Since the beginning of Fantasia 2020, I’ve been telling everyone I know about Fried Barry, a wild and colorful film about a junkie who gets abducted by aliens and then goes on an adventure around Cape Town. It’s the debut feature for director Ryan Kruger, but along with lead actor Gary Green, he’s been running a strange and creative campaign to promote the film, using commercials and personalized messages.
Last week, I received a video message from Green, staring at his hands and ominously whispering my name. I just had to call up Ryan Kruger and ask him about what it is was like making this film.
“We shot for 28 days over a year and a half. The movie developed as we were going, in the sense that 90 percent of the movie was improv.”
Chris Aitkens for Nightmare On Film Street: How did Fried Barry evolve from a short film to a feature?
Ryan Kruger: What happened was, I think it was 2017 I shot Fried Barry the short, the three-minute experimental about a drug addict on his latest hit, and his highs and lows, and that was it. There wasn’t a major connection with the short and the feature apart from that it’s called Fried Barry and it’s about a drug addict. I think some people might look at it and say “how the fuck are you going to make that short film into a feature?” With the success of the short film, hitting a lot of the festivals around the world, and getting awards and fan art from all over, it was kind of crazy how that happened. I knew I was onto something, but at the same time, there was never an idea to become a feature film. And where I was, at the time, in my career, wanting to make a feature film, coming close so many times over the years, and then it all faded away and it just doesn’t happen.
During this time, just before I made Fried Barry, I actually went through a really hard time: I had something wrong with my kidney, I had an operation, I got sepsis, I nearly died, I broke up with a girlfriend at the time, my cat got cancer. I was just all these things, and I went into this deep depression. I just got to a point when I felt I was done. I said to myself “What is the number one thing that I’ve always wanted to do in life?” And it was to make a feature. It was right at the top of my list. I knew that was the one thing, if I did it, that could get me out of this hole. When I got the idea, it just came to me suddenly, I spent three days doing 50 percent of the movie scene breakdown, which was very brief, it was like “Barry does this, Barry goes here.” I knew I wanted to use Gary Green from the short, but because Gary’s not a trained actor, it had to be the right story, it had to be the right character, it had to be the right way to shoot the film and I had to work the film around Gary to make it work.
At the time, I rang my producer James C. Williamson—I only knew the guy for a month, we shot two experimentals together—and I said to him “I’ve got an idea for a feature, but I want to make it next month.” He asked me if I had a script, I said no, not really. I have to do it a certain way if we make this film. He asked me why next month. I said “If we don’t shoot it next month, it ain’t ever gonna happen. It’s probably gonna get pushed back and it just won’t ever happen. Either you’re in or you’re out.” He said he was in.
A month later, we started shooting the movie. We shot for 28 days over a year and a half. The movie developed as we were going, in the sense that 90 percent of the movie was improv. With Gary, he didn’t know what we were doing, until the day that we were doing it. He obviously knew what the film was about, but because he’s not a trained actor, I didn’t want him to overthink stuff, and we needed that clean slate every single day to work with him. There were scenes where I told Gary to copy my face. So in conversations, I can get those right reactions. Gary gave 120 percent on every take. It was great working with him and it was a wild, crazy adventure.
“Even if I got the best actor in the country, he would be nowhere near as good as Gary [Green]. He is Fried Barry, he’s the part.“
NOFS: How did it feel seeing that there was fan art and appeal for this bizarre character? Are you expecting more fan art once Fried Barry is released to the public?
RK: When we started getting fan art from the shorts, somebody sent me something, I didn’t read the message, I just saw the picture first. “Oh, that looks like Barry. Oh, fuck, it is Barry!” All these random people were tagging me and sending me pictures. I think other people saw other people doing it, and then checked out the short for themselves, and it was just this wave. It was weird. It’s funny sometimes, how you stumble onto something and there’s something about it that people want to attach themselves to, or they really like a character. That’s the thing with Gary, he has that unique look, nobody looks like Gary. I think recently, we’ve got some new fan art coming in now, so I can only imagine when more people see this, there’ll be more. It’s crazy to create a character, and everybody loves him, and everyone wants to do this artwork.
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NOFS: So how did you first meet Gary Green?
