Indie Filmmaker Bryan Winn On First Feature Length Film THIEVES


Interview by John Wisniewski

John Wisniewski: When did you become interested in film?
Bryan Winn: I was born in Los Angeles and remember my parents taking me to see “Star Wars” at the Grauman’s Chinese theater in 1977 when I was about three years old. That film andRichard Donner’s “Superman” made a huge impression on me. My parents must have taken my brother and I to see those movies around six times each. By the time I saw “Raiders of the Lost Ark” I became really interested in how movies were made. My Dad introduced me to films like “Bullitt,” “Dirty Harry” and “The French Connection” which piqued my interest in action/crime films.

When I was about thirteen, my Dad bought an 8mm video camera. It was around the time that “Miami Vice” was the big thing on TV. My brother and I were such huge fans of the show and its MTV style that we started making short movies based on the show. Our movies included car chases, drug deals gone bad and shootouts framed against dusk lit cityscapes. We edited the movies on VHS tape using two VCR machines and screened them for our family and friends. Throughout high school I convinced my teachers to let me make movies in lieu of doing presentations. Those short movies led to my desire to pursue filmmaking further.

John Wisniewski: Did you attend film school?
Bryan Winn: After graduating from Grace Davis High School in Modesto, California, I endeavored to go to film school. Modesto is noteworthy for being the hometown of George Lucas and he had attended Modesto Junior College. I thought that would be a good place to begin formally studying film. I took film and television classes, made some award-winning short films, and eventually transferred to California State University, Northridge (CSUN) where I completed a degree in television and cinema studies.

John Wisniewski: You worked on the Paramount movie lot with Martin Scorsese, David Lynch And other directors. What was that like?
Bryan Winn: While in film school at CSUN I got an internship at Paramount Studios working for Oscar winning producer Scott Rudin. Mr. Rudin is a very prolific producer and always has numerous projects simultaneously in production. During that period, he was completing Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow,” William Friedkin’s “Rules of Engagement” and Martin Scorsese’s “Bringing Out the Dead” with Nicolas Cage. I was fortunate to be involved in various aspects of all those productions including post-production, marketing, developing trailers, etc. I also wrote a lot of coverage for many scripts that were considered for acquisition. Also, at that time, David Lynch was shooting “Mulholland Drive” the TV pilot for ABC at Paramount. I used to do a lot of running around the lot as part of my duties working there. One day I was moving very quickly not really paying close attention and almost
ran right into David Lynch as he was shooting a scene with Naomi Watts near the old Paramount gate. Even though I had disrupted his shot he was kind to me. Unfortunately, ABC rejected the pilot for “Mulholland Drive” which led to it being turned into a feature film. I was fortunate to be able do some work on the movie from the casting side of the production.

Although I enjoyed certain aspects of working at Paramount, I questioned whether working at a big studio was the path I wanted to pursue long term or if I wanted to focus on developing my own projects independently outside of Hollywood.

My experience working at Paramount led me to a position as a Junior Manager at Mosaic
Media Group, a management and production company. During my time there, I worked on the management team for Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughan. I was also involved in the development of the films “Elf” with Jon Favreau and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy” with Adam McKay.

After my time with Mosaic, I left Hollywood to attend law school. I decided to pursue the practice of law with the goal of eventually starting my own production company to make my own independent films.

John Wisniewski: Any favorite filmmakers?
Bryan Winn: Some of the filmmakers that really inspired me to make movies are Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Steven Soderbergh, David Fincher, Francis Ford Coppola, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, William Friedkin, Quentin Tarantino, and Sidney Lumet.

John Wisniewski: Could you tell us about making “Thieves”, Bryan. How did this come about?
Bryan Winn: Working at Paramount and later at Mosaic taught me a lot about how big the machine of Hollywood is and how challenging it can be to get movies made even if you are someone with a lot of clout. It really steered me toward making my own projects where I could control every aspect of the production process. In the end, no one cares more about your project than you do. So, that was my mindset when I set out to make “Thieves.” I always wanted to make a feature film and was really inspired by the film noirs of the 40s and 50s. Specifically, Welles’ “Touch of Evil”, Kubrick’s “The Killing” and John Huston’s “Asphalt Jungle.”

