Filmmaking Friends: An Interview with Marty Martin and Ryon Lane


"In following what feels right, you'll end up with the audience that you identify with. You'll end up with friends you identify with, and ultimately building your own personal culture in a way that feels like you can actually maintain it without effort." - Marty Martin

Marty Martin and Ryon Lane were friends long before they became filmmaking partners. Lane, a former attorney and computer engineer, jumped into the film world as a producer following a life changing accident and realizing his desire to work in a more creative field, teaming with director, Marty Martin, with the goal of creating work that will impact the world. 

The San Francisco-based filmmaking pair has worked side by side for the past two years, launching their production company, Genuine, and creating work ranging from commercial projects -- including a beautiful series documenting the construction of San Francisco's SalesForce Tower -- to Lane's own upcoming feature length documentary, Bleeding Audio

We chatted with Martin and Lane about supporting each other, doing what feels right and the importance of breaking out of your comfort zone (sometimes by hanging off a building to get the best shot).

Marmoset: How did you get started in filmmaking and what drew you to filmmaking over other things?

Marty Martin: I don't know that I was one of those people who always knew that he wanted to be a filmmaker. But in retrospect, I'm kind of realizing now the older I get that yeah, I kind of always did know.

I saw Jurassic Park when I was 11, and despite my frustration that it wasn't as good as the book, in my opinion, something started something. I ended up writing a sequel to that when I was 12. This was pre-internet days, so my dad and I went to the library, and we literally would go through note card after note cards looking for the address for Spielberg. Yeah, so I storyboarded the whole script, we sent it all out to Spielberg and I got my first rejection letter when I was 12, which is very kind of them.

I was always an artist as a kid. I was also always into science and so the plain fact is that any art form, especially film, and music, has always intrigued me, because I really love understanding the process that goes into creating something. And then, the cathartic nature of exorcising what you have within and being able to share it with other people, is really, really satisfying. Film is just one of those awesome media where you get to combine so many artistic forms into one beautiful culmination. And I'm just always attracted to that.

That's amazing. Do you still have that letter?

MM: Yeah. I should probably look at it more often as a reminder to myself that there are times that artists get frustrated with the work they do, or they struggle with their process. They get down on themselves and then it's cool to have something tangible to look back on and say, "Oh, at age 12, I really didn't worry about all this stuff. I just forged ahead." That's actually a really good tool that I should remind myself I have.

Ryon Lane: When I was a kid, literally up until I was in my 30s...I could always watch a movie and just not care if it sucked or not because I wanted to hear what the storyteller had to say. Over the last decade, as a producer I’ve come to understand all the components and all the work and detail that goes into creating a narrative or a documentary, and it's become less easy to get lost in films. But when it's really done is so amazing to me.

I loved film so much as a kid that I actually liked Fantasia. I loved it because of the visual nature of the music that I saw in my head, which was reflected on the screen. And that was the same kind of amazingness I got to see in E.T., where we see Elliott walk up to the shed, muted light coming from within -- because it was palpable. I could connect with the emotions I saw on screen.

So, when I was eight, I cleaned our garage and swept the garage floor for $1.25, so I could earn a ticket to the matinee showing of Fantasia at the Cinema Showcase down the street from where I lived. And it was one of the many memories I have associated with film -- and they continue to form. Up until now, all of the significant events in my life are connected to film. And I say that based upon, you name a film, I can tell you where I was living at that time in my life or what I was doing at that time that I saw it. Just like some albums for a lot of people, films have been a stoneway path through my life.

It seems like you two have worked together on a lot of projects, and like working with each other. Can you recall a specific moment when you realized you worked well together? Do you have any challenges that you have overcome by working together so often?

MM: You know how sometimes you have friends that you haven't seen in five years, but for whatever reason, you see them again for the first time in five years, and it's like you never even left each other's side? A couple years ago, Ryon and I reconnected. I was going through kind of a strange upheaval in life. I had just come off of a big studio film that fell apart and I really wasn't certain what direction I wanted to go in. I'd really lost faith in myself as an artist -- entirely lost faith, and really wasn't convinced that I could do anything with film.

And Ryon was there not just as an old friend, but as somebody who really believed in me for reasons that I didn't understand. Honestly I don't say this lightly, and I also don't mean to sound heavy handed with this any way either, but it had a huge impact on getting out of that kind of horrible period in my life.

So, we ended up kind of finding ourselves in similar mentalities for totally different reasons, and we came together very organically. Certainly -- this may not be Ryon's answer -- but when you ask are there any struggles working together, or any frustrations...strangely, no. We have worked, literally, day after day together for the past two years.

