Interview with ‘Iowa’ writer & Director Ryan Quinn

Ryan Quinn

ED- In viewing the screening of a TV pilot we had been following we chanced upon the cast of the short film, ‘Iowa Is Closed Today’. Both projects were being introduce in THEARC Theater in Southeast Washington, DC. There we met writer/ Director Ryan Quinn. Ryan, please tell us what your greatest interest in filmmaking was?

RQ- I’m drawn to film for the same reason most people probably are – film lets us escape into a different world, into the lives of different people, and a good film often runs the gamut of emotions. It’s a completely immersing human experience. Now, why do I want to make films? Looking back at the films I’ve made, I guess you could say none of my stories had to be told. Which I guess is pretty subjective, but it’s not like watching something along the lines of Spielberg’s Munich, which is an important story deserving of the cinematic touch of a masterful artist like Spielberg. The films I tend to write are more just a collection of interesting ideas and conversations I’ve had with friends, and there’s just something really, for lack of a better word, fun about putting all of that together into one coherent thought, that is, the finished film. So I suppose I just love inventing and film is the medium I fell in love with, thanks to all those movies I used to watch with my Grandfather and running around with Dad’s movie camera as a kid.

ED- Please tell us about your education in this field and the achievements that you gained at Penn State University.

RQ- My film friends and I recently estimated that, had we not all gone to college, we would have had roughly an extra $600,000 to make films with. But had we all just stayed home and saved our money, we never would have met each other. I think that was the most valuable part of the education – finding a group of people who love what they do and do it well together. But of course we wouldn’t have picked up half the stuff we know without the film classes and the help of some great cinema professors at Penn State. The program itself is very small compared to the other majors on campus, so it’s really what you make of it. We took the Senior Film two-semester class opportunity to make a big, exciting, and funny film, and now it’s winning awards at festivals, and that never would have happened had we not laid down the tuition. It might have happened with some other people with some other film, but we’ll never know. I’m just glad it happened at Penn State with the friends it happened with.

ED- In 2007 you wore many hats for the film ‘Broadcasts From Darlingsdale’, that you had produced. You were also the editor, cinematographer, writer, and director as well. How were you able to juggle so many responsibilities at the same time?

RQ- Wow, that seems like such a long time ago. I think some of that is probably a little overstated, at least in what the job responsibilities were. “Cinematographer” means “I held the camera”. There were no lights or equipment or anything like that. My friend Matthew Stromberg and I just decided one Summer to write a feature length screenplay and shoot it with friends and family members on pretty much no budget. Watching it again recently, though, there’s some really hilarious moments in it and I’d actually love to redo it again someday with a budget and real actors and all that.

ED- What was the theme behind the film?

RQ- Darlingsdale is about a video truancy officer named Dale Darling who, with a team, raids people’s houses to recover VHS tapes when they’re overdue at local video stores. One day, one of his best friends and team members is killed on the job and, in mourning, Dale drops off the force and goes into reclusion. In his isolation, he ‘discovers’ television and becomes obsessed by it, so much so that eventually it becomes impossible for him to tell what’s TV and what’s real life.

ED- Tell us about the cast members in the production and the roles that they played.

RQ- Well, the co-writer, Matthew Stromberg, starred as Dale Darling, and a bunch of my old friends from back in Pittsburgh – Evan Tobac, Joe Senchak, Phil McGee, Danielle LaCava, Derek Krystek, Rachel Faber – they all played roles. We were just a bunch of goofy friends making a movie.

ED- Please describe how you put this project together and list the problems and successes that you had in doing so.

RQ- I will say this, as amateur as I suppose Darlingsdale is, the scale of it definitely helped when it came to shooting Iowa is Closed Today. I already had some experience dealing with large numbers of people on set and investing months of my life to one idea; one story. So I’m glad we decided to shoot that way back in 2007, it was a great learning experience.

ED- Your latest work is called ‘Iowa Is Closed Today’. Please tell our readers about the theme behind this production.

RQ- Iowa is Closed Today is the story of a book bootlegger (kind of like a music pirate, but with hand-copied books) named Andy who dies and winds up in Purgatory. Out there on the beach in the hereafter, he meets Gabe, the Angel of Death, to whom he must then prove his life’s worth. So he tells the story of how, back on Earth, he fell for a beautiful taxidermy thief named April, and how he struggled balancing his personal and professional life before the untimely closing of Iowa’s borders led to his death. A few people have commented on how the film has a fairly spiritual backbone, and I can see how it may appear like that, with the angels and Purgatory and such, but that was never my intention. The most important theme in the film, for me anyway, is the struggle to find a balance between relationships and devotion to an art form. It’s something all of us went through in making the film. Filmmaking is an extremely time consuming process and when you’re in ‘production mode’ it’s very easy to lose touch with a lot of the people around you, especially those who aren’t involved with the film. So that’s the conflict at the heart of Iowa.

ED- Who are the cast members and what are the roles that they play?

RQ- Eddie Szewczyk played Andy, Rebecca Sussman played April, Matt Klein played Gabe, Sam Broscoe and Rohan Khatri played Sam and Vince, Andy’s friends, and Derek Biddle, Jacqueline Rosenthal, and Eric Lawry played the villainous librarians, The Pagemasters. The group members who were at the helm of the film were Ryan Kroboth (Director of Photography), Erica Sperber (Producer), Ryan Coutu (Editor/Sound), and non-Senior-Film-er Andrew Karasik (Executive Producer).

ED- What are your present plans for this project?

RQ- Iowa is Closed Today won the distinction of ‘Best Short Film’ at the REEL Independent Film Festival in Washington, DC, and ‘Best Student Film’ at the Pocono Mountains Film Festival in Pennsylvania. It was also an Official Selection in the Penn State Student Film Festival in State College, PA and the MCA-TV Film Festival. Right now there are still a few festivals pending, so we may be traveling with the film to a couple more screenings, showing it to more new audiences and meeting other filmmakers.

ED- When can our readers expect to see these productions and where will they be able to find them?

RQ- Broadcasts From Darlingsdale is something we made a bunch of copies of and handed out to the people who worked on it and that was that. Iowa is Closed Today, however, should be popping up online eventually, whenever our festival tour is finished. For now you can check out some stills and other info on the film at www.iowaisclosedtoday.com, and for information on our upcoming productions, check out www.30thstreetentertainment.com.

ED- What are some of the other projects that you are planning for, and what do you look to achieve in the next five years?

RQ- It’s feature time again, but this time done proper. As of last night, I’m 70 pages into a new screenplay I’m writing, tentatively titled Anniversary, a comedy about two families with nothing but disdain for one another and one unlikely couple that gets stuck in the middle. Hopefully that will go into production some time in 2011 and ideally we can use that to really springboard ourselves into the industry. We’ve all kind of come to the realization that indie film production isn’t glamorous, it’s definitely not going to pay the bills (quite the opposite, actually), but it’s a lot of fun and it’s what we all love doing. So as long as I’m working on film projects that I care about with my friends I’ll be happy. That’s our biggest goal: not to make filmmaking into too much of a grind, as it often becomes in Hollywood. At the end of the day, it should always just be a bunch of friends making a movie.

ED- Ryan, we want to first thank you for your time with us and wish you the best of luck in the future. Please keep us updated on your work so that we can keep our readers well informed about your projects.