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Invest in Yourself: A Chat with Ryan Connolly of Film Riot
We sit down with Film Riot's Ryan Connolly to discuss how to get paid doing what you love.
Film Riot is a YouTube channel with, at the time of this recording, 1.3 MILLION subscribers. It's an incredible resource that teaches you the art and science of filmmaking in a very entertaining way, and the mastermind behind it is Ryan Connolly. Ryan's a filmmaker, and that word fits him well because after talking with him it's clear that he is obsessed with film making and has been pretty much his whole life.
In this interview we talk about the brilliant model behind Film Riot, that lets Ryan and his crew fund and produce short films with an insane amount of production value… all without a studio backing them.
We talk about Ryan's process of leveling up, that's allowed him to strategically get better at certain things that he knows he'll need when he finally makes a feature film. And we talk a lot about the passionate community and DIY mentality that's allowed Ryan and his team to thrive without giant budgets.
There are a ton of good takeaways in this episode, and Ryan is a very interesting guy so I think you'll dig this conversation. Let's get to it.
Ryan Connolly Interview Transcript
Joey: Ryan Connolly of Film Riot. It is awesome to have you on the podcast, man. Thank you so much for coming on.
Ryan Connolly: Thanks for having me.
Joey: I'm guessing like half of our audience is gonna be familiar with you 'cause there's a ton of crossover between the filmmaking world and motion design. But for anyone unfamiliar with you and unfamiliar with your YouTube channel and your company, Film Riot ... who is Ryan Connolly, what do you do?
Ryan Connolly: Who is Ryan Connolly?
Joey: Who is Ryan Connolly?
Ryan Connolly: Let's really get to the core of me.
Joey: [inaudible 00:02:14]
Ryan Connolly: Exactly. I am a filmmaker and I guess educator, people say, but I started a YouTube channel like nine years ago called Film Riot, where the idea was always to ... not be like, "Hey, here's how you do filmmaking," because I was very green at the time. I had gone through film school. I had been working professionally for about ... three or so years. I think ... actually no, more than that ... like four or five years. And I had done a similar thing on YouTube on my own and then I hooked up with [Rev 3 00:02:51] and then developed Film Riot and put that out with a bigger platform and a bigger audience.
But the idea was always ... not like, "Hey, I know how to make films." The idea was always, "This is what I do know from my experience so far and my education, but I don't know what I'm doing. I'm gonna figure it out. Figure it out with me." And then just putting out ideas and then way that I went about things with no budget, trying to, you know, achieve the goals that I had, trying to make the things I wanted to make, and just having fun in the process ... with the hope that it followed me throughout my career in growing as a filmmaker and an artist and, you know, growing my career and figuring out how to get to the ultimate goal of making features. Which, you know, I'm getting much, much closer to ... hoping that one day 10 years down the road I'm making a feature film and you could look back at 10 years of episodes showing how it came from absolutely nothing, zero money whatsoever in a backyard to what it is now.
There wasn't anything like that and I thought that would be a great thing to do, beyond just the educational value of it, the inspirational value of it. 'Cause there wasn't anything like that at the time. There wasn't anything online that was really talking about filmmaking as a craft or, you know, really getting into how you could make a thing that way with very little money, so there was definitely a hole where Film Riot fit at the time. Now there's a billion things like it. Now it'd be much harder to start up a channel like that and it be successful-
Ryan Connolly: ... but at the time, there really wasn't. There was like a couple camera review-type things and you know, maybe an after effects tutorial-type thing, like from Andrew ... Andrew was already doing his thing, but that's all screen cap after effects stuff and then [inaudible 00:04:36] who was doing more like props. So there really wasn't that sort of thing yet.
Joey: Yeah, I mean you brought up a good point about, you know, [Andrew Cramer 00:04:43] and ... whenever we mention Andrew Cramer's name on this podcast we just need to take a moment of silence to thank Cramer for all that we have. But-
Ryan Connolly: I always call him the Godfather of after effects.
Joey: He really is. We threw a party ... this is kind of off topic ... but we threw a party at NAB this year for all the motion designers there, and Andrew was part of it and he's mograph Jesus. It's like-
Ryan Connolly: He is.
Joey: ... he walks in the room and everyone just gets [sucked 00:05:13] towards him. He's a magnetic guy. But you know, the stuff that you do on Film Riot, it looks like a pain in the ass to produce. The stuff we do at School Motion and the stuff that Andrew does, I mean it takes a lot of work, but in the end it's ... you're right, it's screen capping. But the stuff you do ... at least sort of the modern version of Film Riot ... there's a ton of production value and editing and it kind of feels like you're writing these things. And so the level of effort that you put into it seems kind of like ... I'm trying to think how to put this ... like at the beginning, what gave you the chutzpah ... to kind of put that much effort into something like this when, you know, as you yourself just said you were still learning?
Like I think some people have this idea that you can't really teach something until you are sort of a qualified expert in it.
Ryan Connolly: Right.
Joey: And I don't believe that, but I'm curious ... like sort of how you approached that idea. "I've never made a feature film and I probably won't for 10 years, but I at least ... I know how to get [inaudible 00:06:20] up the field, so maybe I'll talk about that." Like how did you approach the imposter syndrome of that?
Ryan Connolly: Well I don't want to talk down about screen capping either because that's not easy to do, either. Just making any kind of content that's valuable in any way is extremely difficult, so there's definitely an art that goes into that, and I love that stuff. I mean, I learned after effects from Andrew, and now [crosstalk 00:06:41] me and Andrew work together and it's just ... it's weird, and it's awesome. But yeah, I mean in the beginning it was ... there wasn't much thought process about that, like the imposter syndrome up front because I wasn't trying to be something I wasn't. I mean in the opening of Film Riot ... when we used to have like a 30 second show open ... I was in the open going, "You wanna be a filmmaker? Well so do I. Let's figure it out." Like it was in the open of the show me saying, "Let's figure this out. I don't know. Let's go."
Ryan Connolly: "Can we do this? [inaudible 00:07:19] Let's find out."
Joey: That's awesome.
Ryan Connolly: And I've never had the attitude of or have talked in the way to make it seem like, "Hey, I know exactly what I'm doing." And if I'm going to talk about something ... say somewhat recently ... where you put your camera and what focal [link 00:07:41] will you choose. What does it mean? It's all psychological. What are you saying to your audience? And if I put the camera a little bit lower on this type of lens, what am I saying?
So we did an episode like that, and I always preface that stuff with, "Hey, here's my perspective. This is how I see it. This is a subjective thing based off of my experience and the way that I look at this and what I'm trying to convey to my audience. You have to decide for this for yourself." And we've always gone that route. There are more things as I become more experienced and do more things on a much more pro level that I'm a lot more confident in, "Hey, here's how this is done." But even in filmmaking, there's so few things that are, "Hey, here's how this is done. Period."
Like I mean, a shutter is a shutter. Period.
Joey: Right, right.
Ryan Connolly: ... how it operates. That's how it operates. Shallow depth of field is what shallow depth is. Period. But how you use it, you know, and what you're doing it for can shift dramatically. It's all subjective. It's what you're trying to communicate, and everybody's gonna communicate differently. So I never had impostor syndrome with that, as far as Film Riot goes. The only time I had it that way is when we were doing something which felt like a little too much ... you know, it sounded a little too much like I felt like I was putting it out there that I really know what I'm talking about and, "Here's how you do that."
Ryan Connolly: You know, we're not a guru channel. We're not a, "Hey, you wanna sell a script for a million dollars? Here's how you do it." It's none of that bull crap. We're not saying, "Hey, follow these three easy steps and you're definitely gonna be a filmmaker." It's like to the contrary. We're always saying ... or I'm always saying on the show how hard it is, how hard this industry is. And I try to be very honest with that, and you know, I'm x amount of years into it ... I mean, legitimately, professionally, I'm, you know, 17 years into this now, still trying to get a feature made. So it's not easy.
Ryan Connolly: I've always said if you're not willing to live under a bridge, then not make films. Don't do this as a career. Do something else, and do this as a hobby. So you know, it's those things that have probably kept me from feeling like an impostor, and just putting the amount of effort into it that we did, especially up front. And even now, it's just all ... you know, it comes from passion. I love it. I love filmmaking. I love discovering new ideas and new ways to do things. "It would cost us $1,000 to do this shot. How can we do it for one dollar?"
Ryan Connolly: Stuff like that. "How can we do it with Play-Doh and cardboard?"
Ryan Connolly: That was something we did last year. It was like, "Usually you would need all these things. I have a piece of cardboard, and I have some Play-Doh. How do we make this work?" And it worked. We [inaudible 00:10:18] a bullet out of someone's head, like Wolverine.
Joey: That's amazing, dude. The way you're describing it, it reminds me a lot ... there's a company that's in kind of in our niche called Greyscalegorilla, and the guy who started that-
Ryan Connolly: Oh yeah, Nick.
