Ryan Shares His Story
We all start at the same place: at the bottom. In a recent interview that I did with Joshua Brown of Producers Pal, I share how I got my start and I give some insight into my craft.
And for those of you who prefer to read, you can find the transcript in the tab below.
What is your story? Are you just getting into the industry? Have you been in for a while?
Stay On The Smart Side Of Filmmaking!
– Ryan E. Walters.
Introduction: Film, television, commercials, new media, you are listening to Producers Pal. Unmasking a business in filmmaking. And sharing killer advise form seasoned pros. And now you’re host, Joshua Brown.
Joshua: Welcome to Producers Pal, episode number four. I’m Joshua Brown. Today i sat down with cinematographer Ryan E. Walters and ask him questions about his craft from a producer’s perspective. Alright Ryan so thank you for coming on the podcast.
Ryan: Thanks for having me.
Joshua: So Ryan, you are a cinematographers is that correct?
Ryan: Yeah, correct.
Joshua: So now I’m not mistaken you you’ve done a lot of different work for television, commercials, as well as shorts and features, is that correct?
Ryan: Yeah I’ve pretty much done the gamut From your small little corporate jobs, commercials, going all the way up to feature films. And everything in-between.
Joshua: Cool. So you call yourself a cinematographer, is that coldly what you do?
Ryan: Yeah, that’s what I like to specialize in. I’ve worked in different roles as a office production assistant, I’ve helped out in the grip & lighting departments, but that’s not what pays the bills. I go out as a cinematographer / DP.
Joshua: I’ve also seen you at trade shows like NAB helping out at booths like Letus, that sort of thing.
Joshua: How did you hook up with them? Is it because you are a cinematographer and you use their products, you are able to work with them?
Ryan: I got connected with them way back in the days when MiniDV was coming out and people we making 35mm adapters and they were actually making them out of their garage as a hobby at that point. And I noticed that they were based out of Portland, and I was in Portland, so I drove over and bought a couple of their first adapters. Their not a home based business any more but was my original connection with them.
Joshua: Wow, so you were essentially one of their first customers?
Joshua: So as a cinematographer, I see you’ve worked for all kinds of different programs, the Discovery Channel, Travel Channel, TLC, Oxygen, spots for Nike, Adidas, Comcast, all sorts of things. How would you describe being a cinematographer as, what do you see your role as?
Ryan: Well, when it all comes down to it, my role is to implement the directors vision and make their ideas a reality. What that means on a practical level really values on the scale of the production. When I’m working on a small corporate piece I’ll be running the camera as well as helping setup light and all of that kind of stuff. Then when it gets to the bigger stuff, feature film, or high end commercial for Adidas I’ll be more managerial – I’ll be running the camera department, lighting department. And I’ll make sure those department heads know what needs to be done to accomplish what we need to do for the day.
Joshua: So then you are also the guy who is planning out the shots and crafting the look for it.
Joshua: Do you have any role in creating the shot list? Because on my podcast earlier, I talked about how a producer might go about creating the shot schedule from the shot list. Have you had the experience of working with a producer or a director in creating a shot list for the project?
Ryan: Usually I work with the director to help make that a reality. Some directors I work with have a very specific vision, they’ll know I want these three shots for the scene, or sometimes they’ll have a big picture idea for the scene, and then ask for my recommendation. It really just depends on what the style of the style or the production is. But yeah I’ll do it whatever way works best.
Joshua: On another podcast that I did, I talked about how to do the shot scheduling. From a producers perspective, I went about with my knowledge of how to do shooting setups, I went about it of how to find the most efficient way to organize it to get the shots as efficiently as possible. Do you typically have insights on that? Or are you are part of the process of helping to create the shooting schedule?
Ryan: As far as creating the schedule, I’m not usually a part of the hands on process. Usually the 1st AD will actually put together the schedule, however, I will be consults as far as if I have specific requirements for something. Like if we can go into a location and shoot with minimal to no actual lighting gear if we shoot in-between the hours of 11 – 12. I’ll make sure I’ll provide as much input to the production staff to help them in the scheduling bits.
Joshua: I assume you can also provide specific information on how long it may to film a shot?
Ryan: Oh, yeah. As things become more complex, or more speciality pieces of equipment are used, then I’ll definitely make sure that all gets communicated.
Joshua: That was one of my questions as sort of the beginning and independent producer, when it comes down to making a shot schedule, I wasn’t specifically sure on how to plan for how many shots could be done in a certain amount of time. I had my own personal experience, and in many ways it was limited. When it comes to something like a dolly setup, or a slider, or maybe a jib shot. How can you provide sort of an estimate on the time it will take on that sort of thing?
