Date of publishing: 13th
Michael Rymer is a film director and writer. He is
noted for setting the tone and direction for the entire
re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series in terms of
how the show looks on film, namely due to his direction
of both the Miniseries and various episodes for the
series itself. Rymer was born in Melbourne, Australia,
but completed his studies in film at the University
of Southern California, where his abilities in writing,
producing and directing short films earned him the
Warner Communications Scholarship for Directing in
1987. Following this, he wrote two plays, Darkness
at Noon and Ensenada before he returned to Australia
to work on a number of films, initially as a production
co-ordinator and as a writer. He made his directorial
debut in 1995's "Angel Baby", which premiered
at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival, and won
a total of seven Australian Film Institute Awards
including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Rymer also won the Australian Film Critics Circle
Award for Best Director, and the Writers' Guild of
America award for Best Original Screenplay. In 1997,
he returned to the United States, where he wrote and
directed "Allie and Me", following it up
with two directorial stints with "In Too Deep"
(1999) and the less-than-stellar "Purfume"
(2001), described as an improvisational film. In 2002
he helmed "Queen of the Damned", the sequel
to 1994's "Interview with the Vampire" before
taking the director's chair for the pilot episode
of UPN's television series, "Haunted". From
here he moved onto the 2003 Battlestar Galactica production.
Biography from: Battlestar
This interview has been done in collaboration with
a young film maker, Brandon Smith for The Scifi World.
Brandon Smith: When
you were a kid, did you work on any projects independently
before you entered the industry professionally?
Michael Rymer: When I was 12, I decided
I wanted to be a writer. My great passion was movies,
so it seemed like "Film critic" seemed like
the perfect idea. My friends and I joined a hobby
class in school called Film Criticism but it turned
out to be a misnomer when the teacher, Mr. Walton,
showed up with a super 8 camera and some cartridges
of film. At first we were very disdainful "We
don't want to make films, we want to watch them!"
But Mr. Walton told us "too bad".
Several weeks later, I had my first horror movie "The
Fantom of the Shrine" in the can, and I had the
Smith: Did you ever
have to work as an unpaid intern? If so, what position,
and how did it help you? If not, would you recommend
Michael Rymer: I was so desperate
to be near a film set, I interned on every student
project that would have me - I was an undergrad at
USC. After film school I survived while I was writing
screenplays by working on Rock Videos and Commercials
as a PA, and as a script reader. Both were low paying
gigs but invaluable experiences. So I'd say hang around
sets as much as you can - its all valuable.
Brandon Smith: What
would you say is the smartest move after you graduate
from college? Find an agent? Freelance? Unpaid internship?
Or something else?
Michael Rymer: I was in filmschool
when "Sex, Lies and Videotape" came out
and that was an epiphany for me - that a filmmaker
could achieve a huge effect with a good script and
a few actors. So I went and studied acting for two
years - which was the best thing I ever did for my
training as a director. It's easy to make cool shots.
It's much harder to know how to talk to actors to
bring the most out of them.
Brandon Smith: Would
you say that to someone that wants to be a director
also needs to be good at writing their own stories?
Michael Rymer: There is a very simple
way to get a career as a director: write a screenplay
that's so exceptional, they have to let you direct
it. That's what I did with "Angel Baby"
- but it took me a dozen attempts before "good"
or "very good" became "exceptional".
There is no better way and like dealing with actors,
it's much easier dealing with writers when you've
written yourself and understand the process. The broader
question I'd ask a young filmmaker is "Why?
Why should anyone give you money to make your film?
Do you have something to say? Stories to tell?"
If you don't know yet, figure it out now.
Brandon Smith: What
would you tell young people who want to be filmmakers
but are discouraged because of the high competition
market and/or low/no paid jobs.
Michael Rymer: That's a tough question
because its always changing - my most personal bit
of advice is make films - particularly now with the
high quality of video cameras. Don't wait for someone
to give you permission to do what you love. Oh and
by the way, make sure you love films and filmmaking
enough to deal with years of rejection and frustration
because, no matter who you are or where you are in
your career, that will be a constant for the rest
of your life. My other trick was being completely
useless at everything else - I had no other choice.
Smith: What process
did you go through in getting noticed in the industry?
Michael Rymer: I made a student film
that got me an agent but it didn't get me a job. So
I had to start writing - as I said above, I wrote
a dozen screenplays before producers were competing
to option my screenplay.
Brandon Smith: Why
did you choose USC to study filmmaking? Why not something
like the New York Film Academy, or a digital arts
Michael Rymer: I didn't know any
better. I was supposed to be a lawyer or a doctor,
so at least I could get a degree at USC to keep my
family from freaking out. I think NYU, UCLA or AFI
would have been fine. I don't know about the other
programs - I think the truism to remember about all
education is that its as much about the quality of
your peers as much as the teachers or program
Brandon Smith: What
do you think sets you apart from other directors?
Michael Rymer: I have a strong visual
style and sense but I think lots of directors do -
I think young filmmakers tend to overrate the importance
of cool images and shots. Yes, filmmaking is a visual
medium, but first it's about storytelling. I'm a big
believer in "seeing" and "being present"
on set - because all the planning in the world would
mean the result will be what you were expecting. So
you have to really see what's happening and use it
and work with it, in the moment as it's happening.
I studied acting very seriously, so I consider myself
very good at helping actors create truthful and real
behaviour. My particular forte is with improvisation
- I've done a couple of movies with no screenplays
- so when things aren't working - when there's a crisis
that needs to be solved on the spot - I'm in my element
and I can help magic happen.
Brandon Smith: How
did you find out about the Warner Communications scholarship
you received back at USC?
Michael Rymer: Very undramatic -
I was on a list on a pinboard .
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