Episode 153 — Ryan Connolly — Making of Short Film BALLiSTIC


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Episode 153 — Ryan Connolly — Making of Short Film BALLiSTIC

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 153! I’m speaking with Ryan Connolly from Film Riot, the director of a new short film BALLiSTIC, as well as other films. This is going to be a killer Episode. We did another Episode a few months back: www.allancmkay.com/133. This Episode is specific around his latest short film BALLiSTIC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cm-K8uQchMQ

In addition to that, here is the link to the Demo Reel Book: www.allanmckay.com/myreel. We spent a lot of time to write and build it. It sets the tone to how to build a killer reel. This is the only material out there that is accurate and from a perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. I’ve worked with plenty of Sups and Managers, to understand why a reel gets disregarded.

I’m excited to chat with Ryan about filmmaking and his mindset. Let’s dive in!



Ryan Connolly is a filmmaker and a founder of 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 most recently — BALLiSTIC.

Ryan first studied filmmaking and storytelling 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. Nowadays, Film Riot has over half a million followers and it continues to build its audience and community.

In this Podcast, Ryan talks about the making of his latest short film BALLiSTIC.

[3:16] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to chat! Do you want to quickly introduce yourself? 

Ryan: I’m Ryan Connolly. I’m a filmmaker. I got my start by doing an online show called Film Riot which is a weekly how-to show. (I hate calling it “how-to”. It’s more about how I would do things.) I started this 9 years ago and I’ve been doing it ever since.

[3:56] Allan: How is Film Riot going anyway?

Ryan: Great! It’s headed toward where I wanted it to, in terms of higher end proper productions. Next week, we are shooting something inside the office with a $0 budget. So it’s everything in between an 80-person production to a 2-person one, to a production with a mic on a stand because we don’t have enough people power. It’s that mixture. Ultimately, when I do my first feature, I would like to keep it doing at 2 episodes a week, so that the followers get best of both worlds. Because the idea behind Film Riot was always to be an online film school of sorts and for pros to get their view of the craft.

[05:18] Allan: It can be a platform to document what you’re doing. If people are learning high-end stuff, they can connect the dots.

Ryan: Totally! And I’m always trying to put it out there. Even with the high end stuff, it relates to someone shooting on an iPhone. I always refer back to the show Movie Magic. That was my own Film Riot back in the day. They did shows about visual effects for Terminator and Independence Day. I was able to take the ideas and the inspiration behind those — and translate that into how I was doing it. First perspective is a first perspective regardless if you’re Peter Jackson or some kid [making films] in your house. There are ideas to the process you can utilize for what you’re doing right now. That’s the stuff that got me to do my own stuff.

[07:13] Allan: I think that’s great advice. I mean we have feature films being shot on iPhones these days.

Ryan: The thing that bums me out is that you have a feature shot on an iPhone and you always have people with a defeatist attitude saying: “Yeah, but look at all the gear they have around the iPhone!”

[07:53] Allan: That’s what I mean! You’re either going to have the internal or the external excuse. “I can’t do this because I don’t have the experience” OR “because I don’t have the equipment”. You’re the only one holding yourself back. Get out there and experiment. Fail fast and learn about the process.

Ryan: I couldn’t agree with you more! That sort of mindset comes from either laziness (in which, don’t do this career!) And the other is: Fear of failure. And you just need to learn to fail constantly and progress.

[08:54] Allan: Do you think that there is a fear of success as well? Fear of failure is one that prevents people from trying. Fear of success puts the weight of the world on one’s shoulders.

Ryan: I relate to that a 100%. I have that. I have both fears. I think everyone does. You just can’t let it stop you. I’ve been saying it a lot how stressful and hard it is — unless you have to do it. You put your heart and soul into it and it can be a hard thing to do. The more you put stuff out there, the more harsh comments you will hear. Or you go on set with 80 people looking at you for direction. You have to be willing and ready to put yourself into uncomfortable situations all the time. Especially for a person like me, I’m pretty introverted (although it doesn’t look like that online). But you put me into a party, I’ll be quiet. Being a director on set goes against my core personality. But I have to do this!

[11:13] Allan: That’s awesome, man! And with BALLiSTIC, how has it been received so far?

Ryan: Pretty good! I’m pretty happy with the reception. Whenever you put something out, you get a hundred great comments and one negative comment. But it seems like you had a hundred negative comments. I talk about that all the time. It doesn’t matter. It still feel like a gut punch. Not everyone is going to like it, but it’s the stuff that’s dismissive. It’s more the thumbs up vs thumbs down that matters the most. We consider those our Rotten Tomatoes reviews. The film is doing really well.