Ryan: It all comes down to the blocking, and the complexity of it. Whether you need to absolutely nail and exact end frame or if we just need to get in the ball park to make it all happen. And I’ll just work with the director to figure out that balance.
Joshua: So when you are working with a director or a producer, they’ll have the goal of what they plan to shoot hat day and you’ll work with them beforehand, I assume, to create the best attack to get that all done. And also to meet their vision.
Ryan: Yeah, exactly.
Joshua: Very cool. So if you could, describe the path that you took to get to where you are at today. Being able to work for all of these different companies, it sounds like on your own terms, as an independent.
Ryan: Yeah. Well, I guess it all started back in high school when I got a hold of my friends Hi-8 cameras, and we played around with those. Academia, although I enjoyed it, I always struggled with the formal testing, and paper writing. So I’d try and talk my teachers into doing videos instead. At least as much as I could. And from there I went off to college, and did an internship at a local production company.
Joshua: Did you study film at all in college?
Ryan: Not the first time through. I took various classes here and there, but I didn’t do a whole lot of formal training. And then after I got my degree, I went back, after working for about 5 years in the industry. I went back and took some specific classes, just because I felt like that would be beneficial for me. But I’ve always been a highly self motivated learner. So I’ve done all the reading I can. I’d go to the library, as soon as the internet started taking off more, I researched that way. Scouring everything on the internet. So it has been a hide lodge of different learning opportunities.
Joshua: So you said you were an intern. Was that for a production company?
Ryan: Yeah, it was for a local production company. I started out as a 3 month internship, and I was an office PA answering phones all day. Really boring. But you have to start somewhere. And after starting relationships with people, final made it on set as an actual PA, and worked my way up from there.
Joshua: So then you worked as a PA at that point. So how did you find that transition from being a PA to being a cinematographer? How did you facilitate that transition?
Ryan: Well based off of my experience in high school I always knew I wanted to be the guy behind the camera. When I put together small projects with friends, that is what I enjoyed most. So I knew that was the direction I wanted to head in. And from there it was a matter of fumbling around trying to figure out how to get there.
Joshua: So, you knew you wanted to do cinematography, and be the guy who would craft the image that is telling the story. What were you able to do in order to position yourself in a way that made you either employable or make it so that someone would want to actually have you as the guy doing that? Because especial these days, you can buy a 7D for $500 and call yourself a cinematographer. What did you do to make yourself stand out, or be desirable as the guy doing that?
Ryan: Basically, it was a matter of building relationships. As I worked as a PA, I got to know more and more people. And it was a matter of getting out there and finding productions that needed those kind of services and would take a chance on me. And that is how I made the transition. And thats how I made the transition from other crew positions into being a cinematographer. Finding projects where someone would take that gamble, and liked what I did and it was a matter of continuing to build those relationships and build my portfolio.
Joshua: So would you say that you eventually made it known that you wanted to do cinematography or did people see some of your prior work and think that you could be a good fit and possibly they needed something done cheaply, and you were looking for an opportunity. I’m looking for something specific for the people listening, what was your path on how you made that transition to that first job?
Ryan: Basically, I went out and said this is what I want to do, and started marking myself that way. I had done enough other projects with friends or for small companies who needed something done cheaply, that I had a proven track record, so now it was the time to step out and say this is what I want to do.
Joshua: Ok, cool. I think that is one of the hardest parts of the whole ordeal, is to get yourself from you know what you want to do, but you can’t seem to get there just yet. And to be able to get people to see you as capable, and trust you, that is one of the hardest parts of making this transition. Ok Ryan, one of the things that I’ve said in other podcasts is that filmmaking from an independent perspective is entrepreneurial. So in your case you are a cinematographer, the product is yourself, and that’s the brand also. Do you find that to be true?
Ryan: Oh, very much so. And I think especially in this day and age, like you said you can go out and buy a 5D, 7D for pennies on the dollar. And call yourself a cinematographer. I think branding is becoming more and more important. And so if you can develop a brand, and a style that people know and are comfortable with I think you’ll make yourself more marketable and be able to stand out from everyone else.
Joshua: Right. So what are some of the things that you are doing to promote the brand of Ryan E. Walters, cinematographer?
Ryan: One of the things I’ve been doing is my blog, and the training videos. When I first started out, it was before the internet came of age, and there were not a ton of resources out there. And so I’ve developed a bunch of resources that I wish that I had starting out. And one of the side benefits of putting all of that stuff out there is that people can see the technical expertise and knowledge that I have. So that helps to underline and reinforce my own expertise in the field. And it builds additional brand loyalty.
Joshua: So you’ve done training videos for cinematography?
Ryan: Yes, for various aspects of cinematography. How to use a light meter, stuff like that.
Joshua: Ok, and are these things currently available, or is that something people can find on your blog or podcast?
