For Variety’s 10 Producers to Watch issue, I had the pleasure of spotlighting Mike S. Ryan, a die-hard filmmaker and cineaste who impressed me with his tenacity, intelligence and good film sense. Ryan helped bring to the screen, among others, Todd Solondz’s “Palindromes,” Phil Morrison’s “Junebug,” Ira Sach’s “Forty Shades of Blue” and Kelly Reichardt’s “Old Joy.” If you don’t believe me, listen to former Good Machine producer Ted Hope, who has seen Ryan’s career develop from location manager to one of the indie scene’s most iconoclastic creative producers:
In an email not long ago, Hope wrote to me some thoughts about Ryan and the industry that I thought worth sharing:
“Despite — or maybe because of — working in the film business, it is rare that I encounter the individual that is clearly driven by passion for film, knowledgable on a wide range of subjects, has a cultivated and constantly evolving aesthetic, and lives and breathes in accordance with principals and politics that they have fully thought out and committed to; to me all those things should be up on the PGA website as requirements for producers (but they are not), but they are all aspects of Mike Ryan.
“Mike started working with me as a location scout on Ice Storm and from the very start he showed not only a ceaseless dedication to the film, but a desire to also leap it into a great sphere. When he was a location manager on Ang Lee’s western, I remember coming to Kansas with Ang for one of the initial trips. Mike said he needed Ang for a couple of hours and we walked into his office and Mike had close to 100 videotapes cued up to show us “the political use of the landscape in the American western”. You know the guy was being held back by the position.
“In all of the things that Mike loves — and this guy has a house in the Nevada desert that he keeps his vinyl collection, and only that record collection, in — Mike is dedicated to the unique authorial voice. He will push to make sure that a film is distinct and bold and connects with an audience in a way that is all it’s own. But this comes not with the pretension that informs so many film school educated would-be theorists, but with a populist core that embraces horror/gore and mainstream crowd pleasers even more than the obscure european auteurs. Mike is known amongst his friends for his passionate diatribes in support or against some of the most popular films (and issues) of the moment, carefully articulating what makes them stand out — but may have been overlooked.
“Additionally, the guy is a work horse. And he’s training a battalion of fellow warriors hell bent on overthrowing the current trend of bland regurgitative calling card cinema that passes in this day and age for indie film. I know he’s working on a couple of projects with me, and then there are another half dozen things he has bumbling under the surface too.
“Finally, to work as an indie producer today, requires an incredible steadfast dedication in that there are no overhead deals to be had, no government support for the arts, and no patrons wishing to advance culture. Mike has developed and sourced not just writers and directors, but entire crews of people, and has had to do it frequently while on the payroll for others who have no clue or interest on what it really takes to make cinema — how fucking demoralizing is that? It would kill the average producer who only dreams of success or glory; Mike Ryan survives because his hunger is expansive well beyond such paltry dreams.”