Ryan Egypt's directorial debut film, Chasing Titles Vol. 1, swept us off our feet. No surprises here - Ryan is one of a kind. The kind that gets things done in the best possible way. He spent his whole life building businesses (read his impressive bio here), and although he is relatively new to the film industry, he is already a pro. Hard working, motivated and extremely talented, the following interview is one of the most important reads you'll read this week. Ryan shared much about his vision, goals, and some personal approaches to filmmaking and to entrepreneurship.
On your 30th birthday, you decided to get into filmmaking. What led to this decision? And how did you approach this new adventure? What were the first steps of the journey?
On my 30th, I actually made the Decision to only do what I love and I actually didn’t know what that is, I just knew what I was doing isn’t it. A few weeks before my 30th I had an opportunity to get involved in a fast growing franchise that was going to be great financially for me, and when I was going to sign the papers I couldn’t do it. It had nothing to do with the company because I really love the company, it was the fact that I could not picture working in corporate. After I told myself I’m going to STOP DOING and LET THE UNIVERSE and GOD guide me. At first it was a TV show which lead me to NY Film academy’s website because I knew I had learn about production, I was tired of having giving all my creativity to other production companies when I was always the one doing a lot of the creative and work for commercials and advertisements. When I ended up on NY Films website, I saw the Filmmaking course details and it described what a Director is and what he does. When I read it, that’s when I knew, it was as if they had described me. I did research on other directors and started seeing the BIG correlation in myself and them. I would read what makes a great director and I would keep saying “Holy shit that’s me.” I did an open house at NY Film academy at the end of January 2017, signed up on the spot. When I went back home in Florida, I started to write.
I actually had no idea how to use first draft, I’ve written two books but never a movie. I called a friend that makes small indie films and asked him to show me how to put a script together. I flew him down, I did the story and watched him write and put it together. It was then that I knew I was a writer. What we had written was a lot different than the way I had imagined the screenplay, this is when I started writing the next draft and She’s my Gift the short film was born. A few weeks later it was a feature film. I then knew I needed a short so I got inspired to write Chasing Titles. I finished the short and shot over to cimenacon in Vegas. For the first time in my life, I was at a trade show and felt like this is ME. It was so inspiring to be there. When I got to LA, I started NY Film academy on Monday morning and by Tues evening I decided this is not for me. I remember calling a couple I know here in LA, and everyone thought I was just in a rush to make a movie, the only person that understood me was my mother. School was too mechanical for me, the whole reason why I got out corporate was too express my creative , I felt like school wasn’t allowing me to express myself I had to follow a book. Great school, great staff but I needed to get to work. I decided to turn Chasing Titles into a feature and while writing go check out a few sets and shadow on some sets. I learned more what Not to do rather than what to do. Again, I knew this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I then decided to do a Feature-short since raising $4M for a feature will take time and I wanted to shoot now. I started to write the back story of the Kid and his family and how everything started. Chasing Titles Vol. 1 first draft was born 4hrs later. That was my base for the short, I ended up doing 4 draft before feeling like I had a “HIT” movie.
Chasing Titles Vol. 1 - Official Trailer
It's remarkable that you won Best Picture as well as First-Time Director and Best Original Story. Did you have any mentors from the film industry who guided you throughout the process?
I didn’t have any direct mentors. Stephen Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino are my mentors through their amazing film making and YouTube interviews. The one question I always asked myself was “Why did I just realize Film is what I want to do Now, I know it’s really what I want to do for the rest of my life but why now?” I then saw a talk Spielberg gave at a university and he spoke about “The Dream.” He said, "the dream doesn’t always come loud in front of you, it sometimes comes from behind and whispers, you need to listen to that whisper.” That took my drive to another level because it had answered my Million dollar question. Speilberg also speaked at Harvard Business school to the 2016 graduates where he spoke on Equality and islamaphobia. That was big for me because as a muslim coming to Hollywood, I had some fear about how I may be looked at as being a muslim but Speilberg scratched that off. Tarantino breaks the rules, and I went against what every film maker said about Chasing Titles Vol. 1 screenplay, they said it was too big, too many characters and it’s not how you should make a movie especially your first short film. Tarantino doesn’t give a fuck, even when he speaks about school, and who gives a fuck knowing about what each camera lens does or means, “You need to know how to tell your D.P what you need.” I know how to pick a crew and I know how to make a vision into reality. I don’t give a fuck what the rules are, I just want to make Amazing Film!
