Nowhere - Directed by Ryen W. Thomas - GigSpotting.Net

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Nowhere - Directed by Ryen W. Thomas

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I'm looking forward to seeing my first film by the director Ryen W. Thomas in a few days at a private screening he's invited me to.  It's called Nowhere and from looking at the trailer I can't quite tell what this story is going to be but I like the looks of it.  

I'm sure he planned it that way because what fun is it to watch a mystery if you know what's going to happen?   the first thing I noticed is the cinematography and how well it is  done.  This is accomplished with Anil Dhokai as the director of photography and all the attention to detail that he is known for.  

The screenplay was written by Ryen along with Richard Clark, Jr., David Payne, and Will T. Vernon.  Billed as a psychological thriller it is about a con man named Drake that is in need of money and looking for a way to get it.

The setup: Drake (James Molinari) learns about an old Inn in the middle of nowhere that may be the key to getting the money he needs.  Bonnie Johnson, as the innkeeper, appears to be a controlling mother that has some secrets. What is she hiding?  Her son played by Jordan Alexander, what does he know?  Who is the girl (Alexandra Faith) and how does she fit it?


I love the old Hitchcock movies and the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series.  This feels similar.  Will it be?  I don't know but I'm anxious to find out.

Recently I talked with Ryen about the movie and he told me that he was inspired by Hitchcock for the first scene of Nowhere and wanted someone with short blond hair to play the part of a young lady named Jay Lee.  Enter Kathy Butler Sandvoss to fill that role. She fits the bill perfectly.  Her character's name, Jay Lee,  is an homage to Janet Leigh. The actress that Hitchcock used as the leading lady in Psycho.

Other members of the cast include Troy A. JacksonAnita RichterJosh Cunningham, and Addy Miller.

Ryen had plenty to say in our interview. I found him engaging in his passion for filmmaking and his descriptions of what it takes to produce a good movie.  See the trailer and interview below.

Without spoiling it for me what can you tell me about Nowhere

Ryen  A con goes sideways leaving lonely drifter, Drake Ryan, in desperate need of money to satisfy past debts. He gains his opportunity at a sleepy bed and breakfast in the middle of nowhere, run by the controlling Lulu and her man child of a son, Maynard.

Before leaving the next morning, Drake crosses paths with the inn's only other guest, the mysterious Sara. She convinces him that there may be much more to the inn than meets the eye and the two set out to dig up long buried secrets. What they find, makes them question who's conning who.

I see that you, Richard Clark, Jr., David Payne and Will T. Vernon have been credited for writing the screenplay.  How did this start out and how was the story developed?

Ryen  Will Vernon and I have been writing partners since our days at the University of North Carolina School of the arts. We had already wrote my first feature film, Sunset, together and Nowhere was the next project  bouncing back and forth between us.  Our love of the film noir, Hitchcock and Sunset Blvd. [Billy Wilder] being our inspiration.


Parts of Nowhere was also inspired by a nightmare I had and told Will about.  Richard was my producing partner and very close friend at Halogen TV. We worked on 4 shows together. One of them being Tainted Love which has 35 episodes produced.

When I first brought the project to Richard it was actually in anger. Let's just say things were creatively stagnant for me during that time and Richard understood.  Sharing my frustrations with him and having  my first born son, Josiah, jumped started the creativity and eliminated some apathy that was growing.

While on like the 10th  draft of Nowhere we felt that one of the characters dialogue needed to "flower" more. That's how David Payne got involved. The man has a way with words, is a human  dictionary and very poetic.

I am a big Hitchcock fan also.

Ryen  On Hitchcock.  My favorite book on him was written by French new wave director Truffaut. Will and I also were greatly influenced by his long time music composer Bernard Herman.

Love the photography and soundtrack on this movie.  It really helps get you involved in the action.  Who are the people involved in bringing that look to the film?

Ryen  That's Anil Dhokai who is also a long time collaborator. We knew each other back during our grunge work production assistant days.  Anil was the director of photography [on Nowhere],  the rising star John Mathis was the gaffer.

Set design?

Ryen  The locations themselves really topped everything off set design wise  But technically I was the production designer.  My pre film background is art.  I just hesitate to take credit for the design because I hate it when a director's name is all over the place.

