Welcome to Hollywood
EC graduate making his way as a filmmaker
by Bradley Hartsell
Most 21-year-olds are stuck trying to decide between majors. Most don’t direct movies. Ryan Kennedy, a member of East Coweta’s Class of 2007, however, left Newnan for New York after graduating with the single-minded pursuit of making movies.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Kennedy, now 24, is releasing “The Projectionist” at the end of the month, a movie he wrote and ultimately directed more than three years ago. The film tells the story of a veteran battling PTSD, getting a job as a projectionist at a movie theater, and struggling to adapt to civilian life.
Kennedy grew up in Camden County before moving with his parents to Newnan at age 14. Kennedy says he went back and forth between Newnan and Camden County, but he spent his last two years of high school at East Coweta. While there, Kennedy was a student at the Central Educational Center, where he studied video production.
Even as a boy, Kennedy knew he wanted to make films. His grandfather was a projectionist and shared with him a great knowledge of film, and he began saving early in an effort to one day film his own movie.
While Kennedy was attending East Coweta, Coweta County began exploding as a Hollywood haven. Though Kennedy always loved film, watching the explosion happen in his own backyard kept the self-doubt from creeping in too much.
“I wasn't’ sure if I should even try [to make movies]. I thought maybe I should just get a regular job. I thought, ‘Regular people like me don’t really break into the film industry,’” recalled Kennedy. “But then being in Newnan [at 14 years old], I was able to meet people in the movie industry and was able to see that this world did exist outside of Los Angeles.
With Hollywood now surrounding him and Kevin Pullen, who ran the video production class at CEC, telling his students Newnan was about to explode as a film hub, Kennedy felt the surge of inspiration he needed.
“That confidence I received led me to believe I could direct a feature film,” he said.
Armed with confidence and a ton of ideas, Kennedy headed to New York where a family member had an apartment where he could live. Still, he had to work, in restaurants primarily, to survive in a cutthroat city. He’d work his day job then work on “The Projectionist” script, all at just 20 years of age.
“He’s always been quite the go-getter, ever since he was young,” said his father, Danny Kennedy. “He’d be quoting lines from movies. And just the fact he went to school [and went to New York], he’s always been very independent. He’s not afraid of any challenges.”
With a $30,000 budget of his own money, an extremely small amount for a film, Kennedy was prepared to make “The Projectionist” all on his own. It’d be expensive, low-budget and less than ideal quality, but it’d be the movie he wanted to make.
Then, a producer came along who liked Kennedy’s script so much he offered to finance the project in an effort to give “The Projectionist” a bigger budget, legitimate actors and higher quality cinematography. Like the thousands of screenwriters trying to make a name for themselves in Hollywood, this was “the big break.” But Kennedy wasn’t satisfied with just signing over his script for a check to cash. Kennedy offered his script only if he was the director, something he had never done before.
Despite understandable skepticism from the producers, Kennedy’s confidence and desirable script landed him the biggest gig of his life.
“It was huge for a 21-year-old kid to direct his own film,” Kennedy said. “We shot for 35 days on a great camera that we had no business having access to. The movie ended up turning out even better than we expected, and we had high hopes for it from the start.”
Kennedy knew optioning off his script early on could put him in a box making it even harder to ever break into directing. Despite his request, he knew the time to strike was right then, to prove to everyone he could wear both hats.
“It’s like trying to get a credit card when you’re young, it’s catch-22,” Kennedy said. “You need a credit card to build credit but you have to have credit to get a credit card. It’s the same way with directing a film, but I was fortunate enough to be able to prove I could direct a film. I had something somebody ultimately wanted and that was a script. And people really responded to it.”
“I just wanted to tell an interesting story about a soldier with PTSD, and I successfully fooled a lot of people into thinking I could do something that was definitely a gamble,” joked Kennedy. “It worked, though, and me and my producer can laugh about it now.”
“We’re very proud of Ryan. It’s amazing the endeavor he took on for this movie, as a writer and a director. It really is amazing,” said Danny Kennedy. “There’s always been something special about him, though. For Christmas, we’d buy him books on movie making.
“He’s a very bright guy,” he added. “There’s not a topic he can’t talk about. I know he’s our son, but sometimes as parents, we go to him for advice.”
Kennedy won’t brag but he’s aware of his unique place in the movie world. Oscar-nominated directors like Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight” trilogy) and Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) started making do-it-yourself movies in their late 20s on an even lower budget than Kennedy. For Kennedy, he hopes his career trajectory points in the same direction as those esteemed directors.
There’s reason to believe he’ll reach that point, if releasing a movie at age 24 isn’t enough. Kennedy isn’t a flash in the pan with a gimmick. He draws from prominent American director Paul Thomas Anderson and foreign film and studies their form and the craft. Every script he begins work on, he searches first for the human element, he said.
His next movie, for instance, will show Kennedy’s ambition for filmmaking. In six different languages and locations, the movie will focus on six lives impacted by the July 7, 2005, London bombings — something that hasn’t really been touched on in film yet.
“The Projectionist” has already established Kennedy, by clearing the massive hurdle of proving he can direct at such a young age. With a burgeoning career, he hopes to gain enough respect to base himself back in Georgia one day.
“Being able to grow up in a town like [Newnan] was the best of both worlds,” Kennedy said. “I had a normal childhood away from the hard, thick skin of New York. But I also got exposure to the movie industry.”
Kennedy is especially excited about Pinewood Studios opening in Fayette County, which he says will allow even the biggest Hollywood blockbuster to be made right here in the area. His father noted just how excited Kennedy is for Pinewood Studios, saying that when it opens up, “the sky is the limit.”
“To be able to have the opportunity to make films in my own backyard, to sleep in my own bed, that’s huge,” he added. “That’s a rare opportunity. It gives me the chance to have a family and have a normal life while pursuing movies.”
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“The Projectionist” is launching a 45-day limited release on Jan. 31 on www.theprojectionistmovie.com. The release will not only help finance the nationwide theatrical release, but a portion of the proceeds will be donated directly to The Wounded Warrior Project. Kennedy also hopes to bring “The Projectionist” to Newnan theaters this year.