses! We had one zoom lens that we rented that was a 40-thousand lens. It’s crazy how expensive these things can get. But I shot one of short films on the Rokinon lenses, at $200 a piece.

[-[32:52] Allan: They’re my starter lenses but they’re still good. Again, you can break it all down. I think it’s like 5K for 5 lenses. It’s affordable.

Ryan: Yeah, and I still use them all the time. That’s what I use for Film Riot, for the most part. If I’m shooting something bigger, I’m not shooting on those. The way I see stories is within that realm. The spherical lenses can feel tv-ish often. Not when other people use them! I’m just a big fan of the anamorphic look Lenses I would put more on than the camera I’m shooting on, for sure! There is a lot to say if you have an Alexa and anamorphic lenses, you’re going to have something nice looking…

[-[31:25] Allan: And a second mortgage on your house!

Ryan: Exactly! But I also want to say: These are tools and they do the same job. You shoot on an Alexa — is like using a power tool. You have to know A. what you’re doing and B. what the limitations of your tools are. If the project is great — and you’re able to engage your audience — they’re not going to care what camera you shot it on! As long as it doesn’t look and sound like garbage and you have talent, you can do it on an iPhone.

[-[30:35] Allan: There is only certain people who are going to appreciate [what camera you used]. It’s like wine: You can appreciate [expensive wine] if you have a palette for it. Otherwise, it’s money down the drain. If you have an iPhone 7, you’re good to go.

Ryan: It’s about what really matters. We talk about this on the show: The better gear you get, the easier it’s going to accomplish what you want to do. We try to point out on our show that having an Alexa isn’t going to give you a better story. If you have an iPhone and you’re starting out — start with that! Nine times out of ten when something is sent to me, my note is about pacing. The pacing needs work. Forget about spending ten thousand dollars on a camera. Take whatever you have and figure out how to engage an audience. A lot more attention needs to be put on that, if you’re trying to be a filmmaker.

[-[28:35] Allan: In terms of gear, do you prefer to buy it?

Ryan: Definitely! I have bought a C300. I have a C100. I have my standard cameras that we shoot our episodes. We have our in-house cameras. If we need an Alexa or a RED, we rent them because we don’t use them enough for our projects. Everything we put out is online. And C300 can look an Alexa if you know how to use it correctly. I love the C300! What I love about some of the RED cameras, if you’re shooting 6K or 8K, you can over-frame a bit and still deliver in 4K without losing any resolution. If I had a choice between our cameras and an Alexa, obvious I’d choose an Alexa. It’s a sports car vs a scooter. You can go places with both of them, but a sports car is going to be nicer.

[-[27:02] Allan: You’re absolutely right. I started investing. I got the Epic-W. I have my RED Dragon, but the Helium sensor has made it way less noisy. If it’s about better light, it’s better to invest in a Sony. 

Ryan: We don’t do client work. We do all of our projects in house so we don’t need that level of gear. I have friends who have production companies and are doing high end commercials all the time…

[-[26:12] Allan: I’m just blowing shit up! But you’re right. It blows my mind when you have some guy running around with a DJI Ronin attached to a RED Raven for something like a wedding video! You’re either broke right now, or you have a fetish for cameras. It’s about going back to the essence. While we’re on the subject, what do you think are the most critical aspects of filmmaking (outside of story)?

Ryan: That’s the thing: You really have to be firing on all cylinders to make something great. I say it all the time: I think sound is the most important thing. Music, sound design, all of it! It’s really what can distract your audience the most. I always use the movie Once as an example. It’s a film that looks okay but the sound is great. Within minutes, you’re forgetting that it was shot on a handy cam and you’re into a great story with beautiful music. I think eyes can start to deceive us — but our ears never do.

So I put a massive emphasis on sound. I even write that into my scripts. I often know what things are going to sound like before we even shoot them. This thing we just did will have a few visual effects. I know what they’re going to sound like. And of course, I collaborate with my sound designer Rob Krekel. I’ll tell him what I’m thinking and to surprise me. There can’t really be a weak link. But if I had to pick one thing to nail for sure — I would definitely choose sound.

