Lions, Drive Ins and Hollywood

By Nicole De Meneses

Born in Harare Zimbabwe in the mid 1970s, Ryan Barton-Grimley (RBG) grew up as far away from the Hollywood system as could be.  When not watching lions, television was a rare commodity during those formative years. Young RBG would get to watch an episode of “Dallas” or “The A Team” if he was lucky enough to be visiting his grandparents who had the only working TV that he had access to. Date night in the RBG household meant that young RBG would accompany his parents to the Drive In. When he wasn’t playing around or falling asleep in the back seat he enjoyed watching “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Wild Bunch”.

Blessed with an overactive imagination and a plethora of imaginary friends,  writing scripts and acting out scenes came naturally to RBG. Fortunately for his creative spirit he was given relatives that lived in Encino who were professional actors.  Family vacations were a time of exploration and discovery. RBG went from being starved for media to visiting California and being hit over the head with it. All the relatives’ children were actors and it became clear that RBG could become one too.

Whether living in an African Country or coming to live in the states, RBG always felt like the outsider. Always feeling like the other, RBG explored that realization in his early art projects and writing. “Taxi Driver” and “Repo Man” heavily influenced his 14 year old punk rock self.  Movies were windows into other counter cultures that RBG had little or no exposure to. When he saw “Midnight Cowboy” it was the the first film to him that explored gender and sexuality through the main characters, setting and genre. The western elements of “Midnight Cowboy” enhanced the masculinity of the protagonist and the film showed how anyone could be queer making it a  groundbreaking film at the time and introducing RBG to other lifestyles.

After impressing the right person with a script that he had written RBG’s first feature film was called “The Truth”, a home invasion thriller. Armed with a half a million dollars and an A list cast the film was a great learning experience and laid the groundwork for how he should approach making indie films in the future. RBG met Doug Mueller working as the production designer on the “The Truth”.  The next time the two decided to collaborate Mueller was in the director’s seat and RBG was in front of the camera for the film “Repatriation”.

The film follows high school baseball star Chad returning to his hometown for a night on leave from the Army. Dressed in a soldier’s uniform he bar hops his way through the small town reconnecting with childhood friends and foes but it’s clear that not everything is as it seems. Initially RBG didn’t set out to have as big an influence on “Repatriation”, Mueller had a lot of faith in him as the lead actor and wanted his perception on the project. Editing to RBG is like the last step of a rewrite.

It has been very important to RBG that he has been able to edit on almost everything he has worked on. With a little muscle and influence Mueller welcomed RBG doing a rough edit of the film. That allowed Mueller to consolidate the tone he was trying achieve in the picture. Approaching the new cut with a fresh set of eyes Mueller and RBG found the process to be very collaborative.  It was that meeting of the minds that crafted such a memorable and polarizing feature film. “Repatriation” tackles strong themes like honor and regret with honest slice of life performances.

Tech savvy and never one to shy away from picking up a camera, RBG is a jack-of-all-trades and brings a wealth of knowledge to every production. “Elijah’s Ashes” was another movie he was working on at the same time he was making “Repatriation”. After being turned down for years and not being able to attach any big stars to the project. RBG decided to direct and star in it alongside his brother in law Ari Schneider. The film is a comedy about homophobia centered around two half brothers, one straight and one gay that decide to honor their father’s dying wish and go on a road trip together to bury his ashes. The film is a sardonic fish out of water journey of brotherly love and acceptance.

How do you follow up on a military drama and a comedy about homophobia you ask? With a vampire slayer comedy of course. RBG is currently filming “Hawk and Rev”. “Hawk and Rev” is a homage to every 80s macho action hero movie, with a dash of Clerks and Napoleon Dynamite for good measure. The dimwitted and underpaid Hawk and Rev must save their small unsuspecting town from evil blood sucking vampires.  

RBG’s love of film is apparent in every project he undertakes. The best filmmakers try to reinvent themselves and RBG is proving that he won’t be put in a box or stifled. Free thinking and always exploring new points of views audiences will want to take notice of a true renaissance man in RBG.