“Thieves” is about a group of criminals assembled to take down a racetrack in Los Angeles. Although the heist goes as planned there are complications that arise after which leads to a bloody resolution.

I had been working as an attorney for around eight years and had access to my law firm where we shot several scenes including the main heist sequence. I set out to make something that was shot in the style of the old noir films in black and white, but with a modern edge including an electronic retro score by Otto Nilsson reminiscent of some my favorite 80’s films like Friedkin’s “To Live and Die in LA” and Mann’s “Thief.”

I wrote the screenplay over the course of about six months in 2016 with intention of shooting all over Los Angeles in real locations including some of the same ones from Mann’s “Heat” and Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.” I wrote specifically for actors I had worked with before on some of my short films like Dakota Kennedy, James MacEwan and Eric Menyuk who played the leads.

We had a limited budget of around ten thousand dollars which required us to shoot the film guerilla style with no permits as we stole most of the shots. At one point I requested permission to shoot at Santa Anita Racetrack and was denied access. So, one Saturday afternoon on race day we just showed up like spectators with a camera and shot our scenes surreptitiously inside the track with our actors. During the same shoot, we found a someone’s car in the parking lot and blew it up, digitally, in post-production. The entire production was very “run and gun” and the energy created from shooting in that manner worked for the film. Although it took only two weeks to shoot, it took over two years to finish post-production.

John Wisniewski: how was the film received at film festivals?
Bryan Winn:We premiered at the Hollywood Reel Independent film festival at the Staples Center in February 2020 and played two weeks later at the Golden State film Festival at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Seeing it on a big screen at the same venue I had seen “Star Wars” back in 1977 was special for me. It was well received by the audiences and we had big crowds at both screenings. We were accepted into five other festivals but due to the pandemic most were cancelled. However, some of the festivals screened films on a Roku channel. We won an award for “Best Cinematography” at the Silver State Film Festival in Las Vegas. We did a release of the film on Amazon Prime in April 2020 and it was later picked up for world-wide distribution last summer and will be streaming on various platforms later this year.

John Wisniewski: Tell us about making “Nowness”.
Bryan Winn: It was 2015 and I had just completed an award winning Sci-Fi short film called “Satyricon” and wanted to do something completely different. I wanted to make a personal film with no action or guns just a tale about two people who were once in love, broke up and later found each other again years later to fall in love again.

Dakota Kennedy and Alejandra Morin played a recently broken up couple trying to cope with the aftermath of their failed relationship. I have always been enamored with the French New Wave directors like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and the writings of Bret Easton Ellis. A lot of those influences are present in the film such as jump cuts, freeze frames, handheld shots, fractured timeline, black and white flashbacks, etc. We were fortunate to have Moby donate and license to us all the music for the soundtrack.

My goal was to capture the loneliness of Los Angeles especially when one is struggling through a personal crisis. It is reminiscent of that line in “Collateral” when Tom Cruise’s character is dying on the MTA and he asks Jamie Foxx’s character, “Do you think anyone will notice?” That is what “Nowness” explored, a character struggling with despair walking around L.A. on the verge of suicide and no one in the vastness of the city notices his pain and desperation. It is his journey back to living in the present, the nowness, instead of constantly looking back on his loss. In sum, it is a “romance/noir film” with an optimistic ending.

John Wisniewski: Any future plans and projects?
Bryan Winn: We started Tech Noir Productions about seven years ago and are currently developing several projects including a meta spiritual sequel to the “Lost Boys” called “To Live and Die in Santa Cruz.” We hope to shoot it in Santa Cruz with some of the original cast of the “Lost Boys” playing different characters. In addition, we are developing a time traveling assassins project called “Crash and Kill.” Then, a project about the drug trade in Miami in the 80s and 90s. We are also developing a high school wrestling/coming of age movie. And finally, a courtroom thriller based on some of my experiences and stories I gathered while working as an attorney for the last twelve years.


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