What are some of the locations you used?
Ryen  Aiken South Carolina for the Inn. Then we shot all the other scenes on a sound stage in Charlotte.  Of course we shot the woods scenes in actual woods. Shots of trees always make it in my work. I can go on and on about this.

The scenes in the woods.  North Carolina or Aiken?

Ryen  Part of them.  We actually have moments where characters run into the woods from the house [in Aiken]  and come out in Charlotte.  I'm sure someone who studies tree leafs will call us out on that.

I like characters who are all dirty and angsty in the woods. I think that's why I like Lost.

Bonnie Johnson seems very authentic as Lulu, the owner of the inn.

Ryen  Bonnie is amazing.  She knows this story.  She auditioned for me on one of my student films and didn't get the part. I regret that to this day which is why I wrote the part for her.  Bonnie was also in my first one [movie] Sunset.

I see you worked with James Molinari  on Palmetto Haunting also.

Ryen  Yes. He was intense in that and turned it up in Nowhere. He's a beast. I wish the world could see how he prepares for a scene where he's just running through the woods.

How long did it take for the filming portion of the project?

Ryen 13 days total but spread out between March and July.  Long story short Richard and I were still working full time as TV producers. So we shot on weekends.

TV producers of what?

Ryen  Producers at Halogen TV.  35 episodes for Tainted Love which is a show focused on exposing issues related to sex trafficking.

Tell me about Halogen TV and Tainted Love. I think I remember seeing that Anil did some work  on that too.

Ryen  It was very heavy stuff and then on the weekends we lived in a safe world of fiction. I think Tainted Love provided more horror.

Halogen TV focused on producing socially conscious entertainment. Issues dealing with social justice. 

Another show Richard and I worked on was called Roadworthy which was about 7 young folks working as roadies for [the] Invisible Children [documentary tour].  You may remember [the] Invisible Children Kony 2012 video that went viral and broke records in its own right.  Anil was one of our editors and camera operators.

Yes, I remember that.

Ryen  We have a close knit team.

I'm curious about THE iNDEE.  What is it?  How does it relate to New Daydream Films?

Ryen  THE iNDEE is a studio where Richard and I have partnered up with Nathan Kirby and his wife Kris who also work hard in the preservation of historical properties and real-estate development industry.

At THE iNDEE we strive to preserve and cultivate a culture for the independent, artistic and creative spirit.  So we have a core team of 10 people who work with us everyday and have pretty much become the perfect work family with all it's quirks.

And then we work with freelancers in the area on each production.  I first met Nathan Kirby on a reality show he produced and starred in. I was on Christmas break from Halogen and freelanced for him as a camera operator. By the time he was ready to shoot more material for the show he needed additional producers and I pitched Richard and myself. We met and really clicked. I think what made us click was that we all are young dreamers balancing out that dream while raising toddlers.

What sort of amenities are available at THE iNDEE for aspiring creative types?

Ryen  While our biggest goal to provide space to rent and equipment at a very low rate, the part I love most about the atmosphere at the Indee is working with like minded people. The creative energy keeps me going. What also helps is that I'm a history buff and we are working every day in a building that's close to 100 years old.

If one needed a conference room for a few hours to conduct a table read or wanted to film an interview, is this the place to go?

Ryen  We have that. One can literally hold a conference or table reading in a room that has a chandelier that looks like it straight up came from the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast.  We have 7 floors with offices waiting to be preserved.

That building was used in many of the Curfew scenes wasn't it?

Ryen  Correct. Curfew was a film directed by Richard Clark and shot entirely at THE iNDEE and the surrounding streets.

Are there facilities for sound recording there?

Ryen  Yes, we have the equipment for sound recording and part of the preservation plan is to enhance the rooms, making them sound proof and having all the goodies someone like Will Vernon, who also did Nowhere's sound, [would] be glad to work in.  I'm proud of all the details Will put towards Nowhere's sound.


From what I can tell so far Will did a great job with the soundtrack.  That makes a great difference in the pacing of a movie.

Ryen  Indeed.  I'm wondering if anyone will catch some of the more subliminal nods in the sound work. That's all I'll say about that.

When you are directing, in getting the scene right, how much leeway do you give the actor in trying different approaches?

Ryen  I give actor lots of leeway and I think they are often shocked.