Joey: Yeah, Nick. He had the exact same attitude when he started that site. It was like, "Hey, I'm learning this, and what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna try to learn something, and then I'm gonna show you what I learned. And then you could tell me, like, if you think that's good or if there's a better way." And it's interesting. It's kind of a new way of ... having a relationship with an audience, where you don't have to pretend you have all the answers. You can be yourself and be honest and be humble.
Let's talk about a little bit of your past. Where did you actually learn the initial skills necessary to make a film, how to use a camera, how to do basic lighting, how to use lenses?
Ryan Connolly: Well I think I'm pretty fortunate in that I started this preview to ... you know, before you had a really solid camera in your pocket kind of a thing. So everything was really difficult and I do appreciate that. I've been talking about that a lot recently because I think the simplicity of how easy it is to get your hands on things and accomplish things at a pro level might make it more difficult coming in because it's so readily available and so easy. You don't have to work as hard for it, so you might not appreciate it as much. So I think there's a self discipline now that wasn't quite, you know, then, maybe? This is a new thought process, so I don't know what I'm talking about half the time.
Joey: Work it out. Work it out. It's good.
Ryan Connolly: Let's work it out. You know, I was like eight ... I always say eight. My mom says five, but I don't know. That's pretty young.
Ryan Connolly: But I was around eight. It's kind of a number I just throw out, but it was pre-10 years old, for sure ... that my parents brought home the camera and I very like vividly remember looking through the viewfinder ... 'cause I used to do, as we all did and my other brothers and sisters did, too ... you'd put on like little plays for your parents or your other brothers and sisters.
Ryan Connolly: And they wouldn't laugh or be engaged in the way that I wanted them to in certain moments and it just struck me as, "Well they're just not seeing it how I see it." And then I remember looking through the viewfinder and through this one lens and just thinking that. I remember just thinking like, "Oh, I can make them actually see what I want them to see only." And just that concept ... you know, I was infatuated with it, is that I could take this thing and I could force people to see what I want them to see. Even if I was just walking around the house filming home videos, I'm still capturing something the way that I want people to see it and they're gonna see this moment exactly how I wanted them to see it. They're gonna see the world through my eyes.
I mean, I'm sure I didn't think that deeply about it-
Ryan Connolly: ... but that thought process was definitely there. And then that led to doing that type of stuff, just filming all the time and doing like little sketches and whatnot. But it wasn't till like Jurassic Park ... which anybody who watches my show or knows about me at all knows like I'm a freak for Jurassic Park, and that's because at 11 I went and I saw Jurassic Park. And if my parents knew what type of movie it was, they probably wouldn't have let me see it because they were pretty strict and you know, it was the first time I saw a movie like that. And it gave me such an intense experience of feeling unsafe in a safe place and completely engaged and truly worried about these characters that ... you know, I knew logically were just actors pretending, but I had to tell myself in the theater, "I remember in the trailer she's alive in another scene. I remember in the trailer she's alive in another scene."
And so when I got out of there, I had to know who this Spielberg guy was that just gave me this experience, and then I figured out what a director was and I consumed every possible making of or about thing I could get my hands on for Jurassic Park ... which back then ... you know, just some promotional books that they put out and things like that. The making of, so not too much, but I figured out, "Oh, it's this director guy. This is who gave me that experience, and that's what I want to do." And that's when I figured that out.
And then a TV show called Movie Magic came out later on that was all about process and just showed how they did these major effects and techniques and whatnot, and it's obviously something that you can't do as a little kid with a VHS camera and two VCRs, but ... you know, I could take those ideas ... the idea of forced perspective, the idea of what a green screen was ... all of these things. The idea of perspective in general, just shooting upwards and you can make it feel like someone's on a high ledge when really they're only five feet up. Things like that. And I started putting those into my own little short films that I made with my brothers and sisters, which then led to me doing videos for like a youth group later on and then ultimately film school.
So by the time I got to film school, I had already done like 20 or 30 of my own little short films.
Joey: It's crazy because you literally just described my childhood. I was ... almost identical. [crosstalk 00:15:22]
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, it's like we all have a very similar ... like everybody I talk to, they're like, "Yeah, dude." And I'm like, "Did you do VCR to VCR?" [crosstalk 00:15:29] And they're like, "Yes, I did."
Joey: Yeah, and my parents had the fancy VCR that had a slo-mo button, so you could like shoot something, play it on that VCR in slo-motion, and then videotape the screen, and that was-
Ryan Connolly: What?
Joey: That way you could get ... 'cause I didn't understand how to edit at that point, but I would sort of do it in camera. I would just like shoot that with the camera so it was kind of nonsense, but-
Ryan Connolly: That's fancy. I would get like explosions and stuff from like TV ... 'cause they would put the movies on TV and we would record them on VHS, of course, like everyone did. So I would take like ... what was that movie with ... The Stakeout, I think it's called? With Richard Dreyfuss.
Ryan Connolly: And there's this big like house explosion, so I would take those little moments, and then I would film someone running away from a house and like jumping and then cut to that explosion. So I would do stuff like that, like intercut things in.
Joey: That's hysterical. Yeah, and I was always obsessed with special effects and I remember for like high school films, getting a green bed sheet or something and like hanging it on the wall and doing the poor, poor, desperately poor man's green screen and all that stuff.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah.
Joey: So it seems like-
Ryan Connolly: Half of your body was always missing.
Ryan Connolly: It did not work out.
Joey: And you know, it's funny 'cause now, you know ... I mean, anyone listening who's ... I guess ... probably in your 20s, it's hard to imagine that a computer used to not have the power to actually like ingest video. You had to buy these really expensive cards ... anyway, that's a rabbit hole. But okay, so you were basically obsessed with making films from a young age-
Ryan Connolly: Yes.
Joey: ... like a lot of people. And so you had experience at least with cameras and maybe rudimentary editing and all that kind of stuff. So then you went to film school. And it's funny because I went to film school, too. I ended up switching. I didn't love film school. But you went to Full Sail-
Ryan Connolly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joey: And you finished the film program, right?
Ryan Connolly: Yes, I did. I was looking for a place that was like a quick turnaround tech school. I didn't want somebody to tell me how to tell a story. I didn't want somebody to tell me what the story meant. You know, as I was looking into all these colleges, a lot of it felt like somebody was gonna tell me what a film was and should be and I just didn't want that.
Ryan Connolly: For better or worse, I didn't want to taint what would ultimately become my voice. I wanted to discover that on my own, so I really just wanted something ... 'cause you know I had talked to a few people already and I had kind of an idea of what I wanted to do and be and how I wanted to go about it. So I wanted something that was very much a, "Hey, here are the buttons." And then I would get out of school and really figure it out. 'Cause I think that's what you do no matter what. You go to school to learn enough to be able to come out of school and start really learning 'cause you really only learn by doing. That's why nowadays it's like, do you even need film school if you're not going for networking? Because there's so much information online. You can get all that information, you know, either extremely cheaply through a couple sites that offer it or free and then just learn from experience. No one's ever asked me if I went to film school or cared, you know?
Ryan Connolly: So I definitely ... I really liked going to a school that didn't dive into those things, though there is value in diving into those things, for sure. But that's not really the path that I had wanted for better or worse, I don't know.
Joey: Well that's interesting to me because you said that you went there 'cause you wanted someone to tell you what buttons to push, right, and how to ... I don't know ... how to get more out of the image that you're creating with the camera and the lights and all of that stuff.
Ryan Connolly: Right.
Joey: And I guess, like ... you know, maybe 10 years ago ... that had some validity to it because there wasn't just like this easy way to learn that stuff.
Ryan Connolly: Totally.
Joey: I mean, even back then ... you know, like maybe even 15 years ago ... you could get books and stuff like that. But now-
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, and this was like 16 years ago, I think. 14 years ago? Something like that.
Joey: Yeah, I'm trying to think. I graduated college 2003. It's scary how long ago that was. But-
Ryan Connolly: Which is insane. Oh, I was going to college when you were graduating.
Joey: Yeah, but anyway my point was that ... you know now, to learn how a camera works or what different lenses do or what different lighting setups look like ... you got Film Riot. [crosstalk 00:19:43]
Ryan Connolly: You just go on YouTube. [crosstalk 00:19:44] Yeah, go on YouTube, type cinematography ... boom, there you go.
Joey: Yeah, but to me that's the easy stuff. There's a similarity with motion design, where everybody gets into the game because they wanna "learn after effects." They wanna learn how that program works. But that doesn't actually make your work good. Then you have to learn how to design well and how to tell stories and how to animate well and stuff like that. So there's the technical side. But then there's the ... you know, it's film, it's an art. And there's a lot of theory and things there. So since you didn't learn that at Full Sail, how did you learn that stuff?