[12:45] Allan: Congratulations, by the way! And you’re absolutely right. I went on a rant over the weekend. I posted something on Instagram about how artists make money and asked if people wanted me to do a live stream. Ninety percent says yes, while 10% says no. What is wrong with that 10%? Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but you wish people would be aligned with your vision, instead of being dismissive of what it took to get there.

Ryan: I’ve been thinking about this “entitled to an opinion” a lot. I think criticism has gotten to a really weird place. You’re entitled to like or not like something. But we have everyone acting like a film professor. It’s the reason I hate video essays. It’s done in an objective way, and it’s so strange. There plenty of constructive criticism and I love that. But there are people who try to rewrite my ending in the comments. I keep threatening to do a whole podcast on the state of criticism today.

[16:18] Allan: Oh, trust me! Every time I have someone send me a poorly composed email, I want to critique them — but I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. 

Ryan: It’s such a hard thing to do because I’m the creator. I would be too sensitives. But constructive criticism is something I welcome.

[17:48] Allan: If you do it in percentages, you’ll realize that it’s such a small percentage of haters. I watched your film with my fiance and we both loved it. It’s amazing!

Ryan: Thank you! It’s been a difficult thing: There will be people who just don’t like it.

[19:27] Allan: Do you ever watch Honest Trailers? I was watching an interview with the director of John Wick. They keep the movie trailer in mind when they’re shooting the movie, just so that they don’t get picked apart.

Ryan: That stuff bugs me. Honest Trailers and all that. It can be funny, but it can’t be loose. There has to be magic to it. Now everything has to be realistic and all the “i’s” have to be dotted. You hear, “That would never happen!” Who cares?! It’s a movie, a fable! Of course, it would never happen.

[20:24] Allan: It’s kind of like Marvel, I keep defending their stuff. I’m digesting their stuff as comics, they’re supposed to be over the top.

Ryan: And they’re going to be held at a different level. You have their level, and alien level (which is more realistic). And then there is Saving Private Ryan. You see stuff online picking on Lord of the Rings. It’s like, c’mon, man! Really? A lot of people call things “plot holes”. Did you think about it while watching the film the first time?

[22:00] Allan: That’s right! You’re on YouTube, so people will be more brutal. We dived into it last time (www.allanmckay.com/133). People who don’t like it are a 100% more vocal. You have to look at it as if most people aren’t even vocal.

Ryan: I am concerned with the minority of voices who are saying those negative comments. They are the fewer group. Most people come with constructive criticism. And that’s a great experience for me. There is just this small section who feel the loudest. That’s always a concern of mine. It’s that stuff that’s more concerning. Everything is leading toward such cynicism and I want movies to stay magic.

[24:20] Allan: You’re right! The internet is a fascinating place. Where did the original concept [for BALLiSTIC] come from?

Ryan: Well, it started with PROXiMITY in 2013. We were making a film which was my version of what Fear of the Walking Dead turned out to be. It’s was the biggest short I’ve ever made. It was reaching too high. It was a good learning experience. It was a $300,000 budget, with a huge crew. We were shooting it in Austin. And we had some great artists, it was madness! In the last hour, a huge chunk of the financing fell through and I had to call the whole thing off. We ate a huge cost on that. People went out of the way to help us save money. Everyone was great! But then there were people who were on the way to set.

We were talking the next day: Whenever something falls through, we have to push harder. So we did. In 10 days, we wrote and shot PROXiMITY for $300. We had a camera a friend of mine lent. It was me and a tiny crew, whatever we could scrounge together. After making that (which is still one of my favorite shorts), I was thinking about the background of the film. I loved this universe I created and I’ve been developing ever since. And BALLiSTIC exists in that same universe. It adds more questions but answers very few. It’s one that I want to do stuff in.

[28:43] Allan: You’re not going to pull a Lost, like, “Fuck you! We aren’t going to answer anything!”

Ryan: Hopefully not! A part of it is accepting the critiques which I do understand. I do personally like stuff that’s open to interpretation. It’s more about what’s in front of you. That’s the inception of it all.

[29:34] Allan: I think it’s great! From the initial concept, how much of it has changed?

Ryan: It’s definitely developed. The core idea remained the same, but the details developed around it. It’s pretty similar at its core.

[30:27] Allan: What were some of the bigger challenges with taking on a project like this? Were there any “Oh, shit!” moments leading up to it?

