Ryan Robson (Writer/Director), Samuel Palm (DP), and Austin Ahler (Producer) received the 1st Place Award in the College Category for their short student film, “Deadbeat Motel” in the Summer Shorts Film and Video Contest (2017), hosted by StudentFilmmakers.com. Interview published in StudentFilmmakers Magazine.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What inspired the “story” for “Deadbeat Motel”?
Ryan Robson: “Deadbeat“ actually took quite a while to write, I knew that I would be granted the great opportunity by CMI to make a short film, and so I very much wanted to tell the best story that I could. I wanted to do something that was beyond what we were generally capable of within the timeframe given. We noticed early on the kind of stigmas associated with student films, and so we tried our best to break that mold.
The story itself is essentially about what people are willing to do to get what they want, and I wanted to approach that idea through heroin and addiction. People ask all the time, why drugs? Well, because it would be a lie to say that addiction and drug abuse isn’t something that people are truly unaffected by. Everyone knows that one person, everyone is related to someone that went through something similar. It’s a big part of people’s lives, and yet we’re not so ready to discuss it unless it refers to someone’s attempt to change or rehabilitate out of that lifestyle, which knowing through personal experience and really hearing the testimonies of people I know, is rare. It is, in fact, rare for people to seek help, or to change, or to want to, and in “Deadbeat,“ I wanted to show that. This wasn’t an addict’s story about getting clean, or really wanting to change, as we so often see in larger films, but was, in fact, a story about the inevitable outcomes of this particular lifestyle and just how close to home it truly is. I tell people all the time, I didn’t tell a story that wasn’t impossible. Around the time that we made “Deadbeat Motel,” there were reports of several killings gone wrong in drug-involved situations where we live, in the town next over several 17-year-old girls kidnapped and tortured a man for days in a basement, a man drove his family across the border just to shoot them. This was just last year, and yet it’s rare we even speak of such serious things, even when it’s next door.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What tools did you use from development to post?
Ryan Robson: On a lighter note, I will say a lot of resources provided to us by our professors were key elements in getting the short made. They were very patient with the kind of craziness that ensued with making the film. They assisted in spreading our reach of actors and actresses, which when making a student film is a huge part of trying to get your short to really stand out among so many. We were fortunate enough to be provided with equipment as well; a Panasonic AF100 along with the Zeiss CP.2 lenses that really helped with a lot of amazing shots involving a dramatic depth of field. Not to mention the training and classes that came with it to really get the look we wanted for the film. Although, the cinematography credit definitely goes to Samuel Palm, our DP, who did a remarkable job with what we planned out. From then on, we really utilized the programs provided to us by the school such as Adobe Premiere and Audition. I’d also like to mention that Esteban Salvador who actually composed the music for the film was also a big factor, at least I feel, in really making our short stand out. It’s attention to detail like that, that I feel really brings it all together.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What were the some of the most important parts for you in regards to the Development, Pre-Production, Production, Post Production, and Distribution for your film?
Ryan Robson: I’m very much all about the story. Anyone who knows me would be able to tell you about the general obsession and time I put into just writing a script. My roommates are more than annoyed with my constant pacing at all hours of the night over simply trying to tell a story. So, Development, leading into Pre-Production is very important to me. I started the script about a year before I was asked for a rough copy so that really developing the story wasn’t going to eat at a lot of our time, and it didn’t I think mainly because of that. We were free to really plan out what we wanted to do. We even went so far as set up several lighting tests and shot tests for “Deadbeat,” which is something, not all the groups involved in making films were able to do due to time constraints.
I think the most important aspect was really dedicating the time to the art form. I worked with the actors for about 6 weeks before Production because what we were doing was so specific and needed to really be done right. Xodia, who played Amy, we joke all the time on how we spent several days hiding away in my room going through the process an addict would go through when doing drug, but that’s what we essentially did. We did the research, we walked it and blocked it out, we both wanted to be as true to who these characters were, so that on set it was almost like second nature, to the point that it made several people on set very uncomfortable. I think that process and getting into that mindset ultimately assisted in the amazing performance that we got from all the actors, I’m glad that everyone really took what we were doing seriously.
