Interview with Ryan Tillotson - Filmmaker, Producer, Writer, Director
Ryan Tillotson is a young writer, director, producer living in Los Angeles, CA. He has produced a number of short films, music videos, a few feature films and attended the Cannes Film Festival. His career has taken him all over the world. Ryan is also a beloved family member of The Armaid Company and is an all around cool dude.
Ryan’s IMDb page: www.imdb.com/name/nm3683483/
Ryan grew up in San Diego, CA and started making short skating videos with his friends and eventually started writing and producing short films. Last time we connected with Ryan he was making promotional marketing videos for a few craft breweries around San Diego. Craft beer is another one of Ryan’s passions.
AA Co: How long have you been living in LA and has the move greatly changed your film industry options?
RY: I moved to LA around a year ago and it has completely changed the opportunities available to me. I’ve already worked on 4 films and I continue to receive many opportunities and meet a lot of people in the industry. So much of living in LA is the networking. Every time I go out I end up talking to someone who is an actor, producer, writer, director or knows someone to build a good connection with. The opportunities are more readily available. I am not so sure my career would have grown in the way that it has here, if I were still in San Diego. I still have family, friends and even a few clients in San Diego, so I visit often. In fact, I am there now. I just got a coffee. After this interview I am driving back to LA.
AACo: Coffee is the best! A morning is just not the same without it.
RY: It’s not! Man, coffee is the best. I couldn’t make my own this morning, but this one is pretty good [I can hear him take a swig out of his lided take-out paper coffee cup)
AACo: What are you doing in San Diego?
RY: I had a meeting with one of my remaining craft brewery clients here. I really enjoy working with them and they make really good beer too! Mother Earth Brew Co. in Vista, CA www.motherearthbrewco.com. They are one of just a few clients I still have in San Diego who I make marketing videos for.
AACo: Is craft beer still a passion of yours?
RY: Totally! I love good beer! I am actually working on a bottle shop concept with a business partner and brewmaster. We have a business plan and some collected capital. We want to open a place in Long Beach. I am really interested in having a ton of bottles and people bringing their own and everyone tastes all the different bottled beers available. Unfortunately, this is not as easy as we had hoped to get licensed. We wouldn’t exactly be a brewery because we may or may not make beer. I am more interested in the tasting environment and trying different bottles, like you do at a house party. The cities are basically giving away brewery licenses and permits in Southern California, but you have to brew 100 barrels of beer to be a brewery, which really isn’t that much. 1 keg is a half a barrel, but my brewmaster doesn’t want to do something on that small level. So were are still figuring out the details, looking at spaces and trying to figure out the remaining funding of the bottle shop concept.
AACo: What is are you currently working on?
RY: To make money and pay the bills I work with businesses producing and shooting visual reels and marketing videos. My personal project I am currently working on is a 10-episode web series. We actually just shot the first episode a couple days and tomorrow I am editing. I am really excited about the project. We are going to complete a couple episodes and then start pitching to a couple of web series production companies, like Amazon and Netflix, in hopes that it gets picked up and we can fund the remaining episodes.
AACo: What is the web series about about?
RY: I worked for a self-help publishing company producing videos for 2 years. I traveled around the world interviewing self-help authors, healers and gurus, the web series is inspired by this time. The concept is a comedic mockumentary fictionalizing the many unique personalities of the self-help publishing world.
AACo: Tell us more about those 2 years traveling for the self-help publishing company?
RY: I traveled all over the world, staying in awesome Air B’nBs, interviewing amazing people in the self-help industry. I was able to hire my own crew to come with me, so I had buddies with me doing the audio and shooting. Although it was a work project, I was with my best friends. We shot in really cool locations and fancy rented Air B’n’Bs. We had an expense account and had our travel and accommodations paid for. It really was an amazing experience, but it also didn’t provide me the time to create my own projects. I was unable to write, direct or produce much of my own passion projects during that time, and I also did not have much of a life outside of my responsibilities to the publishing company. While I really appreciated and enjoyed the experience, I was okay stepping away to focus on my projects.
AACo: In those 2 years was that when you went to Cannes?
