The Great Discontent

The Great Discontent

Ryan Booth

Ryan Booth

  • director
  • filmmaker

Ryan Booth began his career as an audio engineer dabbling in photography. In 2010, he shot a short for a multi-chapter contest sponsored by Canon and Vimeo, which changed his course. Since then, he has worked as a director of photography, working for BBC, A+E Networks, MTV, VH1, and numerous commercial clients. Ryan founded and directs the live music project, SerialBox Presents, and founded SerialBox Productions. He resides in Texas with his wife and two-year-old daughter.

Interview

Describe your path to becoming a filmmaker.

I always knew I wanted to do something creative, even if I didn’t know what that might end up being. I wasn’t the kind of kid who was so obviously and singularly gifted in one area. I have a friend who just directed his first feature and his history will be nice and tidy. I can recall him running around, making us all be in his little home movies: “Ok, now you’re going to fall on the ground and twitch when I say ‘action’!” That just wasn’t me, and it’s taken me quite some time to realize that not having an incredibly obvious thing isn’t a handicap. I think creativity is much broader than the way we typically define it.

When I was growing up, I lived on a street that had about 40 other neighborhood kids—it was a lot like The Sandlot—and it was the kind of place where the second we got home from school, we’d throw our backpacks on the front porch and run outside to go play with everybody. We’d come in for dinner and then go back out and play until it got dark. We made up all kinds of street-specific games and had our own rules and ways of doing things. I think I’ve always felt the most creative when I get together with a group of people and, together, we create our own rules, our own little universe. That has continued to be a common thread in my work.

Were you always interested in film?

Yeah. Movies were a big part of my life when I was growing up. Every night, for as long as I can remember, my family would eat dinner together and talk about what happened that day. Then everyone would get ready for bed and we would watch a movie. My mom still has an enormous library of movies, and when we all go home for the holidays, each family member gets a turn to pick a movie for everyone to watch.

Movie-making as we know it today is the pinnacle of storytelling. No other form of storytelling requires the expertise and collaboration of so many varied disciplines. I’ve always been fascinated by the process. When I was little, I watched all of the “Special Features” sections on DVDs. I not only paid attention to the stories they were telling, but how they told them. That has always been just as important to me as the movie itself.

In college, I majored in history and English, mostly because I found my History professors to be incredibly engaging storytellers. It wasn’t about dates and facts. It was about the why, and I found that to be a challenging and inspiring way of looking at the world. Storytelling was emerging as a path I wanted to pursue, but I was still unsure of the specific direction it would take me.

I acted in plays and did photography for the school paper while I was in college. One summer, I interned at a camp in Colorado and met a guy who had a recording studio in Nashville. I also loved music, and he told me about what it was like to produce records. He said to get in touch with him when I finished school. So, a few years later, I did, and he offered me an internship at his studio in Nashville. At the same time, I had auditioned for the TV show Friday Night Lights, which was going to be filmed in Texas. I decided that if I got the role, it meant I would move to LA to pursue film; if I didn’t, then I’d move to Nashville to pursue music via the internship. The casting agents said they’d let me know if I got the part, but the deadline came and went, so I called the producer in Nashville. It was a Sunday, and he said that if I could get to Nashville by Tuesday, then I could work on the new record he was starting. I threw everything in my car and drove to Tennessee. Amazingly, the very night I arrived in Nashville, I got a call from the casting agent for Friday Night Lights, who said, “The role is yours. Can you be at the Astrodome at 3:30am tomorrow?” If I had literally turned my car around that second to drive back to Texas, I still wouldn’t have been able to make it in time, so I had to turn down the role.

Wow! Your life would have taken a totally different path if you had accepted the Friday Night Lights role. Also, I absolutely love that show.

Yeah, it’s incredible. After being offered that part, I thought, “Maybe I should try the acting thing too,” so I got an agent. The day after I was signed, I got submitted for a movie called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It did terrible in theaters—nobody went to see it—but it’s an absolutely gorgeous movie that was shot by one of my favorite cinematographers, Roger Deakins. The casting agents wanted an unknown actor, so I read for the role of Robert Ford and got through a few rounds of the process before they decided to go in a different direction—as in, they eventually cast Casey Affleck! Looking back on it now, it’s funny how I’ve kept coming back to filmmaking.

