Sunday, November 1, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Director Ryan Andrew Balas

TCWreviews’s Administrator and Editor in chief Clifford Kiyabu sits down with Cater director Ryan Andrew Balas for an exclusive interview. Ryan Andrew Balas is a Director, a Writer, and an Actor. He did this interview with me recently to talk about his new film ‘CARTER’ which will make it’s début later this month, as well as a little about himself and what is the driving force behind his style of filmmaking. But what makes him such a worthy person to have a sit down with yours truly is the fact he is a person with a impressively strong will who will not stop until his daydreams become a reality for all to see. Such ideals are that of a genus in the making.

CK: First off let me thank you for making time to do this interview, you must be very busy with the premier of CARTER just around the corner.

RB: No problem at all, totally my pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to ask these questions, it's very appreciated. I'm busy promoting the screening for sure, and putting the final touches on my directors cut of the film. I also stay fairly preoccupied day dreaming about the other projects I’m working on. I'm a hyperactive guy.

CK: So before we get into talking about the film I think it would be great if my readers got to know a little bit about the man behind the camera first.

RB: The man behind the goofy glasses!

CK: So sell us a little about yourself

RB: I'm a Midwestern transplant. Born in Indiana and spent my teenage years in Michigan. I moved to NYC in 2004, to study acting, I did the first year with the Upper West side as my campus. In 2005, I hopped over to the west coast and completed my conservatory training in Los Angeles in 2006 and shortly thereafter, moved back to NYC. I've been happily living in Queens, with my girlfriend, two dwarf rabbits and two cats, ever since. I tend to get the most work done when I stay up all night, so I get very little sleep. I'm a huge day dreamer and try to go for a good brain storm walk, every day.

CK: So you’re a fellow nighthawk I take it? [Laughs]

RB: Yes. It's the best time to work! My poor girlfriend falls asleep to typing noises and a computer light, every night.

CK: Care to give a shout out to your lady friend?

RB: Of course. I love Deirdre Herlihy. She's a talented, beautiful young lady from New Hampshire. We met in school in NYC, moved to LA together, and back to NYC together. I think she deserves a development and producer credit on everything I work on, because she has to constantly hear all the idea's through fruition. Needless to say, she's a great listener and I love her honest feedback. I don't think I trust anyone as much as I trust her.

CK: So is your girlfriend in acting or filmmaking too?

RB: Yes, She's an actress. We met working together in class. She's been very busy this year, working on multiple films by various directors, Brian Ackley and Richard Buonagurio, to name a few. She has a natural ability to be in the moment and act accordingly---I have a longer way to go. I think she's going to do great out there, because she has a kind heart and no ego---and that kind of personality goes a long way. To date, she's acted in all my films and I'm very lucky to have that. Eventually, I'd love to see her behind the camera on something; she has a really keen eye for photography. I'm not sure if that's something she will ever really want to go after but we shall see.

CK: What inspired you into wanting to become a filmmaker?

RB: Home movies. There is footage taken on an old VHS home movie camera, of my dad filming a family party and I’m just following him around asking to use it. For as long as I can remember, I've been in love with filming human interaction.

CK: So basically what you’re saying is that you were born with a strong will for filmmaking?

RB: Yes, I was born with the curse of neurosis and desire to be broke! [Laughs] There is something inherent to me about wanting to tell a story and movies feel most natural.

CK: This may sound a bit unorthodox to the interview, but when you talk about an old medium such as the “VHS” doesn’t that make you feel a bit old? [Laughs]

RB: VHS is making a comeback. Mark my words! It's a beautiful format, with subtle nostalgic elements associated with its picture and sound and despite how it might "age" me, I can't deny that feeling. [Laughs]

CK: Were there any particular films or T.V. Shows you watched growing up?

RB: I'm terrified of dark water---but JAWS is one of my favorite films and easily my earliest memory of a movie. I think the film that motivated me the most creatively was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Such Humanity! ha. I spent hour’s day dreaming of being a crime fighting ninja---I’m actually very surprised that there isn't more TMNT influence in my work. My earliest home movies were ninja films. My brother's and I would dress up in my mom’s dark spandex and swing around from tree's. As for T.V., Zach Morris was (and continues to be) my hero...I love Saved by the Bell.

CK: Was getting into “the business” always in your cards or did it come along later on in life?

RB: Ya know, honestly, "the business" aspect of this whole thing is just a stone on the path. For me, making films is as equal and important to hunting, gathering and building a shelter. It's just what I do in this life; I really just don't see another way. The business part of it, is just as much about getting bread on the table as it is about enjoying the meal. Does that make any sense at all? Here I go again, creating strange new ways to phrase my feelings. ha.