[-[23:33] Allan: I think this is a no-brainer but for someone who wants to be a filmmaker or someone who wants to get into storytelling, what advice would you give them?

Ryan: I feel like this might sound harsh. If you need a motivational speech to do this — you’re probably not going to be successful. You know what I mean?

[-[22:49] Allan: Totally not what I expected you to say!

Ryan: I give [advice] all the time on my show. But from my experience, no one was telling me, “Come on, you can do this!” I always thought, “I have to do this!” Not making making movies to me feels like being away from my wife for two weeks. It’s that level of, “God, I have to keep doing this!” I always have to be writing or doing something. I know that you need to drink and sleep this thing. It’s so hard to not only to get into this [industry] — but to be good at it. The amount of time you have to put in! If you [need] people to tell you, “Come on, man! Get off your butt and go do this!” — you really need to think if you really want to do this.

Another possibility for sure is that people are in their own heads and they don’t have the confidence. They’re too critical of themselves. If you never get past that, you’re never going to do it. What could you possibly have to lose from getting up and shooting something? A lot of people ask me what they’re supposed to do if none of their friends want to do short films or be in them. Sure, you could go on grab some clips online. There is this thing called rip reel, I’m sure you know about that.

[-[20:56] Allan: No, I don’t actually.

Ryan: Well, say you wanted to pitch a film. I would find clips from films that are like it and I would make a fake trailer using these clips, depending on what kind of story I wanted to do.

[-[20:39] Allan: It’s like a mash-up?

Ryan: Exactly! Say I see the dad as being played by Tom Cruz. I would go and pull all these clips, and I make it feel like what I want the story to feel like. And that way I start thinking about story and pacing, and the tone of the thing. Or, if you have an iPhone, just go out and start shooting things documentary style; record a voiceover and figure out a ways to tell your story. Or, no words at all. Through a succession of the images, you can tell story and pluck on these emotion strings and show this toolbox of ideas that you later will be able to pull from.

At Film Riot, we do these sketches. But with every one I’ve ever done, I’ve always tried to do something. And then you come to this recent production — this fully crewed up set, we had 77 people — and I’m having to make decisions on the fly and ship things. And there is no time on a set like that — especially when you’re shooting action on a low budget — there is no time to say, “Hold on a minute, let me read the script and decide what to do.” You just have to do and make decisions on the good. [But by having put in the time], you’re sharpened all the tools. That way when you’re in that moment, you have ideas because you’ve built this catalogue of solutions that you found over the years of doing this.

That should be people’s thinking. You might go out there and make something terrible but you’ll learn from it. I’ve had years and years and years of making terrible work, especially in writing. But it’s because I’ve written some terrible things that I started writing things that people seemed to dig as well. It’s just a matter of doing it. And it’s about giving yourself deadlines. Say, “On Friday, I’m going to have something for you to read. Hold me to that! And if I don’t have it by Friday, I owe you 20 bucks.” And then you have to do it! And that’s what’s great about Film Riot: It’s forced deadlines — I had to!

[-[17:15] Allan: I love it! Give me some deadlines and that way they have a call to action.

Ryan: Yeah! What I’m talking about is if I have to convince you to do it, you probably don’t want to do it. That’s the stuff you’re thinking and talking about it, it’s just about finding the time and the drive to do it. Life gets in the way so hard! When you have a full-time job, you just have to find time. Even if it means you sleep 4 hours tonight, okay. If you want it bad enough!

[-[15:56] Allan: This buddy of mine who was in my Mentorship was also working on Independence Day 2, driving from Pasadena every day. He’d get mad at people who complained about not having time. He had to drive every night, in LA traffic, from doing this insane movie — and he still had time to do my Mentorship. So shut the hell up! I do think that it’s true. You know if it’s something you really want to do because you’ll be immersed in it. You live and breathe it. You’re also right that there are people who are afraid if their fail or if they succeed. I think that for a lot of people, there is always a moment when they have to get out of their comfort zone. I have friends who’ve had major, major success. They all say there is that point where you have to take a huge risk. And that’s when their careers changed. And then there are people who don’t want to do it and they start convincing themselves.

