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An HMS Q&A With Ryan M. Andrews

The fantastic and super talented director of independent films like Sick: Survive the Night and the upcoming Save Yourself, Ryan M. Andrews, took some time out to talk to me about horror, his films, and what it’s like to create the awesomeness that are his films. So read on to learn more about Ryan, his work, and his thoughts on horror and filmmaking!

HMS: Ryan, thanks so much for doing this interview. Let me start by asking you how you got into film, and more specifically horror?

RA: Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a storyteller. I loved telling stories and being creative. And growing up in a small town, where there really wasn’t anything to do, I was constantly renting VHS tapes from the local video stores (specifically anything in the horror section). I became a horror junkie. To me, horror was the best form of art. And I knew then that being a horror filmmaker was what I wanted to do. So after high school I went to college for Radio, Television and Film and after that, I went to another film school. So I have been serious my whole life about film and horror.

HMS: What were some of the earliest projects you worked on? And what’s life like on the set of a horror film?

RA: The very first thing I ever got to shoot was a one minute silent film, shot on 8mm at college which I then had to edit on an old Steenbeck Flatbed editing machine. That was lots of fun as was my first official short film shot in 2000 called “Martyr." (Which I shot on 16MM). While doing all this I worked a lot of grunt jobs on sets. I did a lot of PA and grip work on indie films around Toronto. And funny enough I also did some really crappy location security jobs on Hollywood films that shot up in Toronto. One in particular was Dracula 2000. And the only memory I have of that film was meeting Jeri Ryan near the crafts service truck. I was having a really bad day, but she took the time to smile and say hello. I’ve always wanted to work with her because of that. Ha.

As far as on set atmosphere, it changes from set to set, but what I always try to do on sets where I am directing, or producing, is make the set fun. The reality is when doing horror, we are creating really dark and depressing and violent content. I want people to feel good so we all trust one another, especially the actors who have to go to some dark places. I want them to know it’s okay. Also whenever there is a really gory effect being done, everyone is there to watch, cause it’s so much fun and I encourage that because I really want the set to feel like family.

HMS: I think that’s really great that you focus on creating a comfortable atmosphere. What has been your favorite film to work on so far? (One of your own)

RA: That’s kind of like asking a parent to pick their favourite kid. Every film I’ve made means something to me and every film has positives and negatives in regard to the filmmaking process. With Save Yourself I was able to do so much more than on other films in regard to the shots, the locations, the fx. I got to work again with my cinematographer from Sick: Survive The Night, Michael Jari Davidson and we went into this one already knowing how the other thinks and works. We were given the tools to be able to get the shots and the look we wanted. It is absolutely true, that yes, content is king, so what matters most is a good story and engaging characters, but if you leave it at that, than you are really missing the art of this medium. If it was just a book, great, but film is a visual medium and just as important as the story is in how you show that story. So having the means to be able to tell the story the way I want is what makes a production stand out.

HMS: You seem to be really into visual expression (clearly, you’re a director lol). Can you tell me about the creative process of filming and what that is to you?

RA: Above anything else, I am a writer and a director. So for me, my primary focus is on the story and working with the actors. I definitely like to give people freedom to create in their jobs, but I do have a specific vision that I convey in prep, so while the clock is ticking, everyone knows what’s what. On set I need to trust the crew I work with to be able to do what they need to do, so I can focus my time on the story and performances. So I may not appear as the most technical director, but that is because I trust who I work with. Also I usually spend a lot of time in prep with the cinematographer, creating the look together. And our choices always begin and end with what is best for the story.

With Save Yourself, as I said, it was my second time working with Michael Jari Davidson behind the camera. So we already knew how we worked together. My favourite cinematography tends to be in films by the likes of Lynch and Cronenberg. Camera work that is very technically driven and creatively lit, but it allows the actors to drive the scene and tell the story. Not to get too technical, but we simply made the call to go with anamorphic lenses because we wanted a classic cinematic feel. Davidson and I talked about cinematographer Harris Savides, who did epic cinematic films like American Gangster and Zodiac. But specifically for me, he shot a film called Last Days which was a great film based on Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The thing about that film was he primarily shot it with only two lenses, keeping it simple and letting the story be the focus. So that is what we did. We employed the two anamorphic lens method - shot primarily on the 40MM workhorse with the 75MM for close ups, to give the film a visual cohesion. With Sick: Survive The Night, since the story started outdoors in the first act and then primarily took place in a house for the second act (with the majority of it being in the basement for the third act) we wanted the lensing and framing to reflect the claustrophobic feeling of the film as the world closed in around the characters. The first act was shot with only 18MM, 25MM, and 35MM lenses. The second act used 25, 35, and 50, and the third act used only 35, 50, and 85. So as things close in on the characters we draw the audience in as well. Some see it and get it while others think we just couldn’t afford to do close ups. Ha.

At the end of the day, all the time and energy we spend on this stuff is more of a cerebral thing. It’s all there for a reason, but it’s not the focus. I shot another feature called Desolation which due to the restrictive nature of the shooting schedule, I didn’t get to do the kind of prep I like to do, but my cinematographer, Josh Chiara was more than up for the challenge. We shot on the KineMini (Chinese camera) which was the perfect camera for that shoot.


HMS: Very awesome. So, speaking of using cinematography to focus more on story, where does the inspiration behind stories such as Save Yourself and Sick: Survive The Night, come from?

