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deadCenter 2020: OKG talks with the director of Robot Riot

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Brittany Pickering: Today, we’re talking with Ryan Scott, whose film Robot Riot is part of deadCenter Film Festival this year. Hi! How are you?

Ryan Scott: Hey! Doing well.

Pickering: So, will you give us a little idea of what the film is about?

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. The film is entitled Robot Riot, and basically, it takes place in a small town that gets taken over by giant robots. And so these soldiers have been dropped into a testing community, a small town that was once where domicile robots were. And they were helpful and they were kind and they would do things around town, and then over time, they started becoming more self-aware and became kind of evil and started taking over until eventually, a very evil general loses control of them. And so yeah, that's kind of the gist of it, sort of a man versus machine concept. So, yes.

Pickering: What gave you the idea for the screenplay and the film and, like, what kind of sparked it?

Scott: You know, it's really good idea, a really good question. You know, I don't know. I don't really know what it was. I know that we want to make some kind of a creature feature. We wanted to do something involving some very heavy visual effects, something that involved a lot of all kinds of effects, as many as you can cram into a movie. And we just really wanted to test the limits of what's possible on this level of filmmaking, and so it's a very ambitious idea. I actually didn't write the first draft. It was a concept that came to me and sort of said, “Here's our idea. What do you think about it?” and I thought, “I don't know. It may be possible. I'm not sure.” So what we, what we, the first group that was sent to me, was just way too much. I mean there was way too many. It was unrealistic. I mean it was 90 minutes of, you know, people running from robots and fight scene after fight scene after fight scene. And that doesn't make for a plot line. There's no ... it's not a good plot. So I took it, and also, it didn't match our budget. I mean, there was no way we could pull off with what we had to be able to make a movie like that. So I took it from there, took that script and then kind of pared it down to something that was a little more realistic and more conceivable for all of us to do. Yeah, and then we went with that script, so it wasn't fully my concept, but we felt like it could make some money, and that's kind of my objective lately. You know, I’ve made, this will be my third feature and I can keep, I can keep making movies that just kind of sit there, or I can figure out how to make money making movies.

Pickering: Yeah.

Scott: So that was kind of what this one was for, was to kind of see okay, “What are audiences wanting? What will sell? What will make money?” And so that's kind of what Robot Riot was intended to do. So we'll see. We'll see how it does, and hopefully it makes money and we can make another one.

Pickering: Yeah, creature feature-type things with, maybe not so far like sci-fi, but, like, you know, there's a weird thing happening; that seems to be the thing that's drawing audiences right now.

Scott: Yeah. Yeah, right now for sure. That's certainly the case. So we're gonna … yeah I'm all about it. I think it's really fun. I mean, there wasn't as much of a … I don’t know … There was elements of it that I didn't love, but I was able to kind of apply some of my own creativity to it and find places of it that I wanted to make more fun and exciting. So in the end, I'm really proud of it and I think it looks really good, and especially when you consider our budget, especially when you consider the challenges we were dealt. It looks amazing!

Pickering: Yeah, the trailer really looks like, like it could be in your backyard kind of.

Scott: Exactly.

Pickering: Which makes it even scarier because it’s got like robots and and we're creating these things that maybe could turn on us at some point.

Scott: Yes.

Pickering: And it ... it's real.

Scott: Yes, exactly.

Pickering: How much of it, because it's kind of a crossover film where you have the sci-fi element of the robots and the, you know, we’ve woken up and we don't know what's going on and all of that and then, but it's really like an action movie as well. How much of that did you have to balance to kind of make it not go more in one way or the other so that it was cohesive and not, like, difficult, kind of, to watch.

Scott: Yeah. No, that’s a good question. Yeah, so when I wrote the script I was given the task of saying, “Okay, something needs to happen every 7 minutes.” That's what I want to see. I want to see something happening every 7 minutes. So that's a real challenge and not just something, you can't just be like they go somewhere or they do something. It has to actually be, we need to see a robot. We need to see somebody getting shot, we need to see somebody getting killed every seven minutes. So the idea was to make sure that the pace of that thing was moving quick, that it wasn't just, you know, we weren’t just a whole bunch of heavy dialogue scenes, a whole bunch of heavy exposition, where there's a lot of description about what's going on. Those types of things are just boring.