CK: Actually that makes a lot of sense. As for creating new phrase to extend your personal feelings, I’ll let you in on a little secrete; I do it too! But shh! Don’t tell any of my readers okay? [Laughs]

RB: You have my word. Not a soul.

CK: So where do you see yourself in the future of filmmaking, do you plane on sticking to Indies or would you like to move up to a more mainstream level?

RB: I want to continue making personal films that say something about my experiences. However, there are many roads up the mountain, but I think ultimately we are all headed to the same place. Wow, there I go again. sorry folks.

CK: You’re both an aspiring actor and filmmaker, and I’m pretty sure over time you’ll make your mark in the industry. But if you had to choose between the two careers’ which of the two do you prefer most?

RB: Filmmaking. Hands down. Acting to me, is simply a part of that process.

CK: So as a filmmaker and an actor do you have any set boundaries genre wise or are you willing to explore all the film genres?

RB: I only do Sci-Fi skin flicks!...ha. Just kidding. Sort of. My new movie is kind of sexy and kind of Sci-Fi. So maybe I’m headed in that direction. I don't really see my work as being "genre" based. I just want to make personal movies. Not necessarily films that are solely from my own experience but a personal view of someone else's experience as I encounter it. Sometimes those stories will fit into the context of "genre" and so I strive to serve the needs of that experience.

CK: So you’re willing to try anything at least once than genre-wise?

RB: I'm open to any form of storytelling that feels honest and that I can connect with on a personal level---if that's commercial comedy like my web series "The Really Cool Show" ( or a meditation art film like "Carter", then that's the path I will take.

CK: I understand that aside from directing and acting in the film CARTER, you also wrote it?

RB: To an extent, yes. I conceived the overall concept, and I wrote the one act stage play that the film is inspired by. But the film had no official script. We shot based on a minimal outline, breaking down possible thematic elements of scenes that would take place in specific locations. We shot one scene using the dialogue and scenario from the one act play---but it was the first thing to hit the cutting room floor.

CK: Interesting, so basically parts of the story were developed as filming was going on than?

RB: Absolutely. I always try to be open to that. I make very low budget films, independent of a structure that can provide little more than encouragement, man power and most importantly, creative collaboration. If my films are going to work, I have to give them the freedom to be "discovered". Many time's that will happen in the editing room. I see the position of "director" as being someone who knows to work with people smarter than himself and to have the ability to serve the best idea in the room, even if it's not his own. A filmmaker friend once told me "the audience doesn't know your intention, they only know what they see" and that's been huge advice, that I take to heart.

CK: So what inspired you to write CARTER?

RB: I was sitting in a car, with a good friend, and he made the same vow that Jebadiah Sminch makes in the film. Which is: If he isn't married by the time he turns 23, he will kill himself when he's 25. I really liked the idea of exploring the absurdity of that vow and how far someone might go to commit to a "joke".

CK: Did your friend ever follow through with the vow?

RB: He's not 25 yet. So we shall see.

CK: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I heard that some of your co-stars also had a part in co-writing the film as well?

RB: Oh Yes! The actors improvised all their dialogue, based on direction I would give them. Julia Howe who plays Carter, once joked that she was nervous because she felt like she needed to say something clever, but I'm really looking for the opposite of that.

CK: That’s very impressive of you to give the actors such a nice stretch of freedom to work with on the dialogue. Did they have time to practice with each other on the dialogue before filming started or was it all improved on the spot?

RB: Everyone discussed characters and the situation prior to shooting, but all of the dialogue was improvised as we were shooting. It's always about discovery! I love being surprised in a scene and finding new things to work towards. It keeps everyone on their feet. Some things, you just can't write. Even in my new film, which has a complete screenplay. we are using a lot more of the improvised moments, because they just feel more honest and personal.

CK: If so, can you explain what hand they had in co-writing it?

RB: The way I like to work is fairly loose, allowing the actors to personalize it and bring in their own experience or reactions to a given scenario. I start by shooting long take's allowing us to "find" the scene then dig in for the good stuff. I sometimes like to give each character a secret mission within the scene and I play with each character, adjusting those missions, until we have either complete chaos, or a precise interaction. We tend to find the story in editing.

CK: So tell us a little about the film.

RB: As a teenager, Jeb Sminch jokingly made a vow that if he wasn't married by the time he turned 23; he will kill himself when he turned 25. The story takes place, three days before Jeb's 25th birthday, he is unmarried but in a committed relationship with a beautiful young lady named Carter. He fully intends to commit to his vow despite as he fully acknowledges that he's never been happier. This film is an exploration of a character who wants to "get the last laugh" at the absurdity of life. I hope it feels more like a human experience than a plot driven narrative.

CK: How long did it take to film?

RB: Five days. Three of which, the majority was shot. The other two were pickups and additional scenes.

