An interview with filmmaker/actor Ryan Balas and Co-Star Deirdre Herlihy
A strange thing happened to me the other day after watching the world premiere of “Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her.” Some of the scenes began to weave themselves into my head, taking place next to my own memories. I felt distinctively that at some point I’d caught a secret glance into the back seat window of a car where Emmie (played by Deirdre Herlihy, http://twitter.com/deirdreherlihy) had sex with a new acquaintance. Did I really share mimosas with four friends in a wood-paneled cabin, made by Rowan (played by Ryan Balas, http://twitter.com/ryanbalas) while he wore nothing but black brief underwear? In reality, I had only just met the real life couple, Ryan and Deirdre, first via twitter, and finally in person a few days prior to the world premiere of their movie at the Indy Film Festival.
Indy Film Fest (http://twitter.com/IndyFilmFest) is a ten-day festival featuring movies from around the globe. In it’s seventh year, the festival aims to feature independent and innovative film. Each time yet another ill-conceived sequel is announced and the frustration mounts that Hollywood is not only broke, but also out of ideas, festivals like this deliver signs of life in film.
“Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her” (http://everyonesaysilookjustlikeher.blogspot.com) is the epitome of indie film. With a cast and crew numbering four each, it was shot in just ten days. The original budget of $5,000 (now surpassed due to additional post production and travel expenses from their home in Queens, NY) was crowd sourced from friends and family members, the new revenue stream for small-scale creative endeavors via personal appeals and sites like Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com).
The result is a surprising film that dives deep into the heart of family, relationships and grief without going too far into the brink. Two sisters, one biologic to white parents, one adopted (she happens to be African American, but no big deal is made of this), spend a week at their famous father’s summer home in the days before the anniversary of their mother’s death. It’s the real stuff of life, shelling out doses of unexpected joy to pierce the melancholy and mourning.
I got a chance to get into the minds of Ryan and Deirdre about “Everyone Says,” work and life, an especially nice trade, since they’d already worked their way into mine.
SM: The film has a lot of private moments, both happy and sad, and a lot of sex. After watching, I kept thinking a good word to describe your film was intimate. Was that part of the intent?
RB: Yes! We had a super small crew and cast. I wanted to create a safe environment and level of intimacy in which we could all come together and be truthful in the moment.
DH: I think of my first scene with Joe in the back of the car. It’s not dimly lit, there isn’t any heartfelt music playing – it’s just not that sexy. With that being said, I think that most sex between two people who have never been intimate is like that.
RB: My approach was to keep it honest and to acknowledge all the awkward, in-between- moments, not just of these characters sex lives, but also the times when they were alone with themselves. There is always a liability to personal work but I’d say that it’s worth it for the intimacy achieved.
SM: You shot the movie over ten days in Michigan. In some of the scenes, it feels like the setting is another character. Can you comment on sense of place?
RB: As for sense of place, it was very important to me that the house felt lived in and that it felt like these girls had made a lot of memories there. Also, let me just say that I stole a lot from the opening of Woody Allen’s “Interiors.”
DH: I had traveled to the house twice with Ryan for his family reunion. It was of course a very different experience being there with a film crew and working on an intense film schedule. When I wasn’t shooting, I would walk down to the water and feel so grateful. I was working on a film I believed in and able to take in our beautiful surroundings. The setting was another character – It was where these two sisters found comfort and familiarity.
RB: For me, it was easy, because it was true, but I had to play the opposite of that. The cabin where we filmed is a place my family has been renting for a week every summer since I was a kid, so it is wall-to-wall memories for me.. It had to be new to me, it had to be some place mysterious. There is so much natural beauty in Northern Michigan, that you basically just need to turn the camera on and start shooting and you are likely to find something really lovely. Plus, my producer/right hand man Darren Marshall (LINK) and Director of Photography/Cam Operator Richard Buonagurio (LINK) both have a good eye for natural composition and establishing a sense of place in the mix of our improvised scene work.
SM: How was your experience premiering the film at the Indy Film Fest?
RB: We had the best time. For me, it felt like a homecoming. I was born in Valparaiso, Indiana, my dad went to Purdue, and I spent a number of years living in Northern Indiana, so it’s a special state for me.
DH: I couldn’t have imagined it going any better. Everyone involved with Indy Film Fest was so welcoming and supportive of our film. I felt like we had a group of cheerleaders backing us the whole week. Also, having to two very different audiences during the screenings was beneficial to us as filmmakers.