Ryan: That’s why if someone hears this, they’ll say, “Screw you, man!” — and they get fired up. Even if you just write one page of a script a day. Just get in the habit of flexing that muscle. And I definitely know what you’re talking about with that moment. I quit Alien to go do Film Riot full-time but I wasn’t making any money. I was definitely at this point where it was coming to a standstill. It was either quit Alien, or it was going to start going backwards. So I did that with the intention that I was going to live out of my car and let my trunk be my dresser. Thankfully, my buddy found out about that and let me crash on his couch until I figured things out. I was able to get client jobs and things started moving in the right direction.

[-12:53] Allan: Right before this call, I was reading about Elon Musk, when he left PayPal, he invested all of [his buyout money] into Tesla. Everything he had went into it! You have this money and then you take that comfort away. I just did that when things in LA were getting so comfortable (allanmckay.com/103/) and I needed to get hungry again. You go all in to the extent that you stay on your friend’s couch. That is the call to action that you need! I never had a family home to go to. I think in a lot of ways removing these safety nets is what it takes. If your back is against the wall, you’re able to do things you wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. 

Ryan: That’s a great story with Elon Musk. He risked ruin for what he believed in. That’s pretty much what you have to do! That survival instinct kicks in.

[-[09:44] Allan: Just to wrap things up, are there any additional resources you could recommend. I’ve sure you have pages and pages.

Ryan: Yeah, we have episodes of Film Riot where we talk about great resources.

– So Film Riot would be a great place to start.

– Ed Zed is amazing (www.edzedomega.org).

– Master Class has some amazing stuff (www.masterclass.com).

– Quarter Digital has a channel. It’s more like a blog.

– Anything Andrew Kramer does is amazing.

– The DGA has a Podcast which is excellent. Massive directors interview other directors.

– Some of my favorite stuff is special features, director’s commentary. They’re so candid and they’ve just gone through this war. It’s film school in a box.

And then reading anything online. I personally stay away from personal opinions. They can be more harmful than good. But anything that’s about process of creators — I’m huge on that! That’s why I love Master Classes. Aaron Sorkin’s Master Class was fantastic, as well as Martin Scorsese’s and Ron Howard’s are really, really good. I think it’s the most valuable stuff!

[-[06:36] Allan: I look forward to listening to one of your classes after you’ve done your feature! One last thing. Can you talk about what you’re working on right now?

Ryan: We like to keep it tight to the chest. But it’s an action, science fiction short film. It’s definitely one of the bigger ones we’ve done. We just shot for 4 days in LA, just the action shots. And then we’re doing the performance thread in March. I’m really excited about all the insanely talented actors we got. Our lead gave it everything she had and she never complained. I respect that so much! We try to go all practical on this. The only visual effects are the ones that have to be visual effects. We had an amazing stunt coordinator Josh Tessier, total badass! We had people who’ve worked on Titanic, Benjamin Button. Really exciting production! Another sort of action but more story and heart involved, and more emotional string pulling. I was definitely trying to stretch myself on this one.

[-[03:16] Allan: I definitely would love to have you back to talk about that experience. You are building that arsenal of experience — your 10,000 hours — to put into your craft.

Ryan: That’s definitely that plan and that’s what I’ll keep clawing toward. This short film releases in May.

[-[02:12] Allan: This is great, man! Thanks for taking the time to chat!

Ryan: Absolutely! Thanks for having me!


I hope you enjoyed this Episode. Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to chat and sharing his insight! I think he is a goldmine of information.

I will be back next week with Bob Scott at Pixar. He’s been at Pixar from the start. He came from old school animation at Warner Brothers. It was great to hear about his transition: switching from 2D to 3D animation.

Please review this Episode on iTunes and share it around. That’s it for now!

Rock on!



Let's Connect

View my profile on