RL: It was during law school that I realized I wanted to be in film. The dilemma for me as a ‘legal’ professional was how to gain some form of legitimacy, and get into production roles in order to prove I'm kind of good. Eventually, in 2009, as I was trying to figure out the details of committing to full-time producer work, Marty said, "Well you know what, I've got this deal. Microsoft kind of wants a couple of spec pieces. Are you interested? What do you got going on?" And I'm on the phone with him, from L.A. I've got a neck brace on. "Well, you know, I'm kinda still recovering from this broken neck deal, but I'm still mobile."

Marty's like, "Can you go the airport? Are you able to fly?" And naturally I replied,, "Oh yeah. No problem." On Facebook you may be able to find a picture of me with Marty, where I've got a neck brace, and I'm filming him, and he's got a camera. We both have cameras and we're filming each other -- when we were in New York in the middle of winter, like January, filming a Microsoft spot. We were guerrilla filming on their subways and, you know, basically having fun doing it. I knew then that I liked working with Marty because he was flexible enough to let me have fun while I did something. Because honestly I'm like ... [to Marty] Everybody, including your kids, thinks I'm like the hard ass.

MM: He's very stoic. If you don't know him well, he is stoic.

RL: So that was when I knew. I was like, it makes sense to me if you find somebody you like working with.

Fast forward to where Marty mentioned that he was going through that really tough time. You know, he needed support. He needed, like, emotional support, but he also need a place to crash for a while, and it was a natural thought for me to extend the offer to have Marty come live with me as long as he needed to, in order to figure out if San Francisco was the place where he was gonna be able to continue going down that road of providing for his family after having a film fall apart. So, there are people who come through your life once in awhile that are more like siblings than friends.

Marty, you're a composer as well as a filmmaker. Do you find that your experience as a composer ever influences the way that you choose to direct a film or, kind of, your filmmaking process?

MM: I wish I could say that I'm still composing. I'm not. I, at least, stopped right now. I started composing back in high school, like classically. I used to freehand, put down full orchestral pieces. I don't know that I was amazing at it. I grew up with a lot of jazz, and for whatever reason, was probably the only dork in junior high who listened to more classical than any other popular music. But I was just really, really fascinated by how intricate the process of building out any form or orchestral piece or score really was.

I have a certain form of synesthesia, and I don't really realize how much it affects me most of the time, but...I am realizing it more and more, where sounds and words manifest themselves in shapes and colors. And, I think as a kid I was just kind of looking for a way to get that out. Composing was a really interesting way to try that, at the very least.

At the end of the day, I am all consumed by every aspect of what goes into the film process. As a director, I'm also a DP. I'm also an editor. In general, when I go into any production, I'm already thinking about the tone, the soundscape, how things should coalesce in post-production. And so, I don't know that composition has really played a huge role in that, other than I'm thinking about how all the parts come together at the end, from day one.

Bringing up the Into the Light video that you sent to us, you had a lot of shots of the architecture in it. But there was a story there, like more of a human narrative, showing the people who were behind building that building. Can you tell us a bit about that focus, and why you chose that narrative?

MM: Well, when we first took this project on, really the only ask we had was to capture a progress report every couple of months of what was happening -- it's really meant to be a technical piece. So, when we were asked to do interviews with the architects, with the foreman, and whoever else we spoke with, I don't know that the focus was really meant to drive anything in an artistic or beautiful human direction. But Ryon and I, honestly, really struggled with that because we knew there was potential for something deeper.

So when we ended up interviewing the two architects, we just so happened to get some really good philosophical perspectives on what it is to lend yourself to a city, to lend your artistry to a city, and what that means.

RL: Especially with Cesar [Pelli of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects]. He's 92.

MM: He's 92, a phenomenal human being, who's had an impact worldwide. And, so when we went through that interview process...we really pressed when we saw that the philosophical aspect of that started to come out.

When I got into the edit, in all honesty I didn't know what it was going to turn out to be. I really was struggling with like 22 hours worth of footage, trying to determine, "How am I going to form any semblance of story out of this in a way that doesn't feel fully contrived and that doesn't feel like a progress report?” Because that's not really what we, personally, want this to be.

As I was struggling with putting everything together, and trying to figure out “How am I going to distill everything into something cohesive?” Ryon and I started listening to the interviews again, and we found these little tidbits, like connecting Heaven to Earth, and the importance of one building contributing to the culture of an entire city. And that was just the seed for enabling me to stop crying over my edit, and get back and say, "Okay. I don't need to over-complicate this. I don't need to be precious with holding on to these hours of footage. I can make this about a structure as kind of a beautiful, soulful object that serves a purpose." And that's kind of where I was coming from.

