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VIFF 2017 Interview: LOWLIFE director Ryan Prows

by Jason Whyte

"The sordid lives of small-time criminals collide when an organ harvesting caper goes very, very wrong!" Director Ryan Prows on LOWLIFE which screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival."

So is this your first VIFF and are you coming here to present the movie?

Yes, this is my first time playing VIFF. I'll be in Vancouver with producer/co-writer Tim Cairo for our first of two screenings on Saturday, Spet. 30 at 4:30 PM. We screen again Monday, Oct. 2 at 9:15 PM. This is my first time in Vancouver, but I have an old high school buddy that lives here that does nothing but talk about how amazing it is, so I'm excited for the visit! Shout out to Angus MacPherson!

Great, look forward to welcoming you to VIFF! So how did you get your start in the biz?

I am from Atlanta originally, and moved out to Los Angeles with my wife to go to grad school and chase the dream. My thesis film Narcocorrido won a Student Academy Award, and we stayed in LA and started LIVING the dream, also known as struggling to make ends meet while trying to get projects off the ground. In general, I grew up reading comics and loving movies and history and all that, so from an early age I was always drawn to storytelling.

So how did LOWLIFE come about for you?

It truly was a team effort, and wouldn't have been possible if our tight group of friends hadn't come together and grinded ourselves half to death to make the film. Pretty much the entire creative & production team for Lowlife met at grad school. We all worked on projects together while there, and the four other writers and myself started Tomm Fondle shortly after. We made online sketches and a web series before getting the feature going.

I had worked closely with production designer Callie Andreadis and cinematographer Benjamin Kitchens on Narcocorrido. Editor Jarod Shannon also cut Narco and helped out on Lowlife, and Brett Bachman came in and cut and helped with all the finishing on the film. Owen Granich-Young was our supervising sound editor, also another Narco alum. Basically, I was lucky enough to find a great group to collaborate with, and then beg them to turn down other lucrative gigs to come make this wild little movie together. We also wanted to write something for Nicki Micheaux, who starred in... you guessed it, Narcocorrido. I loved working with her, and we ended up building the film around her character Crystal. The germ of the idea was to make a crime anthology film; something we could shoot as short films on nights and weekends if we had to to get it done. We treated the writing process like a TV writers' room, broke story as a group, went off and wrote our separate parts, and then revised everything together. Once we were writing, it became clear really quickly that the story would work much better if the separate segments started overlapping. Then it was just a matter of reverse-engineering the narrative to make it all work.

While you were making LOWLIFE, what kept you going? Your drive? How much coffee are we talking about here?

Just how rad I have to keep telling myself it's going to turn out. It is certainly daunting. I knew we had something exciting while we were planning and then shooting, and it was just a matter of keeping that enthusiasm up through all phases of production. Also, it got past the point of coffee having any effect. Two of our producers, Narineh Hacopian and Derek Bishe, didn't sleep for months. They just have magical producing powers, is the best I can figure.

So did you have any big creative challenges with LOWLIFE and if so how did you overcome them?

Pushing through a zillion "No's" to finally just knuckle down and make the movie ourselves. It's a super wild pitch and an even crazier script, so we were scaring people off left and right before several members of the team put a little money in and we just went and made it with what we had. An old filmmaking tip that has stuck with me for years is "Make the budget your aesthetic." Which is an adage that served us well, I think.

So out of all of that, what was the most memorable moment of it all?

Too many to name, honestly. It was an incredible experience. Hard -- nay, nearly an impossible task. But a bunch of buds did the damn thing together! I did try to be mindful to take the experience in while we were shooting, but it was pretty overwhelming to get the trust and opportunity to make a movie.

I love to get technical with our readers as we have a lot of creative people reading our site. Talk to me about how the film was shot!

We shot on the Arri Alexa thanks to the extremely generous support of Mike Carter and Panavision. My relationship to the DP, Ben Kitchens, is great. He's incredible with story, and a true road dog on set. I really trust his taste and opinion, so we're pretty in sync as collaborators. Ben came up with a great plan for keeping the production small and loose enough so we could move fast while being able to shoot most of the world. We shot 18 days, so the whole show was super tight. And we pushed the look pretty far, I think, as far as a grainy, nasty image, all in the service of the story & tone.

Again, really excited you are coming to VIFF. What are you excited about the most about showing your film here?

It's always fun to sit with audiences and see what hits or what they react to, country to country or even city to city. I have met so many cool people touring with the film so far, from festival programmers and staff, to audiences with interesting questions or takes on the film. Love discussing the film and geeking out on films in general!

Where is LOWLIFE going to show next?

We have got a few more festivals scheduled throughout the year. Up next in Canada is Calgary, Toronto After Dark, DedFest, and then we have our U.S. Premiere at Cinepocalypse in Chicago. Hopefully more festivals to come, and we are finishing the deal on distribution for U.S. and Canada as we speak. Should be able to announce that soon.

If you could show this movie in any theater in the world, where would you show it?

That's a great question. We have been fortunate to screen in some amazing theaters around the world already, but if I am getting greedy, the Academy's theater is pretty incredible. No wait, the Cinerama Dome. No wait, some grimy dollar theater with a super rowdy crowd and passable sound & picture!

What would you say to someone that is being disruptive during a screening of your movie?

Oh. Well disregard my last answer! I kinda like talking, texting, overall disruptive audiences. Let people do what they want, make out, shout shit at the screen, the texting is kind of annoying, but whatever; the film just has to do a better job of holding their attention, I say. Come see LOWLIFE, you won't want to play on your phone! I dare you to try!

Do you have any advice for any aspiring filmmakers out there looking to get their start in the biz?

Don't wait for permission.

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

Some crappy film I saw at the local festival when I was a teenager that I absolutely hated and pushed me to just go make my own movies!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 28th to October 13th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to

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

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originally posted: 10/01/17 00:57:30
last updated: 10/01/17 01:25:36
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