RK: I’ve been working with Gary for about ten years. Gary’s background is doing extra work. He’s been on every TV show and movie that gets shot in Cape Town as an extra. He started getting featured roles in my music videos and stuff I would direct, and his parts would get a little bigger. But I met Gary about 11 years ago. I was working on this student film at a film school here in South Africa. I was chilling in the waiting room, and I just started talking to Gary, and we just got on. I love characters, and he’s such a character, he’s got such an interesting face that says so much. And when I would shoot stuff, I would say “We gotta get Gary in!” The cool thing about our relationship is that he hung in there working with me for so long. Eventually it came to that one project that I wanted him to be the lead in. And now he’s the lead in the feature, and nobody could have done this part better than him. The idea I came up with and everything was for Gary. Even if I got the best actor in the country, he would be nowhere near as good as Gary. He is Fried Barry, he’s the part.
NOFS: You’ve directed quite a few music videos. How did that help with directing Fried Barry? Because there’s a few musical segments when he’s walking about in the streets.
RK: A lot of people ask me that question. I’m known for shooting narrative story-telling and visual stuff for music videos, it’s less about the performance. But there’s scenes like in the club, when he’s dancing, where I suppose elements came into that, but I don’t think it’s any different apart from the striking visuals that I always do in all my projects. It’s just a longer form of filmmaking, and obviously, I’ve never spent so much time with one character and developing a story for so long. It was interesting, and it was one of those things that I always wanted, to shoot a feature. I’ve tried so many times in the past, with producers coming to me saying they want to make a movie with me, and then it drifts away.
I think about six years ago, there was one producer who met with me—and I used to get excited, but then it became the same thing, they’re going to promise me this, and then it’s going to fade away—and the last producer, I remember, he shook my hand and said we were going to make this movie. I wanted it to happen, but it’s not up to you, it’s not your money. It’s his money, so if he says yes, then you say yes, and I say yes. But then it didn’t happen, so it got to a point where I was with depression. The answer was there all along. The funny thing is, it took me nearly dying to realize I just got to do it. Instead of waiting for these people, sometimes you just got to do it yourself. It was great, and it was better that I got to do it myself. It means more, and I work a million times harder for it. With me and my producer, we didn’t have a studio to back us, so I could do whatever I wanted. We didn’t have to worry about what we could get away with. To have that total control was great—not that anybody would fund Fried Barry if I told them what I wanted to do and how to make it, that would have been a different story.
“…it took me nearly dying to realize I just got to do it. Instead of waiting for [studios], sometimes you just got to do it yourself.”
NOFS: So moving forward, do you think you’ll use this format of filming over a year and a half or do you think once people see what you can actually do, you’ll be able to go with the more traditional route of filmmaking?
RK: It wasn’t ideal to shoot it over a year and a half, but the design of it made it possible to do that. The main continuity of the movie was Barry. Instead of worrying about other actors cutting their hair or not having the wardrobe, it was just about focusing on Barry the character. But I started as an actor first, then I went into directing, so I actually love improv and I love working with actors and I love working with directors as an actor. I would go the more traditional route but it’s nice to have that freedom, it’s nice to have that creativity. I think with Fried Barry, I think it’s a good first-time filmmaker film where I got to experiment and I got to live in the moment and come up with those ideas, sometimes on the spot. It’s nice to be open.
With other films, traditionally, you’ve got the script, you’re gonna shoot this, and then that’s it. If somebody gets an idea, you can’t really change anything. You can direct it differently and an actor can perform it differently but it won’t change that much. To have that organic process is great. That’s where the magic comes from. A lot of the best scenes in Fried Barry, I got the idea on the spot. The next film I want to do next year is a time travel movie, so the thing with that is, I would not be able to use improv. It’s like “This has to happen, this is from this point of view.” It wouldn’t really work with the next film, with the story and synopsis and the way it goes. Films about time travel, it’s all about continuity of this happening at this time, so it wouldn’t be the same design. I’m just a time travel freak, I’ve got so many ideas. I love the basis and the concept of time. I got this idea about eight years ago and I still want to do this and I still haven’t seen it done in film. Hopefully, I’ll be shooting that middle of next year.
NOFS: What was the most difficult scene to film in Fried Barry?
