I can’t believe that I’ve been in LA for a little over 4 years now. I came here with a few bucks in my pocket, 2 suitcases, and a dream. And I’m in the majority of course…This is Hollywood, baby! Its always heartening to meet those who are paving the way for their dreams to come into fruition by making things happen whether its writing an improv show, writing a screenplay and then directing it, obtaining financing, or just starting your own web series. I had a chance to chat wih Jon Rannells, writer/director of ‘Ruby Booby,” about how he got started, the state of the movie biz, and what keeps him going.
Tell us how writing “Ruby Booby” came about and how did you come up with the name?
Well I’d have to say in general that I’m continually drawn to ‘fish out of water’ tales. And I think ‘Ruby Booby’ – came from myself and my wife buying a little house in Highland Park, which is a predominantly Mexican neighborhood, just north of downtown L.A. Making the move from Toronto, Canada, just a few years ago, I found our new neighborhood both exotic and wonderfully cinematic. I kept thinking “I should really set something in this neighborhood.” And that combined with the need to use what was available to me because we had basically no money to shoot – resulted in the story of an introverted girl from the Deep South landing in East L.A. Ruby probably reflects how new and different the whole setting originally was for me. And the title came from – there’s an early scene in the movie where a group of young kids tease Ruby and when I thought of what they might chant to mock her – “Ruby Booby” – came to mind and then just started to feel like the right title for the film. Although most people of course assume it’s a porn when they hear it. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Although if you rented “Ruby Booby” expecting a porn – I imagine you’d be pretty disappointed.
Haha..so how does your background as an actor and comedian help you as a writer/director?
Well the reason I started writing, was that as an actor involved in different weekly workshops, I just became too lazy to look for material. Once you’ve gone through every scenebook you can find and exhausted every John Patrick Shanley and David Mamet play – it just became easier to write something before class and grab a willing actor to help me out in the scene. And maybe because of how that all started I think I have a good grasp of what constitutes fun dialogue and scenes for actors to play with. In terms of directing, I think or at least hope I speak the same language as actors and can easily get to the tone and performance the scene calls for. I know what it’s like to be on the other side, so first and foremost I try to setup an environment where everybody can have fun and do their best work without it feeling like ‘work’.
What is your favorite part of the storytelling process?
That’s a tough one. My first reaction is all of it. Filmmaking is a particularly challenging art form in that you have to be comfortable or surround yourself with people who are comfortable in many different elements of storytelling. There’s writing the script, which is fun because you get to envision the whole movie without leaving your house or getting out of your pajamas (in my case). Then there’s casting, picking locations, the music you want and on and on and on. It’s truly endless. And then when you edit you get to tell the story all over again. So at each juncture you get to mold the overall product. And I’ll let you know the end result, as this is my first feature but so far I’m loving all of it!
Very cool. So, what are the struggles and rewards of being an independent filmmaker in this day and age?
Well the rewards, besides the inherent satisfaction of getting your story completed and out to the public – I don’t yet know, because again this is my first go around. But the struggles? Where to start? Even if you’re given absolutely everything for free, completing a feature length film is still a herculean task. We did everything we could to limit locations, cast and shoot time – but inevitably, the story informs all those things and as much as you might fight it – you always end up biting off way more than you can chew.
Who are your filmmaker influences and who would you like to work with in the future?
It’s tough for me to really pinpoint who my influences are. I know the people who have blown me away over the years and I hope their stuff informs what I do. Every time I stumbled over a Jacque Tati or Jean Renior or Antonioni, I had to see everything they did. I know I’m drawn to a very strong visual sense. I like wide angles, tons of tracking shots and what I’d call a real “breathability” – lots of establishing shots in beautiful outdoor locations. In terms of contemporary North American filmmakers, the Coen brothers for me are in a class onto themselves. They’re just such a rare combination of a strong literary influence combined with a distinct and powerful visual sense. After them comes Wes Anderson. Myself and my friends must have watched Bottle Rocket a hundred times. I love everything about what that guy does. As to who I’d like to work with, I guess I usually think of that in terms of actors and cinematographers. I have a notebook where I keep a long list of people who have caught my attention over the years.
Love the Coen brothers. What are your thoughts on the current state of the Movie biz?
I think it’s both an amazing time and a very difficult time to be a filmmaker these days. On one hand, the whole model of production is being re-invented. With the technology of today’s digital high-def cameras, achieving something that’s pleasing to the eye is easier and cheaper than it ever has been in the history of film. It’s really the wild west out there. Everyone has a camera and everyone’s working towards making something. And now they can even edit the entire film at home. I don’t however know if films are any better right now because of that freedom. But I think there’s an entire new generation of filmmakers who will have an easier time expressing themselves and growing as storytellers and the best is yet to come. On the other hand, the financial model for films is in trouble and if you don’t have a tent pole Hollywood picture that makes it’s money at the box office, right now you’re going to have a tough time making money.
But if you don’t believe that a good story and execution has at least a chance of some attention – then it’s time to grab a tool belt and switch careers. And I don’t have a tool belt… yet.
What about international investors/financing? Have you gone that route to help raise funds for “Ruby Booby” and your other projects?
I don’t have a lot of direct experience with cobbling together international financing. In Canada it happens a lot whereby you do a co-production with another country. The funding in Canada is mainly from the government, so you start there and try to add to it where you can. But as a first time filmmaker I think, or at least for me, it would be too tough to sit in the middle of that before you’ve proven to yourself and others that you’re up to the task. I wouldn’t be against it in the future if the model made sense. I really strive however to not be locked into fundraising for years. I’ve seen a lot of friends wait forever for that last piece of funding to come through and I think I’d go crazy. I’m prolific in nature and kind of fickle, so for me I really want to think it, write it and shoot it even if its for two cents and then move onto the next one. Or so the dream goes.
Well, props to you for going for it. What else inspires you and keeps you doing what you’re doing?
I guess the easy answer is, I don’t know what else I would do. I’ve gone to great pains to make sure I’m not good at anything else. I think in this business if you have something to fall back on, you’re inevitably going to fall back on it. It’s a truly tough and at times miserable biz but if you think you have something interesting and entertaining to say, it’s nearly impossible for people and circumstances to squeeze that out of you. And I’m inspired by a lot of things. Locations in particular seem to get my engine going. I love driving around and seeing places that interest me. Maybe because I grew up in a city, great expanses are really pleasing to me. We shot portions of Ruby up in the grapevine south of Bakersfied. It’s just fields, fields and more brown fields – and I have to say I loved every minute of being up there. Maybe I’m meant to make Westerns. There’s an idea…
Thanks Jon! And for more information about Ruby Booby..CLICK HERE!