Watch Madi Diaz perform “Isn’t It All the Same” for season two of SerialBox Presents and then visit SerialBox Presents: Madi Diaz for a behind the scenes look at her session

“…all the things I was interested in had converged in filmmaking: the music, the writing, the photography, the lighting, the performance. Everything I had been working on and been interested in was right there in front of me, in one place.”

Were you working in the Nashville studio during that time?

For a few years, I worked as an audio engineer with a producer who was incredibly busy making a new record for someone every four weeks. He’d work really hard with one group of people, and then a few weeks later, an entirely new group would come in to work with him. I loved that kind of project-based schedule, and it was an interesting process that I had never seen before—but I quickly realized that music wasn’t exactly the thing, even though I loved working with musicians. In addition to engineering, I began photographing the bands that we were tracking in the studio, which ultimately led to creating album artwork and documenting bands on tour.

During that time, I got married. We lived in Nashville for a couple years, but when my wife was accepted into grad school at the Texas Medical Center, we ended up moving to Houston. It was a big change from Nashville and I was pretty concerned about how I was going to make a living. Houston wasn’t exactly a city that came to mind in terms of supporting a career in the arts. But almost right away, I met a guy who ran a studio, and filling in on one demo session led to me taking over as house engineer and, ultimately, making more than 30 records over the next couple of years. Even though I was enjoying the projects as an audio engineer and photographer, I kept thinking, “I love this, but it doesn’t exactly feel like it’s the right fit.”

What happened then?

Everything changed in 2010 when I bought a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Suddenly, the camera I had been using for my photography work was now able to shoot video. People started asking me if I could shoot video and I hurriedly agreed, even though I really didn’t know how to film anything. I knew that I needed a crash course in video production, because it didn’t take me long to realize it is in no way at all the same as photography.

One night, I invited some filmmaker friends and musicians to a studio space that a few of us shared together, and it was like a private workshop. I asked my filmmaker friends what I thought was a simple question: “How do I do this?” That one question has led me down a rabbit hole that I hope to never escape from! That night, a friend who is great at lighting showed me how to light a room; I knew how to engineer, so I put microphones up; and then the musicians played some songs. I asked a lot of questions about filming, composition, and how to move a camera. Before I knew it, we had five or six cameras out with dollies and jibs and full production setups. That’s basically how SerialBox got started.

Around that same time, a director friend of mine had submitted a short film to Vimeo and Canon’s “The Story Beyond the Still” competition. It was a multi-chapter contest and he suggested that I write and direct an entry as a way to practice and get a taste for narrative filmmaking. I called a friend to be my actor, shot the entire thing myself with one camera and one lens, submitted it, and, to my surprise, it won. For the prize, Vimeo sent me and the other chapter winners to LA, where we came together to write and shoot the final chapter of the film for the contest. It had a pretty significant budget and was a four-day shoot—I mean, there were a half dozen semi trucks worth of gear outside! I had never seen anything like it. The director, Vincent Laforet, rotated us in and out of the chair next to him as he was directing. I left that experience thinking, “I’m done with everything else: I want to be back in that chair.” When I got back home from that trip to LA, I decided I was absolutely done with audio and photo—I had finally found that thing. That was three years ago.

“Saying no to things is hard to do, especially when you work for yourself…It was really scary to say, ‘I saw what I want to be doing, and this isn’t it,’ but in order to make progress, sometimes you have to make those kinds of choices.”

still from Sonnet
A frame from an upcoming short film, which features Austin Pendleton and is based on Shakespeare’s 63rd Sonnet
still from Sonnet
Another frame from an upcoming short film based on Shakespeare’s 63rd Sonnet

Have you been working on film full-time since then?

