When we first came across California-based filmmaker Shane Ryan’s MY NAME IS ‘A’ BY ANONYMOUS (trailer below), we knew we’d made a special kind of discovery. Here was a courageous filmmaker laboring in relative obscurity, making films on shoestring budgets by any means necessary, and unapologetically showing us the world just as he found it: a place full of horror and wonder. For such a young and challenging filmmaker, Shane’s filmography spans an impressive collection of pretty sensational titles, such as SO, WE KILLED OUR PARENTS, the AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER Trilogy, WARNING!!! PEDOPHILE RELEASED, and so on. More recently, however, Shane has been putting distance between himself and his past work (what have mistakenly been called by haters and dumb reviewers his “horror” and “snuff” films). His forthcoming feature film, THE OWL IN ECHO PARK (trailer below), about a self-destructive cop, looks to be edging even further toward the arthouse side of the old arthouse-grindhouse spectrum, and to have something exciting in common with Abel Ferrara‘s BAD LIEUTENANT. Time will tell.
Anyway, as soon we watched MY NAME IS ‘A,’ we knew we wanted to interview Shane. Between juggling the launch of his own releasing label, MAD SIN CINEMA, and fundraising to finish THE OWL IN ECHO PARK, he was kind enough to answer a few questions for FUGITIVE. His responses are searingly honest, and give unique insight into the constant struggles and occasional rewards of making boundary-pushing art films right about now.
Here’s PART 1 of our interview with Shane Ryan…
Why do you make films?
I’ve been asking myself that same question the past year or so. I’ve had a passion for it since I was five, but when I was real young it was because it was fun. Then when I became a teenager it was about trying to tell dramatic stories about similar things I was going through in my life. Then when I was in my twenties it was a constant transformation from one year to the next, based on wanting to shock people for the sake of wanting to move people, confusion about if I was simply shocking or actually telling something important, wanting to make money doing what I love, trying to figure out how to make that money, thinking I was on my way to success and trying to figure out how to keep the momentum going, getting lost in my own films and frustrated with the way they were going and being disguised as smut/sexploitation in order to sell more copies when they were really art-house films (which therefore mainly ended up attracting perverts who felt letdown – plus I felt like my art-house films disguised as smut were now almost becoming smut disguised as art-house), getting railroaded in the mainstream bullshit evil fucked media when I tried to make a film speaking out about human trafficking in America (and The Stockholm Syndrome) and almost throwing away/burning everything I ever worked on and giving up completely, to making “My Name is A by anonymous” just after my 30th birthday. After that it was a year and a half of severe depression while editing (and trying to figure out how to edit) “A”, then feeling I finally made a film I wanted to make which honestly finally presented itself the way I thought my films should, to spending the next two years trying to get the film seen and getting rejected by 100% of everything I tried. Since then I’ve been pretty lost and asking myself the question you just asked. “A” finally got distribution, but it still hasn’t come out yet so I have no idea if people are going to pay attention and the battle has been so exhausting I just feel done with filmmaking at this point and have been struggling to push myself to go through all of the pain and tedious work of editing my next film, “The Owl in Echo Park”, in fear it will just waste another three years of my life.
Personally, I’m a loner, and when I feel the need to create something I want to do it instantly, in that moment. So I’ve always wished I could just be satisfied writing, or had the talent to draw, paint, photograph, or sing, etc. Something where I could create my ideas in that moment so I don’t have to go out and spend months or years making an entire film based on what I’m feeling at around 2 p.m. on that one Wednesday in September five years ago. I can just make it at 2:15 p.m. on that day. Why I had to be a filmmaker is a mind fuck to me. It actually came from wanting to act, but I couldn’t/didn’t know how to get roles. So, I made my own film roles. But after “Warning!!! Pedophile Released” I realized it was way to hard to finance, shoot, direct, promote, edit, write/conceive ideas, get props/wardrobe, drive around/run from cops and security for not using permits/trespassing/etc AND act, so I haven’t acted in something I directed in four years. And I like shooting so much better that way. But I still do most of all that other shit while shooting which is still a nightmare. Maybe I should just act, but even with all my credits it’s nearly impossible getting just a one-day speaking role. They only happen through connections anyways, pretty much never through auditions. And I’ve realized lately I do more of the connecting-other-people, not getting-connected/hooked up, myself. So, acting seems out. Who the fuck knows. Obviously I’m in a frustrated time. Too young to give up my dreams, old enough to know they’ll probably never come true. So, why? Why do I keep fucking doing this? Well, I’d probably go crazier not doing it. I don’t know anything else. I really don’t wanna flip burgers or clean toilets. I just keep hoping something happens. If I ever make it big though, I’ll probably hate the selling out part, miss what I’m doing now, and once I get enough money quit and make no budget films again. Go figure.
Do you make a living through your films?