So the goal was to make this as entertaining of a movie as possible so that from putting it in from start to finish, there's not lulls, there's not moments where you're bored and you're sitting there wanting it to be done, but that it was constantly bringing you back into the next thing. So my whole concept of screenwriting is just complication; it's all about complication. So it's all about one of them has to lead to another, which complicates another, which complicates another, which complicates another. That's why, you know, 90 minutes of robots running, people running from robots is not entertaining because there's no complication. There's maybe one complication there, but what should happen is events should bump into each other and cause other problems and cause other problems, and that's what makes it engaging to watch.

So I don't know it's a delicate balance between the sci-fi genre and action genre; I mean, they're pretty similar and they're pretty close and I don't think that they’re mutually exclusive. I think they can cross over pretty easily. So yeah we knew we wanted to have, like, big weaponry in it and a lot of guns like blasters and lasers and things that are, you know, zapping and all kinds of stuff. So that part was really fun, to just, like, really go out and make all these random props. It was me and my friend Mark Siems, we were basically just he and I in a very hot garage in August of 2018 making all of these guns, as many as we could possibly ... using, like, nerf guns and pieces from thrift stores and little, we wanted to make little EMP bombs and all kinds of technology that you could imagine in this world that we call Mechwood. So, yeah.

Pickering: Yeah, it sounds a little more DIY than I thought.

Scott: Yeah.

Pickering: The trailer really looks like a blockbuster, like big-budget blockbuster kind of thing, and you know, you guys are in a garage building these things.

Scott: Yes, well, I appreciate that. That was the goal to make it look as big as we could. So, yeah, it was definitely very DIY at times, for sure. That's kind of my MO anyways, always pretty DIY.

Pickering: I think it turns out better that way because you kind of have your hand in everything and nothing gets away from you.

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, and I had to sort of have my fingers on everything. At this level, that's not out of wanting it to be that way.

Pickering: Yeah.

Scott: At this level, it's about having to do that. Sometimes I was the only one, you know, who could make the gun. So it was like, “Okay, I have to do this,” so we just kind of make things happen and just, yeah, the wardrobe, I mean, we, me and Mark made the wardrobe. Yeah, I mean, just from top down, there was some equipment that we had to kind of rig out. I mean, there was all kinds of things.

Pickering: Wow, yeah! And I bet when you're making an action movie, it's all very technical and you have to make sure you're being safe and all of that stuff too.

Scott: Ugh, yes.

Pickering: And then on top of it...

Scott: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, fortunately, it was a SAG film, so we had a SAG representative there to keep an eye on the actors and making sure things were okay. And that guy was awesome! His name’s Ray Barrow. He's incredible. Super helpful guy. And I thought he was gonna be in the way, and he wasn't at all. He was actually, like, really helpful. So all of this to say, I mean, yeah, there's definitely things like that that we need to be wary of and not hurting our actions. Ryan Merriman was awesome to work with. I mean, he was one of the, he was an amazing actor to be, just outstanding guy all the way around. I mean, I would work with him no, hands down again, no problem, and I'm not just saying that because it's the right thing to say but because I really would. We were throwing concrete at him, and he was getting concrete all over. I mean we had concrete, and just so dirty. I mean, we had him through like the worst situations and he was a trooper through it. I mean, we shot it out in Maud, Oklahoma, which was out past Shawnee…

Pickering: Yeah!

Scott: A tiny little town, and those people were amazing to work with. I kind of drove around Oklahoma trying to find places to shoot in and just rolled into Maud one day and I thought, “This looks like it could work,” I mean it's pretty well, like we had some buildings that were being demolished and a few stores that were kind of boarded up, and I thought, “Okay, this looks like something out of The Walking Dead.” Walked right up to the city hall and asked them there and said, “Can I shoot a movie here?” and they said, “Well, you have to talk to the mayor and the city council.” And so I talked to these folks, and they were all about it and they were awesome. I’d shoot in Maud again anytime. It was just easy to work with, and they had so many good locations. They had an old, abandoned church. I mean, they had all kinds of good stuff. So Maud was awesome. Good people.

Pickering: Yeah, there's a lot of space out there too.

Scott: Yeah.

Pickering: If you need to do something, you do could.

Scott: Right! And that was one of the problems too, is that we had to find an area big enough to hold giant robots. You know, one transformer size, massive huge robots that were tromping down the street. So it was like well that has to be, we have to literally have, like, an open-air area that we could do this, and so, yeah, Maud was super accommodating to take us.

Pickering: That's great! Did you guys build working robots?

