Interview with producer Shannon Ryan

  • A producer is a leader or a boss?

A producer is a boss, but an exceptional one will assume the mantle of a leader. I consider it essential for a producer to act in the best interests of the cast and crew’s well being while serving their director’s vision. Additionally, there is something to be said for a producer who sets an amiable tone for the team’s morale, a skill that is the very demonstration of leadership in my mind.

  • What qualities or attributes do you look for in people you are looking to employ or work with?

I am inclined to collaborate with or employ someone who demonstrates a keen sense of artistry and storytelling. Astounding subtleties that convey a character’s emotional state or the screenplay’s themes will endear me to a colleague’s work. I value those who can anticipate, delegate, and are self-motivated. Flexibility, generosity, and trust are also significant attributes I seek in a partner or protégé.

  • What do you look for in a script?

A premise with a stroke of originality or a clever reinterpretation of a familiar tale will pique my interest. The narrative does not have to adhere or gravitate away from archetypes and formula. I do prefer when storylines interconnect. Foreshadowing and plot points should be met with payoff in some capacity at the culmination. If the plot is intended to be a fantasy or contain surrealism, it is vital that the mechanisms of the world building be comprehensible. I adore active, dynamic or quirky characters whose plight I can emphasize with. They must have a personal investment in the conflict and directly contribute to one anther’s evolution. I pay close attention to imaginative set pieces and vibrant, but realistic dialogue as well. Material that encompasses these trademarks and resonates emotionally will be ones I am entirely enthusiastic throw my support behind.

  • How do you select a director?

My passion for the screenplay will ignite my interest in the project. An impeccable pitch deck and presentation will enrich my interest, especially if the director has already begun considering financing or has clear storyboards and floor plans that project their vision. It is riveting to put your support behind an artist who can articulate a vivid picture of what their expectations and intentions are.  It is not fundamental that we always agree, but a director’s reasoning should be artistic or narratively driven. Finally, a professional relationship anchored upon a foundation of mutual gratitude and respect would make the prospect of working together highly alluring. 

  • Would you recommend writers think like a producer when writing their script? Or, just write with reckless abandon and then worry about the cost, or whatever, after they’ve grabbed a producer’s attention.

I sincerely believe that all authors and screenwriters should be allowed to write whatever story their hearts commands. The truth of the matter is that conceptualizing how to feasibly produce a concept with costly and high concept production value for the screen is another undertaking entirely. I have worked with dreamers who have written ambitious stories for film that would require thousands of dollars. Some succeeded. Others and I have purposefully made contained movies or webisode series for a small sum. If a director, producer, and screenwriter welcome the challenge of producing material that has been written with reckless abandon, I would hope that all involve can be contentious, willing to compromise if necessary, or patient with the time consuming process that a faithful adaption will require.

  • How involved in the writing of a project do you get? Are you more involved in the initial development?

The opportunity to serve as a co-writer or partake in the initial development stimulates me. The producers I admire are profoundly involved in this stage so my instinct is to follow their example. Yet I have encountered directors and screenwriters who prefer to limit a producer’s participation to consultation. There are also filmmakers whose robust knowledge of script analysis remarkably translates to the page and improvement is inconsequential. From these experiences, I have learned to be satisfied with any contribution I can make to the development and script writing.

  • How much influence as a producer do you have with the choices made by the director and/or DP?

My influence on the choices made by the director and DP hinge on a multitude of factors at the moment. I have worked with directors who have forbidden any interaction between the DP and I. I have become attached to a film long after concrete plans have been finalized as well. Fortunately, there are DPs who insist on private discussions with me to discuss equipment rentals or scheduling a day for test shoots. I have had the pleasure of working with directors who have invited me to the table to discuss logistics pertaining to cinematography as well. I attempt to respect the director’s wishes unless I foresee my director’s ambition resulting in a potential injury to a cast or crewmember.

  • What is the most important thing you have learned during your career?

I’ve been placed in situations where I knew an auteur director’s challenging vision was not feasible to produce within budget, permits could not be obtained in time for the start of principal photography, or I have disagreed with how my colleagues wished to operate their sets. I consider myself highly opinionated and am bursting with ideas all of the time so my main obstacle early on was learning how to choose my battles and what objections were worth a confrontation. The ability to recognize that as a producer, you will sometimes have to entertain a prospect that your director will insist on even though your intuition believes it to be an ill-advised course of action and to determine just how far to push the envelope requires so much humility and practice. It is a tremendously difficult lesson to learn, but it is a skill that is essential for any professional in this line of work to have.

  • If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal, what would be your dream production project?

My fascination with The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars, like most individuals in my generation, quick started my interest in filmmaking. If I had an unlimited budget to my disposal, the screenplay I’d choose would probably pay homage to my love for the genre and be selected for the challenge of producing a high concept fable. It would encompass all the trademarks that I associate excellent character driven writing with and the foundation of the premise would emulate Joseph Campbell’s writings of the hero’s journey. Neither the female or male characters would be in distress and deprived of character development. I would employ the most talented cast of talent I adore behind and in front of the screen. There would be extravagant costumes, effects, prosthetics, and set pieces. Since I love soundtracks that incorporate beloved music and the use of pop culture to advance plot, copyrights and royalties would be factored in somehow. The end result would indeed be immensely expensive and unlike everything I relish producing nowadays.

  • What does the future of film look like?

I share the concerns that many in this business possess, but I detest the lament that “ground breaking storytelling and independent film are in danger of extinction.” The caliber for intellectual blockbusters and television series has been raised after all. The critical and commercial success of distinct features distributed by streaming platforms and made possible by amendments to the theatrical window lead me to think that audiences still revere art-house, experimental, and highbrow film. I hope theater owners and streaming platforms will find a middle ground, especially since I believe both markets will prevail. In the aftermath of the “Me Too” and “Times Up” movements, I have witnessed strides that instill me with hope for an abuse free infrastructure. Color blind casting, initiatives dedicated to cultivating new talent of underrepresented backgrounds, and standardization of programming along with technology for audiences with disabilities on streaming platforms and in theaters also makes me incredibly proud to be joining this business. It might be terribly naïve of me, but I have tremendous faith that the accomplishments and inclusive, empowering spirit of today will remain instrumental to the future of cinema.