In the world of cinema, where storytelling takes center stage, few individuals possess the artistic vision and creative prowess that can leave an indelible mark on the silver screen. Today, we have the privilege of sitting down with one such luminary – filmmaker Chris Robert Riegel. With a passion for storytelling that ignited at a young age and a career spanning decades, Riegel has earned acclaim for his cinematic achievements. From thought-provoking narratives to visually stunning productions, he has continually pushed the boundaries of filmmaking. In this exclusive interview, we delve into his journey, his inspirations, the ever-evolving landscape of the film industry, and his invaluable insights for aspiring filmmakers. Join us as we explore the world of cinema through the eyes of a true cinematic maestro, Chris Robert Riegel.
1. What personal experiences or events inspired you to enter the film industry and produce movies?
I realized at a young age just how powerful the stories we tell ourselves could be, and the effect they could have on our individual lives. Traveling quite a bit in my youth, it was by listening to the stories of the people and the countries that I found myself in that I got to learn just how many different perspectives there are out there in the world. It was the best way for me to learn, expand, and grow. After a sporting injury in my late teens caused me to alter some of my plans, it was the stories that I told myself that helped motivate me to find another lane to maneuver in my life. I even realized just how potent of an effect that the stories we tell ourselves could hold over our lives when we lose loved ones.
Though I never thought of myself much as an artist in my adolescence, I did gravitate to just how important the telling of stories could be. It was that awareness that led me to want to make films, and I haven’t looked back since.
2. Can you provide us with an insight into your career as a filmmaker so far? Are there any projects that you are particularly proud of?
I’m honestly proud of all of my projects. The truth is that I’ve endeavored to get better and grow as an artist every time I’ve gone out to make a film, whether that be at the start of my career when I was an executive, or as a producer, and now as a filmmaker. In any of the roles that I’ve held, I do not think I could ever make a perfect film, and I truly hope I do not. Because the day that I do, I fear would also be the day that I would conclude my work. The growth and the opportunity to learn and better myself as an artist is one of the reasons that I enjoy continuing to work in this industry, expressing a different part of myself with each project.
3. Which genres or themes interest you the most when it comes to producing films, and why?
My company, Rainmaker Films, has produced films across a bevy of genres. But as a director, I think I can say, most of the films that interest me now at this stage of my creative journey revolve around narratives of identity and family. It’s so often that these two considerations are intertwined. Just how do our origins dictate the people we become, and as such, the choices we make? These thematics are explored in detail with my upcoming film, Expectations.
4. The film industry is subject to constant change and trends. How do you stay informed and adapt to these changes?
Like any industry, change is a natural part of the business. I believe it brings excitement, opportunity, and of course, the prospect of new ideas and approaches. The best way I stay informed is by surrounding myself with other talented creative minds and artists who are comfortable sharing ideas and collaborating. Being informed is only half of the equation, however, as I’ve always believed that a good idea or a great story is just that, but it’s the cinematic experience from script to screen that augments every facet and provides the opportunity to discover something new. I learned long ago that rather than follow the trends, it can perhaps be better to remember why I’m drawn to a certain story or characters, so as things develop, that core truth is not altered, and so the very reason why I wanted to tell the story to begin with, never gets lost by the time it’s delivered.
5. Are there filmmakers or works that have particularly inspired you and had an influence on your own work?
I’ve had the luxury of collaborating with many talented artists over the course of my career. Those individuals have helped and influenced me beyond measure, and they have come from behind the camera and in front. I’ve learned a lot from the great writer/director Marc Lawrence, and been influenced by Kenneth Branagh, Rob Reiner, and the late Jean-Marc Vallée. Sometimes, for my part, just being in the same room, or watching their work can change the way I imagine a scene or create an ambiance. I think mentors are so critically important, and I’ve been fortunate to have a few.
6. Your work may have encountered various challenges and difficulties. Could you share some of these challenges and how you dealt with them?
I think all work faces roadblocks, hurdles, or bumps in the paths that we travel. One of the best things I’ve learned in dealing with them is trying to take a step back, and re-evaluate. Very few of us get the opportunity to get everything right on the first try, and that includes the creative arts. Sometimes, it’s when we find a new approach that a perspective can become more clear.
7. In your opinion, what is the most important element in realizing a successful film production?
Filmmaking for me is like a team sport. Everyone plays an important role, and everyone has something to contribute. For me, the most important element is listening. We’re surrounded by amazing artists, whom all have talents, so encouraging everyone to ply their trade is one of the aspects that makes this job fun. But it’s also about remembering the big picture, and being willing to push your team to be the very best of their potential. Striking that perfect balance is always critical.