Scott: Parts of it. So there, we would build practical elements, so pieces of a robot that might be in the foreground. So we might build, like, part of an arm or, you know, part of a foot of a robot for — certain pieces were real that we could put in the foreground that were kind of blurry, that could sell that could work. But obviously, like in a big, wide shot when you're seeing a giant robot, no; there's no way. I wish we could’ve! That would have been amazing! But just the practicality of getting something like that out there was just no way.

Pickering: Yeah.

Scott: Impossible.

Pickering: It would be kind of a big coincidence you're like, “Yeah, my buddy builds robots and…”

Scott: Although there is one in Stillwater. There's a tire shop, like a mechanic shop of a guy who built a giant Transformer and it's 35, 40 feet high.

Pickering: Oh my goodness! I’ve never heard about this!

Scott: Yes. It's real, and I drove my sons out there, my 5-year-old and my 3-year-old, to go see it, and they were just, like, blown away because it's a real Transformer, like the actual.

Pickering: Yeah!

Scott: Right there in Stillwater.

Pickering: Yeah, that's amazing. Well, I ... that was all the questions I had right now. How do you feel about the film festival going online? Is that … was that? It’s a big deal and it's a major thing, and I know that they kind of, they had to scramble to make it happen.

Scott: Yeah, I mean … I mean, obviously there's a disappointment there because there's something about the live effect of all the, of the theater experience that's just so great.

Pickering: Yeah.

Scott: And it’s kind of already dying, unfortunately, in this industry, theaters are kind of going, like, the way of bowling or something where it's going to be something you kind of might do every now and then but not all the time. So I'm anticipating, I'm excited for the festival to get back to doing it in person. I think there's an element that's lost there, but I do appreciate so much deadCenter’s efforts to try and make some semblance of what looks like a festival this year. I think it's an awesome idea. I think we might as well. And doing online might be a whole new set of eyes that maybe wouldn’t have watched it before. You never know. It might open up all kinds of new doors for people that maybe wouldn’t have come to a festival or — who knows — might be interested in making a movie after watching these online. So you never know, you never know what this could result in, but I appreciate deadCenter’s efforts to make it work this year, because it’s a weird year. That's for sure.

Pickering: Yeah, it’s a strange time that we're living in. I know that, that I’m kind of a homebody kind of person, and I do like going to the theater. I usually go by myself, and I usually go in the middle of the day so it’s mostly empty. I don't go that often, though, because it's kind of expensive. But EMMA. came out, and they were streaming it; you can stream it on iTunes. So you could, like, rent it kind of. And I paid $20 to rent it at home, and I don't know that you could have gotten me to go to a theater and pay $20 per ticket. But, I mean, this might be a way that, that we were all kind of pushed to evolve faster.

Scott: Yeah.

Pickering: And it might be a good kind of thing.

Scott: Yeah, you never know where it could lead.

Pickering: Is there anything you wanna talk about that I didn't ask about?

Scott: No. I mean, I'm just excited for filmmaking in Oklahoma. I'm excited to be a part of a production like this and how many people that were involved was just amazing and … Oklahoma, I couldn’t be more proud of this state and the films that are being made here, and this is just a little picture of kind of what's possible if we all can kind of keep grinding with these films that are being put out in Oklahoma. And they're, getting better and better and better and better, and it's just fun to watch it grow. You know, I've been around this film community now for, like, almost 15 years, and just to see the new faces that have come up. And there’s kind of a generation now behind me that's coming in that's really talented. So it's just awesome to see all of the talent starting to grow up around here and get legit good.

So I'm excited about it. I've got all kinds of other concepts that I want to do now, all kinds of other ideas that come up, a couple new scripts that I’m tinkering on. So hopefully I can get those done. We'll see. Yeah, I just appreciate you interviewing me and taking the time to give a story like this, especially in today's current climate and the way things are. You know, our little movie’s such a small thing compared to everything that's going on in the world and how much my heart goes out to people affected by corona and the people involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. I just want to put my full support behind them and make their voices even louder because they deserve to be heard. So I appreciate you giving us a chance to even talk about it.

Pickering: We love supporting local filmmakers and local artists and stuff. That's our jam.

Scott: Well, we appreciate it because I know there's a lot of other needs to cover. But maybe our little movies will, you know, bring some reprieve from people and some entertainment for people and some hope and some excitement for what their lives are like. So we appreciate you guys doing this.

Pickering: Yeah, yeah. I think it'll be good.

Scott: Yes!

Pickering: It’s a good escape from everything in the real world.

Scott: Yes, exactly. It’ll be good to watch some robots shoot some people for a while.

Visit deadcenterfilm.org.

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