Interviews: Director Ryan Colucci Talks About His Crime Thriller Suburban

Out now from Uncork’d Entertainment (get it on iTunes here), Suburban Cowboy tells of a low-time drug dealer who takes matters into his own hands when a friend disappears. We caught up with the film’s talented co-director, Ryan Colucci, to get the 411 on the film’s origin, spurs, influences and accomplishments.

TMS: In a few words, what’s the film about?

RC: The film is about Jay, a mid-level weed supplier on Long Island. One of his dealers, also his childhood best friend, robs someone to pay Jay back for his last shipment. His friend disappears and the debt is left to our hero – because the person who got robbed was connected to Serbian gangsters in Queens. He sets off to collect the money he has on the street, but when he comes up short Jay is forced to take drastic measures.

It’s a raw, visceral look into a world you live in but probably don’t want to know exists. The person I was working with on the story was actually arrested as I finished the first draft of the script. I rewrote the ending to reflect what was happening in real life. Of course things change based on budget, locations and particularly cast, but the details/specifics of the world are hopefully what makes this unique.

TMS: Always been a fan of the genre?

RC: I have to credit my dad, who reads a tremendous amount of crime books… and always watched old crime thrillers. I spent a lot of time laying at his feet drawing super heroes and absorbing that. Those stories have left an indelible mark on me. From the time I was old enough to watch them, crime thrillers have been my favorite genre.

Heat, City of God, Infernal Affairs/The Departed… My two favorite TV shows are The Wire and The Shield. Anything along those lines, like Justified or Bosch.. and I’m completely in. I don’t know why or what it is about cops and robbers, but if it is told in a world I find interesting (a very specific world with attention to detail) then I’m a sucker for it.

TMS: Have you discovered any unlikely fans or segments that you didn’t count on?

RC: To be honest, it just came out on Friday (August 11th) so I won’t know for a while. I hope to tell you in three months that women in the mid-west love the film.

TMS: How important are reviews to you?

RC: I’d love to tell you I don’t care about reviews, but it’s always nice to get a good review. And a shot to the ego to get a bad review. The more projects I’m working on at once the less I obsess over the reviews.

In terms of their importance to getting the word out, they are definitely helpful. I personally prefer interviews and find myself gravitating towards titles where I listen/read a filmmaker talk about their film. Any chance to get even a handful of people to learn about the existence of your movie, in this case Suburban Cowboy, and I consider it important. I’m grateful to be doing what I’m doing… and it is not lost on me that I need an audience to continue doing it. People’s time is valuable, so whether it is this interview or dedicating money and 92 minutes of their life to me/my project, I am thankful.

TMS: Besides what it’ll do for your career, are there any standouts involved in the film that you believe will see a real career boost from being involved in it?

RC: All of our actors are relatively unknown. I think it will give them all a boost, but particularly our lead Frank Raducz, Jr. This is his first film and he is in every single scene. It would be almost impossible for it not to affect his career in some capacity (positively or negatively depending on if you like it I guess). He was a joy to work with and really dedicated himself to the film. I made sure to meet every single actor/actress in the film on a personal level before casting them, so I have a fondness and respect for each and every one of them.

There are crew who worked on the film that I have worked with in the past and hope to continue working with moving forward. From my make-up artist (Yusuke Tateishi) to my Director of Photography (Jakob Lofberg) to my Line Producer (Jason Calabro, who is the first/only person I trust to run a set while I was focusing on directing). I hope they all go on to huge things, but selfishly want them to not be too huge they won’t be able to work with me.

TMS: Have doors opened for you as a result of it? Yes and no. I was hoping things blew up for me a bit more than they have. First when we got into Austin Film Festival, then when we sold it, then when the sale was announced on Deadline Hollywood. There were no agents or managers calling. Literally zero. This blew my mind because I have friends from USC who are signed at agencies like CAA and WME based on a mediocre short that they made years ago and have done nothing since. There were also no production companies calling to meet about what was next for me as a director. But there were people that I worked with along the way, sales agents or lawyers/financiers, that I have created relationships with and I am now working on that next project with… And for those that are interested in projects I’m moving forward with, I can now point to a film that actually exists – that people can see – and not talk about the film that is in post or coming out. I’m not longer a director with a script – I’m a director.

The film was just released on Friday, so the things I thought would happen may still happen. However, there’s no way I can sit around waiting for that. So, I’m already moving forward as if I have to do this whole thing again by myself. It definitely hasn’t been an easy path for me because I’m a shit salesman and an introvert, but every project builds on the last one and I’m getting to the point where people have no choice but to take notice.

TMS: Would you compare the storyline to anything we’ve seen in earlier films? Anything you can say is an intentional homage?

RC: The story itself isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but what fascinates me about it is this idea that the guy next door is a criminal. It’s not this stereotypical gangster story where the bad guys are obviously criminals. It’s more true to life, at least in the part of the world I come from. There is a specific film, Pusher by Nicholas Wending Refn, that influenced Suburban Cowboy. It was so raw, the characters and world felt so real. Even though they were awful people, you felt something for them. There was this authenticity to the dialogue and situations, filled with comedic moments during these moments of intensity.

One intentional homage is to my own graphic novel, Harbor Moon, which the lead character reads throughout because he is obsessed with werewolves (if you see the film it will make sense). Shameless self-promotion. The other is the score during a diner scene, and the subsequent scene in the house of an opiate addicted dealer. Dragan and I wanted a creepy small town feel for it and so we wanted it to feel like it was lifted from the world of Twin Peaks.

TMS: Has it all gone according to plan for you? Anything you’ll do differently next time around?

RC: It has definitely not gone according to plan for me. It would be an understatement to say I’ve been humbled over the last ten years or so in the film industry. Just when I think I’m hot shit, a greater power decides to bring it all crashing down. Whether it is a massive book series set up at a studio that lands on the front page of Variety (which goes into turnaround and I never get paid on), a project that gets to the week of shooting and it turns out the financing wasn’t real, another project where we’re in the middle of shooting and it turns out the financier can’t cover his commitment, or just the ping pong of moving back and forth from New York (where I’m from) to Los Angeles to see this dream through.

With Suburban Cowboy, everything sort of feel into place. It was a smooth process from start to finish, and the most enjoyable project I’ve made to date. I wouldn’t do much differently – at least not with the same budget.

In general, for my career, there’s a lot I’d do differently. I spent a lot of time and money on things that were useless. The number one thing I would do is zero in on creating/finding the best script I could do for the absolute least amount of money – then go make it. I have a lot of scripts… some that I know aren’t ready and some I love but are more expensive. After shopping each one, realizing the market was shrinking, I would write another that was smaller. Until I eventually wrote one that I could actually just go do on my own.

TMS: What’s ahead for you?

RC: I’m currently co-directing Orient City, a hand-drawn animated samurai spaghetti western with Zsombor Huszka (who did the animated titles for Suburban Cowboy). We just finished the short film, but dove right into the feature. I just returned from a few months in Budapest laying out the storyboards.

Up next for me on the live action side is a contained sci-fi thriller called Andover, a project written by Dikran Ornekian and Rylend Grant. You never know what will happen in terms of financing, so I wanted a project that could be done at the same budget level as Suburban Cowboy, but with the ability to stretch that money further (limited locations, small cast). Those guys crushed the script and there is interest in doing it at what can best be described as a non-micro budget. At a certain budget level you lose your ability to take risks creatively and make something different, so we’ll see how fast it can come together. As nice as it would be to take a step up, I don’t want to be on the shelf that long.