EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ryan M. Andrews talks SAVE YOURSELF, FILMMAKING, and the ART OF HORROR
Contributed by Sandra S.
After watching SAVE YOURSELF, directed by Ryan M. Andrews, I wanted to to do nothing but praise him for putting together an ensemble cast of female actresses who play strong women in the film. Ryan M. Andrews is a director from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is the director behind multiple shorts and films such as BLACK EVE and SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT. Andrews believes in honing your craft and for him, horror film making is an every day art. Today, I pull back the curtain and we get to know Ryan M. Andrews and his thoughts on film making, horror films, and the art of horror.
Tell our readers at Bloodbath & Beyond a little about you. Who is Ryan M. Andrews? How did you get your start in the film industry?
Who is Ryan M. Andrews? Well, he’s that kid you knew that grew up on a steady diet of horror movies and heavy metal music. The loner that hung out in the horror movie section of the local video store. And it turns out he grew up into a person that wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and every time a door shut in his face, he picked the lock and went in anyways. I’m a horror fan that became a horror filmmaker.
As for my start in the industry, I went to college back in 1997 for film. I went to Niagara College and then moved to Toronto and went to a local film school and then after graduating I just worked on any set I could in any position I could. All the while I focused on developing my script writing while I shot numerous short films. By 2005 I started my first feature with whatever change I had in my pocket and went from there.
Your most recent film, SAVE YOURSELF follows five women on a road trip that encounter a “mad scientist.” Where did the idea for SAVE YOURSELF come from?
I was on a road trip to a film festival in the USA with Chris Cull (co story writer, co producer, co editor) and while we were driving through the night in the middle of nowhere, the idea came for a road trip film that focused on female filmmakers. As for why they crossed paths with a mad scientist, it is because when I thought of road trip gone wrong films, I would think THE HILLS HAVE EYES or WRONG TURN and I didn’t want to do the mutant hillbilly monsters. I also didn’t want to do the standard DUEL or JOYRIDE evil truck driver story.
Though there have been mad scientist stories, I thought it would be a fresh take to combine the road trip gone wrong story with the mad scientist story. It’s a different way of telling a familiar story. Because when people say, everything has been done before, they are technically right, it’s just how you do it that makes it new and original. It’s all about the details.
I noticed there were a lot of daytime scenes in SAVE YOURSELF, which is unconventional for a horror film. Did you write the script with daytime scenes in mind?
Yes. From the very first draft of the script all the fun party stuff took place at night and all the horror took place once the sun came up. I think there is a certain safety blanket people feel with daylight and I love the juxtaposition of having bleak, dark things happen in bright beautiful spaces.
You have mentioned that you appreciate Lynch for his art-house style and Cronenberg for his body-horror. What is it about David Lynch’s art-house style of horror and David Cronenberg’s body-horror that you admire? What other filmmakers inspire you?
When people think horror, they tend to only think of slasher or torture porn films. And I love those, but the thing I love most about horror is how broad the genre really is as a whole. Everything from exploitation to psychological thriller is horror, just like how rom-coms and slapsticks are totally different styles but both fall into the comedy genre. Lynch and Cronenberg really showcase the diversity of horror. Lynch’s avant-garde style is hypnotic and lurid and while it is sometimes goofy or over the top, it’s always smart but disturbing. Regarding Cronenberg’s body-horror style, most horrors focus on the physical Man Vs Man or on the more psychological level of Man Vs Self. But Cronenberg’s body horror is both. It’s physical on a psychological level. It’s personal on an epidemic level. And it’s crazy how it’s all internal but all about the cinematic beauty and visually nightmarish feel.
Sometimes I love watching a bloody gory grindhouse film or a straightforward body count slasher, but those are quick fixes. I feel the lasting impression of horror comes from that more artful style
As far as other filmmakers that inspire me, of course I can name Kubrick but so could every other person that ever picked up a camera. And while Kubrick is a God, I would rather be inspired by my peers. My fellow filmmakers. Canadian horror filmmakers showcasing the diversity of the genre. Like Jen & Sylvia Soska (American Mary), Lowell Dean (WolfCop), Gabriel Carrer (The Demolisher) Andrew Cymek and Brigitte Kingsley (Night Cries) and Chad Archibald (Bite). These are people that I am in the filmmaking trenches with, shining a light on the Canadian genre. Their work and their success inspire me most of all.
Even just last year, while in New York City for the NYC Horror film Festival, I saw a short film called EL GIGANTE by Gigi Saul Guerrero. And that film was shocking, bloody, fun and so beautifully made. Seeing what she created was a huge inspiration.
For those that know you know that you love your rock, metal, punk and heavy metal music. To a certain extent, I find that heavier music tends to coincide with horror film. Do you find that your interest in that music coincides or at all influences your filmmaking vision or ideas? If so, how?