Yeah. I dove in head first. I really kicked SerialBox into full gear and that led to getting calls from two producers at nearly the same time. One asked me to DP a feature he was producing. The other was a Producer for VH1 and he asked me to DP bonus content surrounding their scripted and reality shows. It has continued from there. At this point, I would describe myself as a narrative and commercial Director of Photography, but I also direct nonfiction pieces. I shot a feature, which premiered in the dramatic competition of the 2013 SXSW Film Festival and is set to play theatrically in New York in a few weeks. I’ve also done two shorts this year, and have one more in preproduction that’ll film before the end of the year.

Amazingly, I’ve never actually had a job since graduating college; I’ve never gotten a W–2 in my professional life. Even when I was working for the guy in Nashville, it was a contract thing. I graduated in 2004, so I’ve been out of college for almost 10 years now and have been freelancing the entire time. (laughing) It’s occasionally terrifying, but it’s something I’m incredibly thankful for, especially as things have picked up significantly over the last few years.

Was there an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to be a filmmaker?

Absolutely. It felt like everything came together for me on that set in LA. When I first got to Nashville, I was there because I loved music and had a great opportunity to learn. I wasn’t sure how I might fit into the music industry, but I loved it. Prior to that internship, I didn’t have an informed picture of what it could be like. I didn’t think, “I’ll put my 10 years in, and then I’ll be doing this.” Over a couple of years in the industry, I got to meet the people who made the big records everyone was listening to. I saw how their lives looked on a day-to-day basis, but I didn’t necessarily see myself fitting into that.

When I saw the scale of that set in LA, I thought, “This is it.” In that moment, I felt like all the things I was interested in had converged in filmmaking: the music, the writing, the photography, the lighting, the performance. Everything I had been working on and been interested in was right there in front of me, in one place. Seeing the end product was very different than being a part of the process, and being a part of the process made me love the end product even more. I came back home and cut everything else out. Saying no to things is hard to do, especially when you work for yourself. I had invested a ton of time into my hybrid photography-audio business, and for quite a while, I was still getting offers for projects. It was really scary to say, “I saw what I want to be doing, and this isn’t it,” but in order to make progress, sometimes you have to make those kinds of choices.

Have you had any mentors along the way?

For small chunks of time, at very specific moments in life, I’ve had the opportunity to have mentors who have been good course-correctors for me. In Nashville, the producer I worked for was a guy named Mitch; he has always worked for himself and that showed me that it’s not as scary as a lot of people make it out to be. I grew up in a suburb in Texas with friends who went on to become engineers, lawyers, and doctors. When I considered doing something less traditional, people said, “So, you’ll have fun for a couple of years, but then what are you going to do?” Mitch was pretty instrumental in giving me the confidence I needed to venture out—he told me that I didn’t have to work for someone else, and that if I had a vision for something, then I should go for it.

The photographer Gary Knight was another really important mentor for me. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved the big, black-and-white documentary photography from LIFE, National Geographic, and TIME; and one of my favorite books to look through when I was a kid was a huge coffee table book of Matthew Brady’s Civil War images. While living in Nashville, I went on the road with a couple of bands and shot black-and-white doc style images. I thought documentary photography might be interesting to explore, so I applied for a workshop with VII, a conflict photography agency in New York. I was accepted and did a two-week workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia with Gary Knight. There were 10 of us in the workshop and everyone else worked at newspapers or were stringers for magazines or something similar. But there I was, an audio engineer from Nashville who didn’t quite fit in—and I felt like Gary sensed that. He pulled me aside at the end of the first week and said that when he looked through everyone’s photos, he immediately knew which ones were mine because I had a very distinct way of seeing. He told me: “You have to protect that. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re doing something wrong. Don’t go back to school, because they’ll beat it out of you. Don’t go work for anyone who doesn’t value that. Just keep at it.” It was an amazing moment: an incredible photographer told me that there was something inside of me that I should protect and grow. No one had ever said anything like that to me before.

