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by Lela Scott MacNeil
July 15th, 2010

Come see Monroe Street and other short films about “Brooklyn Transformations” for FREE this Saturday in Fort Greene Park.

This Saturday’s Rooftop Films show, “Brooklyn Transformations,” features a collection of shorts from local Brooklyn directors that focus on the changing dynamics of Brooklyn’s communities. One intimate and heartwarming example, Monroe St., stars a teenage filmmaker who is reluctant to share his aspirations with friends in present day Bed-Stuy. Director Durier Ryan chose young, untrained actors to give us an honest, natural depiction of life in the neighborhood.

Durier spoke to Rooftop about creating a relatable  protagonist that could bring an audience fully into the color and everyday beauty of Bed-Stuy. As the boy and his camera walk the streets and interact with familiar faces and places, we feel his hesitation and also his triumph when he allows himself to open up and trust not only others but also his own talent.

Rooftop Films: Give a brief description of the film for those who haven’t seen it.

Durier Ryan: Monroe St. is about a young man from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, who’s just starting out as a filmmaker. He’s really at the very beginning of this new experience, and there’s all these raw nerves that come from self-doubt and a little shyness. The film is about him taking a small but meaningful step forward in sharing this new experience with someone he’s close with.

RF: In the film, the young man feels the need to keep his aspirations and passion for film a secret.  Did you feel that way growing up?

DR: I had it much easier than the character in my movie. I took to film pretty easily, and my friends have all been supportive. But I’ve worked closely with urban teens on a few different “video diary” projects, where the camera often gave them the sense of being an outsider, even in their own neighborhoods. So my writer and I drew from those experiences. And when I started working with my lead actor, we found connections between his own experiences as an aspiring actor, and the character’s journey in the movie – having this dream that makes you feel different than all your friends. So we built some of that into the story as well, in a way that feels more specific to the character and environment.

RF: It seems that the young man was able to see the beauty of his Bed-Stuy neighborhood only from behind the lens. In what ways did Brooklyn serve as a good backdrop for the movie?

DR: This was a Brooklyn movie from the beginning. Monroe Street, in Bed-Stuy, is the street that my writer, who is originally from LA, lives on. All the neighborhood scenes in the film came out of her experiences living there. I like that there’s this outsider appreciation of the neighborhood – it matches the experience of the main character, who starts to see the world around him in a new way once he starts filming.  All the colors and images we used were designed to heighten this sense of newness and wonder – the beauty in the everyday.

RF: The acting is fantastic—very subtle, natural. How did you cast the film? What was your process for working with the actors?

DR: I really love natural performances in movies, and I made it a priority with this one to cast authentic teenagers, rather than professional actors. It did take more time, both in rehearsals and while we were shooting. We did a lot of takes. But the teens also helped with the script – we read through it together and rewrote a lot of the dialogue as a team. So in the end there was more of an investment in the scenes, because the words were theirs. Little moments that they came up with during rehearsals wind up being the most fun for me when I watch it now.

RF: Are you a full-time filmmaker? If not, what else do you do?

DR: Right now I’m in school at Columbia University, working towards an MFA in film writing and directing. It’s definitely full time. I’ve worked in the independent film industry in NYC for a few years, but decided to take a break from work to focus on my own films while in school. There will have to be more of a balance after I graduate, but for now I’m really grateful for the time and opportunity to work solely on my own projects.

RF: Tell us about what else you are currently working on.

DR: I’m prepping to shoot another short later this summer. I’m working with non-professional actors again, so spending a lot of time getting them comfortable just being themselves in front of the camera, and then trying to tailor the entire production around them. I’m also writing a feature script, and developing my thesis short, which I’ll make next Summer.

RF: What excites you about screening your film, in Brooklyn, at Rooftop Films?

DR: I’m really excited to screen the film with Rooftop, especially in Fort Greene.  I lived in the neighborhood for about 7 years, right by the park.  I watched it change.  During rehearsals last summer with my actors, we spent time in the park just hanging out and talking about their characters’ relationship.  Afterwards we went to BAM and watched Do The Right Thing on the big screen – neither of them had ever seen it all the way through.  So screening the movie in Fort Greene Park, one year later, definitely feels like a homecoming for all of us. And being able to have all the actors see it with their friends and families – in a lineup with other Brooklyn movies – feels pretty special.

See Monroe Street and other Brooklyn short films  for FREE this Saturday at 8:30pm in Fort Greene Park.

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Rooftop Films is a New York based non-profit whose mission is to engage diverse communities by showing independent movies in outdoor locations, producing new films, coordinating youth media education, and renting equipment at low cost to artists.

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