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SxSW 2016 Interview: THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES director Ryan Steven Green

by Jason Whyte

"A professional dwarf basketball team. 1980s. Los Angeles. Yes, it really happened, as THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES documentary will show you. A bunch of the guys were in show business; for instance, nearly all of them were ewoks in RETURN OF THE JEDI, and some of them were even recognizable to the general public like Tony COX from BAD SANTA and FRIDAY. This fact helped them get bigger and bigger gigs until they started booking halftime at Showtime-era Lakers games, versus the Laker Girls, including Paula Abdul. Things sort of took off from there." Director Ryan Steven Green on THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES which screens at the 2016 South By Southwest Film Festival.

I am thrilled to hear your movie is showing at SxSW and this is your first time here! Are you planning to attend your screenings?

I am very excited to be attending all three of my screenings. This will be my first opportunity to gauge how an audience reacts to the film, and I can hardly wait. We actually had the original manufacturer reproduce the Hollywood Shorties basketball uniforms from the mid 1980s, so myself and the crew members attending SXSW will all be wearing them throughout the fest. So, if you see gold basketball jerseys with blue fractions as numbers on the back, you'll know why!

I look forward to seeing that! So tell me about about how you got your start in the industry and your previous work!

You know, I feel like the industry sort of found me actually. I mean, I had been making films from age 14, got into film school, did an internship and all that. But really, all I kept doing was making my films my way. Work was pretty scant for the first 6-7 years out of college, during which period I also took the opportunity to travel the world. Once my first feature film started to get close to completion; then especially when it had a pretty good festival run with awards and a distribution deal, at that point commercial work was more forthcoming. Today directing and editing commercials is my bread and butter while I continue to make my own docs.

So how did THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES come together from your perspective?

The making of this film is a classic case of Writing What You Know. My uncle, Larry, was a long-time shorty both baseball and basketball, and my other uncle, Scott, who is actually in the film, was the team's promoter and referee throughout the early-mid 1980s. So, it is a family story for me. But, for these very reasons, the story was too common for me to ever consider it as a film. It wasn't until finishing my first feature doc, CIRCLE THE WAGEN and looking for what would be my next project, that the Shorties' story hit my ears in a fresh way. From there I just started asking questions of my family members, who put me in contact with long-lost family members, who put me in contact with George Rossitto. Once George was convinced, it was pretty much smooth sailing from there.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much coffee are we talking about here?

This is great question, and one that is not easy to answer. In short, it's just something I have to do. In a weird way it keeps me sane, even though I go insane trying to finish a film! My dad was/IS a work-a-holic, and I am sure that has something to do with it. I find myself repeating over and over, "I must finish. I must finish"; kind of like working out, "One more rep. You got this! One more rep," kind of thing.

And, yes, there is plenty of coffee consumed.

What was your biggest challenge with making THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you, where you knew you had something special?

The biggest challenge on THE HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES was how to bring a story that happened so long ago back to life. In my favor, of course, was a huge stockpile of archival material; but, so much of the still images are black and white, and most of the archival video is shot by amateurs with a wide angle lens simply panning back and forth. So, the images themselves, while plentiful and certainly unique, are not highly dynamic. Craig, and I had brainstormed all kinds of ways that we could wrap the images in a more appealing way, jazz them up a bit, create more visual interest. But I kept stalling, saying, "Let's just see how the story plays out and let it tell us what it needs." At some point I became convinced that it was the story itself that was the greatest asset to this film, and I began to lean more heavily on it to keep the viewer riveted. At that point, gussying up the archival material seemed like not so important after all.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing the movie here in Austin?

I am most excited to breath new life into the name HOLLYWOOD SHORTIES. This is a name that was utterly forgotten to history, that lived on only in the hearts of the men who were there to experience that magnificent run. I don't know where the kind of resurrection I am talking about could be more effectively kicked off than in a setting such as SXSW so full of enthusiastic cinephiles. I hope this film brings the team and its members more recognition than they ever received during their active years. That to me would be complete success.

Sounds like this is going to be a huge hit at the festival. After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?

The film has been invited to screen at a regional conference for the Little People of America (LPA). Pretty much all of the Shorties will be there along with their friends and families and countless others who may or may not have ever heard of the Hollywood Shorties. I am actually more nervous about this screening than those at SXSW!

If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

I mean, it has got to be the Los Angeles Theater. Hometown crowd, historic theater, all the Shorties in attendance. That would be magical.

What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?

Like you, I encounter these people at every screening I attend in the real world. If they are right in front of me I "accidentally" kick the back of their seat as many times as it takes for them to stop. If they are a little further away, I might let a Goober or two fly in that general direction. Extra points if it actually hits the screen.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?

If you're going to do it, there is no halfway. Better take stock of what you've got, and if it is enough to sustain you through a very punishing profession. You must do it for YOU, and not for accolades, not for money, certainly not for security, not for the "prestige" of having the title of director.

And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen?

You know, I have seen plenty of films at festivals, but no single one comes to the front of my mind as worthy of the label the greatest. So, I have to say that RUSHMORE is my all time favorite film. Since the first Top Ten list I ever compiled, probably thirteen years ago, RUSHMORE has never budged from the #1 position. For me, it is perfect in every way. Hits all the right notes.

Be sure to follow the progress on the movie by visiting the Facebook page, or on Twitter at @ryanstevengreen!

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 03/07/16 17:26:19
last updated: 03/07/16 17:29:34
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