Skip to main content
#
The Independent Critic

 An Interview With Ryan Gielen 
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest
Reddit
Add to favorites
Email

With his latest film Drinking Games, director Ryan Gielen solidifies his reputation as one of the most promising of the up-and-coming directors after the successes of The Graduates, his debut film, and Turtle Hill, Brooklyn. The Graduates launched a ten-city arthouse release and has become one of the top five selling digital indies of the last decade, while Turtle Hill, Brooklyn picked up prizes at NewFest, one of the nation's premier LGBT film festivals. With Drinking Games, Gielen has managed to create one of the more compelling indie thrillers in recent years. The Independent Critic had a chance to catch up with Gielen and chat about Drinking Games ahead of the film's release on digital platforms, Gielen's career, and lots more. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

One of the things I most appreciated about your portrayal of the "bad guy" in Drinking Games is that he was dangerously normal in the way he presented himself. Can you talk to me about how you crafted such a character?

RYAN GIELEN

I really liked that the villain was just an entitled rich kid and not some supervillain. We were just coming out of the George W. Bush era, where people like Noopie basically broke the world. I wanted to explore who these people really were. I thought Drinking Games did a good job of showing who they are and why they're so powerful - they're charming, attractive sociopaths who don't care about ANYTHING or ANYONE other than themselves, and in the film we explore how that sociopathic mindset can creep in and destroy people right under their noses. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you say a little bit about the story itself? I know that it's an adaptation from a stage production, I loved the way you structured the film in a non-traditional way. The film really goes all over the place - comedy, drama, thriller, horror. It's definitely not a genre film, but in a way it's a film that feels remarkably authentic. 

RYAN GIELEN

Thank you for the compliment. It is certainly something we strived for. That's all in the script. The basic idea was to just let events unfold and in doing so they naturally grow darker, funnier, sadder, worse, and more violent as people let their guard down. One thing we did not worry about was traditional movie structure or style. We wanted to make this our own. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You've got familiar faces that seem to appear throughout your films. While this isn't exactly uncommon in the indie world, it's pretty extraordinary considering all three of your films are quite different. This speaks to the talent of your cast and crew. How did this community of players develop and what made you realize that they were capable of such diversity?

RYAN GIELEN

Great question. We've all grown up together, in a way, as young professional filmmakers, actors, and producers. So, even though we started out working together in a certain genre, as we've grown we've found new ways to challenge ourselves and seek out new challenges. Drinking Games, which takes place entirely in one dorm, was a huge challenge but we felt we were ready to take it on and making it exciting. Even though a lot of the team is the same, we bring in new people all the time as another way to grow and stretch ourselves. Riccarda Albrecht, for instance, is one of the stars of the film and we cast her out of NYU having never met her before she auditioned. She gives a really stunning performance as an overwhelmed, sincere young woman who gets sucked into Noopie's web. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How did you get into film? Did your family think you were completely insane for doing so? 

RYAN GIELEN

I'm originally from Columbia, Maryland and growing up I knew exactly zero people in entertainment or creative arts. Luckily, my parents were always incredibly supportive about any creative impulse I had. When I got to college, I was able to discover "the industry" through internships, jobs as a production assistant, etc. I always had a camera in my hand, in college especially, so my parents had several years to get used to the idea I think. The digital era, however, is wild. It's wide open. I imagine parents over the next 10-15 years will become much more comfortable with the idea of children becoming filmmakers because so many of them already are in small  ways. It's no longer the way it was when I was growing up, when only people from New York or Los Angeles were filmmakers or knew filmmakers. 

Section title here

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

One of the things I really admired about this film is that you created a compelling film that also worked perfectly within the context of a modestly budgeted indie production. In both talent and production, you really put together a stellar package while working within budget considerations. So often, I see indie filmmakers completely mismanaging this aspect of film production. You seem to have a solid instinct for character-driven films with compelling stories. 

RYAN GIELEN

That's a really interesting question, and I think you're totally correct. When I do have the opportunity to look at potential scripts to direct I do look for character-based stories. In part, it's because that's the only way I can mentally connect to what's taking place but the other aspect of it is budget. I have some larger genre films that I am dying to make, but the price tag is prohibitive at the moment. Hopefully, one of my actor buddies will become a big deal and we can get my $3 million or $30 million ideas greenlit! Seriously though, I take this question as a compliment, because I and the writers of these films all deeply care about making character-based work. It's what we connect to, and we do think the audience will follow. Also, yes, we have made a conscious decision not to make genre films. Part of the joy of independent filmmaking is that you don't have to make films that fit safely in some little box. I say that as both a director AND a fan of independent films. Some of my favorites, I couldn't tell you what genre they would fit into and I have a feeling they wouldn't want me to. Another Earth is a great example. I genuinely love that film, but I have no idea what genre to label it as. Who cares? It's a great story with a great set of characters - True indie filmmaking. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Since Drinking Games was actually filmed on a college campus in a real dorm, I'm wondering if it actually played on campuses? How did they respond to it?

