This interview contains references to sexual abuse and self harm. If you are sensitive to these subjects or find them offensive, please avoid this post and read instead my interview with Blade Runner 2049 actor Tómas Lemarquis. It’s just as witty but not as gritty.
The most famous indie director you’ve never heard of is also the most dangerous, cranking out the films so controversial streaming sites refuse to let you see them. Shane Ryan makes torture porn with no torture and only a little porn, these slow burn psychological films where you can’t figure out if you like them until it’s too late and you’re hooked. His films are so underground they’re on a first name basis with the dead and buried and his unique style blurs the line between horror and drama, while attacking explicit sex, self harm, rape, anorexia, incest, murder… Shane Ryan is a man of edges, both straight and cutting, and in the interview that follows he offers up a masterclass on independent film making.
[N.B. All stills / photos link to Shane’s production company Mad Sin Cinema.]
So there I was, sitting on a soiled bench in an all-night laundromat at 4am, a time when the only sounds are noises and those noises are of things breaking, cars squealing and voices cracking like bones. I was alone except for a bald man with fresh scabs atop his mottled head, a passed out businessman spilled inside his suit and a teenage girl who lived in her coat and held knives in the eyes she buried behind her stringy hair. I was reminded that the only people awake at 4am are those who have been to jail or those who should be.
Of all the people there, only the old man was washing any clothes and his bag of dirty laundry included far too many pairs of kids’ underwear. At that instant, the door opened and in from a night as dirty as the laundromat walked a young, buff man wearing somebody else’s camouflage and carrying a video camera looking to shoot something.
Saint Pauly: I’m afraid this is neither the time nor the place to be filming, mate. [He ignored me and made me even more uncomfortable by focusing in on me.] Whoa, hold on, who do you think you are, Shane Ryan or something? [As soon as I’d said that I saw that, indeed, it was exactly Shane Ryan. I’m not as stupid as I look on camera.] Shane Ryan!? The Shane Ryan!? Director of the Amateur Porn Star Killer trilogy? My Name Is ‘A’ by anonymous? Warning!!! Pedophile Released? What are you doing here? I thought you hated LA.
Shane Ryan: I only go to LA when I have to. I primarily reside in Lompoc [California] because I can’t stand LA.
[The business man slumped over even further and the old man with the troubled scalp sorted laundry by smell.]
Saint Pauly: Now that you’re here, be careful. Things in this launderette are off, like. Maybe we should smoke a little somethin’ somethin’ to smooth the edges?
Shane: [From behind his camera] I’m straight-edged, meaning I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. And it’s not because I’m a former addict nor for religious beliefs, I just think it’s not worthy to put into my body. Plus, I’m already a bit crazy without that shit.
Saint Pauly: You don’t have to tell me, I’ve seen your films! How did you get started with that madness, anyway?
Shane: My first paid film jobs were helping my dad restore films. The first thing I did was work as the music editor on Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse. I then helped restore titles on another silent film, and then I composed music for some silent short films for the box set Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941.
Saint Pauly: You got an early start!
[The teenager glanced over at us with a look of unexplained defiance while the older gentleman placed the clothes in the machine one at a time with a fork.]
Shane: My dad took me to the movies when I was 3 years old. After I had a panic attack during one of the trailers (it was for a John Carpenter film), he brought me back in once I was through crying. He said I didn’t speak a word, I was just glued to the screen, in awe for the entire film (the film was Dark Crystal, which I have no memory of watching). After that, he began showing me how to edit at the age of 5, and by age 7 I was working the camera and making my own films.
Saint Pauly: Is one of those films called Singularity? Because that one looked like it was written by a 5-year-old and edited by a 7-year-old. No? Not a science friction fan?
Shane: I was inspired by ninja/martial arts films. Then, when I saw Bloodsport and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s spinning jump kick, I knew I wanted to be just like Van Damme. I idolised the living fuck out of him and probably have the world’s biggest collection of JCVD merchandise. The problem was though, that I sucked at lots of stuff.
Saint Pauly: You should see me in locker rooms.
[Nobody in the launderette laughs.]
Shane: I did bad in gymnastics, karate (not bad, but surely not good), and became more focused on film making than acting and sports. I wanted to be an actor and a writer, but had no clue how to get acting roles nor get my scripts produced, so I kept making my own films til I was about 16, then gave up to focus on writing and body-building.
Saint Pauly: You’re certainly more developed than some Hollywood scripts!
Shane: For a short time I wanted to become a body builder but refused to take any supplements or drugs. Eventually I said ‘fuck it’ and started taking some community college film classes at age 19.