SM: What did you take away from the screenings & their different audience vibes? There was a lot of laughing out loud in the first screening. Were you surprised about that?
DH: I was surprised by the amount of laughing during the first screening. Sometimes you aren’t sure if people will get your humor. It was so rewarding to hear such a positive response. The second screening had a more conservative audience, but the film provoked good questions from them during the Q&A. As a filmmaker, you need to have that balance from your audiences.
SM: During the Q & A of the World Premiere, you mentioned how viewing home videos inspired you to make this film. How much personal life was woven into the story?
DH: Ryan really dug deep into my family, with permission of course. A few years ago, I asked my dad to convert some home VHS videos into DVD so I could have them as my own personal keepsake. Having lost my mom nearly 13 years ago, I cherish anything that shows my mom, dad, older brother and I together. I remember Ryan being especially inspired watching the films. They were both a great tribute to her and also helped Ryan get to know her in a way.
RB: “Everyone Says” was a very personal film for all of us, in different ways. I wanted everyone to have the chance to add a unique voice and history to the story, which is why a majority of the dialogue is improvised.
SM: How has technology and social media changed how you promote and talk about your work?
RB: Where do I begin? Well…we met on twitter didn’t we? I have to say that I really began to promote my work at the time when social media was getting big, so it hasn’t been this totally new way for me to do old work. There certainly is a forever-morphing method. With the advancement of technology and the ability to connect with a larger audience on a daily basis, I think indie film can thrive on that opportunity.
DH: Darren, our producer, put together and posted a teaser online while we were still shooting. It felt a little premature, but then when I saw the response it was getting, I had no regrets. So many friends and family members donated to this film, so it felt awesome being able to show them what they helped us make.
RB: Our work is enhanced by it and in fact I really hope we can learn to use it as another story telling method. I think it has caused me to daydream ways in which we can integrate the process of the promotion with the work itself. That’s the exciting part about new media and technology for me. We are able to draw new lines between storytelling and promotion.
SM: What’s next for “Everyone Says I Look Just Like Her” – Are you seeking other festival screenings or distribution?
RB: We are actively submitting for fall, winter and spring film festivals and would really like to continue on the circuit for a little while. As for distribution, only the future can really tell. We have some interest but want to have the opportunity to build our relationship with the audience before we decide the direction to the film.
DH: We are looking for distribution, but not rushing into anything. This film is our baby and we want what’s best for it.
SM: Ryan, I’ve heard that your next project is a documentary that could be a little controversial. What other projects are on the horizon for you two?
RB: I’m working on the documentary, “Stage Brother,” (LINK) which I’m producing with director, Richie Buonagurio. We’ve been following Richie’s sister around for the last 6 months as she dips her toes into the adult industry. That project could be shooting for at least another 6 months to a year, so it’s more of a long-term thing. As for the next project that I will direct, we are talking about making a film based on our web series, The Really Cool Show (http://thereallycoolshow.blogspot.com).
DH: Ryan and I both just recently wrapped on Darren Marshall’s film, The Kings of Yorktown (LINK), and I also got to briefly appear in Stage Brother. I’d like to direct a film maybe this fall. In between all of this, I’m going to continue to work on my photography (http://www.deirdreherlihy.com).
RB: The Kings of York Town, which I also produced, should be hitting the circuit next summer. I’m trying to stay busy and do a lot of things at once. There are ideas on the table and we all want to do it, it’s just a matter of getting a few logistical things into place.
SM: You’ve just celebrated five years together as a couple, with countless collaborations under your belt. How has your relationship grown as a result of the work collaboration?
RB: We met in acting school and our relationship slowly unfolded out of a mutual interest and enjoyment in working together. The relationship has obviously grown far beyond the work, but we still love to collaborate. It feels natural and though we are both independent artists, it’s still great when we get a chance to partner up.
DH: We were really good friends for months before becoming an item and collaborating creatively, which I feel has made all the difference.
RB: It’s great fun to travel together and saves us both a lot of money when we only need one bed. The only downside is we always have to find someone to feed our cats while we are away.
One thing is certain, Ryan and Deirdre and countless other emerging filmmakers are making original, inspiring films with small budgets and a lot of love for what they’re doing. It isn’t about big paydays, but creating films that move, inspire and provoke thought. Do what you can to help make independent film happen. Look up your local festivals and screenings. And if you’re in Queens, maybe offer to watch Ryan and Deirdre’s cats so they can share their lovely film with a wider audience?
This post was originally published on July 31, 2010 on Sundayed.