Lost Souls Magazine
Independent filmmaker, Ryan Oliver, founded the Chicago-based Deathblow Productions, in 2007. Oliver has racked up over ten years of experience in many facets of the film industry, namely as a camera tech, actor, projectionist, stuntman, art director and special effects artist. All these experiences led the way to his current role as a writer/director where he is able to cull from a growing library of his screenplays.
“She-Bang”, currently in production, is an apocalyptic gang movie with an all-female cast. His first official completed film, “Air Conditions”, will premiere locally this summer, proceeding onto the festival circuit from there. “Bird Feeder”, a brand new horror short of Oliver’s, is slated for production in the Detroit area and is being co-produced by This Many Films. The last project slated for the year, is his new anthology of four biologically-themed shorts, “Anatomy of Horror”. The script has been optioned by the Los Angeles based company, Tri-Focus Pictures, and is currently in development.
So your primary goal was to be an actor?
In my late teens and early twenties, yes. I was the class maniac who found theatre in school and it seemed to be a good outlet. I took to it well and ended up studying, training and focusing on it full time. Before too long I was landing some choice parts around town with companies that suited my tastes. After that, people who knew my work were casting me out of trust. I didn’t have to audition for a great while and I got spoiled. Then when I moved to LA it was such a reality check, I didn’t want to be that waiter/actor guy waiting for breaks my whole life. So I got out and began attacking the business from the other side of the camera.
Were writing and FX better venues for your talents?
Writing always suited me. I remember sitting in the computer lab in grade school cranking out horror stories while my friends were out at recess. So I’ve always written, but it was after my first play, “Among the Dead” was produced that I started to take it way more seriously. As of today I believe my penchant for storytelling to be my strongest attribute. Special Effects, however, was a no brainer. I love practical effects to no end and I respect the Hell out of people who make their living doing it. Some of my best friends put bread on the table by making rubber monster suits. My home is filled with movie props and body parts. I’m very much attracted to that, but I’ll be the first one to tell you that I can’t hang with the pros. I’m not that strong of a sculptor and you really need that base skill to go forward in the big effects circles. I realized it, accepted it and moved on. What I’m awesome at, is making actors bleed, hooking up fire extinguishers filled with blood to people and simulating bullet exit wounds, amputated limbs, slit throats, etc. It’s still a big part of my life and I do live effects for some local theatre companies once in a while.
Was your freelance work well worth your trouble in the end? Provide you with a lot of valuable experience?
No doubt about it. On-set experience is invaluable. Even if it’s some schlocky shit-show where everything is falling apart and everybody knows the movie is going to suck, there is knowledge to be had. I believe you can learn from your mistakes, but why not learn from someone else’s instead? Anybody who wants to break in to the business should spend a couple days as an extra or a production assistant. Something where you can just sit around, shut up, and observe. Watch everybody like a hawk, remember like an elephant. All my varied experiences made for a collective skill set that allows me to function well as a director, all the sudden you can speak everyone’s language. You can instantly tell who’s down for the cause and who’s full of shit, too.
Where do you get your ideas from? Have you always had a vivid imagination?
Yes, my imagination is a little over-active. Again, going back to early school years I remember storyboarding car chase action sequences that I thought would be cool in a movie. I had no idea what I was doing or what is was called, but I do now. I tend to write a couple things at the same time. Sometimes the idea explodes inside my head and in a flash I know the beginning, middle and end. I’ll know how I want it to be shot, what the characters look like, plot points, etc. Those are exciting moments because everything stops and I have to get to the keyboard and drop everything. Other times, it has to gestate a bit. That may mean meditating on the idea, otherwise I’ll just start writing the damn thing and before too long… ‘poof!’ it shows itself. I’d rather not have to fight my way through ideas, but in the end it’s about being satisfied and proud of your work regardless of the effort.
If given a choice to produce either a short film or feature film, which would choose to work with, depending on your budget?
Both, I have my sights locked on the anthology market. I always loved movies like ‘Creepshow’ ‘Trilogy of Terror’, ‘The House that Dripped Blood’. It’s a smarter business plan for me because I can do some half-hour pieces one at a time and package them in a feature format when the time is right. Four of them belong to “Anatomy of Horror” and another four fill out a domicile-themed collection, “Blueprint of Horror”. My short form films will be allowed to have their own individual runs and identities, but will eventually wind up as a part of a greater whole. I like to think of them as modern Twilight Zones. As for proper features, yes, I have some scripts I’m rather fond of that would be a shame to go to waste. We’ll get there.
I saw the trailer for Air Conditions, and it looks great. But…why a guy on a rooftop? Was it hard to build a story around a plot like that?
No, in fact, it was a relief. My first (and on-going) production, “She-Bang” has a cast of about a hundred women involving lots of fighting and stunts all over Chicago. It was a very ambitious project for a first time director and I definitely began to feel it wearing on me. So when a sizeable break in production happened, I began ‘Air Conditions’ with the goal to do something more low budget/high concept. I wanted to explore a character’s acceptance of impending doom, play around with the journey through Kübler-Ross’ model of the five stages of death. I’ve always preferred to show more than tell. So, isolating my character up on a rooftop amongst a sprawling metropolis where no one can hear or help him was interesting to me. I knew where I was going with the ending, I just had to put my feet in the character’s shoes and give him tasks and actions that I thought I might do in the same situation. I relished the opportunity to do big things with a limited change of scenery. I haven’t seen ‘127 Hours’, but I suppose there might be some shared themes between the two. We all know how ‘Hours’ ends. I’m pretty confident my guy is pulling the shorter, more ill-fated straw.
I’ve heard rumors – well, personal opinions, actually – that the horror film industry is in a slump, hence the tendency to re-hash older films, like Friday the 13th and Hellraiser. Any comments?
I disapprove of re-makes, they’re seldom better and in most cases unnecessary. Even when they’re good and sanctioned by the original filmmaker, I’m mad at myself for liking them. It’s a nasty little habit that everyone’s putting up with, or cashing in on- depending who you are. I’m not even surprised anymore. They’re remaking ‘The Thing’, which is a remake already, and a near perfect film at that, achieved with wildly successful practical effects non-the-less. I don’t get it, don’t want to. I think it’s a waste of creative energy. That’s why I got out of theatre; everyone’s doing the same plays over and over. I like original ideas and fresh works.
Is horror in a slump? In the studio system it seems to be. I think there is a good swell of independent talent on the up rise. There are certainly lots of impressive films coming from overseas. Hard to tell, horror has always been frowned on by elite types, but it makes more money collectively as a genre than any other. You’re never going to see a fan convention for buddy-cop movies, or get Jennifer Aniston’s autograph at Romanticon. Still, it seems to me nine out of ten horror movies really suck. It’s that tenth one that makes it worth hanging in there and supporting the genre. The good ones tend to stand up over time; they’re worth purchasing, celebrating and revisiting.
Where do you go from here? Will you continue to produce indie films, or do you hope to get into bigger budget films someday?
I will continue to do what I’m doing and stick to my immediate goals and make these short films to the best of my ability. I would certainly jump at the chance to sit at the big table if the conditions felt right. It’s always nice to have some extra money to throw at your problems, but at some point that money is given to you by a little sweaty accountant guy with a funny moustache who wants you to change the ending. Fuck him.
I heard that. Thanks, Ryan!