RY: Actually, I have been 2 times. The first was when I was working for the publishing company and they were looking to buy films to produce. I didn’t actually submit anything for competition that first year. I was surprised to learn that Cannes really is about buying films, screening films, and networking. Cannes is more like a convention where the booths are production houses looking to pick up films. So as a filmmaker you have to go around constantly pitching your next project. There are screening of those films that were entered for the competition. I went to a lot of screenings. I learned about how much of a business movie making is and I met amazingly influential people. It was funny because you collect so many business card in the night and you stick them in your pocket, at the end of the night they blur together. I wish I had taken notes on the cards, I found myself asking, “Who is this?”
AACo: We didn’t know you went to Cannes twice!
RY: The second time I went, I went for myself with a short. I was pitching as a filmmaker. I learned so much from my first experience at Cannes. It was such a huge achievement to even be there, but this time around I knew the tricks of what to do. I knew how to get my short film “in”. I was there for 2 weeks the second time. The festival is much longer than is perceived. There are so many films, production companies, screening and networking events that happen beyond just the public red carpet event. I knew the second time around that being at the Cannes convention center was not the best way to network, but instead going around to all the neighboring hotels. Having a drink, sitting around, chatting in hotel lobbies and bars was the way to build meaningful connections that could develop as your project develops.
AACo: It is interesting to hear that Cannes has that business element. We only see the red-carpet fancy Hollywood event. What do you love about being a film maker and what do you dread?
RY: I realized since I have been talking to you, the thing I dislike most is the constant networking and selling yourself and the next project. At Cannes they don’t care what your current project is, they only want to know about future project, so you always have to be thinking about those projects, how to pitch them, how to network to get them picked up, and networking/pitching for funding. It exhausting and I really don’t like talking about myself that much. Cannes is the only film festival I have been to, but I am pretty sure that is how all festivals work, selling, pitching for future films.
As for what I love….I love the whole process of filmmaking. I also, surprisingly, like the scheduling, organizing and managing the process. I thought I wouldn’t like those parts because they are not the creative parts, but I like seeing it all happen and collaborating with people I trust. I love being on set, there is nothing like it! That constant energy, enthusiasm and momentum. There is always a problem or there will be a problem. So there is the anticipation of the problem and also I really like the struggle to figure out the problem. There are so many things you are working against in film making - time, budget, personalities, actors, technical issues, materials, etc.
Actually for the first episode of the web series we searched for weeks of a set to shoot, and eventually we found this perfect warehouse. We got everything in motion to shoot, setting the date, getting equipment, coordinating with the crew and actors. We show up to the warehouse and there are signs everywhere saying no trespassing and very scary warnings about fire marshals and the police. The signs were not there when we scouted the location; we didn’t know what to do. We were all ready, everyone was there, so we decided to set up and start shooting. In the middle of shooting the fire marshals and police showed up and forced us to leave. They were serious and threatening, we had to stop everything, pack up and leave. We had budgeted 3 days to shoot at that location, and now we didn’t have the location and we had lost a day of shooting. We figured it out, finding a new location, one of the actor’s had a connection. We completed the shooting in 2 days and on budget. Nothing ever works out time wise, but we made it work! I love that scrambling energy on set, where everyone is there to make this great thing come together.
I also love post production. It is tedious to assemble audio and different video footage, but I love the process of making it all come together. You spend so much time in the editing room combing through footage and audio to create the best experience. It can be a pain because syncing is not always smooth and there is constant organization, by shot, audio, and take, and then reorganized again. But I start from the beginning and circle the takes I like. Once we’ve gone through all the footage, circling the takes I like, we go back and start compiling and editing those takes. You have 2 cameras shooting the same scene from different angles so sometimes you have to choose which view you want to use in scene. For the first episode of the web series we will comb through 7 hours of footage for around 20 minutes of final footage. It is a lot of rewarding hard work.
AACo: What is your goal, to make feature-length films and be a big Hollywood filmmaker/producer?
RY: I think that is the goal. I mean, yeah, I would love to be making big box office features, so long as it is a passion project. I don’t want to make films for the business of making films. I want to make films that I believe in. In the perfect scenario I would be able to continue to make my passion projects and they would get big recognition.
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