"If you’re not actively making something, you’re missing out on an opportunity to grow as an ar
Ryan Barton-Grimley is a multi-talented writer, director, actor, and producer. Recently, his films gained international recognition, winning several prestigious awards. One of them was the Actors Awards' biggest award - Best Performance of Fest for his role in "Repatriation". Hard working, determined and always busy working on a new project, RBG constantly keeps growing as an artist.
In the following interview, Ryan Barton-Grimley takes us behind the scenes of his films, and inspires us with some tips for indie filmmakers.
Ryan! Congratulations again for the wonderful performance that earned you the Best Performance of Fest at the Actors Awards LA! How did you prepare yourself to become Chad, the lead of Repatriation?
To prepare myself to play Chad, the lead role in Repatriation, I did a ton of my own research on Veteran’s issues, men’s mental health issues, and spoke at length with a personal friend who worked for the VA in mental health, all with the goal of getting a sense of Chad’s world from multiple perspectives. I also dug into myself quite deeply. Growing up in a small town like Chad, I wanted to tap into that feeling of being trapped, going nowhere and existential dred that so many people from small towns feel. Additionally, Douglas Mueller the director and I spoke at great length about how people who are delusional aren’t completely aware of their lies and what they are doing. This was an “ah-hah” moment for me as an actor, in that whatever I played as “the truth”… was “the truth of the character.” This concept helped me greatly as something I could actively play that did not seem pushed or forced. I also went to a bunch of surplus stores and tried on a ton of real used military uniforms which was very humbling and really put things into perspective for me.
Ryan Barton-Grimley in "Repatriation"
You also took home "Best Ensemble". Great chemistry! What was your casting process like, and did you rehearse much before shooting?
At the end of the day, casting is always the key on all films, large and small, and we were just very very lucky. Doug Mueller the director and his wife Malinda DeRoen picked some talented, local actors and Jeremy Clark who played the character of Dean, was the artistic director of a great theater company in Chicago and exposed us to some wonderful talent who were down with our cause and willing to travel to Dubuque Iowa and help us make a challenging indie-drama on a shoestring budget. Beyond that, we all stayed in the rec-room of Doug’s grandparent’s house in Dubuque on air mattresses which created a “camp-like” atmosphere and led to some great conversations and lot’s of bonding. Ironically, even though we were all staying together, we rehearsed very little, preferring to keep it fresh and organic for the actual day of shooting. I think this led to the film feeling very real, organic and cinematic.
Repatriation - Official Trailer
Acting and directing at the same time can be tricky... are there ever conflicts between RBG the actor and RBG the director? How do you manage to do both?
People always ask me this question and I have thought about it at length. Basically, RBG the director always wins out over RBG the actor. RBG the actor is there to serve the story and the overall vision of the film, just like any other actor would. As long as that balance is kept, things seem to go pretty smoothly. RBG the director also storyboards the hell out of everything and over-prepares like crazy so RBG the actor can concentrate on set and focus on articulating that vision. Additionally, many years of improv training have led to a very strong “third-eye” in RBG the actor which enables RBG the director to be “awake” and tuned into the overall picture during the performance. It’s a weird strange balancing act that is both fun and challenging.
Ryan Barton-Grimley in "Repatriation"
Repatriation isn't your first collaboration with Douglas Mueller. How did you two first meet, and when did you start working together?
Doug and I first met in Los Angeles years ago doing lighting for celebrity events and studio film premieres. He was fresh out of film school and making shorts. I was a frustrated actor/writer/director wasting his life as a lighting designer. After many attempts at working together, we finally collaborated on my first film “The Truth” a home invasion thriller that starred the recently deceased character actor John Heard, Daniel Baldwin and Brendan Sexton III. Doug served as production designer and contributed to the slick modern feel of the film. It was a great experience and I swore to him that if he ever made a feature film as director, I wanted to be a part of it. Years later, he came to me with the original script for REPATRIATION and asked me to play the guy and help produce. I loved the concept and his talent, so I jumped at the opportunity. The rest is history :)
Before diving into indie-land, you worked on productions like Tropix, Criminal Minds, The Price of Love. What have you learned from being involved in these projects?