I try, and spend all of my time doing it, so it’d be great as sometimes, most times, I can’t pay any of my bills. I had about fifty jobs between the time I was fifteen until I was twenty-six (waiter, dishwasher, delivery driver, cashier, phone operator, busboy, daycare, front desk, fitness instructor, infomercial maker – ugh, editor/composer, amusement parks, hot dogs, medical filing clerk, sales, clothing, video stores, movie extra, barista, etc., etc.) then I just stopped and felt I had to focus full-time on making movies. At first I thought it was all coming together. That following year my first film finally got distributed and released, and then I had another film released six months later, and two more films released the next year and another picked up the same year. But even though my budgets averaged a laughable miniscule thirty bucks or so per film, aside from my “major film” which cost a grand, I only received money from two of them and it wasn’t even enough to cover all of the promotional materials and screeners and festivals I entered, etc., so I still have never turned a profit, or made a single cent. So no, in the end it isn’t a living, but a slow death, and I beg for money every second I live, and have mooched as long as I can. I actually really did have to beg on the streets in 2011 when I ran out of gas fifty-five miles from home and had not one cent left to my name. So, literally beg. Funny enough I wasn’t good at it at all (you’d think a filmmaker should be but not one person would help me) so eventually two homeless kids gave me all of the money in their pockets ($5.37 – which I can not believe on gas prices got me fifty-five miles) in exchange for three hundred brand new DVD’s I just happened to have in my car (yes, three hundred DVD’s, which weren’t sell-able – not my films, ones that were given to me instead of being thrown in the trash). So, I really owe it to these crack addict looking smelly, dirty ass kids. Kids meaning, they were about eighteen years old, a boy and girl – a couple. Great inspirational characters for a movie, actually. I would have taken down their number if they had a phone or an address. First they tried to fight me for taking a begging spot too close to them but then we started talking and I explained the situation and we spent an hour figuring out a solution and it got me home. My film career didn’t get me enough gas money to make it home, homeless kids did. How do ya like that?
Why do you base some of your films on real-life events (and why an aesthetic approach that uses surrealism, banality)?
Everything is based on real life, more or less. Every single episode of “Law and Order” is taken from real crimes, just simply dramatized. Every futuristic movie is based on what is happening now and where the storyteller thinks it will take us in ten, fifty, or thousands of years later. Every thing that we create comes from something in our lives, or in the lives of others, which we have experienced or observed. Nothing is fiction, really. But, not to sound so fucking pretentious, I know what you’re asking. Why make a film about Alyssa Bustamante? Well, because I saw myself in her, and it scared the shit out of me. I felt like I understood her, and I needed to understand why I felt I understood an accused killer of a child.
But then I started thinking that she didn’t even do it as I was making the film. Or, maybe she did, but it was because of the fucked up prescription drugs she was on (Prozac, which I didn’t even get to touch on in the film). Anyway, I felt like I connected to the crime. I felt connected to her, and I felt like if she didn’t do it I understood the frustration in that as well. She was arrested and coerced into a confession for doing something horrible to a child. When I was her age I was arrested and coerced (almost into a confession) for doing something horrible to a child. So, I got that about her, too (another thing I didn’t get to touch on in the movie though). Although I never confessed since I didn’t do it and didn’t let the cops persuade me with their evil-filthy hours-long shit talking interrogation, but I had done a whole study on kids who confess to crimes they didn’t commit because of being pressured by police before their parents get there (I was a sixteen year old boy, but I could see a girl being coerced, or a younger boy. I guess even a boy the age I was could be coerced but I had been through enough shit and foster care when I was a young child I wasn’t about to fess up to something I would never do and risk going back or to prison for a stupid fucking misunderstanding). So, anyway, it was of serious interest to me. And I’m a former cutter, that was the first thing that caught my eye about Alyssa. The first image I saw of Alyssa she had scars on her arm in the same area, same arm, same amount roughly, that I do. I just felt the need to explore this person. Then the dumb fuck media made her sound crazy for being a self-harmer, so it made me even more interested because now it’s calling people like us crazy, and now I’m looking at her and me as an “us”, but still this is somebody who may have stabbed and strangled to death a child, so how can I, and fuck I never would want to, identify with that. But it’s like that bad car accident you can’t look away from. I have to see. I have to get inside the minds, the worlds, of these horrible things, and I have to understand why they happen. So, that’s why, I guess, I make films about depressing true-life shit. I need to understand why it happens. Even though I never will.
Why approach it that way?
