In Session: Ryan Gangemi
ALBANY – As many creatives continue to hustle and bustle around the Capital Region, one filmmaker in particular seems to be constantly finding new pies to put his fingers into. Ryan Gangemi, who is really hitting his stride with his current short film, Subtle Perfection, is in the midst of displaying the piece at a variety of film festivals. Adding substantially to his unique oeuvre, Gangemi effortlessly blends his passion with a stylistic amalgamation of romance, and science-fiction that sits uneasily on a bedrock of discomfort that forces the viewer to lean in and buckle up for an exciting ride.
I had a chance to sit down with Gangemi this past week. What follows is our conversation.
Lucas Garrett: Ryan, thank you for taking time out of your day. How are you?
Ryan Gangemi: I’m doing very well, thank you. How are you doing?
LG: Doing well. Let’s start with an introduction; I’d love to learn more about you. Tell us a bit about who you are.
RG: I’m a filmmaker, a writer, and a college professor. I have made seven short films in the area. I’ve been writing – quite literally – all my life. My first play I had produced was when I was in 11th grade. So, that was 23, 24 years ago at this point.
LG: What got you started with that?
RG: Haha. This is a question I get from students a lot. I really can’t tell you. At about 3 years old, I realized I really love to tell stories. From 3 years old on, I really had this fascination with telling stories with pushing my ideas out there into the world. That’s been my big purpose since then, I guess.
LG: Like many in the art world, the pandemic changed the name of the game for the whole industry.
RG: Oh yeah.
LG: As a writer and filmmaker, how has it changed the game for you?
RG: Stuck at home during the pandemic itself, things shifted up a lot, but in a good way, strangely. I did two major things during that time. One, I got involved with local playwrights who were going online with Quarantine Theater. The other thing that happened was, because I couldn’t keep making films out and about in the world, I made an online film called Who Called the Gods? It was my first feature, but it was done as a zoom session. The concept of the film was that it was all these gods from all these different mythologies all over the world, who were getting together over Zoom to try and figure out who caused the terrible luck of 2020.
They all start blaming each other, and it was a poking, lighthearted, fun world mythologies. It was also poking fun at all the Zoom meetings we had to endure during that time. The idea was that the gods were just as screwed up as the rest of us during that time.
LG: How did you come up with that idea?
RG: My focus as a college professor has always been mythology, mostly the stories of King Arthur.
LG: I love King Arthur.
RG: I love to hear that. More than that, I had to study world religions and world mythologies. I was sitting around during the pandemic, bored out of my mind, and my wife and I were joking around about the [Zoom meetings]. I said, “Can you just see Zeus in one of these meetings?” I started building this character, and then it struck me: there’s a film here. I started contacting all my friends who knew mythology, asking, “What gods would you want to see? If you could be a fly on the wall, what gods do you want to be there for as they try to figure out the pandemic?” About a month later, I had a 70-page script, and then I put out a casting announcement and met some of the most talented people in the Capital Region. All of them had nothing to do and were desperate to act. Some of the most talented people I’ve worked with I met that way.
LG: Are you working with the 518 Film Network?
RG: I was. I have to go back to it.
LG: What is your feeling on organizations, such as that network, at the local level?
RG: I think anytime we have anything that’s local and pushing the boundaries of what we can do locally… any time we, as local filmmakers, can get together and help each other, that’s a great thing. I wouldn’t be where I am today without local filmmakers who helped me out in the beginning. I try to do the same thing for other up-and-coming filmmakers now. I think organizations like the 518 Film Network are absolutely fantastic.
LG: Do you think this area will be put on the map as far as a hub for really talented creatives?
RG: I hope so because we have so many talented people in the area. Albany, more and more, is becoming a hub for the arts. I think that we’re still developing, but with every passing year, we’re getting closer and closer to being recognized as an arts hub. Anything we can do to help each other out getting there is important.
LG: As a musician, I’ve gone through this, if you’re not from a certain region, people might think, “Oh, well, who are you?” Have you had any of that bias thrown at you?
RG: Not really. Most people have been very supportive of me. But I do know what you’re talking about because every once in a while, I’ll really have to prove myself. It’s getting to the point where people are saying, “OK, let’s give this guy a chance.” For the most part, because of the way I’ve gotten in – helping friends and stuff like that – I’ve had wonderful people saying, “Hey, give this guy a chance,” the next level up.