Ryan, you come from a broad entrepreneurship background. From snow shoveling to Dunkin' Donuts, starting a clothing line and the OPREME Beverage Corporation - you seem to know how to get things done right! Do you feel your business experience gives you an advantage in the film industry?
For 12 years I also built up and sold a business in one of the most regulated and competitive industries, the clinical lab business. Yes, by business experience absolutely gives me an advantage in film. First off, every business I’ve ever got involved in always starts with a creative evaluation and 3-D outlook on the market and how to approach the industry with a unique approach, then company culture and lastly financials. I’m gifted in the sense that I can do the creative and high intensity business. It takes a Big toll but I’ve done it so many times that when I had to do it for Chasing Titles, it was very Taxiing on my mind and body but it reminded me of my start up days. You have to be willing to do whatever it takes and see opportunity in every challenge. I’ve been through so many hard times that when I felt like I was drowning and the walls were caving in while making my movie, I knew I had to believe, fight and execute the plan.
Family plays a big role in your life. Can you tell us about your family? What do you appreciate about them? Have they been supportive of your creative endeavors?
I such an amazing family. My mother who has always believed in every one of my ventures, father who pushed me to be precise, older brother who taught me to be a stand the stand up guy I am today and my younger brother who has been my confidant and best friend. The craziest thing about this endeavor, is my entire family had the same look on their face as I did when I was on the New York Film Academy’s website. They all knew it was a natural movie, more like a calling. I’m the only that knows when all the movies come out, I always want to go to the movies ( since I was a kid) and let’s not get into all the money my mom had to pay Blockbuster for the hundreds of rentals I never returned…. They are 100% supportive and it’s not just by talk, by action. I have never lived more than 50 miles away from my family. We are now over 2,700 miles away from each other. We are a very close family but they all knew, especially my mother who is really the one that never wanted me to even move more than 5 miles away, she was very supportive in my dream/calling.
When you wrote the screenplay for Chasing Titles Vol. 1, did you already have the logistics in mind? Locations, cameras, crew, etc? Did you already know you were going to shoot in Florida (Boca Raton)?
Whenever I write, I watch it playing in my mind. I had already pictured the way the locations would look and feel, the way the characters would look, the colors, clothes, pretty much everything. The only thing I didn’t factor in was the weather.. but that’s a whole ‘nother story to get into! Locations were probably the only thing I had in mind in logistics which I hired a locations sqout which was my assistant and myself, then my brother helped lock the agreements in place.
I had no idea about the rest of the logistics, I told myself I would just figure it out as I went and hopefully be blessed some amazing crew members that can take care of that, which did happen. I wanted the film to be authentic, even though I was told we can make it look like Florida in LA or even Atlanta and it would cost a lot less, I didn’t want to sacrifice picture for dollar. My mind set was, I am working on a studio film, and on studio films they are going to do what is necessary for the movie but at the same time keep the budget as lean as possible because this is a business. That is my approach.
How did Landon Gimenez ("Caleb"), who won Best Actor at LAFA, come on board? We never had such a child actor winning in the Best Actor category before. That's a first!
I wanted a talented child actor who was smart and had to look like he could be Brian Austin Green’s son in the movie. When I meet him and his father, I knew he would fit the role perfect. He already was into the screenplay and connected with his character, Caleb.
Tell us about your experience working with notable actors such as Brian Austin Green, Barry Shabaka Henley and the rest of the cast? Did you have many rehearsals? The entire ensemble delivered wonderful performances.