Ryan Connolly: I learned it how I want everybody else to sort of learn it, is to think for themselves. Watch the films that they love and start to dissect them. Start to think about the stories you want to tell. Why do you want to them? Why do people do the things that they do? Dive into psychology. It's one of the reasons I'm not a huge fan of video essays, is it comes off very film school-ish. The things that I didn't want to happen in film school, I see through video essays. You know, you have somebody coming in and dissecting subjectively a film as if it's objective fact and it's just not. It's how you saw the film. And often times, you can even cross reference that with ... you know, the director's commentary of the film that they're talking about and find that the director didn't actually see it that way or mean that way.
Ryan Connolly: It's not that they're wrong, it's just how they see it. But you have kids looking at that and be like, "Oh, this is why this. This is the only way you do a camera ..." You know what I mean? I don't think that's super helpful because then you're just becoming a copy of how somebody else sees the world or sees storytelling or art. So for me it's, Watch the films for yourself. Dissect them for yourself. Turn off the sound. See what they're doing. Pay attention to life. Think about the story you're wanting to tell, and then work that backwards, meaning what does this mean? Why are these characters doing these things? What am I trying to say? Do I want to say that loudly, or do I want to say that quietly? And what does that mean? You know, dive into photography and [inaudible 00:21:47] other arts that you can dissect in different ways that will then translate over to the art that you're trying to create.
But that's how I've always gone about it. And I mean, more than anything else, it's been about dissecting and learning about actual life and then that moves into my storytelling as a filmmaker.
Joey: And it seems like the way that you have done it ... I mean, I'm not super familiar with what the modern like, you know, what the journey of a young filmmaker looks like ... but you've made a lot of very short films, you know, like five, six minutes.
Ryan Connolly: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joey: Is that your way of sort of like flexing those muscles and kind of building up those chops, rather than trying to spend two years making like one really long feature film or something?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, I didn't see a lot of value for me personally in putting all my eggs in one basket and spending all this time making one film that in the end I'll learn from this one project. For me ... I see the end goal, where I'm trying to get. I need to get to the end of that tunnel, but to get to that end of the tunnel, I need all these notches on my belt. You know, I need to know what it's like to work with an actual stunt team, actual actor, cinematographer ... you know, this sort of gear, that type of gear, in this scenario, that scenario. You know, this type of visual effect moment, this type of special effect moment.
So there was a lot of experience I wanted to gather for myself, which is like what I was saying. You learn enough to go out and get the experience to learn the rest. So for me, a lot of these short films is me being an entertainer, wanting to entertain you for whatever that period of time is. With most of them I'm not trying to say this big message, you know? I'm not trying to tell you this super in depth story. Where there's always something there for me, but it's always that it's whispered. It's not yelled at you. And that's what-
Ryan Connolly: ... gets me interested to, "This is why I'm putting the camera here, because it means this to me." And that's in everything I make, but not everything has something that's being really vocalized. And you know, that's been okay to me because that's not what these were supposed to be. They were pieces of entertainment that I was using to educate and to gather experience for myself. So you know, over a period of time I have all this experience and all these things as if I made three different feature films now with the experience that I've been able to gain from it and the people I've been able to learn from and work with ... to where, you know now I'm at the point where I feel very, very ready to go and direct a film. And even if that's me making the film for myself ... thanks to all the short films that I made and the experience that I've gathered ... I know how to do that.
It'd be great to ... I'm gonna be pitching pretty soon. It'd be great if one of these pitches were picked up by a studio 'cause that would be a huge learning experience as well, but ... thanks to all the short films that I've done ... 'cause a lot of people online are like, "Why haven't you made a feature yet? You're way beyond ready. Go make a feature." And I'm always trying to say, "I'm not, though." And everybody follows it up with, "Well, you're never ready." It's like, okay, yeah, you're never ready to get married, but it doesn't mean you're gonna get married at 17, you know what I'm saying?
So it's like you can know to some degree when you're ready enough to not be ready to actually do it, you know what I mean?
Ryan Connolly: So of course I'm gonna be ready to actually do it, but I'm ready enough. You know, I'm not un-ready. So it's like you know now it's at the point to where I wouldn't be wasting people's time. I know how to bring this together. I can confidently say, "Hey, you know we're gonna have [inaudible 00:25:25] ... " Who knows what it's gonna be because, you know, you never really know. But now I can bring everybody together and know that I'm not wasting everyone's time and that I won't drown in the process. And I learned that early on when I reached way too high. Because with every project I do, I'm reaching a little higher than I should, but you know, it just takes a bit of a leap. It's not so high that I can't even get there. And that happened one time and financing fell through and a lot of people that were wanting to come do this project already invested a ton of time in this project ... it just didn't go through and they had wasted their time.
And I didn't want that to ever happen again, so it's been very important to me to make sure I gathered the very specific needed experiences to now confidently move in to do those things. So that's really what all those short films have been. Every one is a strategic choice of, "This is the type of short film I'm gonna make now because I need to get experience in this way." Some of them have just been a zero budget thing like Sentinel, where I was working with a fully CG drone the entire time ... which you know, I had done some stuff like that, but not to this degree ... but mainly Sentinel was done as a way to create this action scene, basically, without any prep whatsoever and just have a very loose script and then walk on to this location that we found with zero dollars and a couple of people and just make it up as I go. And can I, you know, piece this together to something that's confident and entertaining in the end?
Because that's what happens when you're on these ... I mean, it happened in Ballistic. You're on this huge 85 person set with all these crazy stunts happening. It was like nine people in this action scene, all in different perspectives, all happening at the same time. This chaos happening. And you're running out of time and you have to throw out all your plans, and you have to make it up on the spot with an 85 person crew, money on the line, seven cameras rolling ... and that can be very difficult. So there's been things like Sentinel in the past to where I purposefully, you know, chose not to prep anything and use that as practice of, "Can I go in and piece this all together and it be coherent in the end?"
Joey: I love how you've ... got a process for how you're building up ... not just like your skills, but also your confidence. There's some similarities here between what you're doing and motion designers. There's this idea that a lot of times artists ... you call the five-second project ... where you just animate something for five seconds-
Ryan Connolly: Oh yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joey: ... Yeah, that's where you try something that you've never done before, like, "Hey, I'm gonna try and hand draw a flame like flickering or something."
Ryan Connolly: Right, yeah.
Joey: Because if you wait around for a project where you need that, then you're gonna be terrified to do it. You're not gonna be very good at it. Like I was going through your YouTube channel and you have a short ... it's just called Hallway Fight.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah.
Joey: And that's exactly what it is, and it's great. It's well done. It's entertaining.
Ryan Connolly: I figured, "Why give it a name of beyond what it is?"
Joey: Yeah, exactly. And it's very obviously ... you know, you practicing directing an action scene.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah.
Joey: And so I'm assuming that then ... I know nothing about Ballistic ... and by way, for everyone listening, we're gonna link to all of these films in the show notes, so you can go check 'em out ... and most of 'em are not very long, so you can watch, you know, probably Ryan's entire filmography in a couple of hours.
Ryan Connolly: Yep, pretty much. Yeah.
Joey: But Ballistic is your most ambitious one that ... at the time of this recording ... isn't out yet, by the time-
PART 1 OF 3 ENDS [00:29:04]
Joey: ... ambitious one that, at the time of this recording, isn't out yet. By the time this episode gets released, it might be. I want to come back to Ballistic. I want to stay in the past just a little longer. What was your first professional gig as a filmmaker. I'm assuming it wasn't as a filmmaker, because that's typically not what you would [crosstalk 00:29:22] do, right? What was the first time someone paid you to do this?
Ryan Connolly: I did some local commercials and stuff like that before film school. So, there was that type of stuff. After film school, I did the same sort of thing. Then this actress hired me. I think she gave me two grand to do these scenes. She wanted to five scenes, or four scenes, what ever it was, three scenes, to make it look like she had been in several films. I was like, I'll just take the two grand, and put all the money into getting gear and us making three short films. Let's just make three short films. We did that. They weren't great, of course. But it worked. She got what she needed out of it. I was able to practice as well, and I got a small light kit out of it. Then I took that gear, and went off and did a bunch of free stuff. Created a reel and a resume, and put that out there.
I always tell the story, because I just think it's funny. I got fed up, because I was doing construction work. I was doing tech support. I did stocking shelves. I washed cars. You name it. I had two or three jobs at one time, at one point, just trying to build up my gear, so I could do free work on that side. To hopefully, eventually, be able to do it. I did all that, and I built up my gear pretty well. Not much was happening, so I worked real hard and offered everybody I knew, "Hey, if you need a commercial, if you need a music video, whatever you want." I had a few friends who were in bands. I would just shoot them at their shows, recording and whatever, and just created a reel. Even did what I did with that actress, I would just shoot these little scenes to make it look like these full short films, and ways to practice as well. Created a reel, then just spent a week sending my reel and resume to I think it was 150 plus companies all over the place.
