ALL NEW INTERVIEW WITH TIM RITTER
by Felix Lepplemier (Reprinted by permission of Indie World magazine)
I recently had the chance to talk with Tim Ritter again. The cult writer/filmmaker, who has been making feature films since he was seventeen years old, is still bouncing around in the Midwest, where he is working on a slew of new literary and movie projects.
I finally narrowed him down in Madison County, Kentucky, where he was right smack in the middle of shooting his latest movie, RECONCILED, which is rumored to be somewhat of a departure from the usual sci-fi/horror stuff he's known for.
I'm also very excited about Ritter's new novel, UNREEL, a hybrid morphing of Ritter's reel life and real life that absolutely mesmerized me. While not exactly out-and out horror, this book just has a tone and attitude that is similar to…well, nothing I've ever read before, quite honestly! And THAT is saying A LOT at a time in the entertainment world where everything seems to be a remake or homage to something else.
So let's get right to it!
INDIE WORLD: So, how has THE HAMMER WILL FALL, your first novel, done?
TIM RITTER: It's done very well for what it is. The book got my foot in the door as an author and it's been published in many foreign territories, which is cool. Most all the reviews were very positive, so that's been great. I think readers really enjoy it.
IW: It would still make a great movie. Anything in the works with that?
TR: You never know. It's just one of those things that may take a long time to get to the screen, if it ever does. There's interest from producers that I'm working with, but so far, there's nothing for sure. The subject matter, school violence, is still a very hard sell to investors and studios. Time will tell!
IW: So tell us about the new novel, UNREEL.
TR: UNREEL is a mixture of truth and fiction, it's basically my whole life story- how and why I got into the movie business in the first place and all the trials, tribulations, and sacrifices that I've gone through, including interactions with family and friends. So anyone wanting…a career in the entertainment industry will appreciate the personal insights of a frustrated artist! The fictional part is my salute to my favorite big action movies like COMMANDO and DIE HARD, those type of things, where I asked the question…what if this or that would have happened because of my movie projects. I also put a lot of myself into those chapters, my reflections on life, amidst the action. So even though there's fiction, there's also the facts of my observations along with cliffhanger action, if that makes any sense.
IW: Oh yes it does! I was just stunned and taken aback by this book. It is a POWERFUL read, it never lets go. As a reader, I had no idea what to expect next. I thought about things you said long after I finished the book. It feels so…fresh and ORIGINAL, which is obviously something very difficult to do these days. You mentioned 'cliffhanger' and that hits the nail on the head. Virtually every chapter ends with some sort of impossible situation that has to be rectified. It certainly kept me turning the pages! Where did you come up with the idea to do all this?
TR: Back in 1998, I saw an article in the paper about the controversy of non-fiction writers adding fiction to their books in order to tell a livelier yarn, and that's what sparked my imagination. I wanted to do kind of an autobiography on my life and all the stuff I've been through, but I had told the stories so many times in the press and in filmmaking books that it had gotten kind of cliché and boring for me. So in my mind, I began to outline how I might tell my life story in a fresh and entertaining way, using both the truth and fiction, making personal commentaries on a variety of subjects. I hung the newspaper article on my bulletin board and vowed not to take it down until I accomplished this Herculean feat and the book was published and released. Nearly six years later, I can finally take that article down!
IW: So it took six years to write this book?
TR: Well, kind-of, sort-of. I originally started it a LONG TIME ago but couldn't decide on what direction to take. This was…back in 1992 or so! Then, in 1998, I tried again, couldn't get a focus on things, scrapped the idea after a few chapters, and finally ended up writing THE HAMMER WILL FALL in 1999. Writing, for me, is a very difficult and time-consuming process. It can be very physical, even just sitting there in the chair, with all the emotions involved. HAMMER was a very simplistic story that really taught me a lot about internalizing characters and structure, so the knowledge I got there…enabled me to finally tackle UNREEL. It took six months of researching myself…as if I were someone else…to get a basic focus on the main character in UNREEL, David Cohen. I read all the old articles on my movies and all the diaries I'd written since 1980, so I had thousands of pages of personal experiences and insights to draw from, taking notes on all this. It was bizarre, putting myself under a microscope like a specimen, trying to look at things from a neutral viewpoint. It was a strange, almost therapeutic, experience!