It was a pleasure working with everyone, they all brought their best to the set. I really try to keep rehearsals to a minimum, I would go over the scene with all the characters as many times with as we needed until I felt like we’re ready to roll. I like to roll the camera on what most people would call a rehearsal, I just hate that word, “rehearsal.” What I do is to connect with the actor, make sure they understand the performance I am looking for in the character and then have the actor really connect with that character’s performance. Once that happens, I would always get the performance I had in my mind and that is when everyone’s talent and creative came to light.
Let's discuss some technicalities. Can you talk about how did you fund the film and about your distribution plan for recouping the costs?
I knew if I delivered a spectacular movie, I would have distributors and studios making me offers… that is exactly what’s happening right now!
Obviously, films are a team effort and there are so many people who contributed to Chasing Titles Vol 1. Who are the most valuable members of your production team?
Great Question. My Director of Photography, my brother Adam who is one of the EP’s but also helped so much in making sure the production team was moving at my pace, 1st AD, my assistant, gaffer, 1st AC, and I cannot thank my Key grip and his team enough, they were great especially when we had lots of challenges…
You once said that being a director means you're making over 100 decisions in an hour. What were some of the decisions that were more tricky for you to make?
We’re shooting the party scene at a house, the Sheriff gets called down by the HOA, they want us to shut down immediately. If I shut down, I 100% loose my movie and this is day 3 and we are 6hrs into shooting already. I must have this scene and the next scene at this house, we are already behind because of weather and I’ve already made locations changes due to weather… The HOA is not budging on letting us finish. I told my D.P to roll, had my wireless monitor with me at the front of the house while my brother and I were talking to the Sheriff officer. I had the grips acting like they were dismantling things from inside the house, meanwhile we are literally shooting a party in the backyard…They left us alone for a couple hours and we were able to finish the party scene but couldn’t fit in the next important scene which was supposed to take place outside. I had to alter the script, change locations so it makes sense and move the entire crew to another location on the fly within minutes. The decisions I made not only set the tone for what kind of Director I am, but set the movie up for great success.
Recently, Chasing Titles Vol 1. received so much recognition in both domestic and international film festivals. How do you go about marketing the film?
I submitted to about 10 film festivals and got amazing feedback on a work in progress version and that spiraled into about 70 film festivals. I was up all night submitting. That is how the film is being marketed right now, people and judges are watching it and Loving it! I want to thank all the Festival organizers for making it possible for filmmakers to showcase their films. Thank you to the judges for taking time to watch thousands of films every year, it is a privilege to be selected yet alone win Best Picture & Best Director. Last but to least I want thank all of the awesome filmmakers who submitted their films, without all of us there are no film festivals.
Any advice for aspiring filmmakers who are about to take their first steps in the business? What are some good ways, in your opinion, to create and foster relationships in the film industry?
The best advice I can give any filmmaker is, be authentic and stick to what you believe your movie should be about, look like and feel like. Don’t let fear or uncertainty get in the way, believe and Work your fucking ass off and it will happen! Always remember, if all the greats listened to others about what their films should like, we’d all be watching the same kind of movies… Be yourself and the relationships will come, it’s only a matter of time.
Besides Filmmaking and Entrepreneurship, you are also a fan of... airplanes! When did aviation become an interest of yours? What excites you about flying?
Besides praying/meditation and watching a Movie, flying is the only other way I can disconnect from the world. Plus the thought that we are in a gigantic tube, power by massive turbine engines, and technology that blows my mind. I am fascinated by aviation. But still the question I have yet to get an answer on is, How can an Emirates A380 have more movies to choose from than DirecTV?
Tell us about your upcoming projects - what are you planning? Do you have any plans to make Vol 1. longer, a feature film, perhaps? Our jury was incredibly impressed by your work, and we now look forward to watching Chasing Titles Vol 2.
My very next project right now is Chasing Titles Vol. 2 which is a Feature film. Very excited about Volume 2.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
I want to thank God, my mother, father, both my brothers and the very few people who kept it real with me and had my back through out this hectic, exhausting and most beautiful journey.
Official Website www.chasingtitles.com