INTERVIEW: Ryan Wise (director of I AM THOR)

In Interviews by Corey0 Comments

For Ryan Wise, his fifteen year long journey is finally slowing down. The director is finally unleashing his documentary I AM THOR to the masses, courtesy of Dark Sky Film on November 20 (In Theaters and VOD). My fascination with Thor and this film led me this chat I had with Ryan. He was laid back, candid, and obviously still very much excited about his project. The fact this film took so long to complete, the relief of completion has led him to this moment, ready to unleash it to share it with the world.

Corey Danna: I was going to ask you about how you started your career working in film but I AM THOR was essentially the beginning, right?

Ryan Wise: I did some short films in Seattle then I ran into Thor when I went to L.A. We followed him on that first comeback tour and I moved there right after that. We always kept in contact with Thor while I was trying to start stuff in L.A., I worked as an editor on commercials for awhile, movies, stuff like that.

CD: Were you a Thor fan before you had met him?

RW: No, I had never heard of him. He’s a huge Superman fan and he does the whole Clark Kent/Superman thing. He never really tells anyone who he is and he’s like Superman when he hits the stage. When I first met him he was really quiet and he told me he was in a band called Thor. It just didn’t seem right and I had never heard of them before. We went to a show, he had turned into Thor, and it was one of the greatest shows I had ever seen. I was instantly a fan and that started it all.

CD: When I was 13 or 14 I was watching the USA’s UP ALL NIGHT and they were showing ROCK AND ROLL NIGHTMARE. I flipped out over it and had to rush out and get the tape so I could see the full uncut version.

RW: That was the first time you had heard of him?

CD: Yeah, I just happened to have turned the channel and it was on. I was glued to it from then on!

RW: That’s classic!

CD: When exactly did you decide you wanted to document Thor’s comeback?

RW: Right after that show. I told Al (Higbee, producer) we needed to shoot this. We didn’t have any money but we scraped together what we could and followed him on that tour. As we followed him, we would learn more and more about the guy. He doesn’t give up a lot of information but you just learn this crazy stories and you get close to him. There’s still a ton we don’t even know about yet. He’s an interesting guy.

CD: Did you have a master plan when you started?

RW: No, I never did a documentary before. I did a short one in college but I just figured we would film everything and just see what would happen. There wasn’t a plan but it eventually evolved into something bigger.

CD: You ended up capturing all kinds of crazy stuff with him?

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RW: Yeah, that guy has done a lot in his life. He just keeps going and doing things and he always ends up in predicaments too. He always gets out of them but it’s interesting to see him work his way out. It’s just amazing to watch how he ends up in these crazy situation and it seems like there’s no way out but somehow he always works his magic.

CD: How difficult was it for you to go through fifteen years of footage and edit it down to a ninety minute movie?

RW: Over the years I edited it different ways and tried different things. There’s a really long cut of the film, it runs for eight hours. From there it was really difficult because he does so many interesting things. With all the stuff he has done, I could watch him for hours. Just the stuff with him performing and managing himself was enough. He would even set up his own props on stage, so it was hard to cut stuff out. I was just trying to make the best movie I possibly could. I didn’t want it to get boring, I wanted it to be fun all the time. I cut the slower stuff out so it would play out fast and interesting.

CD: Tell me a bit about all the traveling on the tours.

RW: One of the tours we didn’t really have much money, I paid for it and Al was scrambling for work so we came up with what we could, it wasn’t much, but we had to go and shoot everything. We drove from L.A. to Boston, we headed to Miami to interview Mike Favata (Thor’s drummer) up through North Carolina, and we couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel every night. We could only afford one every three or four days so we slept in the car. It was grueling for us and basically like we were on tour with them. It was really hard to make a minimal amount of money go as long as we wanted it to. There was another tour where the car broke down and caught on fire, that sucked. We put the fire out and got it going again. Thor manages himself all the time. He puts his all into the shows then has to deal with all the personalities in his band. It’s a lot for one person to handle. To see him go through all this and all the problems, you wouldn’t think he would ever make it to the next show. It was weird, people would just like appear out of nowhere to help and we would be on to the next show. In Europe, we would be stranded and someone would just show up and pick us up. Just when we thought it wouldn’t work it, it always did. He has a way of never giving up on anything and he always gets through it.

CD: Watching the film, you really do get the impression that his “Never Give Up” attitude and his persistence has led him to where he is today.

RW: He just keeps going no matter what. He keeps working and creating music, movies, or whatever, he never stops. He’s also such a nice guy that everyone wants to help him out. He such a great guy that you just want to help him out however you can. When we were filming, I didn’t want to help him though. I wanted to see how he would handle the situation if the cameras weren’t there.

CD: Was there anything you cut from the film you wish you hadn’t?