IW: The protagonist of UNREEL, David Cohen, is basically you, right?
TR: Yes, he's a big part of me. He's the character I breathed my observations through. All the other characters are combinations of people I've worked with and situations I've been in. I had to combine a lot of personalities into just a few characters, otherwise the whole story would have gotten too confusing for me, especially since it covers a timespan of over thirty-five years and jumps back and forth in time so much. The Andrew Spacey character is pretty close to Joel D. Wynkoop, of course, a great friend of mine.
IW: I had such a good time with this book, I just can't tell you how surprised and elated with it I was. It's such a big departure from THE HAMMER WILL FALL, which was a traditional suspense novel that was obviously inspired by many movies. UNREEL feels so personal and different, it's almost like a different writer penned it. How did you approach writing this book?
TR: I just wrote straight from the heart, tapping into all the emotions and scenarios that I actually lived, and that's what came out. I wasn't trying to pay homage to anything or write something with the intent of maybe making it into a film, so it's a very internal book. What it boils down to is the personal struggles we all go through to succeed in life, and this is just my individual take on it. It became a cathartic experience, I was able to let go of a lot of things in my past and actually see more clearly what the important things in life are. Like David Cohen, I had gotten too obsessed with doing anything to make it in the movie business. And that's the kind of thing that can destroy a person.
IW: The ending was incredible, there's political commentary, a reckoning with religious beliefs, and just a whole…inspiring message about love and life. I didn't see that coming, I fully expected the ending to be some kind of bloodbath or a complete downer where the character went insane!
TR: Originally, I had planned to end things very negative, but in the writing process, as I came to grips with a lot of things in my life, I decided to end things on a more uplifting note. In this world…things are negative enough for people, so it felt like this was the right way to go. And basically, I have begun applying a lot of these principles to my own life again that I mention in the last few pages of the book. It's funny, while writing this stuff I was living some of it concurrently. Very wild, it's a strange converging of reality directly onto the page, really. I never intended for that to happen, but it did. I'm also a big fan of the ROCKY movies, so I liked ending things on a higher note with the underdog at least going the distance, so to speak.
IW: I think it really worked. I don't want to give too much away to people who haven't read the book, but I will say this: it certainly makes you think about a lot of things! It is very, very inspiring.
TR: Thanks, glad you thought so.
IW: So what's next for you?
TR: Well, I'm going to take a break on the writing for a bit. I'm not sure what will be next, but it's going to be a while. I have been working on books, movies, and scripts nonstop, every day, for over twenty years, so I plan to take a break and see how the things I've done perform, give people a chance to find them, then evaluate what happens and go into new directions accordingly. Additionally, the movie gigs take an enormous amount of time and energy, so they keep one busy.
IW: I noticed you've done a lot of writing and producing for other filmmakers…
TR: Yes, I worked with filmmaker John Bowker on HOUSEBOUND and wrote a segment for Robert Massetti's REALMS OF BLOOD and also a whole script for Robert called THE WOODS ARE ALIVE. REALMS is done now. With WOODS, they are looking for financing on that one. Also, I collaborated with Joel Wynkoop and John Bowker on TWISTED ILLUSIONS 2, which came out really fun. That is out in 2004, along with another movie we're making called RECONCILED, a full feature. This is more of a drama, about a man coming to terms with his personal beliefs, sort of like SIGNS without the aliens. It will feature extensive CGI work, though, being done by co-producer Todd Pontsler. Again, like UNREEL, RECONCILED is my own views coming through in a very personal project that I decided to go for. This is the first movie I've made that has a serious message that I really believe in, it's not like my other movies at all, most of which were made with very little regard to anything but exploitation, although some did have minor commentaries on social issues and such. I think people will be very surprised and hopefully enlightened by it. Then again, you never know.
IW: You do seem to have your hands full! