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An Interview with Ryan Graff, Director of Black Moon

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2019

Films directed by Ryan Graff on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Black Moon - in a few words, what's it about?

 

Black Moon is about a lunar event that opens a gateway to a supernatural world. In this film the supernatural occurs in a pedestrian tunnel, but the gateway created on the night of a black moon can extend anywhere.

 

Black Moon has a very "urban legend" vibe to it - so is it based on any existing urban legend(s)? And other sources of inspiration when dreaming up Black Moon?

 

Black Moon is not based on any existing “urban legend” but a new one all its own and my hope is that this is just the beginning. The inspiration for Black Moon was primarily three parts, the location itself which started the whole thing, nightmares from childhood, and the actual lunar event called a black moon.

 

What can you tell us about Black Moon's screenwriter Daniel Shafer, and what was your collaboration like?

 

I met Dan on the Netflix film XOXO, he was working as a producer, while I was on as the production sound mixer. We got to know each other and I saw that he had such an enthusiasm for filmmaking I knew I wanted to work with him, so I pitched him the idea I had for Black Moon and he loved it. Dan was very supportive of my vision for the film from the beginning, and understood I was going for something different both as the screenwriter and as a producer. What was so great about working with Dan was his ability to capture the tone and even the pacing through the script in a film with almost no dialogue. Scripts can be a funny beast where you don't want to over-describe and get a novel feel nor do you want a bland functional description that lacks any interest. Dan was able to deliver that balance, which made the whole process creatively more cohesive as everyone had a really unified understanding of how this film should feel right from the get go.

 

Black Moon is intentionally rather skeletal in its plot - so could you elaborate on this narrative approach for a bit? And did you as a filmmaker have a more detailed backstory in your mind while filming?

 

I'm a very functional person by nature. Initially I was just looking to build out a plot based on this idea of being trapped in this pedestrian tunnel that I had passed driving home one night. From there it was, who is this person, what happens next, how did they get in there, etc. The approach was built around what was important to empathizing with her situation which first drew me to make the film and not run away with details that would over complicate it. Knowing that I was going for a character based experience made keeping the plot simple almost a necessity. If it wasn't something my character could see, and keep the flow of the story moving, then I didn't want it in the film.

 

Do talk about Black Moon's approach to horror!

 

For me it is creating a strong, singular perspective that immerses the audience completely into a world through a protagonist. The events themselves are unsettling and even frightening but we experience them through Fabienne's performance and to me its so effective because we are locked in with her. It's simple, primal, and authentic which keeps your mind from checking out as though what you are seeing isn't real.

 

Black Moon has been shot in one single location, a pedestrian tunnle - so what was it like filming there, and being bound to just one location, how limiting but maybe also liberating was this to you as a filmmaker?

 

It was actually completely liberating. The visual appeal of the tunnel is what started the whole idea and using the available lighting in the tunnel meant we had the choice to move unhindered. Blocking, both camera and actors, is one of my favorite things as a director and in this film with so much going on, even if unseen, gave us incredible freedom to keep the film very dynamic. There was certainly the fear of running into duplicating the same shot over and over, but I never remember running into that issue.

 

What can you tell us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

I wanted to create a strong connection between the main character and the audience as well as a grounded realism to the film. I kept the shots as intimate as possible, giving space where necessary but always within what she was experiencing. I also avoided anything abstract that would suggest more of a feeling versus the reality. For example, almost everyone I spoke to about the film before shooting assumed there would be a dolly-zoom “Vertigo” shot, but this was the sort of abstract cinematography that would work against the realism I was going for. This put the burden of expressing those feelings squarely on the shoulders of Fabienne but she did a tremendous job and it was a gamble that paid off.

 

Do talk about Black Moon's key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

I was really looking for authenticity and charisma. I needed genuine people to make the film believable and the characters being the focus throughout, even doing very little, needed to pull in the audience. I felt really fortunate to work with a cast that did so well with both of these things.