Visually, I had no idea what Gary was talking about at the time, but it’s something I’ve thought about a lot, especially as I’ve moved into cinematography. It’s my job to translate the director’s vision, but at the end of the day, how I see something is how everyone else is going to see it. It requires a ridiculous amount of self-confidence because it’s a huge responsibility. Some people deal with that burden by masking it with arrogance and a real “my way or the highway” approach. Gary gave me the base-level confidence needed to approach vision from a place of responsibility, to take in other people’s opinions and mold it from there.

still from The Lone Bellow - ONE campaign
A frame from a one-take with The Lone Bellow, which was shot for ONE Campaign’s #agit8 show held at the Tate Modern last summer

“It’s easy to feel like nobody noticing your work is a sign that you should stop, but it’s not. It just takes a certain amount of time for you to acquire the skills to make something with real weight and significance.”

That must have been a powerful moment.

It didn’t feel like it at the time. After he said that, I remember thinking: “Okay, cool, but should I go to grad school?” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that it was an amazing gift and it’s something I’ll never forget. Being in a creative field, or any industry that involves presenting your ideas to people can be absolutely terrifying. I oscillate between thinking, “I’m really excited! This is working!” and the crushing anxiety that springs up when I tell myself, “This isn’t working!” which quickly transforms into, “I’m a failure!” Now, on a really tough day when I might be spiraling, I think about what Gary said to me, and work my way back up from the brink.

It’s interesting what happens when we try our hands at something we’re drawn to, but don’t feel qualified to do. When someone we view as being qualified affirms what is inside of us and recognizes what we’re trying to do, it encourages us to keep at it.

Definitely. Sometimes you need to have that encouragement to even start down the road. When I was starting out, a friend told me that no one will care about what I’m doing for a decade. It’s easy to feel like nobody noticing your work is a sign that you should stop, but it’s not. It just takes a certain amount of time for you to acquire the skills to make something with real weight and significance. Gary noticing me out of the corner of his eye and telling me to keep going was all it took to inspire me not to quit.

Has there been a point when you’ve taken a big risk to move forward?

It seems like there’s something that comes up each year, personally or professionally, that is scary at the time, but ends up being a moment not to shrink back from.

Moving to Nashville was a big risk, but so was moving away from Nashville to Texas. I thought that might be the end of freelancing. After my wife finished grad school, she got a job offer at one of the best children’s hospitals in the world, which happened to be in Houston. It was a near impossible job to get, so we decided to stay. It felt like a big risk because Houston doesn’t have a big creative industry like New York or LA—and ever since I moved into filmmaking, people have continued to ask me what I’m doing here.

Another huge risk was cutting off all the little avenues I was making a living from to focus solely on filmmaking. To be honest—and I don’t know why—I feel like there’s another risk coming. My wife and I were talking about this yesterday, about sensing a calm before the storm. We’re revisiting the past decisions we’ve made to gear up for whatever might be coming next. (laughing)

Sometimes it’s reassuring to have a routine, but there’s no growth if we continue doing the same thing. For me, taking risks almost seems to come in phases.

Yeah. It’s easy to put up a wall and say, “Nope, I’m just going to put my head down and do what I do.” Taking risks is really about being brave, and being brave begets more bravery. My parents always supported my brother and me by telling us, “If you feel like you really need to do something, then you don’t have to explain why.” That little feeling you get when you know something is the right move, regardless of how scary it is, is a feeling that has to be encouraged to be recognized.

“Taking risks is really about being brave, and being brave begets more bravery…That little feeling you get when you know something is the right move, regardless of how scary it is, is a feeling that has to be encouraged to be recognized.”

still from This Is Where We Live
A still from This Is Where We Live, a feature drama about a family struggling to stay together in a small Texas town
still from This Is Where We Live
Another still from This Is Where We Live, which premiered alongside Short Term 12 and Burma in the dramatic competition of the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, and is still making its way through the festival circuit

It sounds like your family is supportive of you.