Saint Pauly: Better to take classes than drugs, sometimes.
Shane: Then I saw Tim Roth’s directorial debut The War Zone and, right then and there, something changed in me forever.
Saint Pauly: You decided to become English?
Shane: I had an emotional breakdown from the intense subject matter in the film (it dealt with child abuse, rape, incest and murder), and I was floored by this discovery–that a film could move you this intensely, violently, viscerally. I wanted to make films like that .
Saint Pauly: And you do!
Shane: That would be what I like most about film making: being able to touch people in a life-changing sort of way. Whether it be entertainment in a new way, nostalgia, coming of age, or something that is a fear or manifesting issue that they haven’t yet confronted.
Saint Pauly: What’s the worst bit of movie making? Snarky interviewers?
Shane: The biggest pain about film making would be relying on other people. This isn’t like painting a picture, nor writing a script. When it’s something like that, all you need is you. When it’s a film, it requires other people, money (which I’ve never had), scheduling, cooperation, equipment, transportation, and a never-ending list of shit. It sucks big time when you don’t have any of these resources.
Saint Pauly: Shane, I don’t mean to interrupt you but look over at the bloke in the suit. [He aims his camera towards the supine form.] I haven’t seen anyone that pale since beaches in England. I really think he’s dead. Just be cool while we figure out if the psycho geezer or the angry teen did it. Keep filming, it can definitely help. What kind of filming style do you have?
Shane: It just depends on the project. My Japanese film, Oni-gokko/Tag [the complete short is above] had a complete shot list, script (plus all the translations), as did my short film from 2001, Isolation, along with storyboards (that was my most complex and structured shoot). But My Name is ‘A’ by anonymous, The Girl Who Wasn’t Missing, and The Owl in Echo Park merely had very brief one line descriptions of the scenes. Sometimes not even descriptions, just the location that we would be shooting at and the actors who needed to be there. And the Amateur Porn Star Killer films had nothing but an idea and a brief discussion of the films with each actress before filming. I think I most prefer when I have scene descriptions roughly written out, a story in place, but I just let it flow.
Saint Pauly: Like that man’s blood! Holy shite! See, it’s spilling into a puddle on the ground. We have to save the girl and get out of here. [I whisper in a shout I hope is loud enough for her to hear and yet quiet enough the crazy old man doesn’t.] Psst. Miss? Do you want to leave with us?
Angry Girl: Are you crazy?
Saint Pauly: How did you know? Look, just stay there, we’ll get you out.
Angry Girl: Watch out for him!
Saint Pauly: We know! Don’t worry, Shane Ryan is recording him. We’ll get him soon enough. Shane’s used to filming without a net. Do you have any idea how many films you’ve done, Shane?
Shane: Counting all the ones I did as a kid, shorts and features and music videos, plus how many I acted in as well as produced and/or directed? Man, I dunno, over 100, easily.
Indie Film Making Masterclass
Saint Pauly: You must must be some kind of millionaire to make that many films! What’s the most you’ve ever spent making a film?
Shane: The most, as far as completed films, would be Guerrilla which cost about a grand and it was only 13 minutes. My Name is ‘A’ by anonymous was 90 minutes and cost 300 bucks to produce and 4 days to shoot, over a 5 day period. Guerrilla took about 20+ days to shoot over 6 months.
Saint Pauly: And the least?
Shane: The least would literally be nothing, I suppose. Amateur Porn Star Killer 3 cost 10 bucks. I think 8 bucks for 2 tapes and 2 bucks for gas.
Saint Pauly: Damn, some of my dates are more expensive than that. How can you make a film on such a small budget?
Shane: Just wing it, usually. And keep your crew minimal to avoid attention. If you have a script, it’s impossible to shoot what you’ve written on 50 dollar budgets.
Saint Pauly: You mean the script goes out the window?
Shane: Unless you do it all in one room and don’t make noise to cause attention to your location from authorities, passersby… And don’t mind if noise outside your location is a constant interruption–unless you’re in the middle of nowhere with no distracting sounds around you.
Saint Pauly: But there needs to be a story, right? Like the characters here in this launderette.
[While I’m talking to Shane, the girl scuttles like a roach to a bench closer to the old man. I think she’s totally mad, at first, until she pulls a long bladed knife from he coat.]
Shane: If you come up with characters that you’d like to shoot, and you wing it, then it’s more like making a documentary. You can make a documentary with a minimal crew so, just treat your film like a documentary. Pick your subjects (like, “I want to make a film about a girl who kills her neighbour” – My Name is ‘A’ by anonymous), pick some locations, and just describe the characters to your actors. Then follow them, and see what they do. You might need a beginning, middle, and end, but everything else, the other 90% of the movie, you just let it happen.
