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Ryan Colucci Interview: Writer and Co-Director of Orient City Discusses Latest Film

Orient City: Ronin & The Princess is a new hand-drawn animated film about a fallen samurai who is sworn to protect a young girl whose family has been murdered. Read more about the project here. The film recently reached its Kickstarter funding goal and we had the opportunity to ask a few questions to writer and co-director Ryan Colucci about the upcoming film and the experience in making an independent film.
Ryan Colucci
Orient City: Ronan and the Princess

Before we begin, congratulations on reaching your Kickstarter goal. Could you tell our readers a bit about your background and interests that led you to this project?

Ryan Colucci: I don’t come from a background where a career in the arts was realistic so I went to Villanova University and studied Accounting, for no other reason than it was supposedly hard and I was good at it. I spent a year overseas studying Economics and Political Science at Cambridge University – and when I was there I realized I was destined for another life. It was the first time I left the bubble that was my life, and really took stock of it. The books I was consuming in large quantities all had one thing in common – they were about filmmaking. Not the racy, exciting side of Hollywood… but books on lighting and editing and screenwriting. It dawned on me that people actually do this for a living, these movies that shaped my entire life weren’t created in some magic fantasy land.

So I came back, transferred to film school close to home and eventually got accepted to the Peter Stark Producing MFA Program at USC, which was the turning point in my life. 

I grew up as a child of the 80s, so the Star Wars films basically defined my childhood. The world of Orient City has been inspired by the world-building of those films and a lifetime of westerns, samurai films and everything in-between. I spent a lot of time just sitting on the floor in the living room while my dad watched old westerns. That has left an indelible mark on me. Some kids wanted to be firemen and cops growing up, I wanted to be Blondie from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly.

Orient City has its roots in anime, but it’s more Miyazaki than anything. Outside of that, it is obviously heavily influenced by spaghetti westerns – my absolute favorite genre of films. Once Upon a Time in the West, The Man Without a Name trilogy, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Yojimbo are films that have been an influence on this project. Our story has similar themes to Leon: The Professional and Man on Fire… but hopefully unique, if I did a decent job with the script.

Watching the teaser and opening few minutes of the film, what immediately impresses is the unique style. While the spaghetti Westerns and Samurai film influences are obvious, how did the compelling story originate?

RC: My partner on the project, Zsombor Huszka, and I were on the road hitting as many conventions as we could to promote our graphic novel R.E.M.  You have a lot of down time in the car and at a convention table, so he was always sketching. We both love samurais, and he loves to draw samurais, so he sketched a samurai Batman (which we finished as an art print) and then we started spit-balling ideas… And Orient City was born.

We were both interested in making an animated film that isn’t necessarily for children and we wanted the world to have this epic, grand scale… beautiful but ultra-violent at the same time.

Ryan Colucci
Orient City: Ronan and the Princess

Tell us about you partnership with Zsombor Huszka? 

RC: He is based out Budapest and was actually a member of the Hungarian national fencing team. He’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt. So he’s not your traditional artist… and it gives him a very good perspective on the action scenes because they are coming from actual experience.

Even though we are a world apart, we have a short-hand working together. It started during R.E.M. and continues today. We spend a lot of time going back and forth on design work.  Once that is done, bringing it to life is more about labor and small tweaks. 

For Orient City, the most important guideline to keep in mind is that everything from the smallest details to the choreography of a fight scene has to have both Western and Asian movie elements in it. If Zsombor creates a typical western wanted flyer, he makes it a scroll and puts it on rice paper with faded Kanji symbols on it.

What are some of the creative freedoms you like about this medium compared to live-action or CGI? 

RC: I’m not at a stage in my career where doing this as a live-action film is possible, so there’s that. Between 2D and 3D, it is less about creative freedom and more about the short-comings of 3D.  In 3D animation, the way they build environments and objects, then blend the whole composition together with visual effects is breathtaking. But as for the human characters, they always feel lifeless to me. I don’t know if I’ve seen a CG feature that was aimed at adults that I have really responded to. The level of realism isn’t quite there yet and yet too advanced at the same time.

As independent filmmakers, what have been the larger hurdles in getting your vision complete?

RC: For me, it always comes down to financing. I have never been lacking in the ambition department, so it is never a lack of product or willing collaborators. Finding money for independent projects is extremely hard.  I have a finance background and went to the best producing program in the world, which goes a long way… if I’m able to get in front of investors.  That’s the hardest thing.  A lot of people want to play producer and take a lot of meetings, but when it comes to putting up the money they disappear. I’ve been doing this without representation for most of my career and have done well based on sheer force of will. I hope one day that changes and things can really take off.

Ryan Colucci
Orient City: Ronan and the Princess

Based on your Kickstarter page, now that you’ve reached your goal, you have a lot of work ahead. Tell us about that process.

RC: This is hand-drawn animation. So we have to draw 6,000 frames. We have a Corel, Photoshop pipeline. We will be mixing some 3D in, like particle effects and the like. Zsombor will be doing the large majority of key-frames and setting the colors for the Colorists.

Once we have everything drawn (but still being colored), we can start the sound design and scoring process. We will be done by December 1st at the latest.

You’ve published two graphic novels, R.E.M. (which we read and really enjoyed) and Harbor Moon, plus produced a CGI-animated film called Battle for Terra, and wrote directed your first film, Suburban Cowboy. Clearly you have a lot going on. Are there any projects aside from Orient City we can expect to know about soon?

RC: That’s really awesome you took the time to read R.E.M. Thank you for the kind words. It’s easily the most personal thing I’ve ever done and definitely an evolution from Harbor Moon in terms of where I’m headed as a storyteller.

Suburban Cowboy is definitely at the top of the list of projects to keep an eye on. It’s a small film… a gritty thriller that is being sold right now. Orient City has helped keep me busy so I don’t have to freak out about that. We actually did hand-drawn animated titles for that and they were nominated for an Excellence in Title Design at this year’s SXSW festival, against massive films like Spectre and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I also have the sci-fi film White Space in post. I am the lead producer and writer of that one.  We have roughly 8 more months of visual effects.  That is a film that will come out of nowhere and, I think, blow people away with what we have accomplished. The sheer volume of effects and the level they are being done at just have not been done before.

On the publishing side, I have a young adult graphic novel in production, Bulderlyns. It’s close, but still a few months away.

We really appreciate you taking the time to answer a few questions. In closing, our site is dedicated to great moments in movies and games. We’d love to know about a moment in a favorite film that has been influential for you.

RC: Because I am making a samaurai spaghetti western, I have to go with the opening from Once Upon A Time in the West. The sparse dialogue, the long setup, the incoming train, the waiting gunslingers, the reveal of Harmonica and the epic stand-off that takes place… It is my favourite opening and it sums up, for me, what westerns are all about.

Thank you again for your time, and good luck with the film. 

RC: Thanks so much!