CK: Did you manage to get everything from your script film?

RB: The story wrote itself, and because we were open to that experience, I felt I said the things I needed to say. Yes.

CK: So I’ve heard that you and Director Princeton Holt and Brian Ackley aren’t just calques but also close friends?

RB: By close friends, you mean all night phone debates about whether or not Improvising a scene is "serving" the story or not, than yes! [Laughs]. We all worked together on each other's films in one way or another (no pun intended) and we certainly have sat down to have a beer from time to time. Everyone is so busy with new projects these days; it's hard to get anyone on the phone! It's starting to feel like a break up. [Laughs]. BRIAN and PRINCETON, if you are reading this, I never stopped loving you. AND I want my plaid tee shirt back! [Laughs harder]. I'm kidding, kind of.

CK: [Laughs]

CK: Care to elaborate more on how this three musketeers like friendship started?

RB: I met Brian and Princeton in a basement apartment somewhere deep in Brooklyn. I was looking for support for my new film "Life in Rewind"...which later became "Carter" and they were looking for support for Brian's debut film "Uptown". I hopped on board as second camera operator and eventually producer and they came over to help produce my film. In between shots at the apartment, and Brian shooting a scene, solo, on a bus, Princeton and I began a dialogue (that continues to this day) about Indie film distribution and the new role that filmmakers play in that. We all enjoy a good debate on the topic and our different approaches to the work, I think, is our greatest strength. Our different approaches? Well, that's a whole other conversation!

CK: This next question I’m about to ask you has become somewhat of a tradition for interviews here at, so don’t worry, you’re definitely not the first one I’ve asked this question to, and you won’t be the last. [Laughs]

RB: Uh Oh.

CK: As a filmmaker how far are you willing to go for the sake or art?

RB: I haven't crossed that line yet, and until I do, I'm not really sure. I know there is a certain liability to making very personal films and having the actors personalize their work but I think as long as it comes from an honest, safe place, we will be able to continue pushing forward. I'm excited to see where the work goes. In short, until I'm doing science fiction porno’s for late night cable programming, I'm not satisfied. I'm joking. Right?

CK: Same question as an actor?

RB: Well, I've played a bear getting a fake b*** *** by a man playing a prince. So I guess as long as the story is good (or funny) and the director wants to work from an honest place, I'm willing to explore a lot of places. I don't ever want to do something that risks the integrity of my personal character or that of my loved ones but I come from an extremely supportive family and that allows me to feel safe enough to go the places that best serve the story. Very little has stopped me so far, and I'm up for the challenge.

CK: Last question: what projects can we expect to see you next in and or working on?

RB: Well, my web show The Really Cool Show (dot com) just released a "best of" DVD. We are super excited about that, and are currently discussing a season four. I'm in post production on a new film called "Mother/Sister" about two sisters, one black, one white, who spend a week together at their famous father's summer home. We shot the film in mid September in Michigan. I'm really excited about the project---it was self produced on a budget raised through social networks and family and friends who wanted to support my work. It feature's wonderful performances by Jace Nicole (Cookies N Cream), Joe Swanberg (Nights and Weekends), Deirdre Herlihy (Carter) and myself in a leading role. Look for it hitting the festival circuit, hopefully spring 2010. Last, but not least, I produced, photographed and have a supporting role in a film by Richard Buonagurio called "Harry's Judy" that is just wrapping Post Production and will be coming out very soon. Like I said before, I'm super hyperactive and like to stay busy. I'm always looking forward to the new projects.

CK: Well it was a pleasure talking with you. I look forward doing this again someday. I’ll let you have the last word.

RB: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me. It's been really great and I look forward to a future conversation. If any of the readers are in the NYC area on November 24th, please come see the official directors cut of my film "Carter" screen at the Anthology Film Archives as part of the NewFilmmakers Fall Series. And if you are interested in seeing the naked series "festival" cut of the film, you can order a DVD at And last but not least, if you are interested in any of my other work, you can find me at or on twitter @ryanbalas. Let’s be friends!

And that concludes my interview with Actor/Director Ryan Andrew Balas. We continued conversing off the record for quite a bit after the interview was over. We talked about my personal thoughts about his film after I sat down to watch a privet screening of it. Which you’ll get to read later this month. We also talked about doing another interview together sometime in the near future, preferably sometime soon after my review hits the web so that we may have a deeper conversation going between us about the film. However way it may go I look forward to doing it, as do I look forward to his next project. If you’re in the New York area on or around November 24th you can check out his film CARTER at the Anthology Film Archives for the NewFilmmakers Fall Series. Which believe me is going to be the place to be for all the Indie lovers out there on the east coast. However if you’re unable to make out that way to see the film at the festival you can purchase the DVD which is available now on the Official website for only $20.