RK: You’re gonna laugh at this. Making a film is never easy, but we had a lot of fun with this movie, we had a great crew and I had a great producer. There’s difficulties in certain scenes. Working with Gary, I had to work very close with him and I guided him through. But sometimes the easy things are hard for Gary, or vice versa. So I had this one shot where there’s just been a fight and the girl is waiting to see who’s going to come through the door. Is it going to be the bad guy or is it going to be the good guy? And in this shot, Gary has to come out and turn. He hears the girl and turns. That’s the shot. And it just went on forever, it was take after take. And I’m like “Gary, you’re not listening to me. You just step out, you’re here, you turn, and then you turn your shoulders.” And then Gary would do a quick turn. So I had to say “Gary, copy me!” But he thought he was doing it. We had something like 70 takes. I felt like Stanley Kubrick yelling “Do it again!” It was the hardest scene, but it was the simplest shot in the movie. And at the end, Gary would ask to do it again, and I said “Gary, if you didn’t get it in the 75th take, you’re not going to get it in the 76th.”
Then there was the underwater scene, as part of the heroin dream sequence where he floats to the bottom. We went to this indoor swimming pool. Everything had to be timed. Gary has to fall into the water, and then my DOP has to go down just before so he captures him going into the water. But Gary would go down too late into the water, and then the DOP would come back up not knowing what was going on. It was just that timing of going up and down. So I said “Gary, you have to blow all the air out of your mouth so you sink when you fall in. You’re just bobbing on top of the water like a piece of shit.” Then in the end, we gave him a belt with weights so he could sink. Other than that, there’s the first abduction scene, which was quite hectic because we had all this smoke and we had these wind machines. It was a long night because it’s such an important scene in the movie. So we shot that back to back with the end scene. I could have easily shot it with a green screen when he goes up to the ship, but I wanted to do it in-camera. So we had these cranes with these wireworks lifting him up. I’m an ‘80s kid, so you have to do everything in-camera and do only ten percent with CGI. You don’t want it to look too digital. We have to see him get lifted up, so we know it’s not visual effects.
“I’m an ‘80s kid, so you have to do everything in-camera and do only ten percent with CGI. You don’t want it to look too digital.”
NOFS: When you use the line “A Ryan Kruger Thing,” it sounds like you’re trying to start a brand. How would you describe the Ryan Kruger style?
RK: The funny thing is, I’ve always used “a Ryan Kruger thing,” ever since I was a kid. I’ve always been big on marketing and things that people remember. You know you have “an Alfred Hitchcock flick” or you got “a Spike Lee joint.” So I needed something like that, and I remember being 15, and my best friend at the time came up with it and it just stuck. I’ve used it on every single music video and everything that I’ve ever shot. It’s a thing that people always remember and that people always mention to me. But going back to what you asked, what is “a Ryan Kruger thing?” It could be a style. I like to shoot a certain way and I like to edit a certain way. I like writing dialogue and using crazy wacky visuals. But it’s one of those things where, I’ve had people say to me “I can tell you directed that!” How? “It’s just your style.” Sometimes, as the person doing it, I can’t always see it. I just do whatever I do. I can’t explain it, it’s all part of the DNA of a Ryan Kruger thing.
NOFS: Are you still acting?
RK: Yeah! I actually work quite often as an actor as well. I haven’t done anything for a while, because I’ve just been concentrating on this for such a long time. I think the last thing I did was a very small part in Bloodshot, the Vin Diesel film. But since Fried Barry, I’ve just been concentrating on that, it’s the biggest thing I’ve done, and you only get one shot and it has to be the best. When people make their first feature film, obviously it has to be good, but it has to be the best thing you’ve ever shot, otherwise, what are you doing? It’s not just about making the movie, the next thing is selling your movie and marketing it. There’s so much that goes on behind the scenes after the movie and it’s never completely done. It’s never finished until it’s completely out there. From now until December, we have the festival run, and it will only be out next year. With Fried Barry, we’ve been releasing all these great, weird, offbeat commercials and memes. I don’t know if you saw, but we did a condom commercial. It’s just such a fun character and a wacky movie, when it comes to marketing, there’s no rules. You can do anything!
NOFS: Anything else you want our readers to know about Fried Barry?
RK: If you haven’t seen it, go check it out at Fantasia, at the moment. Other than that, you can go to www.friedbarry.com or Fried Barry on Facebook or Twitter, or check me out on Instagram at @aryankrugerthing or go to ryankruger.tv. Just check out the trailer, check out the film, and let me know what you think. It’s my first film, it’s been an exciting process, and the amount of people who have reached out to me is amazing. My inbox is flooded with so many people talking about this movie.
Ryan Kruger’s Fried Barry celebrates its Canadian Premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival. Click HERE to read our full review of the film & check out all of our festival coverage, and be sure to let us know what you thought of Fried Barry over on Twitter, in the official Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!