Ryan: Yeah, it is all available on my blog and on my web site. And you can find them on youtube and vimeo. Sekonic has them up on their site.
Joshua: Ok, wow. Your currently in commercials and TV, what do you see yourself doing in the future?
Ryan: In the future I’m looking into developing a production company called Bleeding Thorn Films. As of late I’ve wanted to start to do more content … basically I’ve wanted to do more personal projects and see if I can’t turn those into something that pays the bills. So that is the direction that I’m headed.
Joshua: Your basically trying to trade off from what is paying the bills to where you want to take your work and make it commercially viable. So what sort of steps are you taking to develop your content as essentially a product.
Ryan: Well, I’m just at the infantry stage of all of that. The first steps are that I’ve gotten together with a couple of other like minded people and we are putting together the business plan, developing the web site, and figuring out how in the world we are going to make this leap together into a financially viable product.
Joshua: Right, because the film industry is in a giant upheaval. You’ve got Spielberg saying even that this year the film industry is going to tank. And several huge budget films are going to flop, and he is predicting all of this stuff. And it could just be a bunch of crying wolf, and causing a big ruckus, but it is very interesting that there have been so many films and audiences seem a little dissatisfied with them. And in a way, it could be opening up a door for small independent films and passion projects to come through as a commercial option. What do you see as the avenues of that actually happening? What distribution models, how will you actually get your content out to people, without actually getting a theatrically release?
Ryan: Well, I think if Spielberg and Lucas are having trouble distributing what they are making, then I think their words are definitely important to head and pay attention to. For myself, I’m not interested in being a full time feature film cinematographer, just mainly because of the lifestyle. I do care deeply about the personal relationships I have in my life. An while I enjoy working on feature films, which is why I do it, maybe once a year, once every other year. But if I were to do that on an on going basis, I wouldn’t be able to live the life that I want so, I’m looking more in the commercial world, because ti tends to pay better, and there are shorter work periods which creates a more sustainable lifestyle.
Joshua: So Ryan, thank yo so much for the great advice and the insight you’ve given us. I think what we’ll do now, is wrap up. What we are going to do now is do a bunch of rapid fire questions, and you can answer them as quickly or as deeply as you want. So if you are ready, lets go ahead.
Joshua: So, if you could start all over, what would you do differently, would it even be filmmaking? What would you do?
Ryan: What I would do differently would be, I would stop working with, or I would not work with some people who basically want me there to press buttons. Or to put it in a positive way, I would seek out people who are really wanting creative input and really value the skills that I bring. Early in my career I was concerned about making a paycheck, and so I was less selective about who I worked with, and I have found that it can have some negative impact as far as trying to advance yourself more quickly. So if I could do it over again, I’d cut those relationships out a lot quicker, or not start them.
Joshua: Wow, that is powerful. So what is the best piece of advice you can give to fellow filmmakers coming up?
Ryan: I think for fellow filmmakers or those just coming up, I’d say to find your niche and the sooner you can find that the more marketable you’ll be. And if you are going to go on full on filmmaking, and producing content, develop that fan base and following. It doesn’t need to be huge, but if you have a committed loyal group of people behind you who enjoy the content you are producing you will be a lot more successful.
Joshua: So create a fan base that you can actually get yourself out to.
Joshua: What is your all time favorite film, or TV show or shat have you?
Ryan: That changes on a daily basis for me.Right now, I’d probably have to say Revolutionary Road.
Joshua: Really, I haven’t heard of that one.
Ryan: I love it for two reasons. One because Roger Deakins shot it and it is gorgeous all the way through. And I’m alway in awe of his work. But on a deeper level, I connect with the message of the film Leonardo Di Caprio & Kate Winslet are a couple that is struggling against Societies definition of normal or what you should be doing instead of pursuing what you are passionate about. And as a creative, someone who works in the visual arts we definitely go against the norm and traditional models of success like becoming a doctor, banker. So I really resonated with that story.
Joshua: Ok, cool. What is the TV, movie, or YouTube Channel that has you really excited right now?
Ryan: I just subscribed to net flicks this month, and I’ve been going through all kinds of content there and House Of Card has really caught my eye. I can’t wait for season two to come out.
Joshua: House of Cards was so good. Ok, and lastly Ryan where can we find you on the online? Twitter, website, what have you?
Ryan: You can find me online on my web site at ryanewalters.com and if you click on the blog section I have links to all the social networks, on twitter I’m at ryanewaltcine. But ryanewalters.com you can find all of my social network links.
Joshua: Great, and that’s your blog too so people can find all of those videos that you’ve made. Ryan,. thank you so much for coming on the show today. I’m sure everyone appreciated all of your insite, your advice, and your experience that you have shared with us.
Ryan: Anytime, glad to be here.