Ryan Crepack is a Philadelphia-based, 26 year-old, Temple University alum who works on film and stage. He says he is open to all forms of acting "but attempts at Musical Theatre and Dance would most likely end in disaster."
Ok Ryan, after many attempts to make this interview happen, here we are haha. Why don't you start by telling me why you decided to be an actor/filmmaker?
It feels like I never had a choice, really. I think it was always “in” me. From a very early age, I was already completely enamored with visual storytelling of every kind and felt some sort of instinctual drive to reenact or emulate what I was seeing for whatever audience I could find. As I matured, so did my interests in acting and storytelling. When it came time to choose what I wanted to do in life, it was a pretty easy decision. Knowing how tumultuous that road can be, I did consider other career paths, but eventually realized that there was no way I could be happy if I wasn’t pursuing my passions.
So I'm assuming you went to college for acting or film. Where did you study?
Ultimately, I graduated from Temple University with a BA in Film and Media Arts and I thought it was great, overall. It had a solid program for aspiring filmmakers and it really helped me cultivate the skills needed for behind-the-scenes work. It also taught me how to follow through with an idea so that I could actually transfer my story from the page to the screen. Additionally, all throughout the college years I was nourishing my need to act by taking courses or acting in my own work, so it really was a very beneficial experience for me.
It sounds like you had a pretty good experience. I generally feel that most programs have some excellent stuff to offer and it's really up to students to be proactive and take advantage of what is there. Do you think colleges could do a better job preparing actors and filmmakers?
I don’t know if this pertains to colleges on the whole, but I would have liked feeling a little more prepared for the real world by the time I left. My wife’s university did a lot of work to usher her into her field and I wouldn’t have minded treatment of a similar nature. My program offered us the tools to do the work, which is great, but the job economy is rough right now in every industry, so a little more direction in regards to how we should approach tackling our respective industries could go a long way.
Agreed! Especially in the arts it often seems like programs leave out the part about how you are a free lancer and you need to file taxes and figure out how to be disciplined and make your own schedule. With that in mind, what does a typical day look like for you?
Well, currently, I have day job, so a bulk of my day is spent there, but my mind is constantly in motion and I’m always developing ideas or considering the circumstances of a character I will soon be playing, be it in an upcoming audition, a role someone had cast me in, or a creation of my own I will soon be embodying. On my drives to and from work, I often go over my lines and rehearse the material, which is probably very entertaining to other drivers. When I get home, I’ll try to catch up on all the new casting posts from the day and work more on whatever performance is next or continue my writing on a personal project. My wife has a fairly crazy work schedule, so I usually try to plan it out so that I’m doing work of that nature when she is not home so that I can spend time with her when she is.
Well it sounds like you keep yourself busy and still make time for important things, which is a hard balance. Knowing what you know now from having worked in the real world and made the transition from college, what advice would you give someone that is considering acting/writing/filmmaking as a career?
There’s not much I can say that somebody else hasn’t already said better, but I guess I’d start with saying, “Prepare yourself for an uphill struggle.” In this line of work, it often feels like you’re desperately trying to claw your way to the top, whatever that “top” might be and mean for you, and only those with the strongest grip actually have a shot of succeeding.
I do agree with that. I've been reading a lot about 'grit' as a quality recently and how that is often what gets people to the top. It's definitely not all about talent. A lot of it is about persistency, determination, being consistent, and never quitting.
Yeah definitely, and for actors more specifically, I think it’s important to get a very thick skin and try to learn how to not take things personally and to not get attached to any potential opportunity. You should never get attached to a project before you actually get offered a role. I feel a good plan of action is to get in there, do your audition, leave, and assume you didn’t get it. Wash, rinse, repeat. If you follow this mentality and submit for everything you can, roles will eventually come to you and the waiting games in between won’t be as awful. You’ll always feel productive.
Yeah, getting out there and doing something is the best way to keep yourself from focusing on the direction. And it's totally a numbers game. The more you submit for, the more you'll get an audition for, and the more you audition for the more you will book.
For writers and filmmakers, I’d urge you to just go out there and create something. Pick up your tool, be it a pen or a camera, and make your movie. It doesn’t need to be your Magnum Opus, but it has to actually exist outside of your own head. Then, you can pick it apart, figure out what did and didn’t work, and remember that for the future. If your aim is to self-produce this film, aim within your means (or perhaps just a hair outside of them), and see how your creativity can blossom within those limitations. The idea is to try and expand your “means” a little bit with each new product. Push those boundaries, but make sure you’re not setting yourself up to fail by flat-out ignoring the boundaries. Along the way, you will start to really understand who you are as an artist and you’ll start building relationships that can be just as rewarding personally as they are professionally. All of these things can lead to very good outcomes for you and your career, but I can almost guarantee you that none of it will happen if you don’t just get out there and start creating right now.