Literally one company got back to me, which was Alienware.
Joey: Which is not a good ratio.
Ryan Connolly: Not a good ratio. Which is what was so funny about the story is it's not like I had a bunch of options, it was literally one company was like, "Oh hey!" They were in Miami. Which was something that really helped me out, because I was local. They were looking for someone who could do everything from pre to post-production. Which also helped me out, because I could do that. It was funny, because I didn't even send it to them. I sent it to this production company. And Alienware was asking them, because they work with them every now and again, "Hey do you know anyone?" And they were like, "Well, funny enough this guy just sent us his resume."
Then I ended up getting that job. I ran their video studio. I was the only one. The video consisted, the entire crew, the video crew consisted of me. I just did all of it. I was able to help build the studio. I had my own office and studio, and all this frigging gear. I had three cameras, a jib, a huge cyc wall, and all this stuff. And it was just me. I was the only one there. If I wasn't checking off the boxes that they needed me to do that day, I got to experiment. Which a lot of it was experimenting with their stuff. Stuff they didn't even ask me to do where I would just take whatever the new product was, and come up with a bunch of cool visuals. Then show it to them like, "Hey check it out." They used a lot of it. I learned a lot of techniques doing that. Other time, I would just practice visual effects stuff. Do [inaudible 00:32:42] tutorials from Andrew, and things like that. I just learned a lot at that job just doing the work that they needed me to do, which was usually talking head stuff. Then going above and beyond, and trying to hone my craft overall to their benefit, but also to mine.
Joey: So what you were was basically a generalist. It's funny, because I remember when I came into the industry, like 2002, 2003, there was still this really big split where you were either production or you were post. But it was kind of weird if you did both. Now it's totally normal. Every company has a video person. Right? That sort of shoots, and edits and does all of that.
Ryan Connolly: Right.
Joey: This sounds really awesome. You kind of fit ... you were kind of early in that game, being able to shoot, and edit and do all of that. Did you start film-
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, well they just didn't want to pay multiple people. That was the thing. I didn't get paid the salary of four guys. I got paid the salary of one guy. I just had to do-
Ryan Connolly: ... the work of four guys which always ended up around the busy times like the holidays and whatnot. Always ended up me bringing a pillow to work, because I would be there for two or three days straight sometimes trying to get it all done.
Joey: While you were there, sometimes if you're in a job where what you're producing during the day isn't very creatively satisfying, you go home and try to do your art then. Were you doing that? Or were you actually getting opportunities to make kind of cool stuff over there?
Ryan Connolly: I mean, of course, but I've always looked at it as I didn't get a lot of opportunities to make cool stuff, but I made my own opportunities. I make a web series there without asking. Sort of the office-esce. That was back when YouTube would feature stuff, and it featured it a bunch of times. Alienware finally found out about it. They were like, "Yeah, keep doing it."
Ryan Connolly: I did that, it was like a little comedy series. It was fun. But mostly, I would just find ways to keep myself interested and try things. If it was like, "Hey, we're doing a talking head video." Instead of just starting the cameras up like I always do, I would shoot it different every single time. I had three cameras, so I tried to make it look like ... How could I make it look like three operators with one dude. I would take my shoes off, and be in socks, and while they're talking, I would run from camera to camera doing moves with each of the cameras individually to make it look like ...
Then I would try different ideas with post processing. Maybe sometimes it was black and white. For some of them it was black and white, or maybe show the gear in this one. Which is kind of normal thing now, but at the time, wasn't. It was like, "What if I show the gear? Show the behind the scenes elements of shooting this along with the inside of it element." Even when it was just a dumb talking head thing, I was always trying to find a different way to light it, a different way to shoot it to practice and learn from as well. I was always creatively satisfied to some extent with all that stuff, because I just wouldn't rest on what I've done a billion times before. I would try to find different ways of doing it.
Then, of course, the second you leave there, I'm working on my own stories, writing scripts. I had FrameForge even back then. I would write scripts, and then I would board out the whole thing in FrameForge. Then look at my movie in frames, because I didn't have my own gear, or time or money to make anything, or anybody to make it with at the time, other than my brothers and sisters. Which I would still do. Over the weekends, I would go and make a cute short film with my little sister who's now 18, and awesome and works for me. But back then, she was like five or whatever it was. I would have ... I called it the Cookie Caper. She's trying to get a cookie when her mom said no. That sort of stuff. Just practicing the coverage, the pacing, and how it unfolds and all this stuff. Just doing stuff that was just dumb, but I got to practice with.
I was always doing that stuff. I was you know ... I've never not been doing it. I have to. It's another thing I always talk about. It's not a "I want to do it." It's a "I have to do it." Or you start getting a little depressed. It's definitely a piece of me that needs to be fulfilled, continually. It's like you're never not hungry. You can't consume this enough. You're always hungry.
Joey: I think that ... I mean that makes a lot of sense. I think that's one of the reasons that you've ... people have been drawn to what you've created, and you've been successful with it, because you've paid your dues. You literally put in the time, and done your reps. Were you working full time at this gig when you started Film Riot?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, I call those the dark days. I was working full-time-
Joey: The sleepy time.
Ryan Connolly: ... I was working full-time for Alienware. I started doing this which was also a full-time job, because I was brand new to making films. Now, we've got a definite groove on how we do things. We try to switch things up a lot, but even when we switch things up, you have a method and procedure of doing these things to were you can do them much quicker, or much more experience. We'll knock episodes out now in a day or two if we have do. Whereas back then, no way. Everything was a learning process. I was figuring everything out as I went. It was definitely a different type of show back then. There weren't any shows like it. There weren't any shows like how we even did it back then. How we did ads wasn't a thing back then. We do custom ads, because I was like, "Man if I have to put an ad in the middle of my show, I'm going to make it a sketch." We did that. It was all this process of discovery. It would take a full week to pull off every single episode.
It would end up being something where I shot on the weekends. Then throughout the week, I was editing and doing the visual effects or whatever it was. Then at least once a week ... I always bring this up, because I was scared by it, at least once a week I would go two days without sleeping fully.
Joey: Oh my God.
Ryan Connolly: It would happen every Wednesday night, which would turn into Thursday morning. I would hit export or upload rather onto the Rev Three server, and I would change and drive to work, to Alienware. It happened every single week for months. No matter how hard I tried, that's what happened every week. It was like, "How it is to the last second every single week?" At most, I would get an hour nap in. I ended up discovering Newton Naps back then where you would sit in your chair. You would have a spoon, and you would hold the spoon to the side of the chair. Then you would let yourself doze off. Once you kind of doze off for a second, the spoon falls, hits the ground, wakes you up. You had like a little micro-nap. It actually would help. When it would get too much, I would do a little Newton Nap, then keep going.
Joey: See, that is so up my alley. I'm going to try that.
Ryan Connolly: Do it, do it.
Joey: Never heard of a Newton Nap. What kept you going in those early days, because that sounds really hard. I'm guessing that YouTube channels, even back then when there weren't as many, still took time to get traction and stuff like that. Were you getting positive feedback, or were you getting fan mail? What kept you doing that?
Ryan Connolly: Just the passionate of it man. We were in Florida. It was all disconnected, and I wasn't used to forums or anything like that. I wasn't really that type of person that was in that stuff so much. I just watched and made movies as much I could pretty much. The YouTube comments were there for sure. That was nice. But really, I just loved doing it. The second I got done with one, I had an idea for the next one, and I just couldn't wait to try it, shoot it, mess around with it. See what I could do with this lighting idea, and that lighting idea. It's always just been the passion of it that pushed it forward. Of course, once the community started being built over a few months, because we had a decent audience up front, thanks to Rev Three. I was doing some stuff before.
I did a show before. We actually showed an episode on Film Riot. It was called Making the Film. It was so, so terrible, but we were doing that first. That did okay. That was anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 views per episode. Which back then, that was pretty solid. That also got featured a few times. I think that's how Rev Three found us. I can't really remember 100% to be honest. I was already doing that, but that only came out every couple of months. I wasn't like I was doing it weekly. It was maybe one a month. I had already been doing that. That got a couple of, "Hey this is cool." Oh, somebody likes it, cool! Let's do the next one.
It was a lot that, I think. In the beginning, they weren't really putting the episodes on YouTube, they would just put snippets. I had come from doing YouTube, that's what I knew. I could see the views on YouTube. I could comment with people on YouTube. Whereas they did the Rev Three player, and that just wasn't the case. I was a big advocate from the beginning of like, "Hey, let's go on YouTube. Let's put this on YouTube. That's where it's going to live. Nobody wants an independent player. Let's go where the community is." So finally, when that happened, I finally started really feeling the community a lot more. That was a lot nicer.
But yeah, really it's just been ... I just always got to do the next thing once I finish whatever this thing is.
