Giles Alderson and Dom Lenoir chatted to debut feature film director Ryan Andrew Hooper on The Filmmakers Podcast this week. Ryan discussed his film The Toll, their strategy to getting their film made, and how you need to find enjoyment in the project.

Ryan, who had wanted to make a film since he was a child, said that for him the experience was “just excitement. We got fully funded through a micro-budget film scheme called Cinematic. So that meant that the money was there, but we had nothing for about a year, until Mark, the producer, came on board.”

There was a lot of lead time, waiting to make the film, “and then it was all systems go, which meant that there wasn’t much time to be nervous.”

He said that it was important to “love every second of it because the hit rate of a director making a second movie is very low – 90 percent never make another one. So for me, I should try to enjoy every second of it. I desperately want to do it again, but I might not be able to.”

How He Started

“I started my first gig as a boom op on a low budget film that was shot in a week. It was a vampire gambling film. And that was brutal to me. It was 15 hour days, all shot in a church. The boom op they had was a really experienced guy called Dick and he taught me loads of stuff.”

Working in that position taught Ryan the importance of understanding each department. “Everybody thinks they’re the most important department.” He also learned how important sound is when making a film – and how it is very difficult to fix in post.

Their Strategy

Ryan said that they wanted to make something that looked cool with “very limited money. Matt (Redd) and I were strategic. We had a five-year plan of what we wanted to do.” 

They’d applied to Cinematic before and were shortlisted for a documentary about a guy (who Ryan knew) who had thought that his grandfather was a spy.

“We went through the process, but we didn’t get through. There was another scheme called Beacons. So Matt and I had a strategy to try and get funding for a short film. And we’d use that as proof of concept for when we pitch for the feature through Cinematic when it ran again. We’ll have something that we can physically show them what I can do.

So the feature came first, that’s the difference, which is important to me. The short wasn’t the first 10 pages of the feature. The short is very different to the feature.”

When they made their short, they purposely went in without a producer attached because they were hoping to find a producer who would do the short and the feature, which is “ultimately what happened in terms of the production company that came on board. It was always very strategic.”

How They Made the Film

“I shot list everything. But one of the things that happened on The Toll is we were really behind in the first week. We’d been planning this for years – you’ve had a project mulling over in your head, you know exactly what you want to do. But I had to adjust the style a bit and really simplify it.”

They realised that they didn’t have enough time, so the shots needed to be more simple and clean; no dirty frames or negative spaces between characters.

“Smiley was always in the middle of the frame, always domineering each scene. There are only two scenes where anybody comes near him and end up on the same level and still he is in charge.”

This allowed them to really focus on the actors and their performances.

Working with Actors

Paul Kaye loves to improvise, so with Matt being on set a lot they were able to work together to develop his character.

“There’s a lot of actors in this film and all of them are different experience levels. Every actor is different. Some actors want a lot more direction than others. Some need it more. Some are like Gwyneth – who play the triplets.

She was modulating (self-editing) what she was doing and where her tone was. So I was like, I want you to go to a hundred, in terms of how you would approach this, then we can dial it back if we need to. But just trust me as a director.”

His Last Words of Advice

“As a director, I think the one thing I don’t want to lose is how much I absolutely loved every second because that’s what gets you through the months of frustration and arguments. 

Personal relationships break down and it’s not through anyone’s fault. It’s not a personal thing.

It’s just a creative thing, sometimes. And you try to manage that as well as you can. But the thing that sustains you is that absolute joy about what it is that you’re doing because that is what will get you through the years and years it can take you to get the film made.”

You can listen to more of Ryan’s brilliant advice, here.

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