They are. My family is full of people living their lives in incredibly interesting ways, ranging from the traditional to the downright outlandish. Lawyers, engineers, playwrights, art directors, business owners, and even a NASA rocket scientist. I have a family full of Big Fish type storytellers and their benignly exaggerated tales about all the big moments in their lives have given me the encouragement I need to follow this path, wherever it may lead.

After working for large companies his entire career, my dad decided to start an organic produce distribution business when he was in his late 50s. He’s always encouraged me, but to see him actually do what he has always told me I could do is another thing entirely. It’s been great to see that process.

My wife has also been amazingly supportive. When she was pregnant with our now two-year-old daughter, Ellen, I was incredibly excited, but also incredibly nervous. I felt like the stakes were going to raise exponentially: if I failed, it wouldn’t be just me dealing with it. One day, my wife pulled me aside and said, “We will be fine. We’re with you. You don’t have to change who you are, and part of who you are is the way that you work.” It was amazing and, of course, she was right. The most supportive thing a spouse can do is let their partner be themselves, especially when they become a parent. It’s been an incredible journey and one that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something bigger than yourself?

I definitely do, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what that actually means. And I’m not sure that there’s anything more important or “bigger” than the small, daily involvement in people’s lives. We tend to focus on the grandiose, world changing things, but I wonder if we’re sometimes focused on the wrong things, because it seems like it’s the little things we do every day that really matter. I feel responsible to be good to the people who are in my life and I feel responsible to let myself be inconvenienced. Even if it’s something small, I try not to let my routine or plans for the day trump someone who might need me.

Professionally, I have a hard time knowing what it means to contribute to something bigger in the context of work. I can think of specific moments that have been particularly impactful for me, but as I get older, I have more questions than answers. In 2010, I went to Haiti three times to film for nonprofits working on the rebuilding process after the big earthquake. I saw things there that are very difficult to un-see. I struggled with that for a year or so. I thought, “Here I am, filming a video, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of people living in tents.” I felt like such an asshole to think that filming, which is a medium that is fundamentally consumed as entertainment, was going to help change anything. I didn’t feel like I could realistically go home and say, “Yeah, I really made a contribution.” And yet, even still, I think it’s possible to be a part of projects that aim to do good despite the overwhelming odds that you might just make a bigger mess of things.

Yeah, it’s a lot to think about, for sure. Do you feel creatively satisfied?

Transitioning to filmmaking after working in other avenues has felt a bit like changing my major. I don’t think that all the years I spent doing photo and audio work were negated, but I definitely feel like I lost a lot of credits, so to speak. (laughing) I have a long way to go to close the gap between the vision in my mind and my ability to execute it in practice. So, no, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel creatively satisfied in that sense. There will always be limitations, like time, money, or availability of people. Very rarely will everything converge perfectly, but the smaller that gap becomes, the more creatively satisfied I feel. The caveat is that I’m incredibly thankful to be doing what I’m doing. I love this process and am very satisfied to work on closing that gap.

still from Noah Gundersen SerialBox session
Noah Gundersen and Abby Gunderson perform in a Season Two session of SerialBox Presents, a live, one-take, multi-cam, multi-track performance video project that creates a connection point with artists somewhere between a live show and a record

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

Honestly, I feel unqualified to give advice because, in a lot of ways, it seems like I’m still in the steep part of the learning curve. Maybe that feeling never goes away. When I was still in college, I reached out to a National Geographic photographer named Penny De Los Santos. Essentially, I asked, “How do I skip right ahead to the part where I become a National Geographic photographer?!” And she replied, “Most importantly, you have to love the process of becoming a photographer. Because you don’t know if you would even enjoy being a National Geographic photographer until you’re there. So, best to enjoy the process and see where it takes you.” That wasn’t what I wanted to hear at the time, but that advice has stuck with me, and I’m happy to pass it along.

The second thing I’d say is to work all the time, as much as you can, without any ego. When I first wandered into filmmaking, I would take any job that got me on set. I didn’t care if I was a production assistant or operating camera—I just knew I wasn’t going to learn anything if I wasn’t shooting and on set.