Joey: Was Rev Three a separate site that would just host the videos on their own site?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, exactly.
Joey: Okay, gotcha. Okay cool. So, that helped you get a little bit of exposure early, and then you switched to YouTube, which just allows for a lot more organic growth.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, we started doing YouTube right away, but it would just be we upload the sketches and things like that.
Joey: Gotcha. What was the transition like to turn what was initially this passion project into something that actually was generating revenue, and eventually let you leave your full-time gig?
Ryan Connolly: Time. We had ads on the show right up front, but it just made no money.
Joey: Like YouTube ads or your custom ads [crosstalk 00:43:02]?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, customs. That was like the first episode, we had custom ads in it. But it just, I just made zero, zero money. It was a very long time before it really started money. Even when I quit Alienware, it wasn't because I was making enough money to quit that's to Film Riot. I wasn't even making nearly enough money. I was actually hoping to get fired. Dell bought Alienware. Then a bunch of people got fired with great severance packages. I was like, "Oh my God! Fire me, fire me, fire me!", because they fired both of my bosses in my department. One was a photographer, the other one did motion graphics, and web and stuff like that. But they were my bosses, they were my managers. They fired both of them. I was like, "I'm going to get fired! Yes!"
Joey: That's great!
Ryan Connolly: It would have given me a few months to figure it out, and that's what I was really trying to get. They didn't. They didn't fire me. They kept me on.
Ryan Connolly: I finally felt like ... I got to the place where I felt I was standing still. For me, standing still is going backwards. You're always going in a direction. I felt like if I didn't pull the trigger, and get out of there, and commit, and gamble on myself, I'm going to get comfortable. Then this is never going to happen. That's the worst thing ever.
Ryan Connolly: So, practicing what I preach, I'd rather live out of my car or under a bridge than not do it. I was planning to live out of my car, because I just didn't have money. That was going to be the plan. I set my trunk up to be my dresser. It was going to happen. But, my friend caught wind of it, and let me live with him for a while. Which, if I would have told my parents that, they would have killed me. They would have been like, "Are you nuts? Come home.", but for me-
Ryan Connolly: ... I left home a long time ago, and I've made my own way. I feel if I go there, am I going to get comfortable? Is that going to be going backwards? I just felt like the more hardships I could put on myself, the harder I'm going to work. The faster I'm going to run toward the direction I want to go. I didn't want to do that. I just wanted to make it very hard for myself, so I wouldn't get comfortable and I wouldn't stand still at all. But my friend let me sleep on his couch, which was uncomfortable. It's better than a car, but it's still uncomfortable, let's do it. Luckily, I really lucked out with ... I landed this job for AMD creating a few videos for them which sustained me for six months while I figured out how to boost Film Riot a lot more. Then just kept bringing in little client gigs here and there when I needed them to sort of sustain while I continued to build Film Riot which took a few years to become sustainable on its own.
Joey: I like that you sort of lean into that resistance, that fear, because it's something that I tell a lot of our students. When you start down the path of becoming a motion graphics artist, there's going to be a lot of dark days where you really doing think it's going to happen, and you're just not good. That's when you really have to lean into that feeling and just hug it.
Ryan Connolly: Totally.
Joey: Just be like, "Yeah, this feels awful." Because, that's how you grow. It is good motivation.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, I feel like that's kind of everyday a little bit. I feel like everyday I have moments of, "I'm the worst. This is never going to work.", and, "Hey! This might work!"
Joey: I'm a fraud.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah.
Joey: I hear you man. What does the channel look like now? I just checked. You've got, at the time of this recording, 1.3 million YouTube subs. You have the little plaque in your office, right? You got a million subs, don't they send you a cool plaque or something?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah. We have the hundred thousand sub plaque, which is smaller and silver. Then the million, which is bigger and gold.
Joey: That's awesome. So now, I'm assuming that ... What I've heard from other YouTube channel personalities and creators is that you used to be able to actually make okay money monetizing your YouTube videos with ads. Then at some point, the algorithm changed, something changed and now that's gone. So, how does Film Riot sustain itself now, because its looks like from the outside, you've got an office, you've got people helping you with this. I'm assuming you're paying them. What does it look like now? What's the business model?
Ryan Connolly: It's never just been Film Riot like, "Hey, here's my income. It's Film Riot.", because that just wouldn't be sustainable. Film Riot got to the point where it was definitely a nice leg of that, but never solely the thing. That came from my dad always telling me, "You want to sit on a stool. You're not going to want it to have just one leg, you're going to fall over. You're going to need as many legs on that thing as possible."
Joey: Oh, I like that.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah. I took that to heart, and that's what I've always done. I've tried to always have as many things going on as possible. At one point I had Film Riot, and a show called Film State, and another show I produce called Variant which is still online. That has one point something million followers as well. Doing client work, and doing appearance, or speaking engagements, or stuff behind the scenes for other people or little [via effects 00:48:07] pieces for other people, or consulting or whatever it is. Always be doing something.
Now, it's to the point where I do very little client stuff, but we have our store. So we sell assets, and classes and our films. Which really, you're buying the special features which has tons of on set stuff, and really in-depth looks at how we made it and things like that. That's a big revenue side for us as well. We have the shows and that going on, and any client stuff that we do here and there, which is very few and far between and really just a part of the show now. It's really just collaborators, people that ... I always tell my collaborators that I'm a terrible negotiator, because I'm like, "Hey, I'm making a short film. Do you want to put some money into it? I'm going to be honest. I'm going to say and do all the things for you either way, whether you give me money or not. But if you give money to the budget, we can make it look even better which will make you look even better." Because, I'm going to use Adobe Premiere no matter what. I'm going to say this no matter what, because that's what I use and that's what I actually think. I'm going to use after affects no matter what, because that's obviously what I'm going to say and think.
Cannon cameras is the camera I'm usually using. I go after those people to collaborate with us. But that's not really income when we do short films. I don't make any money off short films. I lose a lot of money off short films. Because the collaborators come in to help us bring the budget up, but I always end up end up putting at least a quart of the budget in myself. It's not the best business model, but I look at it as investing into our future. The future of Triune, the future of me as a filmmaker, and then we try to sell that stuff like I was saying before, the film packs with all special features to hopefully recoup what we put out. Which we're usually able to do, or it's usually a minimal loss. Which I think is a worthwhile investment. But to answer your question more directly, we still put ads in the show. The big change was we used to do two ads in the show, now you can only do one. I'm glad that happened to be honest, because I watched some of the old episodes with two ads, and I'm like, "Holy crap, this is just like all ad."
It's just way too much. Now looking back on it, it was just way too much advertisement in one episode. Now we just do one, but we still have sponsors that come in. Domain.com has been a sponsor for us forever. I have that sponsor read memorized down pat.
Ryan Connolly: But they've been a big supporter of ours for years, which obviously, I'm really appreciative. That's what I use for my stuff too. So even that stuff, if I don't use it, I don't really put it on the show. Or if don't ... Like Fresh Books, I don't really personally use very much anymore, but I did at one point. I really like it, so they're one of our sponsors as well. We try to keep it organic like that, and that always seems to help as well, and brings ways to bring in revenue without it being counter productive. But really, it's just a little bit of everything, the store, our shows, any outside work that we do, stuff like that.
Joey: It's a really cool idea, and it's something that I've thought about trying to do it for School of Motion too. It's kind of what you're doing where what you really want to do is make films. Right?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, exactly.
Joey: And unlike motion design, this is something I want to talk about in a little bit. Motion design, I can sit down with enough coffee and all by myself make a two minute, fully animated thing-
Ryan Connolly: Totally.
Joey: ... that's possible. But as a filmmaker, you can't do that by yourself. Not the level of stuff that your doing these days. You need a crew. You need people. You need gear. You need locations. You need actors. That stuff costs money, and it sounds like what you're doing, at least partly what you're doing, is you're funding the film by selling the making of the film-
Ryan Connolly: Exactly.
Joey: ... which is brilliant.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah I think.
Joey: Right? Did you come up with that idea, or did it just work out that way, and you were like, "Holy crap, this is a good idea."?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, it's just how I came up with how we could make what we wanted to make, and entertain people the way that I wanted to entertain them in the way that I wanted to without anybody being involved. Because you could do branded content, and I could make a short film that's branded content like people do, but now that company has say in what my short film is. That's not acceptable to me.
Ryan Connolly: I'm not trying to make an ad for you, I'm trying to make a piece of entertainment for my audience. Being able to sell into ... What they really need anyway is the making of like, "Hey, here's how I made this thing that you love." Because it's like when I see something that I really love, I want to see how they did it. I want to see what they used to do it. I want to see their process behind it. What were they thinking? Why did they choose these things? That's more valuable for everybody involved, for our collaborators like Adobe whose products I really believe in, and our audience who I want to connect with the products I really believe in, because things are the things I use because I think they're the best took for the job. But not only that, why I use it this way. Not that, "Hey, here's this camera I use." Great, who cares? But, here's why I use it and how I use it.
