EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE ART OF SNUFF — THE SHANE RYAN INTERVIEW PART ONE

Amateur Porn Star Killer (APSK) may be the film that puts director/writer/actor Shane Ryan on the map … but not for good reasons. It is a disturbing movie about a young man (Ryan) who picks up a girl (Michiko Jimenez) and takes her back to his hotel room where he has sex with her (not exactly with her consent) before killing her. Oh yeah, she’s thirteen, and he films the entire thing for his sick pleasure. Picture Ted Bundy with a camera, and you get a pretty good idea of what you’re going to see. In order to gain some insight into the movie, I decided to interview the man responsible for it. This is Ryan’s first “big” interview, but I doubt it’s his last.
The first thing you notice about Ryan is how young he looks. He’s twenty-five, but looks like he could be fifteen, and he has the kind of face that mothers love. In fact, he was a Mother’s Boy in an episode of Fox’s “Arrested Development.” (You’d have to see the show to understand that.) So how did this boy next door turn into a snuff film director? As usual, it starts with the movies.
When Ryan was nineteen he saw a film that changed his life. It was Tim Roth’s “The War Zone.” Ryan, who was a fitness director at the time, says that Roth’s film made him return to making movies after taking a four year hiatus from directing. The movie he started working on didn’t go as he planned, so he dropped it and ended up acting in other people’s short films and taking some film classes instead. That was all he needed to fully get back into the game, and soon he shot two feature mockumentaries (which are still in pre-production) and a gaggle of short films, some of which I reviewed for Film Threat.
I’ve given Ryan’s previous films mixed reviews, but I always found them to be entertaining. With his So, We Killed Our Parents, a dark look into child abuse, incest and murder, I realized the man was onto something. Then I saw APSK and was stunned, to say the least.
According to Ryan, the idea for APSK came from a variety of places. “I was seeing this girl,” he explains. “We were working on an idea about a porn star that she could play. Our little affair ended quickly, and while I was still interested in doing the film, [the idea for the movie] faded away and shortly after that I was working on ‘Isolation’.” That was years ago, though.
So what happened that brought the porn film back into Ryan’s mind?
“A few years go by,” Ryan says, “and I still haven’t made a feature, and my life suddenly starts declining. I feel like I’m sinking into a black hole that I’ll never come out of. First, the girl next door I grew up with was killed by a drunk driver. Within weeks, my grandmother, who I had lived with my entire life, had a stroke and went into a [vegetative] state. During her final week, as I watched her die, I became very ill and had to spend half of that week being rushed to the doctor’s myself. I could hardly walk, let alone be there for her.” Ryan’s grandmother died, and he couldn’t get the vision of her corpse out of his head.
“After all these movies about death you’d think it would be easy,” he says, “but when the first dead body you see in your life is also the most important person in your life, it really starts to play mind fuck games with you. All I could think about was how I cuddled up onto the bed, hugging her like I did when I was a kid. And no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get her eyes shut or mouth closed.”
To add to the stress, the worst week of Ryan’s life was also the last week of shooting on a film he was doing called “Guerilla Filmmaker 86.” He didn’t finish that film, either, and a few months later his fiance of three years left him because he spent more time working on his films than he did being with her. “Within a few weeks,” Ryan continues, “she gets knocked up by some guy who goes directly to prison. Around the same time my best friend suddenly gets married, has a kid, and picks up and moves to Texas. And to top everything off, I was completely broke and in debt. So, that said, I really felt like I had nothing left. I was all alone, partly because of my fucking movies. And now I wasn’t even going to ever get to make a completed feature film.”
Fortunately, Ryan’s desperation gave birth to his best film to date. “I decided the hell with it!” Ryan exclaims. “I’m going to make a feature, and I’m going to do it right fucking now! Now, what the hell can I shoot in one weekend and edit within a week, given I have no money except for what’s in my wallet? I recalled my original idea of a porn star and then thought about one of my favorite films, 8MM.”
