Lights, camera, hustle 

The life and times of a young filmmaker

Ryan Rundle may be a novice filmmaker just one year removed from college, but he already understands one of the most important aspects of the industry: the hustle.

After he finished making his new short film, The Life and Times of an American Playboy, Rundle, his camera operator, Kenneth Billington, and his director of photography, Blaine Dunkley, all traveled to South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, to peddle their new project to possible investors and film festivals. The trio, which had spent all of its money on plane tickets and festival passes, and slept on friends' couches during the trip, came armed with approximately 1,000 business cards and a copy of the movie's trailer. What they didn't have was a meeting.

click to enlarge Andrew Rizzo stars in The Life and Times of an American Playboy. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AN AMERICAN PLAYBOY
  • Photo courtesy of The Life and Times of an American Playboy
  • Andrew Rizzo stars in The Life and Times of an American Playboy.

"We found out about these mentor sessions with people from New Regency, 20th Century Fox, all the people working in the industry," says Rundle. "But you had to have a session set up months and months in advance."

Rundle hatched a plan straight out of the movies. As he tells the story, he walked up to the secretary for Fox executive Holly Jeter and said he was ready for his meeting. When the gatekeeper explained he wasn't on the schedule, Rundle threw a fit. Someone had made a mistake. He'd traveled all this way. He would not take no for an answer. Before long, he'd finagled himself and his two friends into an appointment.

"We walked in with nothing but a briefcase that held an iPhone with ear buds, and the iPhone was set up to play our trailer," he says. "I'm pretty sure people thought we were carrying around a briefcase full of blow or something. But we played it up and when we walked in, Holly asked what questions we had. I told her we didn't have any questions, we just wanted to show her something. Then we popped open the briefcase, like a scene out of Pulp Fiction, and it killed her...I think the briefcase made an impression."

Rundle says Jeter will be among those in attendance Friday, Aug. 26, when he holds a special screening of his 28-minute film at the Wilma Theatre. His goal is to attract enough investors to turn the short film into a feature-length project.

"This is the first film I've ever done that I'm actually proud of," says Rundle, who made numerous short films before he graduated from the University of Montana's Media Arts program last year. "Unfortunately, it's all about money and connections to get a feature film made, and we're only now trying to make the connections. We definitely don't have any more money."

All Rundle's money went into the project. He invested his life savings—about $2,700—and then, with the help of a professor, found a loophole in his academic scholarship and was able to put that money into the film as well. He shot the whole thing in a month in Missoula with a volunteer cast and crew that totaled more than 60 locals.

"I think it speaks to Missoula and the type of talent and arts community that's here that we could pull this off on a budget of $4,000," he says. "There are a lot of gems here. A lot of people are willing to work their asses off just to make a movie."

The Life and Times of an American Playboy was inspired by what Rundle calls "a bizarre dream," which makes one wonder what he had for dinner the night before. In the movie, Teddy Lancaster (played by Andrew Rizzo) is homeless and literally getting pissed on. He wanders into a strip club (the Fox Club Cabaret on Brooks Street) only to get approached by a slick-talking pornography director and a priest. The latter is the financier for a new film titled Hoboho 5, in which Teddy Lancaster is supposed to appear. The bulk of Rundle's short film takes place during the chaotic shoot of Hoboho 5, and features, among other things, a blind caterer, an ice cream-eating cop and his weak-hearted partner, a make-up artist who doesn't speak English, an over-caffeinated production assistant, a glazed-over lead actress, a dead leading man, a drunk Teddy Lancaster, and a cat. Rundle shoots part of the scene in mockumentary style, like Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show. There are also heavy nods to the 1980s and "Miami Vice," including a shot of a vintage Corvette Stingray peeling out on Higgins Avenue.

Somehow, through all of that, a loose story evolves about Teddy Lancaster's lost past and his desperate attempt to go back to it. A feature-length film would presumably ferret out that back-story, while adding to the madcap making of a dysfunctional porno.

"I admit the content is a little un-tame, a little politically incorrect, but that's just the sort of movie I want to make," says Rundle, who turns 23 the day of the Wilma premiere. "I'm not interested in making a film about butterflies and unicorns."

The Life and Times of an American Playboy may be Rundle's first real movie-making experience, but the writer/director scored a veteran cast and crew of local talent. UM professor and professional filmmaker Andrew Smith (The Slaughter Rule) helped edit Rundle's original script. Fellow UM professors Marty Fromm, Annie Wright and John Kenneth DeBoer appear in front of the camera. In addition to Rizzo, who plays a pensive drunk as well as anyone in Missoula, the film stars Lee McAfee (Rizzo's co-star in another locally made film, The Best Bar in America) and Aaron Roos as the porn director. A score of other UM graduates contributed to the film in other ways.

Now, Rundle's started to contribute to other projects. While he submits The Life and Times of an American Playboy to film festivals and searches for investors, he's also working as a grip on Smith's new feature film, Winter in the Blood, which is currently finishing production in Havre. Working on a true set, surrounded by established Hollywood talent, provides a whole other perspective for Rundle.

"It's good to be on the bottom of the pile, seeing how something like this is run so I can maybe run mine better the next time," he says. "I realize I'm a very small fish in a very big pond."

When Rundle's done with the current shoot he'll return to Missoula. At that point movies may take a backseat to other priorities. He has to hustle at his other job, as a local bouncer, so he can cover rent.

A special screening of The Life and Times of An American Playboy will be held Friday, Aug. 26, at 8 PM at the Wilma Theatre. The screening will be followed with a concert by Pinky and the Floyd at the Top Hat. $5 donation for the movie. $2 cover (with ticket stub) for the concert.

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