LG: What have you gotten done this year that you’re proud of, and what do you have on the horizon that you’re looking forward to?
RG: Right now, we have a film that’s making its way through film festivals, called Subtle Perfection. It’s the story of a brilliant young scientist who wakes up one day in the middle of her living room. She starts to have a talk with her boyfriend and [realizes] something’s not quite right, and she can’t place what. Everything around her looks exactly the way it’s supposed to, but something is wrong, and she keeps trying to figure out what has happened. It’s a little bit science-fiction; it’s a little bit romance; it’s a little bit horror. It stars two absolutely fantastic actors: Alexandra Doggette and Ryan Palmer, who really gave a masterful performance in it. We’re just getting into festivals, so I’m very excited about that one.
I’m very proud of the first film I ever did, The Second Loss. It’s about a couple struggling while the child is in the hospital because one of the parents made a mistake. What happens to a marriage when this sort of thing happens?
LG: What caused the genesis of that film?
RG: I’d just become a parent myself a little while before, and I started to think about all the different things that could happen when you’re a parent that could really throw off your marriage. Luckily, my wife and I are solid, but I have a staircase next to my desk. I started thinking, “If the baby ever crawled to the edge of those stairs, went down those stairs, and neither of us saw him, what would happen?” That’s where it came from, the existential fear of every parent that something could happen to their kid, and how you could get by it with the other person.
Right now, I’m working on editing the film we finished a few months ago, called A Most Excellent Cup of Tea, and I am beginning very early preliminary work on an adaptation of John Keats’ La Belle Dame Sans Merci. That’s my most ambitious project to date. Me and my team are trying to get it… We’d really like this one to be very professional; pull out all the stops for it.
LG: I’d like your opinion on this. A lot of local films – those not made in the Hollywood machine – often seem “heady.” For example, Elisheva Novella’s Time-Skipping. There’s a lot going on in just ten minutes.
RG: Yeah. I produced that film for her. She sent [the script] to me, I read it, and was like, “Oh, this is good! This is something that’s pushing boundaries.” One of the lovely things about local filmmakers because we’re all so hungry because we don’t have a Hollywood, we have to work a little harder to be noticed, and because of that, we’re constantly pushing boundaries. What’s something that people haven’t seen before? What’s something that’s going to challenge people? There’s a place for happy romance and fluff films – films that make you feel good. In this area, we get a lot of filmmakers, like Kyle Kleege, who really push the boundaries of what the human brain is working with.
LG: Kyle’s like David Lynch on steroids.
RG: Oh yeah.
LG: Do you think that sometimes people try to make something so unique, out there, and abstract that it might hit the audience as pretentious? Do you know what I mean?
LG: How do you walk that line without dipping into a pretentious air?
RG: Right. I think it comes down to why the person is making the work. If a person is making the work because they feel it in their heart… Elisheva, when she wrote that piece, it was apparent there was something deep inside of her that this was a story she needed to tell. On the other hand, there’re some people that are like, “Eh, what’s my next project going to be? That looks nice, I’ll go do that.” Unfortunately, I think that’s when it gets a little pretentious. The best creators are the ones that go, “I have this idea and I want to share it! Friends, come work with me on this!”
LG: Who are your favorite filmmakers of all time?
RG: From a writing standpoint, I have to go with Aaron Sorkin. Rob Reiner is in there. I used to not be a particularly huge fan of David Lynch, but getting back to Kyle Kleege, he got me hooked on him.
LG: Talk about pushing boundaries!
RG: Also, back to writing, I’d say William Goldman. His writing just… There’s a beauty to it from the writing standpoint.
LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that I may not have asked you?
RG: I’d like to hammer home the point that the great thing about making films is the collaboration of it all. We are storytellers! Film and theater are the only two art forms that are pure collaboration. There’re always egos in the arts, but when you’re working on the stage or in film, you just have to lose that, put it aside, and say, “We are a family right now, we’re working on a story that’s never been told, we’re there to communicate with the audience, and do something special.”
LG: Thank you so much for your time, Ryan!
RG: Thank you! It was good to meet you!