The Production was about as smooth as it could be. We ultimately filmed more than we actually needed, which I regard as a good thing. I’m very adamant about being very organized and keeping crew well informed and so that must have helped in some aspect as we had no issues. That’s definitely something that doesn’t always happen so we’re quite fortunate.
Post was quite fun. I mentioned Esteban Salvador previously, who was nice enough to be the humble musician he is and provided us with just a really neat sounding film. Some small direction here or there and we came up with some really great material, where I think sadly a lot of student films can lack mainly due to lack of resources, that definitely falls into one of the negative stigmas associated with student films and we wanted to really show otherwise.
As students as much as we are filmmakers, we are quite financially poor and so I’m more than shocked and overjoyed to learn that our program, CMI, assisted in the distribution of our film. For that, we’re quite thankful and many will be receiving thanks and praise for ages to come.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Can you share with us a “Challenge and Solution” in regards to the making of your short film?
Ryan Robson: Oh, definitely. We had just about the hardest time trying to find a dang motel to film in. In more than two instances, we were told yes and when we showed up with all the necessary paperwork were turned down. It was hilarious too because in at least two of the places we went to that gave us soft yeses were owned by the same person, just for them to turn us down on the same day, within the same hour, literally right down the road from each other. It was great, we even had to wait for him to meet us at the other location, just to be pleasantly surprised. We didn’t actually get a confirmed location until a day before our Production days. In a fit of rage, we just picked a random motel, regardless of interior and exterior and low and behold they said yes, thanks to the diligence of our Producer Austin. Saved our lives and saved our film. Sam did a great job at getting the look we wanted with a completely impromptu room, I’m very lucky that I had such a competent team backing me up to really solve a very dire issue. We even had to pay for the room we filmed in. Best 60$ I ever spent.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: If you could share your Top 3 Tips related to filmaking, what would it be?
Ryan Robson: Serve the story, not the grandeur- I know first hand it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement that comes with making movies, with getting that one great shot or finding the best production value, but I do believe that if it isn’t serving the story then something is wrong. As students, as people learning this trade/art, we are prone to forget that we are storytellers at the center of it all, as long as we remember that, we can then start to truly be taken seriously.
Your work reflects your attention. I very much believe it’s the little things that help make great films. Even if it’s a simple nosebleed the director has to panic to apply himself before the next shot, the weird tatted motel guy (Nicholas you’re awesome) that’s smoking a cigarette outside, or even the goofy clown face you painted the night before and spent all morning worrying about that you might get your actor high on paint fumes because it hasn’t entirely finished drying, it’s the small things like that, that when you put attention into those details it’ll only serve to better what you’re trying to create.
Patience and understanding is your greatest trait. What you’re making should never be more important than the mental and physical health of those around you. Don’t be THAT guy.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: What are your thoughts about being selected and winning one of the top placements in the contest?
Ryan Robson: I’m not generally an ecstatic individual but I have been smiling like an idiot ever since I heard. I had no idea we were even entered and the fact that we won a top placement is, even more, jaw dropping. I just ultimately hope that everyone who worked on “Deadbeat,“ and volunteered and helped, is about as happy with it as I am. They worked hard and they deserve it.
STUDENTFILMMAKERS: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us before we go?
Ryan Robson: Yup, yup, yup. Two things; first, just about everyone who worked on “Deadbeat“ was gracious enough follow me again and trust me into making another short film which we quite literally just finished Production for this weekend. It’s longer and weirder, and it’ll be done come early December, so hopefully, there will be some people already out there interested in our future work. The trio of Sam, Austin, and Ryan (& friends) shall strike again soon…
Secondly, I’d like to give big thanks to Larry Jackson. There’s an extra scene that never made it into the final cut due to pacing, and although we credit him I just like to mention it because it’s hilarious. Originally, in the script I had written a scene wherein a room next door a man dressed as a gimp is doing his thing and his significant other is shot scattering blood and such, Larry, who played the gimp, was fantastic and such a blast on set to do such a weird thing and so we appreciate him greatly. We still have the footage, and we still laugh about it to this day.
Hope this all helps. I’ve attached some frame grabs from the short that help showcase our lovely actors, Emily Hernandez, Xodia Choate, and Jeff Dolecek (the clown guy).