You mean if I sit in my chair at home watching youtube videos all day that I won't become famous and successful? Hahaha, agreed! Yeah we might put ourselves out there and make something awful, but we can learn from it and move on to make something better. Even huge production companies make flops. When we focus purely on criticizing ourselves, we have shut down the creative process before it's even begun!
You got to live in the moment and do what you love because you love it. Caring too much about what it will lead to is the kiss of death. If you’re out there pursuing your passions, then you should already be considering yourself successful.
Heck yes. Man, I love your attitude. So it sounds like you have specific goals you are moving toward. What are some of those for you?
I have a feature film screenplay and a web series I’m working on, so I’d love to get them done before the end of the year. I’m actually hoping to have the web series shot by the end of the year and it’d be really great if I could get the ball rolling on moving the feature film into production by the end of 2016, too, but we’ll see what happens!
Another goal would be to get cast in roles where I can really explore my dramatic and comedic depths. I want roles that will challenge me and maybe even frighten me, so that I can triumph over them and be a better artist for it. I want to find the extent of my range and then force it to grow wider. If I can work on a project that will help towards that end, even if it’s only by a little, then I will feel incredibly accomplished regarding this year.
Those are great goals, and I have no doubt you will accomplish them! Are there any specific actors that have inspired you along the way, or whose careers you emulate?
There are so many, it’s very hard for me to just note a few, but I’ll do the best I can. On the live-action acting front, I really enjoy and admire Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Harrison Ford, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Hardy, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day Lewis, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Idris Elba, Kate Winslet, and Oscar Isaac. Also, as a fan of animation, I feel I must also mention the profound impact Mark Hamill’s voice acting work has had on my life; Nolan North and Troy Baker are also great.
Additionally, I get very excited and inspired by actors who have had great success in writing, directing, or both. I remember thinking to myself how one episode of Breaking Bad was directed so excellently only to learn that the director was Bryan Cranston. I love that some of the best episodes of Parks and Recreation were written and directed by Amy Poehler. I think Louis CK and Larry David are comedic geniuses and I love how they both utilize their unique voices in their writing. Ben Affleck has really put out some great work lately on both sides of the camera and I definitely couldn’t wrap up this list without mentioning a phenomenal artist who was cut down before his time: Heath Ledger. I think we only really scratched the surface of what he was capable of as an actor and filmmaker before he passed, but his work and talent will live on and continue to inspire.
Lastly, on the filmmaking side of the spectrum, I’d like to mention Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, the two big directing heroes of mine, but I’m also a big fan of Quentin Tarantino, Tim Burton, David Fincher, George Miller, Alejandro G. Iñárritu and pretty much everybody in Pixar.
Are there any films/plays that have really touched or inspired you along the way?
Another hard one! It’d take me forever to name them all, but let me throw out a few examples. Let’s see… a lot of Spielberg’s work (the Indiana Jones franchise, Schindler’s List, Catch Me If You Can, Minority Report) and Nolan’s work (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, The Prestige, Memento), obviously, but I also love Fight Club, The Shawshank Redemption, Training Day, Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, On the Waterfront, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A few examples of some new favorites that have just come out within the past few years or so would be Her, Birdman, Whiplash, Mad Max: Fury Road and Inside Out.
As far as the stage goes, I definitely need to mention Pygmalion because A.) It’s great, and B.) It was the first play I did in high school where I was able to play a principal role. In fact, I was the main, male lead, Henry Higgins, so that was a big moment in my life. Additionally, anything by Tennessee Williams is usually fantastic. I would love to do more of his work in the future.
Musicals in general don’t speak to me as much as stage plays, but there are a few I enjoy a great deal. I thought The Book of Mormon was brilliant and you can’t go wrong with The Phantom of the Opera. I mean, it’s a classic for a reason!
Haha, you definitely can't go wrong with Phantom of the Opera! I'm going to keep asking the hard questions for a minute, because I just find it so interesting to know what people are inspired by and what they learn from. I don't know if you are a reader, but do you have any books that have informed your process?
The Stanislovski System by Sonia Moore was a very enlightening read. I wouldn’t say that book alone is my “Acting Bible,” but I do keep a lot of its teachings in mind. American Cinema/American Culture by John Belton provides an interesting account on the importance of film and how it affects the masses in profound, deeply personal ways. John Berger’s Ways of Seeing was great in the way it broke down how visuals and imagery can be used as a means of communication, which is obviously something that’s very important to understand when directing film, a largely visual medium. I also just love to buy books that detail the making of some of my favorite films.
Yes, I love knowing more about how films were made as well! I find myself more often turning to youtube clips and less often turning to books for that, but there are some really beautifully crafted texts out there on the topic. Ok, onto a somewhat easier question I think...Do you collaborate with other actors/artists, and if so, what do you do with them?
