Geoff Ryan: Interview

Geoff Ryan

Blood From Stone is the new movie from director Geoff Ryan. A very different kind of vampire movie that you wouldn’t normally expect these days as it has no glittery teenage heartthrobs and no highly stylised action set pieces set to early 2000’s European techno. Instead, Blood From Stone is set in a city that never sleeps which is perfect for vampires because there’s always another victim. Also, Blood From Stone doesn’t really feel like a vampire film at all, but rather a drama which just happens to include vampires in its cast.

I got the chance to talk with writer/director Geoff Ryan about Blood From Stone, his influences from vampire movies and his own family life and even what parts of himself that he put into his characters.

So firstly, the big question. Why choose vampires as characters to tell your story?

A quote I’d read in an old book stated, “Every historical change creates its own mythology” and this inspired me to rewrite an old script of mine and use the vampire lore as a way to explore the idea how the myths of an old era devolve and become corrupted as a new era emerges. The vampires in this film came of age in an era where they were basically gods who could do as they pleased but as modern society arose, they have been forced into the shadows and now struggle to find purpose and place in a world that has diminished their power.

I’d also had a vampire story lodged in my brain for a long time but with the excess of vampire films and shows over the years I didn’t feel I was bringing anything really unique to the genre. Then, a few years back my last grandparent passed away. My grandfather had basically given up on living decades before and yet outlived all the others made me ponder the idea of living beyond the will to live. He was a man stuck in the past felt left behind by modern progress clinging to a time when “America was great” (foreshadowing a current political movement).

I felt the vampire story I’d had percolating fit nicely as a metaphor for this and some other issues I wanted to explore. Where my last film, Fray, was a very literal story, this time I wanted to make a film that was less literal and more symbolically about deeper themes. I wanted to create something that people could enjoy on a surface level as just a weird (and hopefully fun) vampire movie, but also dive deeper into the themes within it if they wanted.

What obstacle did you come up against when making a vampire film that didn’t rely on the cliches of film franchises such as Twilight and other action orientated movies?

This is why it took me so long to ever finish the script for this film. Decades really. For a while there it seemed like every other day a new vampire movie would come out from Twilight to True Blood and so many others. Originally, I’d been thinking of doing a satire but then What We Do In The Shadows came out and it’s basically the best possible vampire satire ever so I scrapped that idea. Let the Right One In is my personal favorite and really took the lore in a brilliantly new and thoughtful direction. So, for a long time I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to bring to the genre. And, it’s not that my take is wholly unique or original, I just tried to make it in a way that hadn’t been done yet.

Creatively I was more inspired by films I was loved in my early years like Kalifornia, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Natural Born Killers, and so many of those late 80’s and early 90’s films that seemed to straddle multiple genres fusing rich characters and thoughtful themes with brash brutality used in a way which was intentionally jarring. They used violence not for thrills like a slasher film but as part of the exploration of humanity’s duality. When describing this film to others over the years I would often say “It’s like Natural Born Killers meets Leaving Las Vegas, but with vampires”. So, while I did adhere to some of the vampire lore, I was less concerned with that then just trying to tell a story that audiences, whether they liked it or not, would walk away from feeling like they’d gotten a unique experience and hopefully inspire some conversations.

How does your own family compare to the vampire family in Blood From Stone?

I already mentioned above that my grandfather was a loose inspiration for the male lead. That said, personality-wise he was a very different person than Jure. Fortunately, my family is not like the one in this film. The only area there is a strong overlap is my sister, who is a few years older, has her life in order much better than I do, and I’ve always been the weird one whose life is a wreck and I’m sure I’ve worried them with some of my less-than-rational life choices. But I’ve actually got a very wholesome, humble and sweet family.

What was it like shooting in Las Vegas? Do you have much experience of the city?

Vegas was awesome to film in. The people there were wonderful to work with and for such a small budget production we were able to accomplish so much more than I’d imagined we would. Some of the scenes in this film realistically should have cost more than our entire budget but we were able to gain access to so many locations for filming just by getting to know the people that run the places and being genuine and courteous. I highly recommend it to any filmmakers looking for great locations and talent no matter your budget.

As for why Vegas? Before the film I’d only been there twice in my life. Initially I’d wanted to film in Laughlin, NV, a little casino town on the border of Arizona (and we did film a few days there) where I had filmed a commercial years ago but it was much harder to get some of our key locations there. The river in Laughlin was a key aspect to the narrative, if not literally, it was symbolically for me, so that’s why it never directly states the story takes place in Vegas but is just left as a nondescript casino town in Nevada. Of course, some of the landmarks in the film are obviously Las Vegas.

To me, it was important to be in a casino town because I felt it worked both as a place where a vampire would live (open 24 hours, lots of drifters, etc) and because it’s the most extreme symbol of predatory capitalism and I’d hoped the brief images of gamblers sitting at slot machines would show audiences the symbolic aspect of the vampires in the narrative as a metaphor for a system that extracts wealth (our life force in modern society) without remorse. It’s also a fun location for imagery and added a lot to the overall vibe of the movie so really happy we were able to film there. Plus, the local acting talent in Vegas is top-notch.

