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A breath of fresh Trini air
My name is Ryan C Khan and I’m one of three directors whose films, combined, opened last year’s Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. The “C” in Ryan C Khan is for, “Christopher”. But, maybe behind my back, other people use it to stand for something else. I was born Roman Catholic. Even though “Khan” is usually a Muslim last name. My grandfather was Compton Delph. He was an important figure in Trinidadian media. I always look at his picture and thing, “Hmm. You’ll let me know if I’m doing something wrong, right?” Before I found the film thing, I did the band thing: I played in an underground Goth-Emo rock band in Trinidad. And I joined the local rock band, Tripped & Falling, when I met them in England. I played between guitar and bass.
I used to pass this sign on my way home: “Big Fish in a Blue Bottle”. They didn’t even have, “Video Production” on their sign. It wasn’t that they weren’t welcoming on my internship; I can tell that now I’m on this side. It’s just that, when you’re into video production, it’s really hard to take on and train a new person. It was a real baptism of fire. That’s how you get in. It’s almost like being born: you have to really push yourself in like how you push yourself out to be born. I grew up in South and passed for Presentation. But then my parents split, when I was, like 12 or 13, so I came to Town and transferred to Fatima.
You know there’s your mother and father and that’s what it’s like to like a girl; then you see your parents split. I think it made me the filmmaker I am, because being a filmmaker is about questioning. The urge to create is brought on by watching something crumble. You’ve seen what it was like before, and you want to make it something like that again. My parents’ splitting up made me attracted to emotional Gothic rock stuff. Metallica, Korn, that kind of thing. Music saves lives but what could I have looked for in Trinidad music? Drink, have a good time, jump up higher. Just ignore it. But I needed to deal with it. Rock music isn’t afraid of pointing fingers at others saying, “It’s your fault!”
I have one elder brother and one younger sister. Middle Child Syndrome. If they took me on at home, I might not be driven to create anything. If I pick up a book, I’ll read it from beginning to end; but I don’t read much. I read a lot of graphic novels, though; they’re like story-boarding. If I had to name a film I’d watch over and over and love every time, it would be the Matrix. Some films from long ago stay with me. Like Back to the Future. Old Boy was a very good film, a strong influence on me. The old film school films like Casablanca, Sunset Blvd, Citizen Kane. I never went to film school. I’ve just learned as I’ve gone in every job I’ve had.
I was never good at academics in school. I’d spend all day in class daydreaming of other worlds. Pure escapism. Especially when my parents were separating. All through my life I dreamed of creating alternative universes. I just couldn’t put the name of “film directing” on it. I cut my teeth on commercials. I did Tripped & Falling’s first video, “In Tears & Bad Ending”. In a bedroom, rotating. Until you want to throw up. My first film, which I’d never show anybody, was The Procrastinator, an animation on computer. It was about five minutes long and took about six months to do. My first real piece of narrative filmmaking directing was Minutes to Midnight. There’s a one-minute animation intro and then live action. When people agree to do films, they often don’t know what you have to do to create the vision.
I think that’s where the deficiencies of Minutes to Midnight would show. But I think the idea was strong. My next film, The Midnight Affair, was a lot bigger budget. I did a storyboard about the vision. Getting funding is about getting your vision across as clearly as possible. “Midnight” was in the title of both my first and second films. It was meant to create a buzz but I’m finding people are mixing up my films. I had a lot of liberties with Minutes to Midnight because it was a grant. With The Mdnight Affair, it was investment, and a lot more money involved, and they wanted to know what I was doing every step of the way. The executive producer comes along and says, “Let me see rushes! This is crap! Shoot again!”
Being a filmmaker in Trinidad is not like being a filmmaker in the US. Only a fool would put a V-8 engine in a Mini and think it would work. Most filmmakers starting off make films with their friends. People you trust and understand. It was a big deal and an honour to have my film be part of the opening film for a festival. But the best part was working with the people and actually completing the film. The bad part is the politics and the having to re-shoot. A Trini is a breath of fresh air to the world. Trinidad and Tobago is like family. You love it even if you just can’t deal with it sometimes. And you know it’s going to be there for you when you need it.
Read a longer version of this feature at www.BCRaw.com.
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