Shocked?  Why?

Ryen  I think the way I direct actors differs from Mr. Hitchcock's method.

How so?

Ryen  I partner up with actors and even encourage them to change dialogue and improvise. When casting my main goal is to find actors who have the same view of the material.

Once that's done, I like to create the environment that gives them room to "play around" with the material and think on their feet. And not be afraid to make mistakes.  I think that's where my love of films in the 70s comes in.

Do you think that repeating lines verbatim makes for a stiff performance?

Ryen  I do believe that sticking to the script hard core creates wooden performances.

You mention "not be afraid to make mistakes."  How often does serendipity result in a fantastic scene?

Ryen  They say a story is rewritten three times and the second time during production. I believe that. I want that to happen. Even if I wrote the dialogue.In my opinion the best moments come when the actors are nervous. What makes them nervous is when they MUST throw out their preparation and think on their feet. Be in the moment.

Why do you think being nervous results in the best takes?

Ryen  Nervousness may create true vulnerability.  Audience connect most with characters that show vulnerability.

I've notice that sometimes me giving some actors too much freedom makes them nervous; freedom to make a choice on their own may allow for them to get out of their head, react to what's happening in the moment and display vulnerability.

So I presume you try different methods to coax the best performance out of an actor for a scene?

Ryen  I believe we are all individuals with different ways of working and what works for me as director is to meet them in the middle and work with their method of acting.
Again I'm not a fan of giving line readings and ordering them to do as I say to the T.  I believe that also create wooden performances. Little robots. My favorite moments on set is when actors surprise me.  And again those surprises occur in an environment that encourages them to be free, vulnerable and think on their feet

Tell me going about to film school at UNC.  Has that made all the difference in you skill as a filmmaker?

Ryen  UNC School of the Arts in Winston Salem.  Going to film school worked for me as a filmmaker. I love being in a school environment, having all the books and film school was the best place to meet like minded people in a safe environment that encouraged learning.

But that was the method that worked best for me. I can't tell you how many non filmmaker types I'm inspired by. My peers provide more inspiration then celebrities filmmakers. I value the hands on education one learns by taking risk and jumping in the fire, without the book knowledge.
I'm pro 'find whatever method works best for you' when it comes to learning film. The goal is be open to learn and grow no matter what. Observe and let real life teach you. A director and writer must be an observer of people  in my opinion.  You don't always have the opportunity to come in contact with the most random people in the four walls of a class.

What are some other things you have coming up?

Ryen  I'm actually directing Eli Falls in the next couple of weeks. That script was also co written by Will Vernon, along with Jordan Alexander, the actor who played Maynard in Nowhere.

Being a coming of age drama makes it a different project than Nowhere. But at the same time all my projects have characters who come of age in some way, shape and form.

Back tracking on the look of the film I want to mention that my wife Quan designed Lulu's hair style and helped me with the costumes. There were many times where she was on set doing hair with our toddler in the corner watching the film process.  Lulu's dresses also came from my grandmother.

So it's a family and friends affair with you isn't it?

Ryen  It is especially when Richards family comes on set two. I think making this a family affair is the only way I was able to do this indie thing.  Especially when I was working at Halogen full time.

A labor of love?

Ryen  Making movies must be a labor of love.  Because for some odd reason films never seem like they want to be made with all the conflicts that come up. So yes, I say labor of love with a hint of being insane

I hope it doesn't burn you out.   I'm sure the best is yet to come.

Ryen   Well kids get older and we make movies full time now so we are doing it like the pros. And I'm the type of person who will just wear another hat when I get burned out in one position.For example I was the Director of Photography on our last iNDEE film, The Sharp Files.

I forgot to mention how New Daydream Films works. Think of THE iNDEE as an umbrella and under it we have New Daydream Films which focuses on our more tender and character driven dramas.  While Macabre Picture House explores subject matter with a little more thrill.  Nowhere and Curfew are under the Macabre branch.

Eli Falls, my next film will be a New Daydream films, project.

What is it about?

Ryen  Eli Falls is about a young man who's been given all who has to cross over to the other more urban side of the tracks to grow and overcome the death of his father.

Learn more about Nowhere,  when and where you'll be able to see it, and about the folks at THE iNDEE below

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