Johnny Zontal: First off, congratulations on the awards at Housecore. I know the audience at the screening seemed to enjoy Restoration. It must be extremely validating to come away from a festival carrying trophies. Is this a typical response you’ve gotten from the fans in screenings?
Ryan Oliver: Well , that one was the world premiere, first screening of my second film. Audience seemed really into it, so yeah it felt great. My first film was received well- no awards for that one, but getting into Housecore was an award in itself. It’s the fest that meant the most to me, so to get in two years in a row and to walk away with trophies, yeah, it ruled.
Restoration clocks in at around 45 minutes. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of working on a mid length film?
Well a lot of programmers don’t know what to do with odd-length pictures. My job is to make the best movie I can. I’m not gonna weigh down the movie with extra footage to make a time mark, not gonna cut material out for that reason either. I’m trying to serve the story and make it as effective as possible whatever the length. If someone’s not going to program me in a fest because of ten or fifteen minutes, no problem. I have to live with my movies for the rest of my life long after the festivals end. I get one chance to say when the thing is done, running time is not a factor for me. That’ll probably have to change if I get to a point where I’m working with someone else’s money.
Putting a traditional ghost story into a contemporary setting is a clever idea. Was this a goal you had since the project’s inception, or was it a case of using the locations and tools you had available to you?
The thing I like about it the most was the ‘displacement of a ghost’ device. I don’t know if I’ve seen that before exactly so I felt strong with that narrative choice, it made it more interesting than just a creepy kid or haunted car movie. The garage was a big factor, I knew I had that place for years and it was a goldmine to me. I spent a good amount of time in there meditating on the concept and story.
Nothing noteworthy jumped out on screen, but did you have any difficulties working with either the child actor or the cast of mostly non-professional actors?
They were all awesome to work with. I love actors,some of my best friends are brilliant performers and I used to consider myself in league with them at one point, but sometimes you gotta just put the real deal in there. I don’t look at it as casting actors vs non-actors, the way I see it I’m casting people. Each role has a different criteria to me and if somebody fits the bill and they’re not classically trained, it’s not a deal breaker to me, depends on the person. When it comes to kids, yeah, it’s tough sometimes. But not their fault at all. Lily had a couple cranky ‘time for bed’ moments and we had to just stop shooting till the next time her mom gave the thumbs up. We didn’t argue with her, when she’s done that’s it we move on to something else. I’m not going to stress out a kid to make a movie. One particularly amusing moment was when we were killing off the mechanics, we had this giant 36′ polyfoam stunt wrench that was basically made for her to swing at people with great force. The scene called for her to clock a guy right in the face, when I called action she was very hesitant. We told her about all the trouble we took to make this stunt prop and that she wasn’t going to hurt anybody. “I know” she said, “But he’s real handsome”. I offered her twenty bucks if she could break it over his head. Well, let’s say the next take was a real winner.
What are some classic movies you grew up watching that influenced what you’re doing now?
I watched damn near everything I could get my hands on. So there’s some subliminal infuluences probably rolling around that I couldn’t articulate for you. But in respect to “Restoration” I think I can pin down some major influences. Children of the Damned (1964) was the first time I saw kids killing adults in a narrative. Watching it as a kid myself at the time was crazy for me. The scene where the two kids march into class and hammer-smash the teacher’s face in was some heavy shit. I couldn’t believe it, I was raised to respect elders and all that, so kids attacking adults for whatever reason was both terrifying and captivating to me. Same goes for Children of the Corn, The Brood, It’s Alive!, and The Omen. Aside from the kid aspect of my movie, the other major element is the automobile. The first big influence here might be John Carpenter’s “Christine”. I loved the use of creepy doo wop songs in that picture. I like a lot of other car culture movies like “Two Lane Blacktop” and “American Graffiti” But the car in my film was only a creepy-looking vessel, not the primary threat to my characters. Another thing, most car movies spend time on the road, I wanted the audience to live in the shop with these guys a bit. I live in a studio above the shop used in the movie, and I’ve spent a good amount of time hanging out with those dudes. Shops are where mechanics relax, let their guard down, and are susceptible to attack….a perfect place to ambush my characters.
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