EDITOR’S NOTE: Every day for the next month, indieWIRE will be republishing profiles and interviews from the past ten years (in their original, retro format) with some of the people that have defined independent cinema in the first decade of this century. Today, we’ll step back to 2006 with an interview indieWIRE had with Ryan Fleck upon the Sundance premiere of “Half Nelson.”
PARK CITY ’06 INTERVIEW | Ryan Fleck on “Half Nelson”
Ryan Fleck directed “Half Nelson,” screening in the Independent Film Competition: Dramatic section at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. He has made several films with Anna Boden, with whom he cowrote this film. This is his third appearance at Sundance. In 2004, Fleck’s “Gowanus, Brooklyn” tied with another film for the Grand Jury Prize in Short Filmmaking. “Half Nelson” is a feature-length adaptation of “Gowanus, Brooklyn,” about a white inner-city schoolteacher who forms an unlikely friendship with the student who discovers his drug addiction.
Where are you from, and what did you do before becoming a filmmaker?
I was born in Berkeley, California, in 1976, and grew up in and around Oakland and the Bay Area. I moved to New York City in 1997 as an undergraduate transfer student at NYU. Currently, [I am] living in Brooklyn with partner Anna Boden (writer/producer/editor of “Half Nelson”). After graduating college in 1999, I worked a variety of jobs around town: sold Backstreet Boys merchandise to teenage girls over the phone for Jive Records, edited commercial directors’ reels, “Entertainment Tonight” production assistant, writer for instructional “Safe Sex” videos. Working part-time and freelance jobs allowed us the time to shoot and edit our own short films (“Struggle,” “Have You Seen This Man,” “Gowanus, Brooklyn”) in our spare time.
Where did the initial idea for your film come from?
Not exactly sure. I think it came out of a frustration with wanting to change the world but not having any idea where to start.
What are your biggest creative influences?
My family, Hal Ashby, Frederick Wiseman, Howard Zinn, Gus Van Sant, the Andersons, the Bushes, the UC Theater in Berkeley (before they tore it down), John Lennon, Broken Social Scene, Brooklyn and Anna Boden.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
Allowing other people into our process. Anna and I were accustomed to doing most aspects of filmmaking on our own. We had to learn to let other people do their jobs, which they usually knew how to do better than us anyway.
Tell us about the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance?
Anna and I were visiting my mom in Alabama. Trevor Groth called to let us know. It was a great Thanksgiving.
What do you hope to get out of the festival, and what are your own goals for the experience?
I just want to have a good time, meet other filmmakers and hopefully be in a position to make another film with Anna when it’s all over.
What are a few other films you’re hoping to see at Sundance?
All the documentaries. They look so good, and I love docs!
If you were given $10 million to be used for moviemaking, how would you spend it?
Film stock, music and time. It may never happen, but I’d love to make a movie and not be rushed or concerned about shooting too much film. Probably a fantasy, but it would be nice. It would also be cool to fill a movie with all my favorite songs, but music is so damn expensive. We can’t all be Cameron Crowe.
What are some of your favorite films? What is your top ten list for 2005?
I’m a sucker for movies about uncommon friendships: “Midnight Cowboy,” “Harold and Maude,” “Scarecrow,” “The Last Detail,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “Jules and Jim,” “Rushmore,” “Stand by Me.” Best of 2005: “Last Days,” “Grizzly Man,” “Down to the Bone,” “Darwin’s Nightmare,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Keane,” “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” “Hustle and Flow,” “9 Songs,” “Lords of Dogtown.”
What are one or two of your New Year’s resolutions?
If you took President Bush’s job, who would you hire/fire?
Fire John Bolton and replace him with my dad.