The Daily Herald
by Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire
Ask horror filmmaker and Elgin native Ryan Oliver about his list of frightening favorites and he mentions a love of monsters that goes way back.
“I can remember watching ‘King Kong’ on the edge of the bed,” he said. “I ran into the bathroom crying because the monkey died. I have a big affinity to monsters and darker subject matters.”
“Although,” he quickly added, “I’m an awfully nice guy on top of all that!”
Still, “darker subject matters” sums up Oliver’s work pretty well. His latest film, “Restoration,” premieres Thursday night — Halloween Eve — at Chicago’s Logan Theatre. It’s a riff on the haunted car genre typified by Stephen King’s “Christine.”
Oliver, who now lives and works in Chicago, got his start in the suburbs. He was born in Elgin and lived in Schaumburg until fourth grade. Then his family moved to Mount Prospect.
“This has come full circle for me!” Ryan Oliver said during his interview. “My first job was with the Daily Herald! I delivered papers in Mount Prospect when I was in fifth grade!”
Oliver graduated from Rolling Meadows High School in 1993, then made a beeline for Chicago’s Columbia College where he studied theater.
He took a job as a stuntman at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee for a few years and dabbled in the Chicago off-Loop theater scene for a while.
“After about 10 years of being an actor, I got an opportunity to go out to Los Angeles, but then I did the opposite of what most people do,” he said. He dropped acting and started writing scripts and studying special effects.
He took a job at a film lab at Technicolor. He learned to become a digital film projectionist, “all while building my library of screenplays.”
Tinseltown, however, lost its luster in 2007.
“I became homesick, so I came back home and reinvented myself as a filmmaker,” Oliver said. “Since I had an entire library of screenplays to work from, I set out to make this a reality.”
And doing that in Chicago, Oliver said, is a lot easier than in L.A.
“You’re surrounded by this atmosphere, a lot of productions and celebrity, but these don’t make things happen. So I spent four or five years trying to get a project going. The moment I came back to Chicago, I was up and running!
“It was much easier to get people on my team. Want to do a movie? And we were shooting the next weekend.”
To become a successful Windy City filmmaker, Oliver knew he needed a catchy name for a production company. He looked to the world of professional music for inspiration.
“I have a lot of friends who are musicians, so I picked a name that might be the sort of name a band would use: Deathblow Productions,” he said. “I even had T-shirts made with the name, just like bands would do.”
Then Oliver hit the proverbial career pavement, churning out film shorts, music videos and experimental works.
“I just started cutting my teeth, shooting things and organizing productions, trying to find my way, find my voice,” Oliver said.
Finally, he produced his first narrative movie, a 35-minute work titled “Air Conditions,” a suspense tale shot in Chicago with all local crews. Oliver said to think of it as “127 Hours” meets “The Collector.”
It’s about an AC repairman who gets stuck to an isolated, high-rise air-conditioning unit by a blob of mysterious goo. He can’t break free of it and has no one around to help him. (“Air Conditions” played at the 2013 Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Muvico Theatre in Rosemont.)
In the spirit of the season, we asked Oliver to tell us his favorite scary movies.
“My favorite director is John Carpenter,” Oliver replied. “John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ is my desert island pick, for sure. I’m also a fan of a lot of Italian directors. Dario Argento’s ‘Deep Red’ is a favorite of mine. ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ is another great one.”
For Oliver, telling stories is his dream. Some might even call it an obsession.
“I don’t make any money off filmmaking at this stage in my career, I have to be honest,” he said. “But I can’t not do it. It’s my calling. I wish I had heard that voice a little clearer earlier on in my career. I wouldn’t have spent so much time as an actor and gotten an earlier start (as a filmmaker).
“I’m not out for fame or money, but they’d be nice, to get to a point where I’m self-sustaining. Right now, it’s just so much fun. I put all of my time and energy into it.”
And what if he never becomes self-sustaining?
“If you want it bad enough,” he replied, “you’ll find a way.”
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