The Movie Waffler Waffling With Writer/Producer/Comic Book Creator Ryan Colucci | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With Writer/Producer/Comic Book Creator Ryan Colucci

We chatted with comic book creator and movie producer Ryan Colucci, currently in post-production on his hand-drawn animated film, Orient City: Ronin & The Princess.

Interview by Joshua Mitchell (@jlfm97)

How did you get your start in animation?

Right out of grad school at USC, the first film I produced was the CG-animated film Battle for Terra: 3D, which came out in 2009 through Lionsgate. We’ve got a great voice cast with Chris Evans, Ron Perlman, Evan Rachel Wood, Dennis Quaid and a lot more. I was actually on the hunt for a live-action project, but you’d be amazed how many directors make stunning shorts or first films and then don’t have their next project ready. So it was almost by accident that I stumbled on that project and it just made a lot of sense. We actually built the animation studio from scratch. It was intense and not at all what I had learned over the years of film schooling. I put that to use in my follow-up live-action feature, the vfx-heavy White Space, which is still in post-production. Then, when I directed my first film just recently, the micro-budget Suburban Cowboy, Zsombor Huszka and I came up with hand-drawn animated title sequences that have really helped it stand out as it gears up for the sales process.

In fact, those titles were nominated for a SXSW Excellence in Title Design at this year’s festival, against films like Spectre, Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Marvel series Daredevil. Besides those, Zsombor animated music videos for artists like Grammy-nominated Dirty South and Viktor Kiraly, who was recently a finalist on The Voice. In fact, Viktor helped with the music for Orient City.

What films and filmmakers have been your biggest influences?

Darren Aronofsky with Pi. Ed Burns with The Brothers McMullen.

These are two films that I saw and thought – films aren’t made in some fantasy land.  I love these movies… and I think I can do this.

In a more general sense, I grew up as a child of the '80s, so the Star Wars films basically defined my childhood. I also spent a lot of time just sitting on the floor in the living room while my dad watched old westerns. That has left an indelible mark on me.

Since Orient City is hand-drawn, I would be remiss to not mention Miyazaki… and specifically Princess Mononoke. But I guess Ghost in the Shell is the one that stands out the most. It was the first time I saw an animated film that was definitely not for children. It wasn’t until then that I realised I wasn’t alone in the world. It transcends animation – it’s one of my favorite films, period.

What made you choose hand-drawn animation for Orient City, as opposed to arguably more marketable 3D animation?

I know they get lumped in together, but they’re almost two different genres entirely at this point. I don’t know if I’ve seen a CG feature that was aimed at adults that I have really responded to. The level of realism isn’t quite there yet and yet too advanced at the same time, at least for me. Not that a 3D character is not very well thought through, but it’s still as if there is less of its creator and more of the computer. So, it was never even a question that the characters were going to be in 2D. It’s actually one of the biggest problems with my own film, Battle for Terra. The aliens were geared towards kids and the humans had this odd wanna-be realism… with a story that was fairly dark. It existed in this netherworld between young adult entertainment and adult fare. Ultimately, for me, it wasn’t as satisfying because of that artistic shortcoming. And, back to 2D animation, there just seems to be something majestic about it that, especially since it is rarely done nowadays. We just have to be mindful of the budget and keep costs as low as possible.

You've assembled an enormous cast of talented actors for Orient City (Chris Evans, Evan Rachel Wood, Dennis Quaid, Luke Wilson, Amanda Peet, Brian Cox, Justin Long, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Phil LaMarr, Danny Glover, Mark Hamill and James Garner). Does the recording process often lead to a lot of improvisation, or do the actors tend to stay faithful to what's on the page?

Short answer is no, there is no improvisation. Not for me at least. 

Even in live action, I like to be as well-rehearsed as possible when I show up to set. Sometimes the set itself leads to challenges that will open up new avenues for the actors, but I’m not someone that likes improvisation. The script wasn’t written overnight without thinking through most of this stuff. I don’t make comedies, where that’s probably more common. In what I’m trying to do, a single word sometimes has a lot of meaning. That’s not to say I’m closed-minded, but I prefer those things to be worked out beforehand. I have always spent a lot of time just discussing scenes with actors in everything I’ve worked on. Not only rehearsing, but making sure that they actually understand what they are saying. Talking about animation specifically, the schedule and animatic are done in advance of the voice actors actually doing voice recordings. You can maybe change a line here and there, but for the most part you need to stick to the script or it could snowball into major dents in the schedule and budget overruns. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from Orient City as the credits roll?

Holy. Shit.  I need to see that again.

Seriously though, I hope they enjoy the ride.  The story was satisfying, the characters were all distinct and likeable (or unlikeable), the action was unique and engaging… and the animation itself was breathtaking.

Thanks for your time Ryan!

Had a lot of fun answering these!  Thanks a lot!!!

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