In my many years of doing this, I’ve worked on all shapes and sizes of projects, but working on bloated studio films, massive network shows and “too big for their own good” indie films left me with one big realization that has really stuck with me. You don’t need a lot to deliver a great film. It helped me consolidate my approach to filmmaking, focusing in on a smaller, more intimate and nimbal approach to production. I like small crews and unspoiled actors who have improv training so they can roll with the punches. All that being said, I think you can have the same feeling on larger projects, you just can’t buy into the other mentality. At the end of the day, you’re all there to serve the story and deliver it to the audience. As long as that remains clear and unchanged, the size of project is irrelevant. The pieces are the same. Something captures the picture, something captures the sound, actors act and directors direct… Simple. I felt really good recently when someone told me a story about Stanley Kubrick working on “Eyes Wide Shut” with a small crew of ten including his two movie star actors. Apparently, some big Hollywood director came to tour the set and was struck by how empty it felt and how few people were working on the film. They asked Stanley where everyone was and he replied that this was it and then asked the Hollywood director how many people he needed to make a film, to which the Hollywood director had no answer because there were so many people on his sets… He had no idea.
Ryan Barton-Grimley in "Elijah's Ashes"
Ryan, you come from such an interesting background! Born in Harare Zimbabwe, you moved to the USA with your family, earned almost nine degrees (!) until graduating from UCLA with a degree in... liberal arts. How important is formal education for filmmakers, and how important is... life experience?
Interestingly… I view most of the time I spent in traditional educational facilities as procrastination and distraction from what my real life purpose was. But it was all very fun and challenging to be exposed to so many disciplines and it has helped me as an artist on every level. As an artist (filmmaker/actor/writer) it is very important to get in touch with what you’re trying to say with your work. Life experience is the only thing that can help clear that up and articulate it. What are you saying? How are you saying it? What’s the point? You can’t learn this in a classroom. You need to experience, reflect and take time to understand your projects and your point of view. Additionally, being born in Zimbabwe and being the child and grandchild of immigrants has always made me feel like I was an “other looking in” as opposed to being part of the majority, or the mainstream. This realization was the beginning of a long winding path of self-reflection. I am introspective and always searching for meaning in everything I do. Also being an immigrant and coming from a rougher part of the world taught me to never take anything for granted and work hard while you can because life is short and you never know when you may have to move, leave or start over. It’s brought an immediacy to everything I do in life and in my work.
Ryan Barton-Grimley and Ari Schneider in "Elijah's Ashes"
Tell us about your future projects - what's next for you? Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Since completing Elijah’s Ashes and Repatriation, I have shot two more feature films that are both in post-production. One is a horror-comedy, HAWK & REV: VAMPIRE SLAYERS, inspired by eighties action films, The Lost Boys and Napoleon Dynamite with lots of good-old-fashioned slap-stick humor and very bloody gore for good measure…. The second, is a moody psychological horror titled BABY MONITOR, inspired by Stanley Kubrick and Hitchcock. I wrote both, directed both and played the lead role in both. I’m a huge horror fan, so it’s been a blast. We’re hoping to have them both done and out on the film festival circuit this spring. After that, I plan on doing a few more indie horror films and possibly trying my hand at some more dramas that explore very American characters, in the same way Repatriation and Elijah’s Ashes did. Basically, I try to stay really busy with projects, so I’m not too precious about my work and stay engaged.
Elijah's Ashes - Official Trailer
Would you like to add anything?
I’d like to add a little advice for anyone starting out and trying to get into the industry… Writers write, actors act and directors direct. If you’re not making something right now you’re missing out on an opportunity to grow as an artist and get your work out there. Make stuff with your friends, in your hometown, for nothing and keep doing it. Forget what others think about your work and keep growing. All excuses are absolute garbage. Your cellphone has a better video camera in it than most feature films have been made with, so… Get to work!
- ELIJAH’S ASHES is doing a 1 week theatrical in Los Angeles at Arena Cinelounge: 10/13 - 10/19 and comes out on DVD and all digital services on 10/17
- REPATRIATION is also doing a 1 week theatrical in Los Angeles at Arena Cinelounge: 11/3 - 11/10 and comes out on DVD and all digital services on 11/08
ELIJAH’S ASHES Synopsis:
Lawrence Shaw is a run of the mill guy who just can't get accepted for being who he is. He's not straight enough for his job where he sells testosterone fueled ad campaigns to beer companies and he's not stereotypically gay enough for his boyfriend. To make things worse, his father Elijah just died and his last dying wish was for Lawrence to go on a road trip with his extremely homophobic half-brother Kevin to bury his ashes. It's a heroically dumb journey of brotherly love and acceptance that begs the age old question... Can you truly accept someone else when you can't even accept yourself?
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"In full military uniform, Chad is welcomed back to his Midwestern hometown by new and old friends alike. From the bus stop, Chad works his way through his old stomping grounds, getting reacquainted with a drink at each stop and catching up on old times. Along the way Chad is joined by Camille who idolized him when he was a star on the high school baseball team. As his one-man parade winds its way through town, the enthusiasm for Chad's service and glory days soon fades as he's reunited with more 'friends' from his past.”
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