Saint Pauly: [I begin wondering if I hadn’t jumped too hastily to the conclusion that the older chap was the murderer. The best thing would be for me to ignore the girl while I get a hold of the situation.] Yet you use dialogue rather sparsely. Your films are as silent as the dead chap over there. Why’s that?
Shane: Two reasons. One, is that sound is a bitch. It’s one of the hardest things to do and the most likely to make your film reek of amateur-hour (which my films still do, but it could be so much worse). People will forgive bad picture but not bad sound. So, I learned early on that you are more likely to get away with bad sound if it feels like a documentary / home-video type thing, like the Amateur Porn Star Killer films, which is why they have the most dialogue. In the other movies that doesn’t work, so I tend to wipe away all of the sound and replace it with music.
Saint Pauly: Which is often brilliant, to be honest. The music in The Girl Who Wasn’t Missing was one of my favourite parts of that film. And Guerrilla is like a silent movie.
Shane: Which brings me to the second reason, that is I grew up on silent films as my dad has restored most of the great silent films ever made.
Saint Pauly: How cool is that? My dad hasn’t done anything half that brilliant, including making me. What did yours restore?
[I look at the bint in the corner pointing the tip of the blade at me from across the filthy room.]
Saint Pauly: How do you find the right music for your film?
Shane: I think music to visuals is just in my blood. Although I’m rarely fully satisfied with it, because I can only use what I find and can afford the rights to. I can’t usually use or have composed exactly what I want. Basically it’s just using the cheapest music that I can find and be able to get the rights to, that best fits what I’m looking for. I usually have to find the music first, though, almost always, as I edit to the music. I have yet to edit something without a score, and then have someone score the film.
[Shane, still holding the camera, arrives at the opposite end of the launderette where a large dustbin stands. He reaches inside and pulls something off of the top of the trash. Two things, actually: a pair of leather gloves. I find this find disturbing, but continue asking him questions to distract him.]
Saint Pauly: What other advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Shane: Don’t do it, man. Find something stable. Then maybe do this as a hobby. Times are getting so ridiculously bad for indie cinema as far as being able to make any money from it.
Saint Pauly: Still, it’s a good way to have sex and kill people on camera.
Shane: Censorship is cracking down so terribly much! I was just told by a distributor that not only can I not include nudity if I want to get on Amazon Prime, but I can’t even blur out the nudity–like one would do for a regular fucking censored TV episode or news clip–as they will even reject that as well. Plus they just chopped out 60% of pay for indie films, as if we weren’t already getting paid nothing. If anything, do something artistic that doesn’t take up too much of your money, or the dependency of other people, like writing, or painting. Or something where you don’t have to worry about the responsibility of anyone but yourself, like acting. Film making these days is just, ugh. But if you feel it’s in your blood, and it’s all you know, then so be it, do it.
Saint Pauly: Speaking of blood, I can’t help but notice there’s some on the gloves you pulled from the bin. The girl isn’t the murderer, is she?
[Smiling, Shane rises and walks over to where the young lady is sitting. I immediately apologise in my head for mentally referring to her as a ‘bint’. She doesn’t try to kill him with the knife she no doubt took from the same trash can from which Shane removed the gloves. Instead, she hands it over to him without a struggle. Neither does he kill her with it.]
Saint Pauly: Shane, do you get a lot of flack about your films being misogynistic?
Shane: Everybody’s got an opinion…
Saint Pauly: Like assholes. [TBH, not even I know what I mean here.]
Shane: Look at it this way: more than 90% of my films give female actors the lead roles. I often give them co-writing and co-producing credit and consider them my team, my other half in the making of the films. Many are about strong women and the victimisation of women by men and / or by society. And it also shows a much more real interpretation of rape.
[Shane, camera in one hand and knife in the other, stands in front of me. He gestures with the blade for me to rise. The pieces fall together. He’s the one who killed the bloke in the business suit, then left the murder weapon and the gloves in the dust bin before leaving. But then, after I’d arrived in the laundromat, he’d changed his mind and returned to the scene of the crime to recover the clues. Now that he’d accomplished what he came to do, he was escorting me to his beat up Chevrolet Impala. Wherever he was taking me, I knew it was my final destination.]
Shane: [As we’re driving away, Shane continues.] Rape is not usually with a knife to your throat and a random thug in the alley attacking you. It’s often by manipulation, by somebody you know or somebody at a party that you just met but feel safe enough with. What I wanted to show was rape the way that it is more likely to happen. And if one still doesn’t buy these excuses; just hold up a mirror.