Well, something like murder, pedophilia, living on the streets, all of this tragic shit, is two things; One – it’s every day life like anything else. Before anybody does any of these outrageous things, they’re living, usually, an every day life. They eat, shit, and go places, or sit around like everyone else. If you’re going to rob a criminal/be involved in a heist and end up in a car chase it’s not going to be fucking “Fast and Furious Five”, where it’s nothing but fun and entertainment, and millions of dollars of buildings destroyed without a single innocent bystander somehow not being killed or even harmed. It’s going to be fucking boring for most of the planning of said heist, and when it finally happens it’s going to be over quickly most likely, and with that much wreck many innocent people will probably be harmed and/or killed. But Hollywood doesn’t teach people that. They make these horrible things look fun. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with entertainment. I saw that film, it was fun. But there needs to be a balance. There needs to be films out there that remind people how ugly crime, murder, and all of these things are. How they can happen to you, to your neighbor, your friends and family. And to not forget that. If they see that there’s nothing special about it, that it’s simply raw, boring and just plain ugly, maybe they won’t be inspired to do something bad. They’ll actually feel how they should about these situations; disgusted.
For instance, fighting in a Hollywood movie looks fun. So, kids want to get in a fight. When I was fourteen I had seven pussy-shit kids kick the shit out of me with smiles on their faces like it was all fun and games. Well, nineteen years later, thanks to these dumb fucks with shit-ass parents who couldn’t raise a decent child to understand the lasting effects of violence, I can barely eat on a daily basis. They fucked up my jaw for life in a matter of seconds and they have no penalty from it. They didn’t even get expelled, suspended, detention even, nothing. No consequences for their crime. I got Saturday school though, since I had a beaten face and it was proof I had been in a fight (you starting to see why I have some major issues with an unjust world which doesn’t open it’s chicken-shit fucked up little eyes and look between the lines?).
A couple years ago, I was eating lunch at The Habit, and the guy next to me starts sawing off his arm with a piece of glass. And what were peoples reactions? Well, I saw another smile from some teenage girl, and tons of people who just gathered to watch. Me, I felt like I was gonna puke or pass out, and my first instinct was to get myself and my friend out of there so we wouldn’t get hurt. People have no concept of reality. A guy is bleeding to death by his own hand, cut half way through his arm in seconds, and people think it’s a fucking show. They’re standing two feet from him with their own children. I mean, what in the fuck is wrong with human beings? I know, I’m going on a tangent, and you’re like, “what are you getting at?” It’s the fact that I was having a fucking sandwich and the guy next to me is murdering himself. A crazy situation couldn’t have started more normal than that. Something you do every day, eat a sandwich, and then BAM! This completely incomprehensible surrealistic situation occurs. And that’s the mix of surrealism and banality; violence and violent characters, bad things and bad situations, are banal until they happen and then they become surreal. I was eating, like I do every day, and then I saw this crazy thing, and my world was going in circles. It was like a bad high. Now, if you’re the person doing the crime, that high is probably a hundred times more-so.
What’s the relationship between your horror films and your non-horror films?
I never really considered my work horror films. I never even liked most horror films, I was always drawn to dramas, or fucked up dramas that had horrific moments, but never the slasher/thriller or creature horror film. I simply saw all of the outlets for indie horror and advertised my first released film, “Amateur Porn Star Killer”, as a mix of horror and sex to gain attention, when really it’s a very slow art film about how a sexual predator works his way into duping a child victim. It’s real horror, but not a horror film. “A” is about a real convicted killer, but I definitely wouldn’t put it, or any of my films, under the horror category in a store. Although, the APSK films and “A” are definitely more horror than say “Warning!!! Pedophile Released” and my new film “The Owl in Echo Park”. As the other films are about murderers, these two are not. But I basically approached them all the same way – I have an idea, a camera, a few actors, a couple dollars for maybe a $5 Little Ceaser Pizza for lunch, let’s go do this. So, they’ve all had the same approach. This excluding “Oni-Gokko” (“Tag”), I forgot about that.
That was made as a horror film, but it’s just a short film (nothing against shorts but I hadn’t done one in years as I gave them up nearly a decade ago to focus on features). It was simply made to hopefully win a competition (which it didn’t) to be included as part of a feature film (or feature anthology – you know, “The ABC’s of Death”). It’s much different than the six features mentioned as it had a script, it had a shot list, it had lighting, a D.P., a producer, make-up, etc. Although I had to come up with all of that stuff over a single weekend, so making it with no time or money was the still the same. It’s basically a J-Horror film, but I don’t even really like or watch J-Horror movies. I just wanted to make a film in Japanese. But it’s still very moody, like “My Name is A”. And it also, depending on how you look at it, is about the same thing as “A”. A girl who murdered somebody, is now a cutter (regardless of an alter ego doing it VS a ghost). So, both “Tag” and “A” basically take a look at self-abuse by a murderer through completely different methods, symbolism, etc. Any how, it really depends what one calls a horror film, I guess.
SHANE RYAN RELATED LINKS:
The Owl in Echo Park trailer
My Name is A by anonymous trailer
Oni-Gokko (Tag) shortened version
Amateur Porn Star Killer trailer
Warning!!! Pedophile Released trailer
The Horrorshow of Real Life: Shane Ryan and MY NAME IS “A (fugitivecinema.com)
Amateur Porn Star Killer, Shane Ryan, 2007, USA. [Warning: Politically incorrect review!] (happyslackerbdb.wordpress.com)