The marriage of those things has become the most valuable all around. But yeah, it just came from, I want to make short films, we need to bring in ... Film Riot was definitely a part of that thought process of just doing Film Riot having ads in there. Then constantly promoting Adobe and Cannon, because it's what I used, I wasn't connected with them yet. Then eventually over time, getting connections with them. I had this catalog of just loving them. They were like, "Hey, this is clearly ... it clearly makes sense for us to connect." Stuff like that.
Joey: I love this new model, this way that you're crafting your career and building skills while sharing that knowledge with others, using the making of to sort of fund the film itself. That's a new model that didn't exist not that long ago. If you had done the other thing. Your other film school friends, I'm assuming, didn't go start YouTube channels, and sort of do this. Right? They probably moved to LA and did it the old fashioned way. What is the old fashioned way? If you had wanted to be able to direct something like Ballistic. I think you said it's 17 minutes long or something-
Ryan Connolly: Yeah.
Joey: ... a crew of 80 people. How would you get the opportunity to do that without doing it the way you did?
Ryan Connolly: Well, I mean like a studio system right? The path to that studio system isn't exactly ... There isn't one. It's not like one. That's one thing that I've learned after creating my own network and having friends out there and everything, is everybody has a totally different story. I mean, it's similar in certain ways like ours is. Our beginnings are very, very similar and everything like that. But how people got there is so totally different that one person started from just PA-ing, and then moved into cam op, then moved into some cinematography which moved into directing music videos and commercials, and viral videos. Then short films, and all the while he's pitching placed because he isn't an agency because of the commercials, so he's pitching all the time. Then a pitch gets picked up, and boom, he's making movies.
Then you have somebody like David Sandberg who is just in Sweden making his films with his wife. One takes off, and James Wannan and company comes a calling. Now he's making Shazam! For DC. Three movies later in three years.
Ryan Connolly: It's like everybody seems to have a totally different path in, but I mean, that's it. You're feeling about the studio system ... you're asking someone to let you make the project. It's something I didn't want to do up front, especially not having any experience or knowing what I'm doing at all. I wanted to learn with me being the boss and the final say of everything for better or worse. I'd rather me be wrong than you be wrong. You know what I mean?
Ryan Connolly: But obviously now, I would love to do a studio system sort of gig, and then learn from those people who this is what they do and are just insanely talented and knowledgeable. It's at that point now where I think that would be a great next step. But starting, it's not really ... I don't think the most beneficial starting. But if I were to have gone that path, and gone to LA or whatever, it would have gone that direction probably, like PA, then work from there. Some people start at a rental house. They're very personable, and they work well with a the gear. They figured out every piece of gear. Then you have the cinematographer and guy first coming in all the time and doing gear tests or whatever. They got to know them. They're just really hard workers, and passionate and confident. Then people see that, and they're like, "Hey, why don't you come out and be on my camera team?" Now they're on the camera team. They're a camera PA. Then they're a second AC. Then they're a first AC. Then they're a camera operator.
There's paths like that. That probably would have been the one I would have taken. I want to be a director, so I probably would have gone the route of PA to AD sort of situation.
Ryan Connolly: Or who knows, maybe some small production company where I get to direct some small commercials, and then build up that way. But it definitely would have been something like that starting a much smaller level, helping other people make their things. Slowly moving into being able to make yours.
Joey: Yeah, again there's a corollary between that and the world that I came into of post production where you know the traditional way to become say a commercial editor use to be you have to go work for a post house let's say in New York or something.
Ryan Connolly: Right.
Joey: You start ...
PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:58:04]
Joey: For a post house, let's say like New York or something-
Ryan Connolly: Right.
Joey: And you start as the receptionist, or the whatever, just the gopher, like going and getting muffins for the clients. Then if you're lucky then you can be an assistant editor, and you can be an assistant editor for, like, 10 years before you ever get to be called an editor and all that kind of stuff. Or what some of my friends have done is they make some short film, and they edit it, or they edit something for free, and it goes viral, and it gets them noticed, and then, boom, they're an editor. You can kind of ... Swing for the fences approach, too.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah. That's definitely the thing. Even if you are a PA. You have to show something for yourself, whatever it is. Like you were just saying, you get stuck in assistant editing job forever. These people will see you as that, whoever it is, and that's just human nature, doesn't make them bad. They are just ... This is what this person does, it's what they're good at, it's who they are.
They could say they want to be a director until they're blue in the face, everyone wants to be a director, I feel like, a director, an actor, or a screen writer. Everybody wants to be one. It doesn't mean that everybody can be one.
Ryan Connolly: You have to go out and invest in yourself, gamble on yourself, like your friend did, and go out and make sure films, and whatnot. Even one of my friends who is doing the music videos, and the viral videos, and pitching, it wasn't until he made this short film that did very well, that really things took off.
There was a ton of stuff happening behind the scenes, but, you know, when you have certain things to show for yourself, especially an audience reaction, then people are taking notice. Because you'd be, like, "Hey, here are my plans, here are the things that I want to do, and here's proof that I can actually pull off what I'm saying."
Joey: Love it. It's like, do the thing that you want to get paid for before someone will actually pay for it, and ... yeah.
Ryan Connolly: Exactly. If you're not investing in yourself how do you expect anybody else to do it?
Joey: Yeah, that's the quote right there. That's the quote of the podcast.
Ryan Connolly: I did it! Nailed it!
Joey: Yeah, you did it. I love it, man. Let's talk about the difference between the way that you make your films, and the way that it would work in a studio situation. Your channel teaches people how to get production value that normally ... Well, I don't know if ... I think things have probably changed.
When I had my first internship I was astonished by the scale of, even a very small production. One day of shooting interviews could cost $20,000 in rental, and crew, and location, and whatever. But you show how to get that same look, that same production value, with way less expensive cameras, less expensive lenses, you can build a dolly out of a shopping cart, whatever.
When you get to the next level where you're doing something for a studio, does that ethos have to change, because now there's millions of dollars available?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, to some degree. A lot of it's bloated, and not needed, and it's just the way of things, but to some degree it changes, but I know a lot of people that are still ... they bring ... I mean, gaffers, and grips, or DIY dudes, you know what I mean?
Ryan Connolly: They have a truck full of things, and they'll just whip up whatever you need on the spot. I mean, I don't think that attitude will ever leave. To bring up David Sandberg again, with his first two films, he did a lot of the effects, and even shot some stuff when they told him no, because he needed it for his film, so he just did it. He just made it happen, and this is in a studio film.
Ryan Connolly: That's how I hope I would be, you just making the best project you possibly can, however you're making it, whether it's with an ALEXA or a Blackmagic camera, whatever it is, you know?
It's always the talent that goes into the thing, not the tools involved. Obviously, the tools involved make it a whole lot easier. It's a lot easier to screw something into a really thick plank of wood with a drill than a screwdriver, but the screwdriver will get the job done, it's just gonna take a lot longer, and it's gonna hurt your hand. That's really the difference to me.
Ryan Connolly: All the gear and the massive crew is really nice, and frees you up to really just concentrate on the creative, but you can still get it done either way. And I'm really glad I came from that school of thought for so long, because it really does build your toolbox of ideas and solutions to where ... On Ballistic, it served me very well. We were trying to pull off a lot of gags per day, just a lot. We needed probably three more days than what we had, at least, safely, especially because of the budget
I think my stunt coordinator told me that the entirety of the budget that we had for the entire short film, including what we ended up shooting in Texas, as well, is what was less than what I would've had to have paid for just the stunt team and special effects that we had for three days in L.A.
That's not counting the rest of the crew, cast, gear, location, a visual effects post, pre, all that stuff. When you're working with those limitations so many things don't necessarily ... It's not necessarily that it's going wrong, it's the inevitable hiccups from those restrictions.
Coming from that world it's very easy for me, thankfully, to think quickly, and to ... "Okay, here's what we can do instead, and I know it will work because I did it before this way. Somebody get me bubblegum and popsicle sticks STAT, we can fix this."
Joey: Right, right, MacGyver it.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah. So, yeah, I'm really happy it came from that sort of thing, because I do still bring it into this world. There's been a few projects where I've made quick choices like that, where people are, like, "Really? That's what you're gonna do?," and I'm like, "Trust me, it'll work," and then it totally does.
It's really nice to have that sort of thinking, even on the bigger sets ... so far. I mean, I've only done a handful of them.
Joey: Yeah, that kind of hacker mentality. Well, let's talk about Ballistic a little bit, because that's the biggest thing that you've done to this point, and I can't wait to see it. First, why don't we start with this. A 17-minute film, 80 person crew, a stunt coordinator. To me, if this was like one episode of a Netflix show or something, I would assume it cost a million and a half dollars, right?
