The Movie Sleuth discusses independent film making, Samurai Cop 2, and the movies of Shane Ryan.
TMS: So, you’ve directed some pretty hardcore reality based horror movies. Each film seems to strike a certain chord with audiences. I know it’s a hard question but which one of your films is your favorite and why?
SR: I don't know. Can a filmmaker pick a favorite of their own work without sounding like some pretentious schmuck? I guess if I had to I'd just say it's the one which I invested the most time with, and that'd be My Name is 'A' by anonymous (aka Alyssa: Portrait of a Teen Killer). It took the most out of me in post-production, and was the longest journey in getting it seen and distributed; overall, a half decade of my life. So, it'd piss me the hell off to say something I spent a week on, like Amateur Porn Star Killer, was at the top of my list. But each film is a different process. They all mean something to me, and reflect a time in my life when I was somehow dealing with whatever issue you see brought to screen. I could just break them down;
Amateur Porn Star Killer (shot in 2004): I was at the end of the worst year of my life. The person who primarily raised me died. The girl next door I grew up with was killed. And the girl I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with dumped me and within weeks was pregnant with some fresh-out-of-jail-scumbag's kid. My only dream was to make movies and I hadn't even made a feature film yet (I had tried, 3x; once when I was 10, again when I was 15, and again when I was 20. All of them were mostly shot, just never finished). So, I came up with an idea I thought plausible to shoot in a single night, and rolled with it. I grew up around people who had suffered from and told me stories about rape. I understood that most forms of rape were through mind games and manipulation, not by force, and I felt that that aspect of it needed to be explored. The film was very simple, but I believed it could strike a nerve, and it did. And it launched my career, if that's what you wanna call it.
TMS: You seem to stir the pot a little bit. You don’t really conform to the typical Hollywood standards in your choices of movies to work on and have been pretty outspoken about how you feel about today’s system of movie making. What would you like to see change and how can it be fixed, if at all?
SR: Hey if I got offered a Hollywood movie I'd say it's guaranteed that I'd take it. I can't even afford to put gas in my car most of the time. However, I bet I'd quit after the first film and go back to underground films. Yes, film is a business, but I'm in it for that art part. Life's too short, I want it to move me. I want to feel something; and not just bigger pockets. In mainstream films they are all about money, so they try to please everybody, just a little bit, in which case nobody is fully pleased with anything and everything's simply forgettable. An indie film might only please 1 out of every 10 people who see it but those 10% leave the film so insanely fulfilled, you have a work of art that will never die.
If Hollywood threw out just 1 of their 250 million movies a year and financed 250 indie films at 1 million, imagine the possibilities. I think that's the solution. Think about it; these days The Lone Rangers, The John Carters - together they cost, what? Half a billion. And tanked. Then you get all these indie films pulling in 5, 10, 20, 50 million dollars off of million dollar budgets. Sure, many won't break 50k, but you have just a few of them break 20 million and you've already topped The Lone Ranger and it only took maybe 10-40 million dollars in budgets, not 250 million plus all that advertising money (since indies are more word-of-mouth driven than by a 100 million advertisement campaign). There's solutions and ways around it, I'm sure. But studio executives only are thinking big bucks and fast cash and the next big thing to stroke their egos.
TMS: Who are your favorite horror genre directors and why? And along with that, are there any movies that you’d say specifically influence your work? I know it’s a broad question, but feel free to expand.
SR: I never really got into the horror genre and have had a hard time understanding and accepting why I always get thrown into that category. Amateur Porn Star Killer is a conversation piece between two people. It just ends with a rape and murder. The Girl Who Wasn't Missing is about a homeless teenage girl trying to live each day and get by. My Name is 'A' by anonymous is about troubled kids; it just also ends with a murder. The Owl in Echo Park is about a deadbeat alcoholic undercover cop. Yet everybody throws me into the horror category, constantly. I respect the horror genre deeply, especially for their support, but I'm not a horror filmmaker.
