Interview with Director Ryan Graff

Horror film Black Moon by director Ryan Graff just completed production in Los Angeles and is ready to hit the international film festival circuit this summer. The dark and spine-chilling short tells the story of rare occasions when there are two new moons in the same month; the second is known as a black moon. The next black moon is happening this upcoming July 31st in the United-States and on August 30th in Canada and the Eastern part of the World.

These irregular events cause supernatural occurrences that are hidden in plain sight. In this case, a pedestrian tunnel lures a young mother inside with the whimpering of a young girl. Once inside, she is unable to leave again, and to make matters worse, there is something else in the tunnel with her.


Photo: Leonidas Jaramillo

Q&A with the director

What inspires you as a filmmaker?

While growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was introduced to movies like Star Wars, Alien/Aliens, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones trilogy, Terminator, and many more, which were the films that shaped my perception of storytelling. I loved that they took concepts that seemed absurd and fantastical and made them feel authentic and believable. As the years have gone on, I feel the appreciation for the effort it took to give validity to things we now take for granted has waned and the effort to tell good meaningful stories in worlds that don’t exist isn’t a priority anymore. For me that is the essence of storytelling, to entertain sure, but to take your audience to an imaginary place and commit to it being real. It really doesn’t matter to me if its a book, film, or campfire story, its all about delivery and commitment to the story and characters that makes it good or bad. I’m inspired by the human experience and I love to take it wherever the imagination may go.

What is a Black Moon and where did the idea of the film come from?

The concept for Black Moon came out of a story meeting I was having with my director of photography, Tim McCombe. We had been getting together fairly regularly bouncing ideas for short films and we wanted to create a horror film. As a happy accident one evening, Tim happened to mention he heard it was a black moon that night. We discussed it a bit and discovered that a black moon was a rather rare lunar event where there are two new moons in the same month and the second is called a black moon. I was surprised that it was so unheard of despite the common knowledge of a blue moon, which is the same idea, but with a full moon instead of a new moon. 

I started researching more into black moons and found very little reference to it in either history or fiction. The only note I did find was a vague reference to Pagan beliefs that their spells became more powerful if cast on a black moon. 

I didn’t initially have a story idea for Black Moon, but did I fall in love with the possibilities for an intertwined supernatural world connected via this one concept much like some of my favorite shows growing up like Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. It seemed like a blank canvas to build my own mythology around. From there, I applied it to this horror story of mine about a young woman being lured into a tunnel.

Why is telling this story so important to you?

 I’ve heard many times, people saying as a filmmaker you can’t just tell any story, it has to be deeply personal and bursting out of you. For me, it has never been the deep connection to a particular story, but the deep connection to storytelling. I love to tell good stories, and to make good stories better in the telling. The most meaningful compliment that I have received is from my producer Julian Malagon when he said “you have an amazing ability to make something out of nothing” that in the telling of it, it becomes something. Both insightful to the way I work and very moving to hear from someone I appreciate so much. I’ve had false starts with projects and I abandoned them long before filming because the story wasn’t right, but there is just something I feel when a story is right and I felt it with Black Moon.

What was the most challenging part of making this film?

The most challenging part for me was simply being a new filmmaker, I knew what I wanted to do and fortunately had spent enough time working on set doing production sound that actually running the shoot was the easy part. But how to accomplish certain things took quite a bit of me experimenting, going out with my cheap camera and just trying things to see if it would look how I imagined in my head. There were many firsts, regardless of how I tried to prepare, and it slowed the process at times, but I had a great team across the board and we were able to bring something really special to life.

What was the most exciting / funny / incredible situation you faced during production?

There was one happy accident on the first night of shooting. We had several issues and decisions that had to be made on the fly and I was rattling them off one after the other to get us under way. Long story short, as much of the equipment we used was cobbled together from where we could “beg, borrow, and steal”, the first night was also our first assembly of the camera, and any camera team that knows what they are doing just screamed while reading this. But one specific issue came up which was the anamorphic adapter we were using wouldn’t balance on the gimbal. I wasn’t overly keen on the gimbal in the first place, but it was a compromise for Tim the director of photography, so when Tim asked me whether to lose the anamorphic adapter or the gimbal it was easy for me to say shoot handheld and keep in anamorphic. Of all the snap decisions I had to make that first night, that one was actually what I wanted in the first place.

This film was done as professionally as we could manage despite our very modest budget and a good deal of advice from some outside sources to do it without a permit, we did have one. We were filming on a weekend in the middle of the night next to a medical office building so it was very quiet and we saw only a handful of people during the shoot. But we had one, and only one, run in with someone who wanted to park where we were filming the opening shot as he lived on the adjacent street. We couldn’t force him to move with our permit as we didn’t control the street but my 1st assistant-director Colin O’Rourke politely encouraged him to move to another spot of which there were many, and closer to his home, but apparently he took offense to us even being there and called the police. The officers chatted with our executive producer Gary Backe for a bit and then let us go about shooting. It was terrifying for me in the moment, but was handled very well and I’ve worn it as a badge of pride ever since about doing things right and getting a permit even for a micro budget film.