Ryan Connolly: It did not.
Joey: Yeah, I assumed it did not. I'm curious if you can say what the budget was or a ballpark or something, but how did you ... How did you make that work at that scale for so much less than it would have taken in a normal studio situation?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah. I mean, it was about a 10th of that Netflix show. We needed I think three times what we had is what we kind of figured without really sitting down and doing the crazy math of it.
It works that way because everybody is just passionate about it thankfully. I have a body of work that I can show for myself, and be, like, "Hey, if you like this, I'm doing this now, and if you're down to come onboard." People have seen how I've done my BTS in the past, and I'm not me, me, me, I, I, I. I think the auteur theory is nonsense, it's bullcrap, it's non-existent, it's impossible.
You have people with a stronger vision than others, but it is impossible for one person to make a film on that scale by themselves. Hitchcock, Spielberg, anyone.
Ryan Connolly: No one's making the movie by themselves. There's a cinematographer, there's a sound designer, there's a composer, all putting their fingerprint on the thing. A writer of the film that "auteur" is making. It takes a village to raise a film, and that's just true period. It's just some people have a much stronger and specific vision.
I've always tried to point that out heavily. "This person brought in these ideas, this person did this, that person did that, this person was so amazing. I was so lucky to work with this person," because it's just true. As a director, half of your job is bringing together the most talented people you possibly can to make you look way better, you know?
Ryan Connolly: You have this cast that ... and even as a writer I have this cast that I'm bringing in, and they're acting their pants off, and they're making me look better as a writer and as an acting director. I have the cinematographer that's making me look better as a visual director. And, of course, I'm definitely very specific in where I want the camera, how I want things blocked, and paced, and what I want everything ... I am on the more specific side of things. Not David Fincher level-specific, but definitely on the more specific side of things.
But I also love collaboration, and we try to make that very known, and I think people see that and have felt that before, so they're excited to come back and be a part of something where, in the end it doesn't feel somebody's taking all the credit for their hard work and passion. And, on top of that, it's a very audience-based thing that we do, we're putting out something for people to enjoy, that's the main purpose of it, and I think a lot of people are stoked to be a part of something like that, as well.
It's such like a quick turnaround audience thing, too, you know? Which is always nice to be a part of, because a lot of them do commercial work, and things like that, where you never know who actually did it, and there's no audience entertainment portion to that, so they're all hungry to do narrative stuff like this as much as I am.
With those things combined, including being able to be like, "Here's my other works, are you down? You want to come play?" You know, we're all trying to build a reel for ourselves. We can do better work, we need to build more experience, and that definitely brings people in, as well as ... as much ... and it's fun.
These are also people that I know, friends of mine, and we all want to do this together, get on set, be a family, and create something that we can all have fun doing, and be proud of in the end.
It's really just all those things that just bring us all together to bleed all over this thing to try to make it the best we possibly can, while not making any money off of it, or making a very reduced rate off of it, or, in my case, losing a bunch of money off of it.
Joey: Right. The director is the lowest paid person in this case-
Ryan Connolly: By far. "Please, please buy the film when it comes in the store."
Joey: Yes. "Please help me, please."-
Ryan Connolly: "Please help a struggling director."
You had a budget for this, but I'm assuming an 80 person crew, you're not paying scale, right?
Ryan Connolly: No.
Joey: Is that kind of the way these types of things work, where if you have some money you can pay people a little bit, but, I mean, they can go work on a commercial, like, a DP, and get $2,500 a day, or something like that-
Ryan Connolly: Totally.
Joey: But if they're helping with your film, I'm assuming there's no way you can pay them that. Is it all about the passion, or do you sometimes have to just straight up pay people? Is it a combo?
Ryan Connolly: I mean, you have different people like the editor, or the DP, or the composer, sound designer, producers, stunt coordinator. People like that who benefit off the film itself period.
But then you have PA's who, they're benefiting off the experience of being on the film and learning from it, but they need to be paid.
Ryan Connolly: They need to be paid what they should be paid, because in the end no one's going to IMDB to see who PA'd the film. I mean, they're getting a credit, but they're not getting that benefit from it, as much as they're getting the education on-set. But they're putting in hard work, so those guys I try to pay properly as much as I possibly can.
But, I mean, PA's don't make a thousand dollars a day either-
Ryan Connolly: It's an easier one to carry that financial burden of. Then you have things like crafty, and stuff like that, that you really can't skimp on. Anything involving safety you can't skimp on. But with more of the creative collaborators, like the people I just mentioned, it's a matter of, "Hey, here's what I can do. I totally understand if it's not worth it to you, but if it is worth it to you, and here's the script. If you want to come play I would love that." You know?
Ryan Connolly: To their credit, all of them were like, "Dude, let's do it." A couple of them were even like, "Even keep that, what you're telling me. Put it back into the film, give it to the other crew members who deserve it."
It's also just years, and years, and years of building a network, consciously building a network of collaborators like that, that have kind of come together for this film. Avengers is simple to some extent.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, so it is that, it's, also, ... It is a pretty low budget thing, so it lands in that sort of scale, as far as unions, and stuff goes, so there's a different pay scale, depending on what budget range you're in, so there's that, as well.
Joey: That's really great to hear. I mean, there's a lot of that in our community, too, of motion design. If you're doing a cool project that has a good message, or it's just interesting. It's actually not that hard to get people to just jump in and want to work on it without getting paid-
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, totally. Everybody wants to do something that they can be passionate about and proud of in the end-
Ryan Connolly: I've always gone the route of ... I mean, the honest actual objective route of, "It's not just my film, it's all of our films. It's my vision that you're all being kind enough to let me have and help me create." So I feel more appreciative of them than anything else, that they're actually taking their time and effort to allow me to see this vision realized. And to their credit, step aside when I'm, "No, it needs to be this way," and, "Okay."
Whereas, they're not getting paid that much, and it's their film, too, now, but we're all still coming onboard, and they're all putting their fingerprints on it, and we're all collaborating. It's everybody coming together to this script I wrote, and they're all bringing it, that didn't exist, these characters didn't exist, this world didn't exist, and it's all just words on a paper. But now all these really talented people are coming together to help realize this and make it a thing that actually lives and breathes.
That's pretty amazing. I feel pretty extremely appreciative to all of them for that sort of thing. We're all wanting to come together to do something we're passionate about. I think if you're not going the route of the greasy, "Hey, I'll give you a credit." You know? You know?
Ryan Connolly: "You could do it for exposure." Meanwhile, [crosstalk 01:12:38] there isn't gonna be any probably, and you don't even know if it's gonna be good in the end. Just being really honest of, "Here's what I can pay you. I'm gonna do as much as I can. I'm gonna make sure there's food."
Ryan Connolly: "I'm gonna make sure there's definitely gonna be coffee, don't worry about it."
Joey: Craft Services, yeah-
Ryan Connolly: "Craft services is gonna be good. But this is what I can pay you, and this is what the project is. If you're not interested, I totally understand."
Joey: Really, that's the way to do it. I don't know, I think ... You've also got ... You're so passionate about this stuff, it's clear that you really care about it, and I think that probably helps you get people on board, too.
I want to ask you ... You seem like you've come up as a filmmaker having ... getting used to working without giant amounts of money.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah.
Joey: And using sort of like that DIY ethos, which is awesome, but your production value keeps getting better, and better, and better, and better. Obviously a lot of that has to do with the crews that you've been able to assemble, and the people that you've met.
Let's just say that an investor said, "Here's a million bucks, Ryan. I want you to make that 17 million ... that 17-minute Ballistic film using a million dollars." What would that have allowed you to do differently? Would you have made it the same way, or would you have done something differently?
Ryan Connolly: Make Ballistic for a million bucks?
Joey: Yeah, yeah.
Ryan Connolly: I would've made it-
Joey: I mean, I don't know what the movie's about, so maybe that's insane-
Ryan Connolly: I would've made it for like a third of that, and then saved the rest for my first feature. That's what I would've done. No, I don't think ... I wouldn't-
Joey: Would've hired John Malkovich.
Ryan Connolly: Yeah. I wouldn't have done much differently, other than maybe add a couple of days, so we wouldn't have had some of the issues that we had as far as that goes.
Because we didn't have enough days, and I knew that going in, but it's, like, you want to accomplish this or not? It's that reaching a little too high, but you got to leap, but you could still grab onto it, so it was that.
I mean, I wouldn't have done that much different. I definitely wouldn't need a million bucks for it for sure.
Joey: Yeah, but is there something that money gets you when you're making a film that ... You know ... Is it just like more freedom as a director to say, "Well, it would actually be cool if there was a big boat there. Let's rent a..."-
Ryan Connolly: Sure. I mean, you don't have as many restrictions, but I think not having restrictions is actually a restriction. You know, when everybody's just saying yes to me over, and over, and over again. I'm a dog off its leash and I'll just run rampant.