I have had many horrible real life experiences, and am also fascinated by true crime because of the want and need of trying to understand the psychology behind it; so that's what fascinates me. I'm in to characters and emotions, not so much even film. Though I do love films, but I try to let life be the influence. Or I'm influenced by filmmakers who tend to work in the way that I do. So it's not that I see something that they do and try to copy them or pay homage to them, it's just that their style is similar to mine in some way and they get away with doing things their way so it makes me more inspired to do things my way and hope that I can get away with it. Those like Terrence Malick, Gus Van Sant and John Cassavetes are probably at the top of my list of people who's craft I admire. The improv, letting the moment and/or the performances dictate what direction the scene goes. It's great to know that some people who have worked with bigger budgets could still continue making films like this.
The only film I ever tried to remake as my own story was Tim Roth's The War Zone. It was called Piñata. I started making it back in 1999, right after I saw The War Zone, but I never finished it. It was completely different, but I took the idea, the story, directly from The War Zone. I was a teenager when I saw it, and while I loved movies, and had cried at movies before, I had never had a film move me so much; in all the wrong ways. I was sick, disgusted, angry, utterly depressed. And I thought, "Wow. What kind of power was that? That's art!" That changed my life. It made me question things. Question my past. Question life. That's the kind of films I want to make. I want to change the life of the person who's watching it. I want to move them, somehow. So, I guess Tim Roth, the actor, is what shaped me into who I am today.
TMS: How did you feel about the movies of 2014, which were your favorites, and is there anything you’re really looking forward to in 2015?
SR: Lots of things that I want to see all came out the past week or so to crunch for awards season so I got some catching up to do. But of what I have seen; The Drop, Whiplash and The Rover, all about tie for best. The Drop and Whiplash were like completely fucking flawless films, I didn't even know that existed. Even most of my favorite movies have flaws. Gimmie Shelter, Begin Again, Joe and Under the Skin were also bad ass. And I just rented this film, I don't know if it ever was in a theatre, I Origins. It blew me away. Foxcatcher had the best performances; career-defining for all three actors - Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum and Steve Carell. Then to round out the best - Visitors, The Raid 2, Blue Ruin, Cold in July, Edge of Tomorrow, The Purge: Anarchy, Gone Girl and Birdman. I guess I can't think of 20. Still dying to see A Most Violent Year.
As far as 2015, I have no idea. I don't really keep up on what's coming out anymore, I take things day by day. The new Kickboxer film with Jean-Claude Van Damme, that's all I'm aware of, and totally siked for. And this other Van Damme film, Pound of Flesh.
TMS: I don’t really know how you got in the mix of Samurai Cop 2. Can you shed some light on how you became involved as a producer/actor on the sequel to a cult classic?
The director, Gregory Hatanaka, is the man who put out all of my Amateur Porn Star Killer movies. He's also the president of Cinema Epoch, a distribution label. I hadn't talked to Greg in a couple of years. Then last year I starred in an Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Nemesis, Kickboxer 2) movie. Greg heard about my role in that and because of that wanted to put me in Samurai Cop 2. Next thing I knew I was given pre-production work and told I was co-producing it. I never really produced anything before (my own films are like 3 person crews, so I just end up being labeled a producer, even though I have no idea what they really do on bigger films) other than this much smaller budgeted film called American Girls (which was the same thing - I came on board to act and ended up co-producing). It had Bai Ling in it, so I reached out to her and brought her on board SC2 along with Mindy Robinson (V/H/S/ 2) and I tried really hard to get other actors I wanted, including Van Damme's daughter, Bianca Bree, but with no luck.
TMS: What’s the current status of Samurai Cop 2 and what are the plans for its release?
