A director from Blaenau Gwent will release his feature debut this week, after years of hard work to make a name for himself on the UK film scene.
Ryan Andrew Hooper, 37, born in Ebbw Vale, will release dark comedy The Toll starring actors such as Michael Smiley and Iwan Rheon on Friday August 27.
And while he says delivering his first feature film is a personal triumph for him and his family, he hopes there will be plenty more to come in the future.
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For Ryan, who grew up in Ebbw Vale before moving to Porthcawl aged 10, seeing the film for the first time was a dream come true after years as a struggling filmmaker. He describes his journey from the streets of Blaenau Gwent to working with some of Wales’ finest actors.
He said: “I’ve always wanted to do this since I was little, because I just loved movies, and my friends growing up loved them too, that’s where it all stemmed from.
“It crystallized when I went to Disneyland in Florida when I was nine years old when they filmed me lying on a stool against a green screen to make me look like Superman. It really captured my imagination and I I just thought ‘this is what I want to do’, and I saw no reason why I couldn’t do it.
“My mum and dad never really put limits on anything I thought I could achieve, even though it was something that seemed like a million miles away. I went to Cardiff University before studying for a masters at caerleon film school and then i did a lot of things and bobs in between like making my own shorts and meeting a community of like minded people.
“Later I had the idea to do The Toll and I spoke to my friend who is a writer to discuss how we were going to try to do it, which will eventually become a fully funded project by Ffilm Cymru .
“That’s how we ended up here. There was a lot of stress and I had a lot of hair before I became a filmmaker. I love it and I hope this is just the start of something thing.”
The film, described as hugely entertaining, is a darkly comical crime story set on the Pembrokeshire border, where a man called Smiley, working solo in the quietest tollbooth in Wales, hides from a criminal past. However, when a familiar face appears, things start to go wrong.
The film features a cast of British stars such as Michael Smiley, Iwan Rheon, Paul Kaye, Annes Elwy and Steve Oram, and was fully financed by Ffilm Cymru.
Although for director Ryan, a former employee of the Yellow Pages, he now remembers his first day on set as one of the most trying of his life.
He said: “I remember the night before the first day of shooting, this kind of fear in the pit of my stomach thinking, what if I had done all of this and my family and my girlfriend had sacrificed so much just so that I keep defining and hating it.
“At the end of day one, I knew I loved it. To be honest, I loved every second of filming, even the things that went wrong, and it’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done. .
“We were also able to get an amazing cast and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved, so I hope people like it.”
And while Ryan says his main dream for the future is to direct a second feature film next year, in the short term his goals are much closer to home.
“We have another project in development that has just been launched,” he said.
“It’s hard to do your first feature film, but it’s almost impossible to do the second one, and I think the rate of people who only make one feature film is 90 to 95%, so I hope we plan to shoot it next year.
“For me, it was always a bit of a dream to have something at the Brynmawr cinema that would be really cool for me because that’s the cinema I used to go to when I was a kid.
“It would just be cool to come full circle, to go with my family to see my own movie there, so fingers crossed that happens.”
The Toll is in theaters and digital on August 27, 2021.
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