Saint Pauly: Ugh, I’d rather not. I must look a sight what with the late hour and my impending murder.
Shane: My films are merely that, a mirror held in front of the world, showcasing what I see around me. Rarely does Hollywood ever do that.
Saint Pauly: All right, you’re taking me to my death spot, so we may as well go there. Your films are very edgy regarding content. As you said, you film rape, incest, child murders… In the Amateur Porn Star Killer triptych, there are several sex scenes that appear hardcore in more ways than one. Is the sex simulated or real?
Shane: Most of it is real. The stuff with the blonde girl in the first was simulated, but the oral sex with the main character was real, even though highly concealed. And the second and third films feature multiple hardcore moments. Albeit very little of the films’ running times, maybe just 5-10 minutes max between both films, but it’s real.
Saint Pauly: [Insert the sound of my mouth hanging open…]
Shane: I tried to push the boundaries further with each film, but I think it peaked in the second, when it showed penetration to the girl after Brandon kills her.
Saint Pauly: Filming all that must be depressing af!
Shane: It’s usually pretty relaxed, actually, until it happens. Then afterwards there can be laughter, calming back down. The only big time I remember there being an issue was on Amateur Porn Star Killer. I had gotten so stirred up from being in character for so long: two long takes, like an hour long each. So, between takes I needed to take a break, whereas Michiko [Jimenez], the actress, had wanted to keep going. I barely remember this–she recited it to me later–I thought it was like a minute break but apparently it was 30-60 minutes and I tried to calm myself back down by watching cartoons. She wanted to stay in character, so I guess she just sat quietly in the corner until I could collect myself to continue shooting.
Saint Pauly: Still, being both actor and director when filming a hardcore scene must present its own unique set of complexities.
Shane: Extremely awkward and difficult beforehand, but relatively easy once filming has started.
Saint Pauly: Sounds like most of my sex life, except for the ‘filming’ part.
Shane: Because they were all pretty much shot in real time, you just slip into that character and roll with it. Playing the character is highly uncomfortable, but as long as you have the understanding with the actress, when those scenes come, it’s just kind of there, over and done. It’s almost like being on drugs, I’d say, or being drunk. It just sort of happens, and afterwards you’re like, “Shit, what did we just do? Did we really do that? Hmm, well that was interesting.”
Saint Pauly: ‘Interesting’ may not be strong enough to describe the scene in My Name is A by anonymous, leading up to a father’s sexual assault of his teenage daughter. Honestly? Even as a fan of cinema that pushes boundaries, I found this a tad extreme. What do you think of someone like me, who has a hard time with something like that? Does it make me a wimp?
Shane: If it didn’t give you a hard time, then either you’ve got some issues you need to deal with, or I just didn’t do my job as a filmmaker. But considering that you never even see the rape occur, I’d hope that means that I did my job in making it disturbing, as it should be. If you recall, the scene building up to it is one long shot, as he coerces and kisses his daughter while she begins breaking down bit by bit until finally he begins to force himself on her as she starts screaming repulsively, and then the scene ends before he actually does anything sexual to her. So, the fact that you never see the rape, and never even see nudity during the scenes… if that comes off as extreme and boundary pushing, then I think the job was accomplished.
[Shane pulls the Impala into a motel car park. He parks the car in front of an isolated unit and, once he’s shut the vehicle off, he instructs me to reach into a box in the back seat and remove a roll of duct tape. He forces me to wrap it around my left wrist several times, then tells me to hold my hands together so he can tie them together with the tape, locking them forever in a futile prayer. He leads me into his motel room, which is surprisingly neat and organised, though bereft of any personal effect, save his murder kit.]
Saint Pauly: [As he ties me to the chair, I ask…] Amateur Porn Star Killer is your most famous work, isn’t it?
Shane: Yes, I’d say it is the most popular and successful. Of course, I made the film on a fluke and it was the easiest film I ever made–and only cost me 45 bucks to produce.
Saint Pauly: It was easier to conceive than some babies. And, like making babies, is pleasure why you decided to make two more?
Shane: Well, it took me 20 years to get to the point that I wanted to be (having a feature distributed), and it took 3 years to get this particular film distributed. So, when the distributor green-lighted a second, I was like, “Fuck it. I’ll do it again and have another film out in 6 months instead of spending another 10-20 years, sure.” And then I did it again right after that, but after the third I felt very done with it. I thought the second really helped push the story of the character forward, but the third I felt was just more recycling the original idea.