Ryan: All of them! Everything between the opening and the closing credits. Time is one of the biggest things. You’re working on a small budget on something that you need 3 times the money. It’s having to stay flexible and flipping things around on the fly, to land on the same intention. Otherwise, we wouldn’t make any of our days. I always end up finishing. You end up throwing out or adjusting the plan to suit what was happening on the day.

[32:13] Allan: No, that’s crazy! I can imagine how much work is involved. How long was the preproduction and production on average?

Ryan: Production is easy to remember: Seven days total, 4 days in LA for all the daytime action, and 3 days in Texas for the flashbacks. Preproduction was probably… I don’t really know. It was happening over Christmas and Thanksgiving. There was a lot of stuff that took me away from it. It was maybe 6 weeks of preproduction. We had several months of post. I made sure to pack it nicely. We had a few months in between LA and Texas (which had its own preproduction). I really need to sit down and figure out the answer. It was the most pre- and postproduction I’ve had on anything.

[34:39] Allan: I thought it was pretty mind blowing. I  thought it was funny that a huge portion of the film took 4 days. Shooting in the daytime, you’re always trying to fight the natural light.

Ryan: That was tough too. We also had the child actor who is 10. Hannah Ward. You have to go by Child Work Laws. You’re working with SAG-AFTRA and the State. That was hard to adhere to as well.

[35:38] Allan: She was great! I think everyone did an amazing job.

Ryan: I was an idiot and wrote a dramatic role for a child. It’s hard to find talented dramatic actors, let alone a talented child actor.

[36:22] Allan: You’re in Texas so it makes sense to shoot there. But why did you choose to shoot in LA?

Ryan: Resources. So the only reason it was possible was because of two friends of mine: Omid Zader (who also played the main villain) and Josh Tessier who was the stunt coordinator. They pulled together so many resources to make it possible. Without them, I couldn’t have done it. I was doing the numbers and the stunts and the practical effects should have cost us more than the entirety of the budget. They just had a great network out there.

[37:50] Allan: Being outside of the bubble is great in a lot of ways. But being close to the well when you’re thirsty — having access to the talent and the equipment — makes sense too. 

Ryan: It’s all in LA and Vancouver. There is some stuff in Texas, but it’s a lot easier to go to LA.

[38:31] Allan: Is Robert Rodriguez in Austin?

Ryan: Yeah, he’s in Austin. That’s the dream to be completely independent and outside of California, not paying the California taxes.

[39:03] Allan: Yeah, right? I bought a RED last year. I got the invoice to my original address in LA and the tax alone was $1,500. And when they re-invoiced to Portland, the price dropped. I watched the making of BALLiSTIC. I love that you were able to tackle the ambitious stuff just like that, in the very beginning.

Ryan: It wasn’t ideal. It was by necessity. It would’ve been nice to start slower. But we started with the most difficult shot of the film. We didn’t have the gear we wanted to make it easier. We started with the tough one. We put all the stunt stuff upfront, so later one we could lessen the crew to the bare necessity. And we had to focus on performances with the child actor Hannah. Having that fourth day to focus on her performance was really nice.

[41:49] Allan: Was there ever any concern in regards to the pacing? Because you pulled it off! You went right into it and you’re keeping the audience [engaged].

Ryan: Big time! The idea was to use the memories to attach to the character and why she’s trying to survive. Also Hannah has this immediate likability. The pacing between the two was definitely a concern. I like to use short films to experiment. It’s a nice playing ground to try things and you aren’t wasting all of these people’s time. I see the movie in my head and I think it’s cool, but now I just need to do it. I’ve failed enough times to learn by now to where I’m confident about that it’s going to work. I had to trust that. It worked out! There was some finessing in post. We cut up the dialogue a little bit. The first flashback needed more movement. Without it, slamming the audience into it felt like a brick wall. Then you’re ready for the next flashback.

[45:14] Allan: Is this the most practical effects you’ve ever used?

Ryan: Oh, yeah! Usually, there are very few practical effects in my shoots. You don’t have the resources. It’s hard to have a lot of people on set because it costs you money. Time usually doesn’t cost me a lot money in post-production. Either I could it or other people I trust. In production, an extra hour costs a lot. Plus, you have to have the fire department and the medics on set for the practical stuff. A full stunt team. Just making sure that everyone is safe. I don’t want anyone to get hurt for a movie! I’m always making sure we’re taking our time. I’m always saying, “If it’s not safe at all, we won’t do it.” There are 10 different ways to do something. That was the first time we were able to slow down. Which is way it took so many days. I can’t believe how quickly the stunt team worked.