And, finally, just know that it’s going to take time. I remember sitting at the wrap party for the Vimeo shoot in LA and talking to the producer. Some of the other contest winners and I were chatting with her and someone asked her how we could get back in that chair. She said, “you need to go home and work a ton. When your work starts getting really good, then we’ll see it and we’ll ask you to come back.” Basically, progress requires building up a serious volume of work and putting yourself out there. Eventually, you’ll get better and the pieces will start coming together.

Most of the successful people I’ve talked to have shared stories about the years of hard work prior to the point where they are now—the years of hard work that no one sees or recognizes.

Exactly! I was actually really stressed out when you asked me to do this interview. (laughing) I feel like I’m still in those years that you’re describing, and when I looked back at your archive, I thought, “This is full of people who have done really amazing, public things.” I’m still at the point where most of what I work on is stuff that no one ever sees, which I’m so thankful for, but part of the reason I feel like something big is coming up is because I’m starting to feel ready to show people what I’ve been working on.

That’s also why I haven’t felt a burning desire to leave Texas: I stumbled into a place with an incredible group of people who are always working, even though you’ve likely never heard of them. Whenever I’m in New York or LA on shoots, people will ask, “Can you come back and do another project?” But the answer is almost always no, because I’ll have three shoots lined up for when I get back home, and the week after that I’ll be gone for something else. We are literally working all the time.

I feel like my personal work and what I get paid to do is beginning to come together, bit by bit. SerialBox has been great because it’s unfiltered: a band shows up, and we record it however we want it to look and sound. No one except for me and a couple other guys have input on anything. It’s been really great to share SerialBox in the absence of a lot of the stuff I get paid to do. I hope that you can see the progress I’m making through that project.

That’s awesome. How does living in Houston impact your creativity?

For people who have never been to Houston, the perception is very different than the reality. We’ve got a really great group of creative people here. They’re talented to the point where I’ll sometimes fly them to gigs because depending on the project, they’re even better than the crew guys in New York and LA. I know for a fact that SerialBox wouldn’t have happened in any other city because, here, there’s a group of people who’s priority number one is simply making things. Everybody is willing to put in extra time, gear, talent, and resources. And when they get asked to do things, they show up.

What is the creative community like there?

Compared to places I’m in often, like Brooklyn or LA, the creative community in Houston is a bit more below the surface. It’s an oil and gas town, full of engineers—Exxon and Shell are headquartered here—and there’s a huge medical industry. A lot has changed in the last few years, though. A whole wave of young designers and restaurant, bar, and shop owners have really transformed the feel of the city. Even still, the people doing the creative stuff have been a bit of a band of outsiders, which was really helpful in the beginning stages of my career. Everybody sticks together; it almost feels like we’re yelling to each other, “Link arms! Don’t let the khaki pants get you down!” (laughing)

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical production day generally starts around the time the sun comes up and stops way after the sun goes down. Those days are 12 to 14 hours long, but I love them. I’m usually shooting two to three days a week on average, but a lot of times it may be 6 to 10 days in a row on a commercial, with a few days off after we wrap if I can swing it.

When I’m not shooting, my two-year-old daughter wakes up at 6am, no matter what time I go to bed, and I usually hang with my family in the morning. I share a studio space with four guys, so I’ll go in around 9 or 10am to edit through lunch. I’ll try to have coffee with someone or schedule meetings in the afternoon. I come home, do the dinner thing, hang out with my wife, and help put Ellen to bed. If I’m in the middle of a big project, then I’ll keep working for a couple hours after that. If I have a project for SerialBox to work on, then that means I’ll be working pretty late.

“…progress requires building up a serious volume of work and putting yourself out there. Eventually, you’ll get better and the pieces will start coming together.”

behind the scenes of SerialBox
A behind the scenes look at SerialBox Presents
David Ramirez
A still of David Ramirez performing “Shoeboxes” in a season one session of SerialBox Presents

Do you have a current album on repeat or any music that you’re into right now?