RYAN GIELEN

Yes, we put together our own little college tour and spoke on several college campuses about our process. The film students we spoke with were engaged, loved the film, and asked great, great questions. SCAD and UNCSA were two great screenings, in particular., because the students loved the film but weren't afraid to critique it and ask tough questions about the film and our process. In general, I think the younger crowd is really happy to see a film that doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator but, instead, engages their brains a little bit. At least that's the feedback we've gotten at the screenings. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

From watching the film, one thing I notice is that you managed to get everyone on the same page of a film that really does have multiple layers. How did you accomplish that? What's your directorial style?

RYAN GIELEN

Totally fair question, but I'm not really sure how I would describe myself. I'm lucky to work with incredibly talented actors, so I don't think I have to do a lot of heavy lifting. The actors I've worked with have all come to the projects with ideas and questions. We answer the questions together and then shoot. I wish I had a better answer, but the actors I work with could probably give you a better answer. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It seems like with each film you've gotten better and better at learning how to really get your films out there in terms of community awareness, marketing, distribution, etc. 

RYAN GIELEN

Thank you for the compliment. I sincerely appreciate it. Yes, The Graduates was unlucky and lucky at the same time. The economy crashed just as the film was leaving festivals so even with our awards and press there was no one buying. However, that forced me and my brother Matt, who produced the film with me, to figure out how to build an audience on our own. We did so over 2 to 3 years of releasing the film on each new platform as that platform became available to us. It was an incredible learning experience that was both scary and empowering. Once we did that, people were more comfortable coming to me with a script and a budget because they knew I would be able to help carry the film through production and distribution. I think that trust - that any film I embark on with someone will reach the finish line - goes a very long way. It means a lot. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you talk about the importance of the festival scene?

RYAN GIELEN

Really tough to say. The only real game changer is if you get into and then win awards at the three or four top-tier festivals. Other than that, festivals are what you make of them. Great for making connections, and the wreaths look good on posters. Everyone's festival experience is so different. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Any upcoming projects you can talk about?

RYAN GIELEN

I have three projects in development - Under the Boardwalk, a relationship drama; Love Bomb and the Pink Platoon, an action adventure; Queen of Chelsea, a violent mafia film that takes place in 1980's NYC. I can't get into details but am happy to mention they exist and are being developed. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Tell me about Believe Limited. 

RYAN GIELEN

Believe Limited is my production company. We specialize in character-based pieces. We are based out of Los Angeles and New York. We do not accept unsolicited submissions. 

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC 

Is there anyone who has really inspired your journey as a filmmaker?

RYAN GIELEN

I was incredibly lucky to sit down with Chris Moore for a few minutes, producer of Good Will Hunting and the American Pie movies. Unfortunately, I was quite young, only 22 at the time and did not know good questions to ask so I sat there like an idiot. He was incredibly generous, and I'll never forget the piece of advice he hammered on - If you have the money to go to film grad school, don't. Take that money and make 10 short films. Find your voice, make mistakes, and learn the craft. I took that to heart. He was speaking as someone who as to evaluate craft constantly. I think he knew that an aesthetic and style - a voice - can't be learned. It has to be developed. I already saw him as a visionary, with Project Greenlight he was one of the first people to really understand the potential of the web for filmmakers but I especially vibed with his advice because I HATE sitting in classrooms. I would always rather be on my feet making mistakes and growing. 

For more information on "Drinking Games," visit the film's Facebook page. You can also visit the Believe Limited website for more information on all of Gielen's films and the digital release of "Drinking Games." Gielen is also the co-founder of the nonprofit DVDs to the Troops, along with his brother Matt, an organization dedicated to sending used DVDs to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Visit the organization's website to find out more. 

© Interview by Richard Propes 
The Independent Critic  

    The Official Rating Guideline
    • A+ to A: 4 Stars                
    • A- to B+: 3.5 Stars            
    • B: 3 Stars                         
    • B- to C+: 2.5 Stars           
    • C: 2 Stars
    • C- to D+: 1.5 Stars
    • D: 1 Star
    • D-: .5 Star
    • F: Zero Stars

    our twitterour facebook page pintrestgoogle pluslinkdin

    The Independent Critic © 2008 - 2019