RL: Quite honestly, what we're doing with these films, as far as we know, is very novel. Construction films generally are pretty dry, and they do involve a lot of time lapse, so that you can see the progress in a fast forward fashion. But we knew we wanted to do something that was, yes, going to give a progress report, yes, going to demonstrate the physical aspects of the building. But, I think what we really felt was most important was introducing a human element. And finding a way to incorporate the humanity of all of the human effort that will go into creating this building that, otherwise, by itself was an empty shell with no connection to humanity.

MM: This whole series that we're working on has been a huge challenge for me. I come from a background of working in a very disciplined manner, where I storyboard what I'm gonna shoot. Everything is scripted.

RL: This is so good for him. It's so good for him to get out of his comfort zone and just have to shoot.

MM: As an artist, it is absolutely crucial that you get out of your comfort zone. I tend to be one to get lost in my own imagination and this just really forced me to not lose myself in my imagination, and be far more observant. I kind of went into this thinking, "I'm just gonna show how fascinating it is through my eyes." And that may mean that I don't capture everything that I should. And it may mean that I don't capture every single aspect of the technical progression. But what it will entail is a really organic and human perspective on what it's like to be on the ground floor, or up on the 61st floor, clinging for my life onto a wire, hoping that I'm not gonna fall over the edge of this building.

In a project like this when you get a bunch of footage or capture a bunch of interviews, what are you looking for when you're looking through that footage and listening to interviews to make it one big story? What do you do in that situation where you just don't know exactly if it's gonna work out, but you have to make something work?

MM: Yeah. I eat a lot of chocolate, and I cry.

Great response.

MM: I wish I was joking. Ryon and I certainly sat down and tried to plan these out. We said, "Okay. We're gonna do a night shift piece. It's gonna be about what is it like when these workers are in this building at night." But then you come to the sad realization that not much happens at night. So, then you have to skip it.

While I would love to say that we go in with this really good plan that enables me to sit down in the edit and just jump right in, the plain fact is, those plans end up serving as simply emotional guides. And so, while we can't typically tackle something the way we wanted, the painful thing for me as an editor, is to then have to look at the outlines and say, "How can I squeeze even 4% out of this and get it into, you know, taking 26 hours of footage and pulling that down to two minutes?"

RL: I am less in a position to worry about how to shoot more footage into a narrative. I'm not the one editing. Although, leading up to editing and during editing, we have a lot of conversations about, "What else have we not got?" Because, quite honestly, there is no guidebook to what's happening where and at what time, and this building is 62 stories high. We often know we're missing something happening elsewhere even when we’re onsite.

But honestly, this is an ongoing process, always, as to “What have we not gotten that we might be able to get?” As a creative producer, I'm always trying ask Marty, "What can we do that we haven't done, and how can that maybe work for what we need?" For me, it's a supporting role.

In the feature documentary that I'm working on right now, we're just about there, too. We're wrapping up production and we're just starting to get all our transcripts done, and we're trying to figure out what's missing and where we go from there.

What's the best piece of advice you've even been given? That could be related to film, related to life, whatever you want it to be.

MM: That's a tough one. But honestly, from my perspective, just do what feels right. I think that falls right in line with following your instincts, but it's probably one of the bigger mistakes that I've made, so I think that's why it's probably useful for me to share that. Accepting what doesn't feel right leads you down a path of being with people, and doing the kind of work that you don't identify with, and that leads you to a place of really questioning who you are, what you're creating, and whether it's of any value.

I'm certainly on a really important journey of getting back in touch with following what feels right and not questioning that. Just being confident that in following what feels right, you'll end up with the audience that you identify with. You'll end up with friends you identify with, and ultimately kind of building your own personal culture in a way that feels like you can actually maintain it without effort.

RL: I go back and forth between two quotes all the time. Neither of them were bestowed upon me by anyone other than the author...I want to share both of them, only because one of them is important as a filmmaker, and an author, and that is: "Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything. Nothing is static. Everything is evolving. Everything is falling apart." That's Chuck Palahniuk from Fight Club, of course.

Now, the other one I've actually engraved on things before because I used to have a lot of difficulty with the idea -- but now I really like the big picture. “Begin with the end in mind." And that's Steven Covey.

Posted on June 9, 2017 and filed under Field Notes, Filmmaking.