[47:29] Allan: I hate to say it but as soon as I see practical effects, I think of all the permits and the fire department. There is no rule bending. 

Ryan: I had a great producing team on this with Dan Malek, Moses Israel, my brother Tim Connolly. My brother is always producing with me. At a certain point, I took off my producer hat and became a director.

[48:47] Allan: What was it like to have 85 people on location? I’m curious about that. Did you have a good AD?

Ryan: Yeah, in LA, my AD Chuck was incredible! I loved him. We didn’t have a lot of time to chat. That’s the nature of low budget films. He so quickly adapted to the type of filmmaker I was. He knew when to push and when to back off. Things are so stressful, there is no reason to have a bad attitude on top of that. He came in with such a great, encouraging attitude. He was amazing! My producers made things easier too. You have keys of departments and they’re the ones wrangling their people. That’s the main difficulty: conveying your vision precisely. But you adapt pretty well and establish the short hand. I didn’t find it too difficult. I found it kind of amazing: Often things were there before I even had to ask for them. I wanted fire — and people would make fire. Before getting on set, it was horrifying. I don’t see it not being that. It’s a heavy weight of not wanting to waste their time. I want it to be worth it for them. That pressure weighs on me a lot. Which is why I really appreciate my crew.

[53:14] Allan: I noticed you were talking about having up to 7 cameras. How much of it was second unit?

Ryan: None of them were second unit. It was all main unit. With all the stunts, we needed to get most of the coverage. We probably needed only 5, but I got nervous and got 2 extra. Second unit happened mostly in Texas. In LA, it was only the running scenes with the two bad guys.

[55:11] Allan: Overall, what are some of the things that went wrong that you learned from? Whenever I go to a lecture, that’s the most valuable thing I want to hear. 

Ryan: I don’t think anything major went wrong — but then everything went wrong. You know what I mean?

  • We can’t do the shot the way I thought so we have to adjust it on the fly.
  • We did the location scout for the opening shot, but we couldn’t get the car to flip.
  • We can’t put the ramp because the City came in to check everything before and there were water pipes there.
  • We had to do a long opening tracking shot, so we can’t do that on this road. What if cheated?
  • When the car landed, it didn’t keep going. So we can’t do it again. I’ll slam to title at that moment and we don’t have to worry about reshooting it.
  • The whole scene was on this side of the line, and how we have the crane and there are shadows. So we have to flip the line.

Everything is going wrong in small ways and you have to adjust every set-up pretty much. Because there are so many moving parts and complex sequences. You just have to stay fluid. So know the whys of everything you’re doing. That stuff is just a factor of experience. I like to practice everything going wrong. For SENTiNEL, I barely wrote a script. I was making it up as I went along. You get to set and nothing works. You have to make it up as you go. So the more stuff you make, the more ideas you get for the ebb and flow.

[59:59] Allan: Overall, what kind of equipment did you use?


  • We shot on the Canon C200 cameras. I’ve reviewed that camera and really dug it. Canon was cool enough to help us with the budget. Which is how I usually do it: I approach a company and say, “I am doing to use your stuff either way but you’re welcome to go in on the project” — and some people do. I think it’s like a $7,500 camera. It fit what I’m always preaching: You don’t need an Alexa. It’s an impressive camera.
  • We shot using SLR anamorphic lenses. I own them. I really dig those lenses, they have so much character. They have so many imperfections, and my worlds have so many imperfections.
  • I shot on a dolly for the first time. We had a budget enough to bring it in. We almost didn’t have it. My DP Chase Smith really wanted it because it has a different feel. I really wanted a stillness for everything, a really God-like view, for some moments.
  • We did have a MoVI in LA and for one time in Texas (for a shot we never used).

Those are the main things that got us our visuals.

[1:03:40] Allan: And for LA, you wanted more gritty looking stuff anyway. In terms of lenses, do you often use anamorphic? 

Ryan: Yeah, the majority was shot on anamorphic, with a few special shots on spherical. That was the close-up of the eye, or a lot of the stunt stuff. There is a handful of shots where jumped on spherical. Usually, we lived on a 50 most of the time.

[1:05:06] Allan: What was your take on the camera? Were there setbacks?

Ryan: There are setbacks with any camera, even an Alexa. Even when shooting on an iPhone, as long as you know the issues, you can work with it. Especially with the in-camera raw. That was fantastic! I wish it had a pro-res, to not have to go raw. It had drawbacks. But I don’t remember what they were. Overall, the camera was excellent (and I’m not saying that just because Canon was part of it). At the end of the day, it did a great job for us.