Yeah horror and metal just go hand in hand for sure. They’re both the black sheep of their industries and they’re both known for offending and upsetting the establishment. Both rock & roll and horror are rebellious. In the 50’s Elvis shocked society and upset people. And the original ending to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS had to be changed because it was thought to be too upsetting. By design, they’re both meant to push the envelope and that is what is so appealing about them. There is a dangerous thrill to them, just like a roller coaster. Whether it’s straightforward fun like a Halloween film or like Motorhead, or whether it’s more complex and artful like JACOB’S LADDER or like Tool, it’s all there for entertainment.
That kind of music and my interest in music in general definitely influences my vision and ideas. Musicians are storytellers and just like how I’m inspired by other filmmakers, I’m inspired by music as well. When in postproduction, people use music and other sonic elements to help elevate scenes and emotions and I basically do that from the very start. Music influences every aspect of what I create.
Most directors have their own methods of preparing an actor for a role. Do you have any methods that you utilize or find useful in helping an actor understand a character better?
You know, the actor is really the one in charge of their roles. The script is the blueprint of the creation and the actors are the ones who make the characters real. The amount that I guide an actor is different for each person. It depends on how they work best because I would rather work with each actor in a way that will have them bring out their best, instead of forcing them to do things differently.
So I guess the way I do prep with an actor is I get to know them and their style. I let them lead. Obviously if something doesn’t work for the overall story or it contradicts something else, then I step in, but I don’t want to control them, I want to guide them.
I did a film called DESOLATION where I didn’t live near any of cast and prep was very difficult but I trusted in them. One of the cast members, Ali Ferda and I would chat online about motivation and inspiration and I would trust her and let her do her thing. And she really owned that role.
I’m always willing to share everything with the actors, so 9 times out of 10 that means I’m sharing music with them. Help them see my process in creating them. All of the protagonists in SAVE YOURSELF are inspired by different musicians and styles of music. Tristan Risk’s character is inspired by Goth and industrial music, while Tianna Nori’s character is more of a straight up, head banging badass rocker. Donita Sparks from L7, Carla and Heidi from Butcher Babies and Taylor Momsen from the Pretty Reckless were all inspirations for Tianna’s posture, personality mannerisms and even her voice.
I noticed that in SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT; there were no close up shots. The progression of the story seems to be told through and correspond with various technical methods. Was that done on purpose?
Absolutely. Cinematography isn’t just point and shoot the story and make sure you get coverage. It’s about using the shots to help tell the story and elicit mood and feelings.
Can you go into some detail on how you use cinematography and the technical side of filmmaking to tell a story?
With SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT, my cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson (who also shot Save Yourself) and I came up with a few styles for the look of the film. Since the first act primarily takes place in wide-open spaces, the second act inside a house and the third act, in the basement of the house, we wanted the lensing and framing to reflect the claustrophobic feeling of the film. Like, as the world closes in around the characters the audiences would experience it as well. The first act was shot with only 18MM, 25MM, and 35MM lenses. The second act used 25, 35, and 50, and the third act used only 35, 50, and 85. So as things close in on the characters, we draw the audience in as well. Also, everything in the first act was shot 10 degrees above eye line, at eye line for the second act and 10 degrees below the eye line in the third act. So it is so subtle, it doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb, but throughout the film there is a shift in dominance and control and the camera work compliments it.
As a horror enthusiast, I find that many people want to put a label on films. Often times, most people associate a ‘horror’ with slasher. But horror films are so much more than just slasher films. What are your thoughts on horror film or the future of horror?
Yeah it bothers me when people tend to think that horror is just slasher or torture porn, because that is just the tip of the iceberg of an otherwise huge genre. But I don’t blame them because the industry likes people to think that is all horror is. And I want to change that.
To explain this point, look at THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS which is the only horror film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. When it first came out, it came out to mixed reviews. Gene Siskel called it “a star studded freak show,” and a “trashy project.” And he said, “Why are all these talented people involved in this project?” And “degenerates into a standard monster in the house movie.”
And it was called a sleeper hit because once it started gaining traction and being seen for just how great it was, people were started saying, it’s not horror, it’s a thriller, it just has horror elements.
I mean give me a break, that is the same as saying, it’s not action, it’s an adventure film with lots of gun fights and car chases and well everything else that defines an action film. Hell I’ve even heard people think last year’s IT FOLLOWS is not a horror film. I guess cause it isn’t slasher enough. And again I just think that is sad because people are denying half of the spectrum that is horror. Lots of Lynch films are horror, lots of Cronenberg films are horror, “JACOB’S LADDER and THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS are some of the best horror films and people tend to want to discredit the artful talent of horror by calling them thriller and saying thriller isn’t horror.
Again, I love films like THE COLLECTOR and THE DRILLER KILLER, I just want horror to be seen for more than just Freddy and Jason. I really respect Chris Alexander, who was the editor in chief of Fangoria for many years because he would put BLACK SWAN and Scarlet Johanson in UNDER THE SKIN on the cover. Kudos to him for showcasing the vast spectrum that is horror. And as for the future of horror, it’s cyclical, so it’s always going to be in demand in one way or another. We will go through periods of loving torture films, and periods of loving monster films and periods of loving true crime horror, but the point is, we will always love being scared and feeling uncomfortable in a movie theatre.