Ryan Connolly: But if I only have this much room to play in, now I really have to be creative, now I really have to think about, "Okay, why does my character have to do that? Because we only have this much money."
"If I move that car over to there," because we're shooting this old junkyard, so there's all these cars everywhere, and I moved a bunch of cars around for specific reasons, and staging, or how I want it to look or feel. Every time we touched a car we had to pay for it.
If a character walked on a car, I'm paying for it. If we move a car from there to there, I'm paying for it. We only have this much money, so I ... At first, I'm like, "Move this car here, that car there, this car here, that car," and all this stuff.
Then it's like, "Oh, we have to pay how much for doing all that? Never mind. Nope, never mind." Then I had to get very specific into the, "This is the scene. This is what I'm trying to accomplish with the scene, this is what I want the audience to feel, this is what I want the characters to have to go through. Okay, you know what? Move that car, that car, and that car, the rest can stay."
It becomes so much more intentional through those restrictions, because you have to be much more thoughtful. You can't solve problems with money. I imagine that's always the case. As you scale the whole things scales, and you have to pay people a lot more. What you did with a $100,000, a million dollars isn't that far off from what a lot of friends are telling me, because as you take that scale up, now everybody's getting paid a whole lot more, and there's a whole lot more issues involved.
Ryan Connolly: "Mo money, mo problems."
Ryan Connolly: It's not really a $100,000 to a million dollars jump it sounds like. It sounds like it's more like $100,000 or $500,000 jump, legitimately, which is a pretty big jump. You know?
There are obviously some benefits to certain pieces of gear that we would've had that would've made life a lot easier, as far as lights that kind of compete with the sun. That would've helped us with some consistency problems, or those extra days more than anything else. Just having those extra days would've been huge-
Ryan Connolly: Because there would've been a bunch of things I wouldn't of had to throw out and rethink. It's hard to say that about a film that's finished, because it is what it is now, you know what I mean?
Ryan Connolly: You start with this initial intention, but then the film pretty much says, "No, I'm gonna be this instead," and then you kind of follow it after that. You know? It just starts becoming its own thing. Even when I'm writing I kind of feel like, I start writing and then it starts dictating itself, you know? Which sounds so pretentious and artsy, and I don't mean it to.
Everybody I talk to says the same thing, so it seems like it's not unique to me, it's pretty common that you just start writing and it just, "Oh, yeah, of course they do this next, of course, this happens next, of course, this." Those little lightning ideas, and it starts to ... Inevitably, "Oh, yeah, it's headed there. Of course, that's where it's headed, why didn't I see that before?"
It's a really cool process of discovery while making the film. That happens in directing. Even the issues that come up, "Okay, well, we can't do that, so let's do this." That's just what it is now, you know? To think back on-
Ryan Connolly: What I would've done differently, would it have been better? I don't know. Or is it the restrictions that give it its charm that makes it what it is. I mean, we haven't even put it out for the audience to react. They might just hate it, and then I'm like, "Yeah, I really wish I would've had that million dollars to go back."
Yeah, I don't know, I feel like that might be a crappy answer to the question, but, I mean, it's the honest one I think. I like restrictions, I like not being able to do whatever I want basically.
Joey: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's sort of the story of Jaws, right?
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, totally.
Joey: They had the shark, and it didn't work, and then it made it better, because you never saw the shark. If they'd had more money they would've just bought another shark maybe, and it wouldn't be ... you know, it would be- [inaudible 01:18:53][crosstalk 01:18:53]
Ryan Connolly: Yeah, totally, and it's like something that Film Riot taught me, and even some of my short films is, like, ... I've talked about it on the show. If you have this universe of ideas, and you want to write just a sketch, a sketch for Film Riot, and it's like, "All right, write a sketch for Film Riot. It could be literally anything, any effect, anything you want. Go." You'll just sit there like, "Um. Maybe this? Uh, no. Well, maybe this? Uh, no." But if I say, "Hey, write a sketch for Film Riot. It has to be the flash effect from Justice League. It has to take place in the office, and the only actors you have are Josh and Emily, and we have to shoot it tomorrow during the day."
Well, okay, now I have a bunch of things that I need to hit.
Ryan Connolly: It's like, "Okay, let me think. You know what? What if Emily drank coffee for the first time, and it made her hyperactive, and Josh came in and [inaudible 01:19:39]."
It's like, once you place ... put yourself in a box, that's when you can really be a lot more creative consistently, because it's not just this vast expanse of anything. It could literally be anything. If you need, like, ... You need a starting point, you need that north star, I suppose.
Joey: Yeah, that's amazing advice really for any creative endeavor. I think the last thing I want to ask you, Ryan, is about your goal to shoot and direct a feature film. I've listened to you on other podcasts, and I've heard you mention this, and you mentioned this in this chat we just had, that you don't think you're quite ready, or you used to not think you were ready.
I'm curious, what is it that you feel like you don't quite have yet? That you still need to enhance your abilities, or whatever, to be able to achieve that vision when you get that- [inaudible 01:20:38][crosstalk 01:20:38]
Ryan Connolly: Well, I might be wrong, but I think I'm ready now. And I think for probably the last-
Ryan Connolly: Whoa! Big words, big words. For the past six ... I mean, I agree with everyone that you're never truly ready, but I'm as ready as I'm gonna get now I think. I've felt that way for the past six months or so.
Ballistic was sort of the final notch in the belt of me putting something together. The last few things that I thought I needed to really build my experience on, and then hopefully make something that I can be, like, "Hey, look, this is what I just did, and here are the ideas that I have."
I have a few treatments, so I'm gonna start pitching after Ballistic comes out, and I can breathe in and out again, and have some time.
Ryan Connolly: But before it was a lack of experience. It was the lack of understanding of how to run a crew. I mean, in L.A., like I said, we had 85 I think it was ... 80 or 85 people on set, and as a director you're running that. If you're not somebody else is seeing that you're not, or that you're drowning amidst all that madness, and they start to run rough shot over you, and taking over, and that's not good. Because now you're gonna start losing your crew, and you're gonna start losing your film.
It's something that's hard to command when you need to, and back off when you need to. It's a weird, very interesting, and fun sort of dynamic, you know? Even when you have your stunt coordinators, and your producers, and your cinematographer, knowing when to push, and when to let go, when to collaborate, when to stand firm. You know, it's a bunch of marriages all at once. You just have a bunch of wives pretty much.
Ryan Connolly: Or husbands, whatever it is. I could be the wife, I don't know. Figuring all that out was really important I think. Also, just gaining the experience of how to tell the story, and how to be the keeper of the story, and how to engage the audience was really important to me. Because, like I said, it's a bunch of people coming together, trusting you, that in the end this is gonna be something that we're all proud of.
Because even when we're offset, they're there to help make this thing, and make it as best as we can be, but now production's done, and I'm in post-production with just me and my editor, and they're not a part of it anymore, and they're just trusting that now everything that we just put together, even if what we shot was amazing, I could totally screw it up in post.
Ryan Connolly: Now they're trusting me to go off by myself and be the keeper of this thing that we all just bled into for this period of time. I don't take that lightly, so I didn't want it to be something that I'm just jumping into, because I'm impatient, and I want to make my films. I wanted it to be something where I was ready to make our films, and it would be worthwhile for the people that came together to help me make our films.
That was my main thinking, and it's also something where it's like, I really enjoy telling short stories, and getting people and experience that way, and entertaining them that way. That was a nice appetizer while waiting for the main meal, you know? That held me over while I prepped myself to, not only feel like I'm ready experience-wise, but have an idea where I'm, like, "Yes, this is it. I have to make this. This is the film that I have to make. Nobody else can make this, it has to be me."
Now I have three of those that I feel like would be the one that I would be happy to be my first feature, but that's only been over the past maybe year that I've had. I had one, and then six months ago I had another, and recently I had a third.
That was really important to me, too, that I'm not just jumping out and putting something out there, because it's all so very public. My career's been very public, so putting out a very meh film that maybe drowns a little bit, wasn't really something that was very interesting to me.
I wanted to make sure my first step into that world was gonna be as strong as it could possibly be, and, who knows, it could still fail, you never know. It's gambling no matter what, but I wanted to stack the odds in my favor as much as possible.
Joey: Definitely check out Film Riot's YouTube channel to see their films, and the incredible behind-the-scenes stuff they post. It's like a crash course in production, and if you're a gear head you will really love it.
Film Riot also has a podcast, so if you want more filmmaking talk in your ears, check that out, too. We will link to Ballistic, and anything else we talked about in the show notes at schoolofmotion.com.
I want to thank Ryan for being such a good dude, and so generous with his time. His passion is really contagious, and talking with him makes me just want to go create something. I hope it made you feel the same way.