I have a good friend named Chris Pereira who used to work at MTV, and I swear I’m only on Spotify because of his incredible playlists. He has an incredible knack for picking bands or artists a full year or so before they break. I could list some of the bands, but I’d be kidding myself to say I knew who they were, yet.

The new Volcano Choir album, Repave, just came out, and it’s great. I kept listening to that and going down into slower, darker music, but then I started listening to The 1975, and that has been a nice change of pace.

A little while ago, I got to film for the production company that puts on the Essence Festival. It was in New Orleans, and I was shooting backstage with Beyoncé and some other huge artists. There were smaller breakout stages, and on one of them was a guy named Roman GianArthur. His record hasn’t even come out yet, but he played a cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees,” and it was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. He also plays in Janelle Monae’s band. He’s unbelievable, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to him.

Do you have any favorite movies or TV shows?

I have my favorite stuff from a story standpoint, and then I have my favorite stuff from a technical standpoint. The movie that is the convergence of both of those is Children of Men. It’s probably my favorite movie of all time. The cinematographer is named Emmanuel Lubezki, but everyone calls him Chivo; he also shot Tree of Life and most recently, Gravity. I also love Road to Perdition. I love dark tones in movies, and that movie is a great example of that. Even the daylight exteriors in that movie feel dark. Almost Famous is really good, too, because it’s fun, has a great story, and is a completely enjoyable movie.

One of the most incredible documentary films I’ve seen is War Photographer. It follows one of VII Photo Agency’s most well-known photographers, James Nachtwey, as he works in Palestine, ex-Soviet countries, and different armed-conflict areas. That guy is like a zen master and has taken hundreds of pictures of huge, catastrophic events. If anything, he is a great example of someone who is harnessing photography for good.

As for TV, I haven’t had cable for a while, so I’m off of the real-time schedule at this point. Breaking Bad took a little while for me to get into, but now I think it’s amazing. One of the first TV shows I remember watching on DVD was The West Wing, which I saw a long time ago, even before I started doing filmmaking. I thought it was a perfect example of what TV’s particular strength in storytelling can do: plot is much less important than getting to know the characters. I’ve also really, really enjoyed the latest season of The Killing. It’s gorgeously shot. I read an interview with the showrunner and she mentioned that her inspiration for this season was a bunch of Mary Ellen Mark documentary photos. As soon I heard that, I was in. It is an intensely dark show, but it’s very good.

Any favorite books?

One of my favorite books is called Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. He’s a neuroscientist who also writes fiction. That book is made up of two-page snippets of abstract hypotheticals about the afterlife. But not from a religious perspective. For example, one of them describes how, when people die, they have to wait in a huge train station until their name is called to go on to the afterlife. For their name to be called, people have to wait until all memories of them have left earth. For instance, if I died, I would be stuck in this train station until everyone who ever came into contact with me left the earth. So the most depressed people waiting in this station are people like Abraham Lincoln, Michael Jackson, Napoleon, and anyone whose memories continue throughout history. Basically, all the famous people are stuck in purgatory and can’t go on to the afterlife. (laughing)

I also read just about anything that Cormac McCarthy writes. No Country For Old Men was one of the most visceral books I’ve ever read. That guy is incredibly inspiring.

Alright, what is your favorite food?

I am an unabashed fan of Whole Foods’ brand of pre-popped popcorn. (laughing) Not microwave popcorn, but the kind they pop and then put into a bag. So good.

What kind of legacy do you hope to leave?

With anything that I work on, whether it’s a film or a personal project like SerialBox, my hope is that it causes someone to feel absolutely inspired to go out and make something of their own. I couldn’t hope for anything more than that. Beyond that, I want the people in my life to feel like they can be brave, take risks, and know that I will always be behind them. I want to give them the same feeling Gary Knight gave me when he said: “You’re doing great: just keep going.”interview close

behind the scenes - Ryan Booth
A behind the scenes view of Ryan working on set; photo by Jordy Wax

“With anything that I work on, whether it’s a film or a personal project like SerialBox, my hope is that it causes someone to feel absolutely inspired to go out and make something of their own. I couldn’t hope for anything more than that.”