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Interview: “But Not For Me” Filmmakers Ryan Carmichael & Jason Stefaniak

(words by Antonio, photos provided by Ryan and Jason)

“But Not For Me” is a feature film set in New York City starring Marcus Carl Franklin as Will, a struggling advertising writer, who meets Hope (Elena Urioste), his neighbor who restores his faith in love, art and his own happiness. The story is a poignant social commentary driven by an original hip-hop and classical soundtrack for a unique experience. I chatted with writer/director Ryan Carmichael and producer Jason Stefaniak (a fellow Towson Tiger) abut the movie,the challenges of making an indie film, and why a failed Kickstarter wwa sa blessing in disguise. 

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Q: What was the inspiration for the story and the characters?

RYAN: The story draws a lot from my personal experiences trying to make ends meet while living and working in New York City. The story, I feel, will be relatable to those not only with creative ambitions who feel as though they’re creativity is invalidated by their day jobs, but also anyone who feels like they have a great gift to give and can’t rest until they do. 

The three principle characters represent the qualities required to chase one’s dreams (Hope, Will, and Grace). Balance them all out and frustration with immediate circumstances can be kept at bay.

Musicals have been getting a fair share of mainstream recognition and support, from Hamilton, to live specials of the Wiz and Grease. In your opinion, why do you think that is?

JASON: It’s interesting to see this happening now, because it wasn’t happening yet when we set out to make the film in 2013 and it definitely wasn’t happening while Ryan was writing the film over the years prior. People are cutting the cord and consuming entertainment via Netflix, Amazon, etc. so the TV networks need live events to drive people to the television and I think musicals are not only a throwback to a prior era of live TV musicals (I’m pretty sure those were a thing?), but they’re pretty family friendly, they’re different than most programming and feel Event-y. Plus, all the musicals thus far are well-known properties, so they’re operating just like a movie franchise. Musical theater is alive and well on Broadway, and all the Disney adaptations have probably only helped that as far the general audience goes – Hamilton is seemingly fantastic and just feeds into that.

The real question might be, with live musicals and stage musicals seemingly so popular and successful right now, where are the film musicals? Why do those still struggle to get made and connect?

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RYAN: Hamilton is a game changer. The soundtrack charted on Billboard and the music is so well done that I’ll bet it makes most rappers and producers feel like Salieri in Amadeus. It’s also accessible as Pop music and tells an amazing story. The math is super simple right? Sometimes it takes an Einstein like Lin-Manuel Miranda to come along and reveal what was there all along by showing us something new.

“The musical genre is timeless and can be just as inventive and invigorating as it was decades ago if done right” – Ryan Carmichael

The Wiz and Grease drew on popular musicals that a lot of folks already knew and/or grew up with and repackaged them for a Millennial audience. Not reinventing the wheel, but realizing that the musical genre is timeless and can be just as inventive and invigorating as it was decades ago if done right. It all boils down to catchy songs and good stories though. If you can do both of those well then you can mount a solid musical. Let’s thank NBC and Lin-Manuel Miranda for waking people up to that. 

How involved were you in the creation of the music, especially this style of hip-hop, which is arguably less present in mainstream rap and pop charts?

RYAN: I love hip hop. I’ve loved hip hop longer than I’ve loved movies. I started rapping when I was eleven and have dabbled in it off and on over the years. As I came of age I grew out of the more radio friendly hip hop and came to worship the likes of Common, The Roots, Black Star, Aesop Rock, and Homeboy Sandman (a Queens, NY native who was the biggest influence on the lyrical style of the film). I wrote all of the lyrics to the songs after months of devouring the music of these cats and others like them trying to figure out how they do what they do.

The film tackles many subjects: the integrity of art and mass communication, capitalism, etc. How much of those concepts are products of the filmmakers (and stars)?

JASON: Almost the entire cast and crew were essentially in the same age group – all creative people living in New York – who are trying to develop fulfilling and sustainable careers. The themes and issues explored in the script and music that Ryan wrote were big reasons for attracting people to the project, especially because the pay was on the lower end.

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RYAN: I really wanted the film to reflect the vibe of the Occupy movement which was waning when I started to write the film. We’re all pieces in a big machine seeking to express our own individuality and hold on to our souls; that’s hard with a media industry and consumer capitalist complex that persistently pushes us to buy the iPhone because everyone has it or see the superhero film because everyone is seeing it.

If you’re an artist, don’t go against the grain to much because no one will understand and it won’t sell. Once we find out what we want to say and contribute to the world how do we communicate it so that it breaks through this conditioning?

What are some of the hurdles of raising money for, and completing, and independent film? What are some of the lessons learned?

JASON: The biggest hurdle – besides that it’s just plain hard to write a film, let alone a good film – is finding the money to get it made. Film is a capital-intensive medium no matter how you spin it. There are some stories that can be told in a certain way to make them cheap, but it’s a limited range – everything else needs resources. When you’re young, unknown, writing stuff that isn’t deemed “commercial” or “mainstream,” maybe if you’re writing political stuff, it’s hard to find money.

If you’re unproven, why should someone trust you with their money? If you haven’t done this before, how do you find people with money to pitch for investment? These are ongoing challenges. For us, we ran a Kickstarter campaign, put our all into it, didn’t scoff at any help or social media shares or press coverage we could get and though the Kickstarter campaign failed, an article in a small local paper led us to finding our investor, which got the film made.

It was a crazy kind of lucky coincidence, but the lesson for me was keep going, set a start date and believe you’re making the film no matter what, and don’t undervalue or under appreciate any help or support or press or boost you can get.

“Believe you’re making the film no matter what, and don’t undervalue or under appreciate any help or support or press or boost you can get” – Jason Stefaniak

There are several ways that creators can reach consumers through content delivery (i.e. streaming, VOD, etc.), social networks and funding platforms. Do you feel that projects that have smaller budgets and don’t have the backing of larger businesses can still cut through the noise? Does that create just another level of necessary work?

JASON: It’s tough – as far as I understand it all, Hollywood has discovered that the surest bet of financial success is spending a ton of money on a big movies and a ton of money advertising them. Strangely, they have to spend so much money for it to be a movie that breaks through and audiences are interested in. Because of that, I don’t think the industry is even open to distributing in any large, meaningful way small movies that in the past they did, which gave them a chance to really break out.

But I do think you can still make a cultural impact with a small film – with the internet and social media amplifying smaller films. I also think, if you’re smart and realistic about where your film is most likely going to end up, you can budget your film appropriately knowing how much you’re most likely going to make, thus you can make some money on a film. The tough part is still coming up with that money to make the film in the first place and with budgets so small, it’s nearly impossible to actually make a living as a filmmaker at this level.

But, we’re just starting, everything is changing, and we’re gonna find a way. Yes, this all means more work – we have to be marketers, build fanbases, etc. – but it also means new opportunities. 

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But Not For Me  (1 hr, 48 mins) premieres exclusively tonight at 7 PM EST on Flix Premiere, and you can start the movie at any time between 7 PM and midnight. Keep up to date with Ryan and Jason at http://www.impoliteco.com/.

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