RA: I just love telling stories. ABC = Always Be Creating. So the idea comes from everything and anything around me. That initial spark of inspiration might come from a lyric in a song, a painting, a photograph, or, hell, even a glance from a stranger on the subway might spark an idea. And then it snowballs from there. In regard to Save Yourself, I was driving from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Muskogee, Oklahoma, USA. (A 20 hour drive). It was me and Chris Cull, who is my writing partner, and he also co produces my films and he is an editor. (Chris edited Black Eve and Save Yourself.) So we were driving through the night and we needed to take a break, so in the middle of nowhere, we pulled into an empty parking lot and it was the combination of where we were and an off-the-cuff comment that sparked the idea. So on the rest of the drive, Chris and I bounced ideas back and forth about a group of filmmakers stranded in the middle of nowhere. My main focus was in any other film that starts out this way, the characters always cross paths with redneck hillbillies or mutants or something like that, so I wanted to stay away from that. Which had me running with the idea of a deranged scientist.

The initial spark for Sick: Survive The Night came from Chris. He pitched it to me as a short which ultimately became the third act of the film. So we began with that and just started adding to it. I have a couple new scripts written and with one of them, the inspiration actually came from a line of dialogue I had written in Save Yourself that had ultimately been taken out during the rewrites. But that one line gave the inspiration for a whole new script. It’s a totally different kind of film, that is just where the inspiration came from.

HMS: It’s amazing how the smallest thing, even a simple line of dialogue can inspire a whole new project. Speaking of new projects... is there any possibility that you can share any details of any up and coming projects?

RA: I can say that they are different from my other films. I have always tried to make sure with each film, it is distinctly different because the horror genre is such a wide spectrum. I think I definitely have a voice and it comes through in all of them but I want to make sure they are their own films. I have a body horror script and a grindhouse script, but the grindhouse story is done with a strong artful approach and the body horror has a more guttural approach. Like David Cronenberg meets Rob Zombie. I can’t really say too much right now. For now, my main focus is on the recent DVD and VOD release of Sick: Survive The Night, the completing of post-production on Save Yourself, and doing post on Desolation. But I am always looking forward to the next film. I have so many stories to tell.

HMS: What is your personal favorite sub-genre of horror, and why do you think it appeals to you?

RA: I love all of them for so many different reasons. I grew up on slashers and video nasties, so I will always enjoy a Sleepaway Camp or Friday The 13th film. I made a slasher style film many years ago called Black Eve, which is available on DVD and VOD. And The Collector (which is a really bloody and brutal film) is one of my favourite horrors of the past few years. But I think the sub-genre I lean towards the most is psychological horror because it really focuses on what fear is. It doesn’t play with jump scares or shock value. It just tells a dramatic story about the macabre. Films like Jacob’s Ladder, Session 9, In The Mouth Of Madness, The Shining, The Orphanage. They always include elements of other sub genres, but the primary focus is people dealing with fear. And it is always done in such an artful way.

HMS: You’ve referenced quite a few films during the course of our interview, what would you say is your all-time favorite horror film?

RA: Favourite is: In The Mouth Of Madness. I saw it when it first came out 20 years ago and loved it. When it came out on video I rented it and watched it four times before returning it. There are so many horror films that I love. Everything from The Shining to The Lords Of Salem (which I know so many hate but who cares, art speaks to different people in different ways.) But In The Mouth Of Madness is by far my favourite.

HMS: How do you think that film has influenced you (if at all) in your career?

RA: It really has influenced me so much. A year before the film came out, John Carpenter released a special edition of Escape From New York on VHS. And in the interview with him, he talked about how all his films have a western element. Even his new film which he quoted as “a balls out horror film" has a western element to it. So when I saw In The Mouth Of Madness, I watched it, looking for that western element and was impressed to see how even in a “balls out" horror film with monsters and blood and a wicked mind-fuck, there were still elements of other genres in it. It made me realize that the best films combine elements of many different genres. So though I only make horror films, I try to make sure they always encompass styles from multiple genres.

HMS: Would you say John Carpenter is your favorite director?

RA: As much as I love In The Mouth Of Madness, I wouldn’t say Carpenter is my favourite director. I definitely love a lot of his work and I greatly respect the fact that he is also a musician and incorporates that into his films, but when I think favourite director, I think about the entire body of work. And while I love some of his films, I’m not a huge fan of others. So as far as favourite director goes, the body of work that I find is a home run every time at bat is David Cronenberg. Starting with Rabid and Shivers and on through Videodrome, Scanners, The Fly, Naked Lunch and so on and so on, it’s a work of art every time.

HMS: So tell me a bit about how you got Post City Sound involved in Save Yourself, and what was it like working with them?

RA: Post City Sound had been mixing my films for years. They are a post sound facility in Toronto run by Pino Halili and Allen Ormerod. They got decades of experience in the industry and they have the awards to back it up. So we recently did a short film together called “My Old Man" which was co-produced between their company and mine and the opportunity just came from there. Post City has always been big about working with independent filmmakers cause that is where the real art is. They knew about the script for Save Yourself and they really liked it, so Save Yourself has become the first feature film from Post City Films. Pino and Allen are great guys with so much knowledge and experience in the business. And the fact that our opinions weren’t always the same makes the film that much better. Instead of just agreeing on everything, we challenged and pushed each other.

HMS: That sounds like it was an amazing experience. So, before I wrap this interview up, I have a signature question that I ask everyone. The hordes of undead are upon us! The zombies are banging down your door and the object immediately to your left is your only means of defense! What is it?

RA: DrumSticks.

HMS: Lol, so awesome.

RA: Yeah, not really a great means of defending myself.

HMS: Thanks so much, Ryan, for answering my questions.

RA: Absolutely.

To find out more about Ryan, any of his awesome horror films, or to become a stalker of his on the Internet, check out these links! Thanks for checking out our latest interview here at HMS and as always, keep it creepy.

Save Yourself on Facebook
Sick - Survive the Night on Facebook
Desolation on Facebook
Black Eve on Facebook
Twitter: @RyanMAndrews1 and @SaveYourselfMVE
Save Yourself official website

Stevie Kopas, HMS

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