Q&A with Danny Ryan: Former BWFF Director Talks Journey to Cannes

By Dana Murray

In May of 2015, Danny Ryan was graduating from The University of Alabama with a degree in Telecommunication and Film. This May, however, he found himself in Cannes, France, a far cry from Tuscaloosa, at one of the largest and well-known international film festivals. Ryan’s film Pride Fighter, a 15-minute short about a martial arts fighter’s experience with his fighting partners after coming out as gay, was selected to screen at Cannes Film Festival’s Emerging Filmmaker Showcase. Receiving recognition from a festival of such prestige is no small feat, and now, a little over a month later, Ryan gives us insight into his Cannes experience and retraces the steps that got him there.

Ryan at Cannes Film Festival.

Ryan at Cannes Film Festival.

When did you fall in love with film? 

I wasn't studying film when I started at UA. I floundered around a couple of majors- engineering and business -but really wanted to do something creative and something where I could be on my feet. I helped some friends with some video shoots and quickly realized how perfect filmmaking was for me. I loved everything about it- being on sets, solving problems, having so many people working together to achieve one thing. I always liked movies but never really realized the potential of building a career around it. 


Tell me a little bit about your journey to Cannes and about your film Pride Fighter

Making Pride Fighter was a pretty long process. I first pitch[ed] the idea in October of 2014 during my senior year and started writing it that winter. We shot it in April of 2015, just weeks before I graduated. The entire crew on the film w[as] UA students as well. After shooting, we spent a long time in postproduction and finally finished the final cut in the beginning of March this year, which was just in time to submit to Cannes. One of the great things about Cannes is that it’s such a huge festival, and they have a lot of different programs and sections, so we were lucky enough to get into the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase.


What was it like to be a part of that showcase?

[It] was a great section to be in because I got to screen the movie with other people who were also just starting their careers, so I was able to meet and hangout with some really interesting filmmakers. It's always a little nerve-racking to screen something you've made for the first time. You never know how people will react; but the screening went really well, and everyone had a very positive reaction to the film.

Movie still from  Pride Fighter .

Movie still from Pride Fighter.

What was the most exciting part of your experience?

My favorite part of Cannes, or any festival, was meeting other filmmakers from all over the world. At Cannes, it's easy to get caught up in trying to get into red carpet premieres or seeing celebrities, but, for me, I love being around people who share the same interest and passion in film. That's the great thing about film festivals- it's such a diverse crowd, but everyone is able to relate to each other through their love [of] film...I met some incredibly talented people at Cannes and became good friends with a lot of them. I hope to collaborate with them in the future!

Ryan (top left) and other filmmakers at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase.

Ryan (top left) and other filmmakers at the Emerging Filmmaker Showcase.

Which filmmaker do you most admire?

I like a lot of filmmakers. One that I'm really inspired by is Kevin Smith [Clerks, Chasing Amy]. It's not even just his movies; it's his mentality towards filmmaking. I was lucky enough to meet him and see him speak a few years ago. He rarely directs movies that he didn't write. He talked about how when you write something yourself, you are really connected to it. I really started to pursue writing more seriously after that. I hope to always be able to write everything that I direct. Kevin Smith is a true indie filmmaker and has the freedom to make things the way he wants them, which a lot of times is not the case for directors.


Do you have any advice for other filmmakers?

Always be making stuff- as much as possible. Learn from your mistakes and get better every time. One of the greatest pieces of advice I was given was to enjoy the process. It really is a long process to make a movie, even a short film. Sometimes I felt tired and unmotivated after working on the same project for well over a year. I tried to remind myself to enjoy the whole process, even when it felt tedious and unending. This helped me appreciate the long days and continues to keep me excited about making movies. 


How did your experience as a director for and participant in BWFF impact you?

Working on BWFF was one of the first things I did involving film. Putting so much work into the festival was extremely gratifying since we were able to give student filmmakers a chance to show their work and inspire people to work hard to create more movies. It's funny now that I think of it because at the end of the first year's festival, I said to myself, "I have to make something good to get into BWFF." That was just over 3 years ago, and now I have a movie that screened at Cannes. 


Why should students and student filmmakers get involved with BWFF?

BWFF is an opportunity to show your creativity and hard work to other people, and every filmmaker should take advantage of that...It always made [me] want to make new stuff and aim higher with it each time. Even if you're not a filmmaker, there so much that goes into the festival that you can still be involved. Back when we started BWFF, one of our goals was to celebrate student’s films. Filmmakers should be proud to display their work!