The Canadian Horror film industry is really booming these days. We are lucky to have you, the Soska Sisters, Tricia Lee, Lowell Dean, the boys at Black Fawn Films, Karen Lam among many others. What do you feel makes Canadian horror quintessentially Canadian? Where do you see the Canadian horror film industry in ten years?
You know, the thing about horror is it’s a Universal language. The reason horror films sell is because if you make a comedy here in Canada, you may not be able to sell it in Germany because it doesn’t translate well or it may not be able to sell in Japan because what is funny here may not make sense there. But horror translates everywhere. And I think there is a lot of horror fans out there who get this. So you have Chad, Cody and Chris from Black Fawn and Jen and Sylvia and the rest of us, all being horror fans and wanting to give our films a universal voice.
I don’t know what makes our films quintessentially Canadian, but I think the reason our films are getting out there is because they are Universal. We’re not making horrors about poutine and Tim Hortons. Canada is so culturally diverse and we’ve all grown up in multiculturalism and so we want to appeal to the world as a whole.
In ten years from now I think we are all still going to be here doing our thing. Decades ago, if you wanted success, you had to pack up and move to Hollywood and make a go at it, but these days, with films being made all over Canada, the USA and the rest of the world, you don’t need to move to LA. Even in Canada, you had to live in either Toronto or Vancouver, but films are getting made in every Province and they’re getting out there. So 10 years from now what you’re going to see is the Canadian horror industry bigger than ever. And I think we will all still be here.
You tend to write very strong female roles. You don’t just write a role for a female to appear scantily clad, running away from some villain. Some films present the female body in a misogynistic way. How do you think the role of women in horror has changed over the years?
Though back in the 70’s and 80’s women were more objectified in all genres of film and treated like props for the male actors, horror really started laying the groundwork for strong women. Think about it, Nancy was the one who fought back and survived Elm Street. Alice did it in FRIDAY THE 13th, Laurie in HALLOWEEN, Sally in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and Stretch in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. Women were not just damsels in distress in these horror films, they were the strong characters that fought back and beat the monster. Outside of slasher films, I think about Ellen Burstyn as a single Mother raising a child and dealing with this horrible situation. Jodie Foster in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and of course Sigourney Weaver in ALIEN, now there is some strong female roles and that is what we grew up on and now we are making the films.
I’m not going to deny that lots of films of all genres have objectified women over the years. They are all guilty of it, but women in horror have paved the way for strong female roles over the years.
What is your best advice for someone who wants to make a short film on a micro-budget?
Regarding making a short or micro budget film the best advice is “what’s the worst someone can say to you?”
Reality is you never know what you can get and what you can do? So try. So someone says “no.” Who cares? It’s not gonna kill you. You’ll be surprised what you can do just by asking. With my first feature I made with less than no money, I had a few scenes of a news anchor delivering news reports. And people said, put a table in front of a wall and you’re good. But I thought that would look like shit. It would look bad. So I went around asking different television news stations if I could shoot, for free, in their studio. I plead my case. And people kept saying “no” and it didn’t kill me, and I kept moving forward. Eventually I spoke to the right person at the right time and I got an online news show to allow me into their studio to shoot my scenes on their green screen where they then built a professional and high tech looking news studio.
So you never know what you’ll get by just trying.
Great advice and dully noted! What is next for you? Any new projects on the horizon?
Yes, I have a couple new films in development. What I can promise you about these films is they’re totally different styles of horror, but still definitely horror. And with these, just like with SAVE YOURSELF and SICK: SURVIVE THE NIGHT my focus is shining light on the fact that the horror genre has such a wide variety of styles. And no matter the style, I want to showcase the “Art Of Horror.” You’ll have to follow me on Facebook to keep up to date on that.
Before shooting these films however, my main focus is still on getting SAVE YOURSELF out there. I am really proud of that film and I want people to know about it so I want to spread the word. I want to play some more festivals and I want people to see it. So that is still priority number one. I want people to see Tristan Risk play a serious, vulnerable and stripped down role because she is phenomenal in it and it is totally different to what people know her for. I also want people to see the cold sophistication of Ry Barrett and Elma Begovic. The quirkiness of Caleigh Le Grand, the chilling emptiness of Sydney Kondruss, I mean I owe it to the entire cast and crew to keep spreading the word.
I’m also currently in post production on DESOLATION and I look forward to getting that film finished. So I am definitely keeping busy.
That all sounds amazing. Thank you, Ryan for taking the time and really getting into the all things horror and film related. Best of luck to you in your future projects!
Thank you to our readers- I hope that you enjoyed the inside scoop with Ryan M. Andrews.
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Be sure to check out his IMDB to learn more about Ryan’s other films!
Check out SAVE YOURSELF on IMDB, Facebook, and on twitter. Treat yourself and watch the trailer for SAVE YOURSELF.