I’ve known actor and sometimes writer Ryan Lohner a long time now. He’s been a frequent contributor to my site The Agony Booth (in fact, his review of Eegah was the first thing I posted when my site went live over two years ago). Since then, his reviews of films like Mitchell and Anaconda have greatly added to my site’s wealth of information about the worst films ever made. So when I heard Ryan was finally putting his money where his mouth is, in a manner of speaking, and appearing in a film himself, I figured it would be a good time to chat him up about this endeavor. This past December, I called Ryan up and we talked for a short while about his current acting project, Leaving Souls.
AW: Let’s talk about you first. Did you have any previous filmmaking experience or acting experience before this film?
Ryan: I attend Farleigh Dickinson [University, in New Jersey], and last year I was in a short student film called The Last Laugh, in which I played the dual role of Time and Food Server. Basically, it was a chamber play type of story that took place at a dinner party.
AW: So the experience made you want to act in another student film?
Ryan: Leaving Souls is actually an independent production outside of the school, but the cast and crew are mostly students. There’s a couple of adults, and the lead has actually recently graduated. The director is 24, so he probably just graduated a couple of years ago.
AW: So how did you find out about the film?
Ryan: Well, I was waiting to be picked up in school one day, and they had set up a bunch of flyers announcing an open audition, and I just figured it would be interesting. The director’s email address was on the flyer, and that day I contacted him. He sent over the script, so I read it that night. I thought it was a pretty interesting idea. The story is about a bunch of high school students, and each has some kind of tragedy in their past, and they get together and try to better understand death by killing people and then trying to watch their souls leave their bodies. It’s basically a horror film.
AW: Tell me about the director.
Ryan: Chris Crowley is a local director from Morristown, New Jersey. He’s made one film prior to this called Falling. It’s about college students, and a girl who loves a person who doesn’t love her, so she thinks about killing herself. It’s really different from Leaving Souls, in that it’s more of a teen romance drama.
AW: What did you think of that film?
Ryan: It was good, but Chris was pretty clearly just making it for himself, because he put in a lot of pop music that he didn’t get the rights to. For Leaving Souls, he’s not doing that, because he is actually planning on trying to release it on video. Luckily, I saw Falling after I had already started work on Leaving Souls, so I didn’t get too worried about what I was getting myself into.
AW: What character do you play?
Ryan: Gabe. Gabriel Wakefield. He’s the new guy in the group. And he’s actually written pretty thinly, because Chris was being pretty actor-dependent there, and wanting whoever he cast to decide which way it would go. So I see him as kind of this nerd who’s never done anything in his life, and now he’s so excited about finally being part of something that’s big, that he’s not really thinking about the moral issues of it.
AW: Where have you been filming? And how long will the shoot take?
Ryan: We film mostly around Morristown, which is about half an hour away from where I live. We started in October, and we were mainly just shooting on weekends so Chris could cut during the weekdays, when everyone’s busy. And now we’re on a hiatus, and he thinks we’ll probably finish up around April.
AW: How was your first day on the set?
Ryan: Pretty good. It was one of the easier scenes, just talking in a graveyard. I actually got to be on camera that first day, and had a few lines. Chris said he was pleased with my performance. We filmed at an actual graveyard, and there’s two scenes there, but we had to do them both in one day, because that’s the only day the neighboring church would let us in.
AW: You’re really into movies, obviously. When you were performing, were there any actors that came to mind that you were trying to emulate, or not emulate as the case may be?
Ryan: No, not really.
AW: Joe Don Baker?
Ryan: No. [laughs] It happened in The Last Laugh, actually, with Time I was trying to do kind of an actor from “Manos” The Hands of Fate. I think it came off pretty good, but I don’t think anyone knew what character I was trying to be.
AW: On low budget productions like Leaving Souls, actors and crew are usually pretty interchangeable. Did you do any work behind the scenes?
Ryan: I did some sound work that first day, where I was a boom operator, and there was also one scene from my point of view where I got to work the camera.
AW: As a boom operator I suppose you had to make sure to keep the microphone out of—
Ryan: It’s more difficult than it might seem, because it has to be close enough to pick up what the actors are saying, but still out of camera range. It took a few tries but I got the hang of it.
AW: What do you think of Chris’ directing style?
Ryan: Basically, he shoots each scene four or five times, just in case the last take is better than all the others. It did get kind of tedious at times, but it really is better, because he has more stuff to choose from when editing.
AW: I understand there’s a big fight scene in this movie. Where was that filmed?
Ryan: Well, it wasn’t really a physical fight scene. There was one part where one actor walks through the whole group and just throws everyone aside. That part was physical, but the rest was just yelling. We shot in a baseball field at the edge of the woods, a couple blocks from where Chris lives. We had to do bits and pieces of it at a time, and he told us all the blocking before we started shooting. He wanted the lines to come out really fast, almost on top of each other. So we all had to remember our lines, as well as the lines that were spoken right before them, and try not to mess anyone else up. I only messed up once, I’m proud to say. It was strange because we were pretty much out in public. A couple people walked by, but it seemed like they all noticed the cameras, so we never had any problems with them.
AW: You have one big scene in the movie, and it’s actually with an actress who gets topless. What did your mom think about that?
Ryan: She didn’t actually say much about that. She was more worried about the gore, actually. At first I was pretty nervous about that scene. But on the day we were going to film it, I just kind of subconsciously distanced myself from it, because everyone else seemed so okay with it, and that helped me with it. Also, the actress in the scene with me didn’t seem too nervous about it. She’s been on stage a few times at Farleigh Dickinson, and she has some acting experience, so I don’t think it was a new thing for her.
AW: You said there was gore involved, so I guess it was a violent scene. Did you have to do any stunt work?
Ryan: Yeah. It was great. Chris actually did it twice before I did it, just to make sure that it wouldn’t kill me. I fell down kind of a long flight of stairs, onto a mattress and cushions. Basically, I just had to run and jump. Actually, this event was based on when Chris fell down while going to see Men in Black, and broke his back.
AW: Ouch! So what are the gore effects like in this movie?
Ryan: Basically, we used this kind of fake blood that’s labeled “Minty Fresh” on the bottle. I have no idea what it’s made out of. In the scene that me and the other actress did, she gets stabbed in the back, and we just attached a knife handle to her back with tape, and put fake blood around it. I get hit in the side of the head with a piece of glass, so that took a little more work, about half an hour to set up, really. They put fake blood all over the side of my head, then the piece of glass was anchored to my ear with some medical tape to make it stay up.
AW: So you had to play a corpse in this scene. Did you find that difficult?
Ryan: The shot’s about ten seconds, and we had a person off-camera holding up a paper circle, and she said to me this is all that’s in your world right now. Just so my eyes wouldn’t move, because they were open for that shot. I also had to hold my breath too, on an exhale. We had to do this a few times, and the blood had to be touched up between all the takes, because it kept sliding right off the tape and exposing it.
AW: You’re on hiatus now. Do you have any other scenes coming up?
Ryan: Well, there’s a couple, but none of them really require anything more than a couple lines. In the meantime, Chris has edited together my death scene and showed it to me, and I think it went pretty well.
AW: So you don’t think this movie will end up on my site one day?
Ryan: [laughs] No.
AW: On a related note, do you think this film will ever see a DVD release?
Ryan: Well, if Chris can ever get enough money to buy the rights to the music used in Falling, he says he’s thinking of putting both of his movies together on one DVD, because they’re about an hour long each. I think if he did that, he’d probably sell it himself from a website or something.
AW: That’s great news, and I look forward to seeing that soon. Thanks for giving me some time this afternoon, and good luck on the film.