We recently had the pleasure of reviewing Suburban Cowboy here’s an interview with the director Ryan Colucci. Check out the trailer below and of course be sure to read Simon’s terrific review of the film.
I’m always intrigued where film ideas come from. How and why did this come to you?
Suburban Cowboy is about Jay, a mid-level weed supplier on Long Island. One of his dealers, also his childhood best friend, robs someone to pay Jay back for his last shipment. His friend disappears and the debt is left to our hero – because the person who got robbed was connected to Serbian gangsters in Queens. He sets off to collect the money he has on the street, but when he comes up short Jay is forced to take drastic measures.
The general story just described is inspired by true events. Someone, I know pretty well was involved in the weed trade and when he got out of prison the first time he passed me a notebook that he called an autobiography. It was very episodic and didn’t really add up to much… but the world was exciting to me. The idea that the really normal looking guy who lives next to you is a criminal is interesting. When people conjure up drug dealers and crime lords, they are these stocks characters in genre films. So I wanted to make something that was more realistic, especially for where I grew up on Long Island. I cherry picked some of the best stories he had and crafted something that actually had a plot, and I leaned on him and a few other friends in terms of making the smallest details as realistic as possible.
It’s a raw, visceral look into a world you live in but probably don’t want to know exists. The story isn’t groundbreaking, but what fascinates me about it is this idea that the guy next door is a criminal. It’s not this stereotypical gangster story where the bad guys are obviously criminals. It’s truer to life, at least in the part of the world I come from.
Did the original idea get tweaked as you worked more and more on the screenplay?
The first official draft of the script was significantly different than the draft we went into production with. The person I was working with on the story was actually arrested as I finished the first draft of the script. It was a wild time because I am someone who doesn’t even get speeding tickets and I am essentially in the middle of this. So, I went back to the script and rewrote the ending to reflect what was really happening. That was three years ago and he just got out of lock-up.
We also had a table read and opened it up to everyone for their thoughts… And the overwhelming majority pointed out how much of an asshole the lead was to his girlfriend. Like the real guy this was based on, he had his girlfriend, but also banged every girl who gave him the time of day. I had never really seen it before, but the film was a love story. I just thought it was this dark, gritty crime thriller. It took this room of twenty people to point it out to me. Clearly, if all of these different people saw the same thing then I missed it. So I went back through and pulled all of that out while trying to narrow the focus to the two of them.
From there, the script we went into production with was exactly what was shot.
When did you know ‘I have something here!’…?
My previous film with Dragan Roganovic (aka Dirty South to electronic music fans) went to #1 on iTunes in the US and 16 other countries. After that it was less, ‘are we going to do something next’ and more, ‘what is next?’ He read Suburban Cowboy and it was like he could see the score/soundtrack immediately, which I’m sure is the first step for him mentally… and it was off to the races. It was a great partnership, of two very type-A people who somehow never fought. The things he’s good at, I’m not… and vice versa. It helps when you share a common vision for the final product.
What do you think works the best about the film?
The acting and my ability to put every dollar on screen in terms of production value. I set out to create an authentic depiction of a world with a little bit of creative flair every now and then… and I believe I succeeded at that. The response has been good so far, but it just came out so it remains to be seen if the public agrees with me.
There were two refrains coming back on the sales side when we were shopping the film, “the acting is really good considering they’re all relative unknowns” and “what’d this cost, $750-1 mil?” I take both of those as compliments in terms of what we were able to achieve for a budget that doesn’t come anywhere near that. I’m more proud of this film than anything I have done before. I hope to say that about every new project, but it is without a doubt true of Suburban Cowboy.
Is there anything you’d do differently?
Suburban Cowboy was the first time I was able to make a film with total control; where I was able to meet every single crew member before they were hired – down to the Production Assistants. And it was an amazing experience that translated into a supremely efficient set. Not only did we only go over time once during the shoot, but we were able to shave a full day off our schedule. That’s pretty insane when you consider we had 20-something locations on a 16-day shoot schedule, with a micro-budget. There are really small things I’d do differently – some shots/angles I’d like back… but overall I am pleased with the film.
Like actors, do filmmakers find it hard to watch their own work sometimes?
By the time the film is done, I would think a filmmaker has seen it over a hundred times. I cut Suburban Cowboy, so I would venture to say that number is significantly higher. For anyone striving to do something good/great and constantly improve, I think you only see the mistakes or flaws in the work. Things you could still tweak. At some point, you need to surrender to the film and realize it can never be perfect.
Tell us where and when it’ll be available…
Suburban Cowboy is currently available for rent/purchase digitally; iTunes, Amazon, Dish, DirectTV, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, OnDemand (Time Warner or Comcast)… If it sounds interesting, give us a shot!