Jure has a hard time controlling his behaviour, has there ever been a time in your life where you’ve been told or had to tell somebody that their behaviour is a little too much?

There’s a lot of myself in Jure. Not literally… I’ve never killed someone nor do I have the same addiction issues. But I do have my own vices and personal issues for sure. For me, it’s not necessarily the controlling behavior (though, I’m a film director, so that’s probably a trait I have) but more the sense of being an outsider and being solitary.

I think all of us have control issues we cope with in varying ways. So, yes, I’ve definitely had a fair share of conflicts with controlling types, and I’ve been that controlling person many times as well. It’s all about balance and that’s what I tried to express in the end of the film: Darya wants to be nothing like Jure but he tries to show her that for her to attain what she wants in life she needs to be willing to take control sometimes. He does it in his own terrible way, but that is how he tried to show her that being a little bit like him could benefit her.  For all of us, there is that quest for balance where we don’t want to be monsters but being a saint historically leads to poverty and persecution, so somewhere in the middle seems an ideal to strive for.

What’s your favourite vampire or other monster movie?

Favorite vampire film is “Let The Right One In” and monster movie is “The Host”. Both are great films because they are great human stories and the “genre” is secondary. They could just as easily have the supernatural element stripped from them and still be amazing movies.

Where did you draw your inspiration from in the relationship and family dynamic in Blood From Stone?

I loosely based the family in the story after Elizabeth Báthory and her family, but very loosely. Ironically, I found out after casting her that Gabriella Toth (Darya) grew up a short drive from the Bathory Castle in Hungary.

But then I wanted to take this monstrous folklore and humanize it. In an early draft of the screenplay I’d had a phone call between Jure and his mother that was a lot of fun. Typical worried mom conversation with Jure regressing back into his bratty childhood self while also sugar-coating his own actions trying to make himself seem like the good guy. It was cut pretty early on just because, while it was cute, I didn’t want to bring in a character that would have no importance for the rest of the film and preferred to leave the mother figure as a more mythical presence in their lives.

I definitely put a lot of my own perspective of myself into the Jure character as this guy who goes against the grain within his family but is still loved even if he’s not always understood or does the right thing. And, I envisioned the family having a very Matriarchal dynamic where the men would go off and do their pillaging while the women ran the affairs of state and home. The women are the ones who hold it all together while the men go off and have fun. Thus, the line from Viktoria about “I won’t let you go out like dad did” signifying a sort of recklessness in their father that Jure has grown up with too.

Who would you like to work with the most in the movie industry?

I’m very fortunate to have already worked with one of the most talented people in our industry and hope to one day be able to collaborate with him again. Cinematographer Jarin Blaschke and I grew up together and he shot most of my projects over the years including my prior feature, Fray. Much of what I know about cinematography and visual language comes from working and talking with him over the years.  Beyond that, he’s just been a wonderful friend and inspiration who continues to support and challenge me as an artist. We’d talked about him shooting this film but with his career really taking off it was just not possible (he was filming The Lighthouse at the time) so that’s how I ended up deciding to shoot this one myself.

As for others in the industry, I’m not going to pretend like celebrity culture isn’t a huge aspect of our industry and that having name talent attached to a film isn’t a large factor in a film’s ability to reach audiences, but I truly enjoy working with other “unknown” talents. To be able to find someone like Vanja Kapetanovic or Gabriella Toth in an audition and see them tackle a project like this is so rewarding. Hopefully their exposure from this film will help them continue to shine as artists in other’s films. There are so many people out there with so much talent that haven’t been given a chance to shine and I love being able to find those people and give them that opportunity in my own small way. So, while there are lots of established people in the industry I’d love to work with, I also hope to continue working with talent from all walks of life.

Do you prefer to work as a writer or a director?

I definitely prefer directing. Writing for me is a fun process and I love the isolation and disappearing into a world of my own making, but the collaborative and social aspect of directing is truly a joy. My personal directing style is less a dictator and more a facilitator. Being able to bring in amazing talent, empower them to explore, and see where our abilities and ideas take us is the best part of the process.

What are you doing next?

Good question! I’m not sure. I just wrapped filming a movie in Texas that’s in limbo for post-production at the moment. Lots of behind-the-scenes drama I won’t bore you here with but it’s been a challenge like none other and I have no idea what it’s fate will be.

Beyond that, as a small-time filmmaker, much of it rests on how Blood From Stone performs.  As writer William Deresiewicz once wrote: “Artists are made by their audiences” so if this film finds an audience that will open up opportunities for my next film. If it doesn’t, it’s gonna be years of saving up whatever I can to make another. The new one I’m developing is relatively small in cinematic scope but narratively my most ambitious yet. Really seeking a way to bridge the gap between making a challenging art film and riveting audience pleaser. Not sure I’ve gotten there yet but going to keep trying.

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Joel found out that he had a talent for absorbing film trivia at a young age. Ever since then he has probably watched more films than the average human being, not because he has no filter but because it’s one of the most enjoyable, fulfilling and enriching experiences that a person can have. He also has a weak spot for bad sci-fi/horror movies because he is a huge geek and doesn’t care who knows it.


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