Canadian director Emily Ryder joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about her latest short film, Rain On Me, and how she wants to use her voice as a filmmaker.
Q: Your new short film, Rain On Me, resonated deeply with me. Was this story born from your own experiences of loss and grief?
A: The film definitely comes from a personal place. When my grandfather passed away, I had a hard time reconciling his death with the Catholic faith I was raised in. We poured his ashes in his old fishing lake and the thought of him returning to nature was a source of peace for me.
I believe the essential part of him is still out there; flowing with the rapids, crashing with the thunder and making the May flowers bloom every year for my birthday. To me, that is as close to life after death as it gets. This film was reminiscent of finding that peace.
It outlines the painful and confusing emotional journey I took to get there; plagued with denial, anger, sadness and finally acceptance. I think it’s easy to hide from the scary facts of life – as easy as it is to stay in from the rain – and sure, rain can be destructive and scary, it can knock out your electricity and leave you in the dark, but it’s also necessary and a source of life.
Embracing that confusing duality was a necessary part in me coming to terms with my grief.
Q: Devin Cecchetto does a magnificent job of capturing the emotional journey of this character without any dialogue (only a brief voiceover). What drew you to Devin when casting this film? And how did you work with her to tap into this role?
A: I had worked with Devin before on another short film I produced in April 2018 and really enjoyed the experience. She is so kind and bright and beyond talented. Because this story was so personal, I knew I had to cast someone who I could trust and so I approached Devin with the role.
We did not have a whole lot of time to prep together prior to principal photography. I had sent her the script as well as a series of concept documents in order for her to understand where I was coming from and what I wanted to achieve with the project. We had one meeting prior to the shoot where we went through the script, beat by beat, and broke down the emotional arc together.
Devin is so sharp and in tune with her own vulnerability. There were moments where I would hesitate on how to articulate a certain moment or idea and without missing a beat, she would complete my thought. Working with her made my job as a director 100 times easier.
Q: I imagine every shoot is big learning experience, especially at this stage in your career. What challenges did this project throw at you?
A: I’d say there were three very big and very different challenges we had to overcome with this project.
To start, one of our biggest obstacles was the fact that we were working against nature in a lot of ways. Shooting outdoors in November in Canada limits us with the negative temperatures we have to work in and with the short amount of daylight we have to work with. We were able to manage, and do so in good spirits, thanks to our remarkable crew.
Next, the content of the story itself was hard to direct because it was so personal. Having to be vulnerable but also confidently lead a crew of people was not easy.
Finally, I feel like I speak on behalf of my crew when I say that, as young filmmakers, we still have a lot of figuring out to do. This project taught us so much through the mistakes we made. I know it’s easy to look back and wish we had done certain things differently or better but being able to identify our shortcomings is proof we’ve learned something. I don’t ever want to reach a stage in my career where I don’t have self-criticism because then I’ll know I’ve lost myself to an ego.
Overall, this project wasn’t easy, but the challenges it presented only helped to shape me into a stronger leader and storyteller.
Q: I saw an Instagram post where you gave a shoutout to the film’s editor Thomas Gareau. What qualities do you look for in the people you chose to collaborate with?
A: Tommy is a very talented editor and I feel lucky to have worked with him on this production.
I don’t even know if he would remember, but I recall early on in pre-production for Rain On Me, he was one of the first crew members that took the time to read the concept documents I had developed. His interest and initiative during that stage meant a lot to me and his dedication and commitment to upholding the integrity of the project was evident throughout the entire post-production process.
I think he is a great example of the type of person I seek out when looking for people to collaborate with because he is driven and passionate about storytelling. I like to work with people who challenge me and who bring their own unique perspectives and styles to the table, i.e. people who I can truly collaborate with, as opposed to those who are just simply looking to “get the job done”.
I think creative collaboration adds depth and dimension to work and I’m grateful for the people I’ve come across so far that bring their whole selves to the projects we work on – it’s magic.
Q: What type of atmosphere or creative environment do you try to foster on your sets?
A: On my own productions I do my best to try and deconstruct traditional, militaristic set culture. I love to listen and incorporate other people’s ideas and do my best to foster an atmosphere on set where people feel appreciated and have the confidence to share their opinions.
The larger the crew gets, the harder hearing everyone’s perspective can become, but it is never too hard to make sure everyone is treated with respect, kindness and dignity. There’s no space for yelling, attitude or egos on my productions and as easygoing as I can be, I also have no issues sitting someone down if their behaviour is negatively impacting my set.
Stories are lessons in empathy and if I want to be authentic in my process, that starts at the ground level with the environment and relationship I have with all the people dedicating their time to create with me.
Q: What do you love about this art form and how do you want to use your voice as a filmmaker in the coming years?
A: There is so much I love about film. I love how accessible films can be; I love how accessible the craft of filmmaking is becoming. I have always believed that stories have the power to transform individuals and communities and that is what I want to be able to do through film.
As I continue to create and develop my voice as a filmmaker, I hope I can tell stories that resonate with people, and when it’s not my turn to speak, I hope I can lend my skills to amplify the voices of my peers.
Q: I remember speaking to director Molly McGlynn about wanting to see more female perspectives in the Canadian film industry. How are you finding the landscape as a young female filmmaker?
A: I definitely believe that there needs to be more diversity in Canada’s film industry. As a young female filmmaker, I have my concerns about not being taken seriously in what can often be a very “boys club” business. Gender-based discrimination – specifically pay equity – is still an unfortunate reality that I have had to deal with, and it can be very disheartening and discouraging.
With all of that in mind, I also have to acknowledge my privilege as a middle-class, straight-passing, white person. I do not have to overcome the same roadblocks as my BIPOC, queer and disabled contemporaries in order to have my voice be heard. Canada has a very long way to go, not just in making sure women are heard, but making sure people of colour are heard, making sure disabled people are heard, making sure people from the lgbtq+ community are heard, making sure indigenous people are heard.
The people who make up our nation are as colourful as our dollar bills – if our films and the people getting hired to make those films don’t mirror that, then there’s something systemically wrong. If I find success, but my talented BIPOC, queer and disabled friends don’t, I don’t consider that to be real success at all. To quote Ava DuVernay: “If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.”
No matter where you are from, if you want change, I encourage you to actively seek out and support your local BIPOC, queer and disabled artists and filmmakers. We live in a demand-based world and lip service gets us nowhere. Be conscious about the media you consume and be empathetic for the people who are creating it.
Q: What is next for you? Any upcoming projects to share?
Right now, I have a few finished shorts that I haven’t published yet, including one about Vincent van Gogh, and I just wrapped on producing a short documentary on a Toronto busker called the The Duckman, which we are aiming to publish in early 2020.
I currently have another two years of film school and then a whole lifetime of learning ahead of me. I’m excited to keep living and loving and hurting and being human and I will keep transforming those experiences and feelings into stories for as long as I can.