When I met Fabienne Tournet for her callback we were in a black box theater in Hollywood and I had her up on stage with me going through different parts of the script. I was filming handheld with her sometimes running in circles pretending it was the tunnel. What was so amazing is even then just going through it a first time the moments I was getting felt so candid. It felt like a real person and not a performance which of course she duplicated during filming and is one of the main reasons the film works.

Jamie Timmons I had met previously, twice actually, while I was working as a sound mixer and she immediately caught my eye. She is just one of those rare people with a presence that draws attention, but is also totally invested as an actor in whatever she is doing. I'm genuinely stumped trying to find a way to express how good she was. You don't get to see much of her in the film, but she handled the stark differences required by the character amazingly well.

Brett Del Buono came from working on XOXO with Daniel Shafer. When working on the script I think I mentioned him to Dan as a possibility and immediately Dan lit up. Brett was just lovable and genuine, on and off screen, and we really couldn't have picked someone better.

 

A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

Everyone really went the extra mile to make this film what it is and that goes way beyond on-set and into both preproduction and post. It was a low budget film, but we cobbled together some very talented people and I am very grateful for all their help. I wasn't really aware at the time but my 1st AD Colin O'Rourke and my producers Julian Malagon and Daniel Shafer did a wonderful job insulating me from distractions or problems so I could focus on directing the film while on-set. Not to say there were any major issues but that their efforts made my work so much stronger.

 

The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?

 

Black Moon is beginning its festival run. I can't make any specific announcements at this time, but you can follow the Facebook or Instagram @BlackMoonShort for upcoming announcements.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Black Moon yet?

 

The critical reception thus far has been incredibly positive, we share all articles on our social media. I have of course shown privately to a select few who have also been very flattering in their praise, but I am eager to premiere and get an audience reaction.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

There is a great deal of tinkering and development in the works and I do hope to have something soon but nothing to announce just yet. I'd very much like to see where Black Moon leads.

 

What got you into making movies in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I've always loved movies, that was pretty much ingrained in me from my mother who was inspired to come to Los Angeles after the release of Star Wars in 1977 and although she didn't follow through in getting into film, the bug was ever present growing up and got passed on to me. Directing specifically started in high school around 2002 with directing theater. I attempted one film and unfortunately none of us knew what we were doing so that was terrible and was never completed. It wasn't until 2007 that my then girlfriend/now wife suggested I give it another try, that I started getting into the industry. I intended to direct but never took any formal classes in the subject, but I began learning other trades leading to my becoming a production sound mixer.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Black Moon?

 

Black Moon was the first film I ever directed, but I have done a few competition shorts after it was shot and while it was going through post production.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

I really feel it is too early to tell. I have my own sense of what I find intriguing and entertaining, but how I go about creating it on the screen is still very instinctual. I'm very keen on function over form, where I'm motivated in my storytelling by the effectiveness of a choice over pure spectacle.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

There are certainly many directors I admire but I wouldn't say I have been inspired specifically by any of them. Among those who I have appreciated over the years would be Steven Spielberg of course, Ridley Scott, Guillermo del Toro, Gareth Edwards, Akira Kurosawa, the Russo Brothers, and so many more. What I could say inspires me about all these filmmakers is how they approach characters. Each one does it their own way for the most part, but they find a way to make their characters relatable and really connect the audience.

 

Your favorite movies?

 

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I've never been good at narrowing down my favorite films, even my top 10 list is about 200 movies long. Star Wars will always and forever hold a special place in my heart so that would have to be number one. After that it is a million ties for 2nd place. I can certainly say within the horror genre Alien holds first place for me. Lawrence of Arabia, Pan's Labyrinth, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade which only slightly edges out Raiders of the Lost Ark for me because of the father/son character dynamic, Arsenic and Old Lace, on and on it goes. They are all favorites to me, and I couldn't ever rank them.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

Bump into me at a film festival, have a drink with me, and I'll tell you all about it

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Follow us on Facebook & Instagram - @BlackMoonShort

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

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