SR: We wrapped the shoot, or so I think. We may be filming more if we have to. I'm not editing it (so I'm not sure how long that will take, but I hear the footage looks amazing). Greg's aiming to get post-production done as quickly as possible to try and get some screenings at festivals by around summer time. I believe they're hoping for a big distributor to pick it up but if not, well, the director is a distributor, so we'll be fine either way. They distributed the first Samurai Cop and did very well, obviously, with that. So many people have been supportive of the sequel and of course are giving special showings all over the world for the original, so expect some great upcoming screenings of SC2.
TMS: What’s it been like working on a set with porn stars, Bai Ling, the real Maniac Cop, and the actors from the original Samurai Cop? I can only imagine how insane it must have been.
SR: Yes, it was actually a very crazy and tiring shoot. All these personalities mixed together have been wild. It's like just throwing a bunch of random stuff in a blender; some things mix together nicely, other bash into each other, some stuff tangles and twirls, and others fly right out the fucking top. I haven't gotten to work with Robert Z'Dar yet, his flight actually got canceled due to bad weather in his area, so we're hoping to get him here soon for pickups. I've talked with him on the phone a bunch though, and he's very cool, and a funny, sweet guy. We had Joe Estevez come on board last minute; a total rockin' dude. Mindy Robinson was my sparring partner, so she even brought her boyfriend, UFC and Expendables star Randy Couture, around to help her with our fight, which was insanely awesome. Bai Ling, is, well, Bai Ling (just google her). And there's Tommy fucking Wiseau (of The Room). That...was interesting. And I get to fight the Samurai Cop himself, Matt Hannon. He was very easy to do my first fight scene ever with (I did take an actual smack to the face though when I got distracted during a coordinating session - remember he's a full foot taller than me). We had to get unusually intimate - probably the most contact I've ever had with a big sweaty man. Mark Frazier is just, that cool cat, until you go out drinking then shit gets crazy (you should hear his "merry Christmas mother fucker" voicemail he left me - priceless), and our stunt team was amazing. It was just a crazy mix; people who weren't really actors and just ended up in this cult classic then coming back 25 years later to act again, plus newcomers, porn stars trying to go mainstream, fun B-movie actors, washed up actors looking for comebacks; this kind of mix was thrilling but exhausting.
TMS: Out of nowhere this over the top, silly, low budget action film has a die hard following. Why do you think people suddenly latched on to Samurai Cop?
SR: You know, somebody could be on the street performing something for years, and not one person stops to admire what it is that they're doing. Suddenly, after millions have passed by, somebody stops. And because somebody stopped, somebody else notices and stops. Some people see that two people have now stopped, so they stop. Now it's a crowd and everybody starts stopping to take a peek. The street performer finishes whatever it is he was doing, and to much surprise, the whole street is applauding. Then everyone goes home and tells their friends to youtube this guy. I'm guessing that's what happened. All it took was for one person to finally notice the Samurai Cop. The right kind of people hear about it, spread the word, and little by little people take notice. Now suddenly it's the new thing; The best-worst-action film.
TMS: What can we expect from you next? Any more directorial pieces on the way or are you gonna stick with acting for a bit?
As far as directing I have tons of stuff. I'm still editing The Owl in Echo Park, shooting God Got Ill, in pre-production of Ted Bundy Had a Son, which is actually an anthology spinoff on the APSK character, Brandon. I'm also doing a zombie short for this anthology called Virus of the Dead (which is the hardest, since, again, not a horror filmmaker, and have no interest in zombie stuff, but I'm trying to find some curiosity). Troma is releasing another anthology called Theatre of the Deranged II, which has a Japanese short film I made in it. We've spent the past year trying to shoot this romance drama, Burning Jupiter, but it's been the biggest bitch trying to cast it. And I'm still working with a writer on this script for this revenge thriller called The Birmingham Cycle, I'd like to shoot on an actual little bit of a budget. It's with a female lead character doing the ass kicking, but in a world grounded in reality. Lots of stuff, always pushing, constantly hustling...never knowing what tomorrow will bring.