“8MM,” for those who haven’t seen it, is about a detective (Nicolas Cage) who is investigating a snuff film. “I always wondered,” Ryan says, “what if that snuff film he came across was a whole movie? I [wanted] to explore a whole [film] on that girl — her reaction changing over the course of the feature. She probably would start off kinda clueless and unaware, then maybe get a little duped into this ‘you’re gonna be a star’ bullshit until she eventually realizes, ‘I’m in a really fucked up situation that I might not live through’.” Ryan’s film captures those reactions extremely well. So much so, in fact, that it is painful to watch.
Another reason the film is so hard to sit through is due to the realistic dialogue. I wondered if that were something Ryan had scripted, or if it were improvised.
“Everything with the thirteen-year-old victim,” Ryan answers, “was made up on the spot. I told her [what it was about] before we shot it, showed her the motel room and briefly walked her through the major things that would need to happen at certain points, and what direction to take. But other than that, all the dialogue was improvised. We only did one take from beginning to end. It was one long shot (which is what I was originally going for), but I felt it was too long (I think about ninety-five minutes), so I edited it down to seventy-one minutes. The only stuff I really cut out was some of the sex with Michiko because I thought the rest of the movie — her reactions to everything — was more important.” That’s not the only thing you don’t get to see, but we’ll come to that later. What I wanted to know about was Jimenez.
Jimenez had been in two of Ryan’s other films (The Cold Heat and “The More The Better”) before starring in APSK. “In ‘The Cold Heat’ she plays a girl who does nothing but fuck a lot and then kill,” Ryan says. “And in ‘The More The Better’ she plays a shy, fifteen-year-old girl who is losing her virginity to an older woman. These two movies actually let me know what she was capable of. In ‘The More The Better,’ a feature, she had to improvise everything and pulled off this shy, scared little girl thing quite well. But in ‘The Cold Heat,’ which had only a few lines but [was entirely scripted], she had a bit of a problem, creating a lot of editing work. She is not an actor, and what I’ve learned with actors and non-actors is that sometimes, at least in my case, it’s easier for non-actors to improvise.”
Jimenez, who was nowhere to be found for this interview (thus adding to the film’s mystique), pulled off the role quite well. Her reactions to the situation really got under my skin, and I found myself feeling the same type of dread that I experienced while watching “I Stand Alone.” I asked Ryan if he meant for his film to just disturb people, or if there were a deeper meaning to it.
“I think it’s both,” Ryan explains. “At least nine times out of ten when I go to make a film it’s an expression I have on something, always giving it a deeper meaning in my eyes. Once in a great while I’ll make a film just for fun. Usually I’m trying to convey something I feel is important, or something that has been disturbing me that I want to talk about. Most things that I’m disturbed by happen because people don’t want to talk [about them], so finally I talk about them in my films, but then it disturbs people. Go figure. Honestly, I do probably try to push the envelope with some of these subjects, because the more I push, the more I get it off my chest.”
He pushed hard with this film. Some people may say he pushed too hard. Ryan dismisses that, though. “I’ve been exposed to plenty of sick worlds, and so I guess I may have been trying to combine all those worlds. I’m sure there’s snuff films out there of girls this young or even younger. There are thousands of cases of murder, child pornography and rape every day, so I don’t see how one of these real APSK movies doesn’t exist. The thing is, if one does exist you’re never going to see it because if you do come across one and actually watch it, you’re practically as evil-spirited and perverted as the person who filmed it.” So why make a movie like this if you feel people who would want to see that sort of thing are “evil-spirited”?
“I wanted to get inside the head of the victim and learn about her,” Ryan answers. “How did she end up here? How did she react to everything? Is there a lesson here to be learned so other girls are not victims?”
It’s a reasonable explanation, and it’s also something most people don’t think about. One thing that isn’t so mysterious is the critical reaction to the film. In part two of this interview, Ryan will talk about that as well as flirting with a nervous breakdown while filming the movie that one person said should land the director in prison.

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Posted on January 12, 2006 in Features by
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