[1:07:15] Allan: What were the decisions behind going digital on some of the effects as opposed to practical?  

Ryan: I did everything I possibly could practically. We didn’t have much of a budget for the practical in Texas. Every effect in Texas is a visual effect. In LA, they were things that we couldn’t do, or the enhancements, like if an explosion wasn’t big enough. There was one explosion…

[1:08:16] Allan: The one where she throws a grenade up in the air?

Ryan: Oh, I forgot about that one. There were two explosions! We talked about doing it with a crane. I wish we could’ve done it practically. I was talking about the explosion after the guy jumps on top of her car.

[1:09:13] Allan: I think it really works. You get the imperfections and they work.

Ryan: And when you have to enhance it, it works so well. Because you’re adding to something that already exists.

[1:09:59] Allan: When it’s shot beautifully, it’s always going to work. Did you shoot underexposed? I’m always worried about LA sun being so hot.

Ryan: That was all Chase. I didn’t focus on the settings. He pretty much exposed everything close to the final look. The C200 has a solid highlight protection. We wanted it to feel harsh too. There is detail in the sky. We didn’t want it to feel cheap and digital, of course.

[1:11:37] Allan: What would you have done differently, looking back now?

Ryan: If I got picky, probably everything! It’s a film school every time I step behind a camera or a monitor. It’s a huge learning experience. The next time, I will have the experience of working with an 85-person crew. Nothing is going right and you’re adjusting as you go. Working with the actors, I’ve learned a ton. There was one scene, I wish I would’ve said this. It took longer than it should have. I could’ve worded it specifically.

This is the most dramatic and dialogue heavy film I’ve directed. And I love actors! After a project, I always ask them for feedback, so that next time I can be that much more a person in their corner. There was definitely a lot of learning. I learned a lot about pushing the crew forward and utilizing the time. My job is to say: We are doing this. And to make sure we’re moving fast. I never sat down. If people were working, I was working. I was being someone who kept the energy up and helped this machine turn smoothly.

[1:15:37] Allan: What about the film circuits? Are you doing festivals or did you just put the film online?

Ryan: I’ve lucked out with an audience. Film festivals are great and I’ve done them in the past. Sometimes, they’ll hit me up but I don’t go out of my way to do them. I’m lucky to have people to release my films to. Festivals are great but the most attentions I’ve gotten from studios is by putting stuff online. Hopefully, the right people find it. I’ve never had something like this from festivals. Obviously, I’ve never been to the right festivals. As far as putting out to the widest audience, I’ve found putting it online works best.

[1:17:25] Allan: In 2018, there is such a bigger audience online, especially with Film Riot having such a huge audience. Whereas if you go to a festival, you can’t let people see it until a certain date.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s kind of what turns me off about it too. I didn’t make to be judged by a committee. I just want to make stuff that entertains people. BALLiSTIC definitely has that. I want to give an audience an experience.

[1:18:47] Allan: Did you have a marketing campaign for this?

Ryan: We didn’t really have a marketing budget. We did it ourselves. I hit up a bunch of people who dug my stuff in the past. We had a sci fi writer check it out. We asked for his opinion. I wanted to hear what he thought. Thankfully, he did an article on it. We had a couple of other people to check it out. Usually, that’s the stuff that gets people contacting you. Just putting stuff online doesn’t do much. Every time I’ve been contacted was because something was posted somewhere else [a blog, a site]. It’s about people being able to find it.

[1:21:50] Allan: And they’re lucky you already have an audience, too. 

Ryan: On top of that, there is a big audience to give a reaction, the good and the bad. I’m curious to find out why the story didn’t work for someone. Having that feedback is really helpful. But you also need to make movies that you want to make, and not cater to anyone else.

[1:23:13] Allan: You can tell Michael Bay that. What’s next, man? You’ve done this. This one took everything you’ve learned so far. 

Ryan: Nothing I can talk about yet. I’m hoping after this, it’s feature film time. We’ll see what happens. I hope to bring Film Riot along for the ride. I’ve always wished something like that existed. That’s what I’m hoping is next. And Film Riot is getting back into the swing of things.

[1:25:37] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to chat. 

Ryan: Thanks for having me on!

I want to thank Ryan for taking the time to chat. Best of luck to him! I know he has a bright future. He’s been killing it in his career.

  • Also do check out the Demo Reel Book: www.allanmckay.com/myreel.
  • My next Episode is a Q & A with me, with a bit of tough love, on the subject of excuses and resistances.

Until then — rock on!

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