Saint Pauly: Another high point in your filmography is My Name is ‘A’, by anonymous, which is based on the true crime story of Alyssa Bustamante. Was it nostalgia that made you want to tell the story of this 15-year-old girl who killed her 9-year-old neighbour? Something else?
Shane: Multiple things. The need to understand why these things happen, even though you probably never will. Also, I’ve dealt with self-abuse most of my life, and when I saw that the real girl had the exact same scars on her arm, even the same arm in the exact same pattern and places as I do, it just hit home.
[He hits me as he says this and I feel it shake my core. Then he pulls the knife from the waistband of his jeans.]
Saint Pauly: But at least there was a lot of fake news… [I spit out some of my favourite teeth as I speak.]
Shane: They hadn’t given any time to consider if the child was mentally ill, or had been coerced into a confession and possibly innocent. They just all said, “Here’s the witch, burn her.” It felt like medieval times to me, and it made me so disgusted. I also was going through my own issues in the media at the same time, and the exact same thing was being done to me.
Saint Pauly: People were calling you a witch and burning you?
Shane: A film I was about to make was being taken way out of context. The mainstream news got a hold of it and completely changed and manipulated everything that I was doing, causing me to receive endless death threats and hate mail every couple minutes.
Saint Pauly: And you’re not even a film critic!
Shane: I almost wanted to kill myself because I thought my life was over, and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. I was just so angry that the news can just pick a person at random and decide to destroy them because they feel like it and need the ratings. All the while they make themselves look like reporters just doing their jobs when really they’re the scum of the earth, profiting off of ruining lives. So, I wanted to spend time actually exploring this girl, or the idea of a girl like this, and trying to actually understand it, instead of letting it be made up in the mind of the media and its brainless audience.
Saint Pauly: The treatment you give the story certainly isn’t brainless, and you can’t be accused of trying to paint her as an innocent victim, either. At least as not as much as I’m apparently about to be. Before you do the deed, can you tell me what I’m missing? What are the previews of coming attractions for your career?
[He drags the knife blade across my cheek, before bringing it down to my t-shirt and cutting it open, baring my breast and exposing his target. I’m his next attraction and it’s going to be coming soon.]
Shane: I’m doing a brand new trilogy of the Brandon character [from Amateur Porn Star Killer], for the “Ted Bundy Had a Son” trilogy. I think exploring this idea in a new decade, with new technology, especially since technology (VHS) played a huge role in his existence, can be quite interesting. The Owl in Echo Park, as I’ve been editing it forever, and need to finish the damn thing already. God Got Ill, which I’ve been shooting for over 4 years now. This Girl, This Boy, which I’ve been filming for a year, and now have more footage for than anything else that I’ve shot. Red Oedipal, which I’m filming and should hopefully be done filming very soon.
Saint Pauly: Hold on, you know I”m far too lazy to remember all of that. Isn’t there one website where your mobs of fans can go to keep up?
Saint Pauly: Before you pull my plug, mate, couldn’t you tell me something WTF in honour of all my work on the website?
Shane: I was eating lunch at an outside restaurant once and the guy next to me was nearly halfway into sawing through his arm with a piece of glass. I didn’t notice it because right where his arm was there was something blocking it. But the crowd gathering made me wonder, so I stood up and then saw it and all of the blood everywhere. It was quite shocking and scary and sad. I nearly fainted, but was able to quickly grab my girlfriend and get us the fuck away from the table just before cops came storming in from every direction.
Saint Pauly: And you didn’t film it? I think it’s something your followers would get a kick out of. Any words of wisdom for you millions of fans before I go out in a big way?
Shane: Millions? Haha. Well, if I have even 100, awesome. Thank you. Please support indie cinema and physical media while you still can.
[And with that he accorded me only enough time to post this interview on the site before slitting my throat and doing who knows what to my amazingly fit looking corpse. All I know is, no sacrifice is too small to make my readership happy, so I hope you appreciate my giving body and soul for this interview!]
[Disclaimer: I’m sure you understand Shane Ryan no more met me in a laundromat at 4am than he did take me to a motel and kill me. This entire interview was conducted through emails over a period of several weeks. On that note, I owe Shane a huge debt of gratitude for the detail and care he took in answering my questions. I had not been prepared for him to be so forthcoming and honest with me, and his sincerity in our exchanges floored me. In fact, his answers were so complete that I wasn’t able to include them all here, so I’ll be posting the raw email interviews on the What The Function (123WTF blog page). Click on the link and be ready to dive down into the rabbit hole. I’d like to thank Shane for all of the time and effort he invested in responding to my questions, and his patience in waiting for me to publish the interview, as this version took far longer than any of my previous interviews.]