RW: It would have been cool to show more stuff about his movies. There were a lot of interesting stories involving them. Not only were there the B-movies but later on he did a bunch of stuff, short films that were pretty amazing. He has a sports line where he makes jerseys and stuff. He’s sold rights to the NHL and he’s done so much stuff. It would have been cool to get more into it but I had to make some tough decisions and keep it focused.

CD: Will we get to see any of that stuff when it’s released to DVD?

RW: Yeah, for sure, there’s a ton of stuff. There’s this story, I think he’s told it before in interviews, but he was in New York getting some chicken and these crack heads started to attack him. He was fighting off these crack heads while holding on to his chicken. We went to New York and re-enacted the whole thing, shooting it from different angles and it was so funny but it was like a five minute story and just too long to keep in the film. There’s a lot of great stuff like that, maybe we should do a trilogy.

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CD: What were your impressions of the guys from the band, like Mike Favata or Steve Price? Can you talk a little bit about some of the other people you met from Thor’s life?

RW: Mike and Steve are great! There was some really good stuff with them I wish I could have kept in the movie. Steve, Mike, and Thor are so funny together. They have such different personalities but they’re like brothers. They fight and make up but they’ve been together for so long, they know everything about each other. Rusty Hamilton was great. She pretty much ran CHERI Magazine on her own. She’s interviewed some amazing people too, like The Rolling Stones. She has a lot of experience and all kinds of stories. It was cool to interview her but it happened such a long time ago and it’s tough trying to get a hold of her again.

CD: One of the purest moments in the film was hearing Mike Favata talk about being remembered. Being a long-time fan of the band myself, I guess it took that moment for me to realize Thor isn’t as recognized in the United States as he is overseas. To see that true emotion come through really helps to bring heart to the film.

RW: Yeah, a lot of people really connect with that part. I hear people talking about that line all the time. When we stayed at that big bed and breakfast you see in the film, we did this six hour interview with Mike and he told us everything. It takes awhile for people to get comfortable doing interviews and when he did, he just got really emotional. It took like five hours to get there but it was a really great moment. Thor has this image and he wants it to be positive all the time. Sometimes it was really tough getting those true emotions to come out. That’s why we really had to keep on him because he couldn’t keep those walls up forever and those true emotions will come through. That’s all I wanted from day one was to show the real person behind the rock star. I wanted to capture people in those real moments and I think we were able to get some good ones.

CD: You premiered the film at SlamDance this year. How did that go?

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RW: It was awesome! It’s an amazing festival and everyone there was great! It’s run so well and it’s a prestigious festival so we were honored to even get in. I didn’t have the film done and I didn’t have to finish it for SlamDance but I was driving myself crazy, I was driving my wife crazy, so I used the submission deadline as my deadline to have it finished. It was completely done, it was more of a rough cut, but it was pretty close, and I submitted it. I didn’t think it would get in, it’s one of the hardest festivals to get in to, there were only eight slots for documentaries and eight hundred to a thousand documentary submissions so we were really honored when we were chosen. It was the first time we saw it with a big crowd and we could feel the energy. It was also a big deal for Thor since it was the first time he had seen it. Steve Price was there too seeing it for the first time. It was an amazing experience!

CD: I really want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me.

RW: Yeah, of course. Thank you for the great review and getting behind the film. We really appreciate it.

Catch I AM THOR in theaters and VOD on November 20. If you want to experience the whole package, see the film and watch Thor perform live, here are the tour dates. If you’re in Michigan, be sure to catch him perform on November 18 at Small’s. Tickets are still available and you can order them here.

11.10.15 SEATTLE, WA at El Corazon – 109 Eastlake Ave E, Seattle, WA 98109
11.11.15 PORTLAND, OR at Dante’s – 350 W Burnside St, Portland, OR 97209
11.12.15 LOS ANGELES, CA at Whisky A Go-Go – 8901 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
11.14.15 SAN ANTONIO, TX at Housecore Horror Film Festival
11.16.15 CHICAGO, IL at Reggie’s Rock Club 2109 S State St, Chicago, IL 60616
11.18.15 DETROIT, MI at Small’s Bar 10339 Conant, Hamtramck, MI 48212
11.20.15 PHILADELPHIA, PA at PhillaMOCA 531 North 12th Street Philadelphia, PA 19123
11.22.15 BROOKLYN, NY at Saint Vitus Bar 1120 Manhattan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11222

If that wasn’t enough, Jon-Mikl Thor is set to unleash his biggest album yet METAL AVENGER on October 30 and you can pre-order it now. It’s been a crazy year for all involved and I only wish them the best. Keep checking back, the third part of my series is coming VERY soon. Until then, check out the latest trailer for I AM THOR!!

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