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  • Writer's pictureCine Review

Interview with Shaun Rylee, director of experimental films

Cannes, April 20, 2024

Where did your road to the cinema begin?

Since early childhood, I knew that I wanted to make films from the moment I saw “The Wizard of Oz” on television. It aired every year around the holidays and I was captivated every time from start to finish- such an incredible cinematic journey that film is. Acting was my first goal. I later attended film school and realised I not only wanted to be an actress, but a director as well. There are so many stories I want to tell and my early experiences and education shaped my quest for making this my lifelong passion. My obsession with cinema from its early roots and how it has evolved since has kept me engaged in learning as much as possible and I take from that what best serves me and my style as a filmmaker. 

Do you think that to become a successful director, you need professional education or the main thing is talent?

I think having a curious, creative mind that loves to learn is the most important thing as a director. My film education did help tremendously, as I learned the history of cinema and about different directors’ styles but if you invest enough time and have the drive to learn about the art of cinema, a formal education isn’t absolutely necessary. Understanding the process and perception of your story onscreen are things new directors often fail to realise as important to the creation. Creating and filming are the fun parts, but you can’t skip over the importance of the mechanics of storytelling or the pre-production process before you get to actual filming. So finding a way to learn how everything in the industry works and the art of storytelling itself are the most important things, whether through professional education or on your own. Either way, you truly need to invest the time and continue furthering your passion for all of it. 

Can you tell us about your filmography?

I started as a filmmaker in the experimental genre of independent filmmaking. It’s a genre I noticed at the time did not have many female filmmakers but it allows the freedom for me to create without constraints. My shorts ‘Question Everything’ and ‘You Don’t Deserve This’ are dramatic narratives but their styling is atypical of the more formulaic style people are used to seeing onscreen. They each tell complete, emotional stories but in a very short timespan, with dialogue that plays out more like momentary thoughts and memories. Visually and pace-wise, they both feel poetic and dreamy in their flow and beauty. I want people to feel immersed in their environments and lost in their emotions because the topics are both very human experiences. ‘Question Everything’ is based on the concept of lucid dreaming and trying to change the trajectory of events in the dream, in order to prevent a grim outcome. ‘You Don’t Deserve This’ is based on a relationship with differing communication styles, which prevents true closure when it comes to an end. It’s a relatable subject, as painful as it is, that resonates and makes people feel they aren’t alone in that experience. Before both of these key films in my filmography, I was known more as an actress and screenwriter. 

What is the most important thing for you on the shooting set?

Making sure you remember to enjoy the experience is first and foremost, surrounding yourself with a committed team, and the ability to go with the flow. Build a team of talented people whose abilities you trust and let them do their jobs. Things will come up that disrupt a shot or needing urgency for something that wasn’t planned. Take everything in stride, take care of it and move on. You want to be able to create a pleasant environment where everyone feels valued and enjoys the experience. That’s what you’re all there for, to create something wonderful and magical together.

What difficulties do you most often face in the process of realising a film?

As the adage for filmmakers goes, we all need funding but also building a team can unfortunately be difficult. You are juggling several people’s schedules, priorities and levels of commitment. Some people have their own projects and what it comes down to is being able for everyone to commit to working together and help each other to see all of the projects through. It’s essential that everyone is a team player throughout the entire process, including pre and post-production. These are necessary components to filmmaking, even if some of it isn’t as fun as filming itself. I am relying on just myself in the screenwriting stage and know my level of commitment so that’s fairly easy. Having others believe in your skills and talent is more challenging but so important. My past projects were a collaborative effort of people who were committed and believed in what I could do and vice versa- just stellar humans who wanted to create.

What is your super task in art, life?

Super task, I like that concept! Seeing my first two feature films through in their best possible reflection of my creative abilities is the ultimate goal or super task. They are in process and have been written for awhile and I’m bursting at the seams for them to go into active pre-production after the last few challenging years in the industry. They are my best writing and full-fledged 3-act stories with some surprises and an emphasis on the human condition. I want to bring these poignant pieces to life, which will show my true style and abilities as an artist. Then I want to continue telling stories that reach people so they don’t feel alone in these experiences, stories that dive into the human psyche and break social stigmas in the process.

"You Don’t Deserve This." Idea of creation, message to the world?

This project was born from the frustrations and questions in my mind after a strong connection with another human. I spoke to him every day for years and developed a strong bond and fondness and the kind of just up and disappeared from my daily life. We form connections with others and while they serve an important purpose when and how they enter our lives, I thought about how weird it is that they can exit so abruptly and all you take from it is the memories. I constructed the project around message exchanges we had together and set it in an important physical place first introduced to me by that person. The film revolves around two different timeframes- replaying the “what-ifs” of the situation and the aftermath of finally deciding to let go. It contains a lot of symbolism and heavy emotion because I want the audience to feel exactly how I felt going through it. The message is ultimately about the importance of communication and closure. Both are so crucial to navigating our experiences with other human beings. 

Do you already have thoughts about your next project?

Several projects are in the works and I am trusting in the timing and process to carry each of them through when they feel right to do so and with the right people. I made a huge move overseas so in many ways, I have to start over in forming relationships to get these co-productions rolling. But I am so excited at the prospects of it all because I believe in the stories I have. I poured my heart into writing them exactly how I wanted and know I will find the people who want to go on this journey with me. I’m ready. 

Shaun Rylee is an award-winning Director, Actress, Screenwriter and self-Producer located near Cannes, France.  She has appeared on television, most notably in “Mad Men,” “Community” and “Scandal” before moving on to self-produce independent films like “Question Everything” and “You Don’t Deserve This.” Formerly from Las Vegas.



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