8. To what extent do you value collaboration with actors and film crews? How do you cultivate these working relationships to achieve your creative goals?
I think it’s so important to collaborate with both. Cultivating all of these relationships always starts with endeavoring to tell the truth, and trying to understand that relationships are not just given, they are earned. I like to try to earn them by giving a forum to share ideas, and exchange thoughts. There have been times on almost every set that I’ve been on where actors click into their characters, and at that point, it’s just a joy to watch them breathe life into the performance. Those are the moments that elevate a film and turn a character from a literary creation on a page into one that feels entirely real. In my experience, getting to that point is something I strive for as a filmmaker, and it only happens when we, as artists, are able to talk about the “intent” and the “why” of a character, to understand their baser instincts. The same is true with members of the crew. Being able to lay out parameters of purpose for a vision, and the “why” of specific camera angles, or how we might want the audience to understand a scene, provides the opportunity for members of a department to contribute their own ideas to help enhance the delivery of a scene, or add a tool for an actor to use. All of this is based on the foundation of how we communicate, and if I could narrow it down to one skill that’s important on a film set, it’s probably just that, communication.
9. Tell us about your current project, Expectations.
Expectations is a project that I’ve written and directed, and it’s sure been an utter joy. I have some amazing producers on the film, and when we began, we always told a joke about how we wanted to “not make our grandparents’ Great Expectations.” Because first and foremost, Expectations is a companion piece to the Charles Dickens classic. I use the term companion piece specifically, as, to my knowledge, we are the first film to do just that. Not make a straight adaptation in period or a modern setting, but instead bring the characters into our present day with new events following the story for which some are familiar. The characters have grown since the original literature, and so in that vein, they’re all new. Pair that with the notion of them getting into some hijinks with some original characters, and it turns into a family-style, snowed in weekend retreat gone awry. Add in some hilarious comedy amongst these faux-siblings who are all competing for the same fortune from a benefactor who may or may not have their best interests at heart, and the mystery of a dead body, and I’m pleased to present a cheeky comedic view of a classic that doesn’t require you to brush up on your Dickens. Instead, just be willing to have a fun watch.
10. Are there any other projects you are currently working on or future projects that you can talk about?
We’re always hard at work on new projects at Rainmaker Films, and with the WGA strike’s conclusion on the horizon, thanks to the strength of the Writer’s Guild and their advocacy for all creatives in the industry, I’m quite hopeful for a return to work for everyone soon.
For my part, I’ll be returning to collaborate with one of my producers from Expectations, David Hansen, and direct an upcoming film about a man who looks to the stars and hopes to bring safe, green space travel to the rest of the world while he wrestles with the difficulties of his family life and the very reason why he looked to the stars in the first place.
I’ll also be completing my writing for a narrative about the true story of a sports figure who took on a male dominated industry and showed more heart than all of her competitors. I’m really looking forward to the prospect of bringing this tale to the screen soon.
11. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers looking to enter the industry?
Know yourself, and why you might want to tell stories in the first place. On the course of your journey, don’t forget, and don’t lose sight of that path. I think many of the very talented filmmakers who have done this for a long time, whether they be some of the names that have influenced me, or others out there whose names we all know, would attest to the same notion. What is it at the core, your absolute truth, that motivates you to want to make movies? If that is pure, and you can feel that calling, then the world needs you to tell your story. Because, like I said earlier, these stories have the power to affect massive change. They can raise someone’s spirits, or crush it entirely, and if you take the time to really get to know yourself as a storyteller, I can promise you that your stories will be the very best that they can be, with the potential to change the world. If not the whole world, at least somebody’s world, and that is just as important in itself.
As we conclude our conversation with Chris Robert Riegel, it’s abundantly clear that his passion for storytelling and dedication to the craft of filmmaking have left an indelible impression on both the industry and the hearts of audiences worldwide. His journey, marked by artistic innovation and unwavering commitment, serves as an inspiring testament to the power of storytelling through the lens of cinema.
We’ve gained profound insights into his career, the challenges he’s surmounted, and the creative forces that continue to drive him forward. Riegel’s invaluable advice for aspiring filmmakers reminds us that the magic of cinema lies not only in the final product but in the journey, the collaboration, and the relentless pursuit of excellence.
As we look to the future of filmmaking, we’re left with a sense of anticipation, knowing that Chris Robert Riegel will continue to captivate us with his cinematic vision. We extend our heartfelt gratitude for sharing his time and wisdom with us today. Here’s to the countless stories yet to be told and the enduring impact of those already woven into the fabric of film history.
Thank you, Chris Robert Riegel, for this illuminating glimpse into your world and the world of filmmaking.