Though he can’t pinpoint the exact moment, Ryan Combs has always known he would be a moviemaker. Growing up in Compton, where drugs and violence keep many people from realizing their dreams, Combs used movies as a kind of therapy—a way to distract himself from the violence and tragedy that surrounded him (including the murders of his parents and brother in three separate incidents). But Combs didn’t let any of the adversity he faced stop him from becoming a sought-after writer and director of independent films.
He released his first film, Straight Out of Compton, in 1999, and since then has made many other films, including the cult hit Animal 2, starring Ving Rhames. Combs took the time to answer MovieMaker’s questions about how he got his start in the film industry and what inspired him to become a moviemaker.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): You overcame a lot of adversity to get to where you are today. What was the most difficult part in trying to get your start in the business?
Ryan Combs (RC): The most difficult part in trying to get a start in filmmaking was trying to get someone to take a chance on me; trying to get funding and distribution. That is why I quit my job at Home Depot, cashed all my employee stock options and bought my own equipment. I took the equipment back to my old neighborhood in Compton, showed my friends how to use it (to the best of my knowledge) and wrote and directed the my first film, Straight Out of Compton. I pretty much made my own Hollywood…
MM: What would you say to aspiring moviemakers who think they need to go to film school to get a start in the industry?
RC: I think young filmmakers should definitely get the traditional film education, but at the same time know that getting into the world of filmmaking by becoming a production assistant, director’s assistant, grip, etc.—just getting yourself on a film set as often as possible—is equally as important, if not more. That is what I did. A lot of times I had to work for free and prove myself so they would call me for the next job. While I was learning, I never let money determine the jobs I took; the only determining factor of me taking a job was if I would learn what I needed to know at the time.
MM: You’ve had great success with smaller films, including the cult hit Animal 2, starring Ving Rhames. Do you have any desire to direct huge films with massive budgets, or would you prefer to stay more in the realm of independent moviemaking?
RC: I love making independent/organic films, but yes, I would love to be able to express myself without the budget limitations. We work so hard as independent filmmakers for the passion of it, because the road is so rocky that only the love and passion toward the art of filmmaking is what makes you a non-stop, successful independent filmmaker—and there’s no other way, not nowadays.
MM: When you were growing up, what inspired you to seek out a career directing movies? Are there some directors making films today who continue to inspire you as you come up with new ideas?
RC: Sometimes there are things inside of you that have always been there, that you cannot explain; for as long as I can remember, I have always loved movies and have always wanted to make them. When I was a little boy, I always had the impression of movies being real—a way of life. As I grew up I realized that people were behind the scenes making all the magic happen. That’s what made me realize I was going to be a movie director. I don’t know when it started, but I always believed it, I always knew it. It has just been inside of me since I can remember. After I started in the business, I noticed that what had started as a passion and love for filmmaking became a therapy—a therapy that helped me keep my mind off all the tragedies and misery surrounding my own life at the time. The people who inspire me right now are the same people that have inspired me from the beginning: Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and Randal Kleiser.
MM: You have two films in post-production: Double Tap and The Wrath of Cain. What can you tell us about those projects? Do you have anything in the works after that?
RC: A friend of mine, Joan Caspi, sent me her script called Cooking with Gas and we look forward to beginning production in March 2010. We already have some Academy Award-winning actors who have read and committed to the film. We also have a film starring Ving Rhames, Simon Rex and Esai Morales, called King of the Avenue, that was just completed, due out in late 2010.