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SXSW '07 Interview: "Orphans" Director Ry Russo-Young

by Scott Weinberg

The "Orphans" Pitch: Two estranged sisters reunite five years after the death of their parents. Now in their early twenties, Rosie and Sonia each struggle to make it on their own. When the anticipated party is not what Rosie expects, Sonia's true agenda is revealed. The sisters begin to revisit their treacherous history. As Sonia slugs vodka and Rosie eats pills, their journey becomes dark and dangerous.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Two sisters, a birthday, a blizzard, drinking, driving, danger, their parents, their past, their friendship.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience?
Last year my short film "Marion" won best experimental film at SXSW. "Marion" also won best experimental film at Chicago International FF and screened at Tribeca FF and other festivals. I had an amazing time at SXSW last year, really looking forward to returning this year.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up I want to be a …" what?
I wanted to be a ballerina and took classes very seriously around age five. I was passionate but a bit of a meatball. My teacher said I was too fat and so my parents made me quit because they didn't want me to have a bad self-image.

Not including your backyard and your Dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?

I didn't have a backyard or a dad for that matter but when I was seventeen Amir Naderi started teaching me about film. He encouraged me to make a movie with nothing. He also taught me about film festivals.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
Yes but I try not to dwell on those feelings.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Not at all, sometimes I wish I had thought about those things more. Orphans was very innocent in its making and execution. It's special in that way but also a little sad. I know I'll never make another film the same way again and there is a loss in that. On the other hand, I learned so much in the process I would never want to make another film the same way again.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history
from writing to production to post to just last night.

I was living with my parents the year after graduating from Oberlin College. I worked part time at a vintage clothing store and wrote the screenplay. It took a long time to get a draft that wasn't terrible. The two actresses and I rehearsed for about two months together. Sometimes we filmed our rehearsals and did scenes other times we'd just talk and improvise and play games and take pictures. Orphans took six weeks to shoot, it was freezing and our cars got stuck in the snow about five times while shooting. First I edited a cut with Amir Naderi then later on worked with John Walter. Lately I've been getting ready for the festival.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
To try to laugh at all times however sticky the situation is and to watch the actors and not get too caught up in all of the technical aspects of filmmaking.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
Bergman for the truth and articulation of his characters, Hitchcock and Antonioni for camera and composition. Godard... this could go on and on.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell "This! I want something JUST like this …only different."?
I do that with many movies but more often I wonder what it would be like to hybridize them like Playtime meets Videodrome meets Manhattan.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...
Attempting to do something else that is creative and not in an office.

Who's an actor you'd kill a small dog to work with? (Don't worry; nobody would know.)
I've always wanted to work with Shelley Duvall. I used to love watching Fairy Tale Theater.

Have you "made it" yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say "Yes, wow. I have totally made it!"
I doubt I would ever say that because it seems that no matter where you are in life you always want more so at some point you have to just stop and enjoy whatever is happening now.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
They seem very important but so does the audience.

You're told that your next movie must have one "product placement" on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
I love the salt box with the girl holding the umbrella, it's so iconic. I'd like to have a lot of salt and also maybe some live salt girls.

What's your take on the whole "a film by DIRECTOR" issue? Do you feel it's tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it's cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
Oh dear, I think I did that- i didn't know! So now is everyone going to think I'm a self-obsessed asshole? Or just uninformed? I love directing but of course a film is completely collaborative. I don't think that "a film by director" discredits all of the other people involved. Orphans had a small crew and we all did about six jobs at the same time. Every position should be equally acknowledged and respected as much as the role of director -- this seems to be more the heart of the issue at hand.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
If you have a sibling then you should watch Orphans. It's really about how we grow up knowing someone so well and then we get Older and all that changes. They change, you change and you both have to deal with each other in a new way.


Ry Russo-Young's Orphans will have its world premiere at the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for more information on the film. And check out for even more info!

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originally posted: 02/27/07 11:07:59
last updated: 03/07/07 09:07:57
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