As we mentioned yesterday, we made a movie and we’re so shocked and proud of what we came up with our neighbors and now friends, that we’re going to be writing about it all week. We started things off by posting the movie, which you can view in yesterday’s earlier piece, and then followed things up by having our weekly featured Song be Wild Cub‘s “Wild Light,” which we featured in our movie credits.
Now we’re moving on to a series of interviews we’re doing with the neighbors involved in the process who, it turns out, are super interesting. First up—Ryan O’Hara Theisen, writer, director, and founder of On My Block Films, the project that led us to make a movie and meet all these people in the first place. We ‘sat down’ and ‘talked’ (read: emailed back and forth a bit) with Ryan about the origins of On My Block, the sometimes anonymous life of New Yorkers, and illusionary tattoos. Check it out:
Kindness of Ravens: So, first off, what’s your background? We’re assuming it has something to do with film, but…
Ryan O’Hara Theisen: I write, produce, and direct branded films through a company I co-founded called Lucky Branded Entertainment. Before directing, I worked as a creative in advertising for 10 years.
KoR: What brought you to film in the first place?
RT: I’ve always had a love for visual storytelling and used to work as a photojournalist back in college. However, I chose to become an Art Director after college and didn’t pick up a camera again for many years. Then in ’05 I took some documentary courses at Duke University and it reawakened my love for filmmaking. I left my job in North Carolina in ’06 to pursue filmmaking in New York.
KoR: So, tell us how the idea for On My Block came about. Were you just like “I need some new friends. I know! I’ll create a super-involved film contest that’ll take up massive amounts of my free time BUT give me an excuse to meet my neighbors”? Because you could’ve just come over and asked for a cup of sugar or something, man.
RT: I had been wanting to give back to this great city for sometime. I’d thought of a few projects that might help New Yorkers treat one another better, but they all felt forced and uninspiring. After having lived in 4 neighborhoods in NYC in 6 years, I realized that I really didn’t have relationships with my neighbors. It bummed me out and I wondered if this was somewhere I could make a difference. I’d experienced how tight bonds are formed on films sets in very short times and wondered what would happen if we brought that dynamic to a block of strangers/neighbors.
KoR: Yeah, New York is so jam-packed with people that I’ve always taken the anonymity of city life and the tendency of New Yorkers to largely mind their own business as a bit of a defense mechanism so we don’t all go insane constantly interacting with each other. Was this project, then, an effort to break those kind of barriers down on a local level?
RT: Exactly. I get the need for anonymity too. New York asks a lot of you. And at the end of the day, sometimes you just wanna slip up your stoop unnoticed and get some alone time. But I also realized my neighborhood had so much to offer that I wasn’t accessing. I knew there had to be a slew of cool people behind all those doors, but also knew we didn’t really have any block related events to break those barriers down. At the very least, OMB gives neighbors an excuse to knock on the door and introduce themselves.
KoR: Well-said. We were shocked by the fact that we had never really met or ever seen, to our knowledge, a single other person involved in this process, all of whom lived feet from our front door. Were you pleased at seeing how this project brought together people who had never met before?
RT: Oh my goodness, YES! I had hoped this would all work, but obviously, I was unsure of what we’d get. Would only one person respond? But instead, we had over 10 people write, plan, and produce this and we incorporated over 16 neighbors into the actual shoot. It blew my expectations out of the water.
KoR: Right, and another thing that really struck us was how well everyone worked together. Were you at all worried about culture clashes or personalities colliding in this process?
RT: Yes, I was. As a filmmaker I’m very used to collaborating, but I wasn’t sure how it would be mixing up so many different types of people. But wow, it worked. People all found their grooves, picked roles that inspired them, and collaborated beautifully. I do not think this part of the process could have gone any smoother. An absolutely amazing experience.
KoR: 100% agree. What surprised you most about the whole process?
RT: The collaborative process. We created something so amazing that I’m extremely proud of in such a short amount of time. That only happened because everyone gave their all and everyone worked together.
KoR: Think we can do a showing of these initial ‘seeder’ films at the screening in November? We’d love to see our cat all gigantic-like on the big screen.
RT: We’ll have to see, buddy. Can’t promise it just yet cause so much is up in the air, this being our first year. But I’m gonna’ try like a crazy, man.
KoR: Fair enough. Alright, lightning round, buddy—Totem animal?
RT: Siberian Husky.
KoR: Best thing about Carroll Gardens?
RT: Its sweet, quiet old charm.
KoR: Not the lard bread then…. Favorite vacation spot?
RT: A tie—Vieques, PR or Barbados.
KoR: Ahhhhh. Short run-down of a bizarre dream you had recently?
RT: Having a conversation at a diner with a friend and I realize that my teeth are all crumbling apart in my mouth. I begin to feel guilty for not flossing more as move my teeth back and forth and feel little bits break off becoming shards in my mouth. I begin to think about how no amount of money will ever be able to replace the feeling I had with my old real teeth. My friend is just as shocked as I am. Life has taken a dramatic and horrible turn.
KoR: Well that’s terrifying. I’m pretty sure that’s supposed to mean something about loss of control over life choices or some such thing. Or you need to floss more. Who knows. Nickname growing up?
KoR: Noted. Favorite spot in Carroll Gardens?
RT: Union St. (b/t Henry & Clinton).
KoR: Oh, see, I set myself up for that one. Favorite tattoo, either real or theoretical?
KoR: Ah, a rabbit. Wait. A duck. Wait…. Finally, most rewarding thing about being involved with On My Block Films os far?
RT: Being able to walk down my block and feel like I’m Sam from the TV Show Cheers. The way I look at my block has completely been transformed and now I have all these amazing new friends.
KoR: (cue Cheers theme song)
You can watch Ryan’s introduction to the project below and, to find out more and sign your block up for a film, visit On My Block Films and get going! Films just need to be completed and online before the end of October and then we’ll have a public screening in November.