Yes, there are actually three “consultants” of sorts whose brains I pick on pretty much everything I’m personally developing.
One of them is David Esposito, who was actually featured on your website very recently! He’s been a close friend of mine since middle school and we’ve pretty much been making movies and videos together from the very start. Another is Stephen Lo Biondo, another close friend of mine I’ve known for some time. We first started working together on various music projects, but that collaborative spirit has since transcended that particular medium. They both always make efforts to analyze my pitches thoroughly and provide me with intelligent, constructive comments. They also always do what they can to help bring these ideas to life, as I do with theirs.
Recently, the three of us worked together on a project called Fatal Premonition along with an actor named Dominik Zdzioch. Dave and I wrote, directed, and acted in the film, while Steve took upon duties as the Director of Photography and also lent his acting talents to the role of Anthony. It was produced and distributed through my production company, Mind Palace Pictures.
The last member of my Consulting Trio is my wife, Deanna. She is not seeking a career within the industry and would not consider herself an artist, but her advice is always genuine and objective. She brings a fresh perspective to everything I’m working on and her thoughts on the matter are invaluable to me. She is a lot more creatively astute than she thinks!
Brownie points for getting advice from your wife. You are a very wise man for doing so! I know you've mentioned that you have a day job, you act and write and direct, and you are married so I almost hesitate to ask this next question... I find that people who are passionate about one thing are often passionate about many things. Do you have other interests or hobbies?
I do love to open up a sketchpad and draw. I would eventually like to make some sort of animated project, as I am a big fan of the medium and the freedom it affords you. Additionally, like most people in the world, I am also passionate about music. I do play the guitar and I am currently learning to play the violin.
Ok, great. So you are one of those 'good at everything' people. Hahaha, good for you. I try to surround myself with equally ambitious people, so that's good to know. So far you've been really positive. I'd like to give you some space to vent. Is there anything that frustrates you about our industry?
The competitive nature can certainly be taxing and overwhelming, but, more frustrating to me is the lack of opportunities afforded to women and minorities. I do realize that because this answer is coming from a white male, it could induce a fair amount of eye rolling, but I think the industry needs to open its mind and let women be more than accessories to leading men. We need to let minorities play more characters than simply those written to be minorities. Directors and writers have a power and therefore a responsibility to take action towards that end and perhaps open some eyes. It doesn’t mean you have to re-configure your story. You want your project to bloom organically, but I do think it’s important to ask ourselves to be mindful of this idea when writing and casting. Maybe it’ll make others want to approach their writing and casting in a similar fashion. One can hope, but I want to make sure I’m doing more than just hoping.
Great perspective! I would love to know what you are working on currently.
Well, I’ve just recently finished the newest draft on that feature film screenplay I mentioned earlier, so that’s been sent off to my personal “focus group” and I’m basically waiting for them to get back to me with all of their feedback. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to finalize the shooting scripts for the web series I’m working on. I think those will be ready to get into production soon. Lastly, I just finished shooting my scenes for a production I was lucky enough to be a part of called Ruby, so I’m once again prowling the casting sites for new opportunities!
Do you use backstage, actors access, IMDbPro, or another casting site? If so, what has your experience been with that?
I mainly use Backstage and Film.org because I’ve had a good amount of success with them, but I’ve used other sites such as IMDbPro and Cast It Talent in the past, as well.
Agreed, especially in Philly Film.org is really great. Ok, last question, do you have any crazy stories of things that have happened to you on set/stage, during the creative process, or at an audition?
Back in the summer of 2014, I was cast in a short film called, Butterfly’s Lament, which was scheduled to start production in late September. In the meantime, I was still auditioning and looking to find a gig for after my experience working on Butterfly’s Lament or perhaps even before, if one was starting and ending soon enough. One of the auditions was held at a library in Philadelphia, so I prepared the requested material over a few days, made myself presentable, drove to the library and walked into the seating area for the audition where another actor, a competitor for the role, was waiting. After sitting in silence for a few minutes, the gentleman struck up a conversation with me and we started talking about our past experiences and our future prospects. He let me know he had another project lined-up already and when I asked him the title of the production, he promptly let me know: Butterfly’s Lament. My eyes bulged and I asked him the name of his character. It turns out he was playing the best friend of my character and ended up being my main scene partner for the project. We parted ways that day, were both passed over for the role we were auditioning for, met up again for the shoot of Butterfly’s Lament and eventually started hanging out fairly often. That gentleman’s name is Dominik Zdzioch and, as I mentioned earlier, he later went on to have a role in Fatal Premonition.
For more info about Ryan, check out the following links:
IMDB Page - http://www.imdb.com/name/nm6209600/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
LinkedIn Profile - www.linkedin.com/pub/ryan-crepack/4b/184/61b
Vimeo Channel - https://vimeo.com/ryancrepack
Professional Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/ryancrepack.professional