Talk about your method and creative process.

I find so many good things come from collaboration, which is why I take the time to find the right collaborators.  Things can go awry with the wrong people or even locations.

I don’t really block or shot list until I see a location because it plays a part in the inspiration of how people move around the space. I don’t like using temp music because I want to hear the composer’s voice, though I might point to references to tone, and talk extensively about qualities that we can see eye to eye on. 

In the case of my editor, we interviewed a few people and initially just sent a small section of what was shot with all the takes and said “cut it anyway you like.” Mike Shaw our editor nailed it with his cut, he understood exactly what we were going for and even captured something we hadn’t thought of. 

I like to give each person I work with freedom to bring there own talents to bear, I’ve selected them because I’ve seen something in their work that fits my vision and I’m always looking to be surprised by something I wouldn’t have thought of. It’s a delicate balance keeping the original story and the freedom to experiment, but very rewarding when you do. It’s not about being the one with all the ideas, but the foresight to know a good idea when you hear or see one.

Why this Cast? What’s special about your actors?

The casting process was incredibly important. I needed actors that would be exceptionally compelling and believable to do the kind of film I had in mind. We had set up several days of casting which myself and the two producers, Julian Malagon and Dan Shafer, broke up amongst ourselves.

Fabienne Tournet was found through the most extensive casting process as she was the lead. She just brought exactly what I needed to make the audience believe–  it was charismatic, genuine, and heartfelt in a way you can’t coach into someone. She had come in for the initial round on a day I wasn’t there and Julian was. He was adamant that we bring her in for a callback despite the video not really doing her any justice. I had decided to use a black box theater for the callbacks so I could get up on stage with the actors and block them through portions of the script. When Fabienne came in she just committed to each moment, even though at times we were running circles around the stage, me running backwards with my inexpensive camera. We did just about the whole script and she was just making each part come alive. At the end of the callbacks when making our decision, it was unanimous and that was that.

Jamie Timmons was a different story. I had come across her twice while working in production sound and had her tagged in the back of my mind long before we started auditioning. We still did a casting primarily because the feeling that we might want someone younger, but I saved Jamie for last and when she came in, it was perfect, sweet and vulnerable and turns powerful and creepy on a dime. She is a star just waiting for a big break.

Brett DelBuono was the one exception. I met Brett on “XOXO” the same film I met producer, Dan Shafer, and both he and I agreed Brett would be perfect. Fortunately, Brett was kind enough to do our film and although a small part he really adds a vulnerable charm to the character.

You work as a production sound mixer. How did this skill translate into your directing creative process?

I originally started working in sound as part of my desire to learn to direct. When I first began, I looked into all aspects of filmmaking anyway I could get my hands on. I believed I would function best as a director knowing as much as possible about all the trades available to me. Sound just happened to be the biggest surprise to me. I had done some acting, I had a basic grasp of cinematography, and a knack for editing and writing to a degree, but sound just hadn’t really registered until I started to learn about it.  I was blown away by the ways sound played a role in all of my favorite films and ended up following that into work that has kept me going the last 10 years. I can’t point to a specific way that my career as a production sound mixer has made its way into my creative process, but it certainly isn’t overlooked.

Are you a fan of horror movies? What are your favorite horror films or horror directors?

As far as horror films go my favorite is easily Alien. It is one I can watch over and over again and love every minute of it. The scene in the air shafts with the flame thrower is fantastic and suspenseful, there is a scene in the sequel Aliens which I think created suspense in much the same way with the sentry guns and yet for some reason it was cut from the theatrical release. Next in line would have to be Jaws for me as both films were not only were enjoyable but frightened me long after the movie was over. These films were made by directors not known for the horror genre which might be telling of my taste, but although his films might not make my top 5 there is one director who if I had to name a favorite in horror, would be Alfred Hitchcock.

How would you like the audiences to receive your film? What would you like them to take away from it? 

Of course I’d love to give the audience a good scare and a fun theater experience, but the real win would be if when the film was over the audience will be googling the date of the next black moon. By the way, the next one is July 31st 2019.

What is your contribution to the world through your films?

I want to create the wonder and fantastical worlds that were in the films I grew up with and bring an authenticity to it that was there when I was a kid. 

What’s next for you? Would you like to say a few words about your next film in development?  What stage are you at?

There are many pieces in the works from shorts and a couple feature scripts in early development and few other shorts coming out soon in different genres. But following Black Moon I’m hoping to garner interest in a Black Moon series which my producer Julian Malagon and I are gathering stories for. 

What are you still looking for? Investors, Distributors, Sales Agents, Film Festival Programmers, Actors attachments, etc.?

As a new filmmaker, I’m hoping Black Moon opens doors to finding people in every aspect of filmmaking.

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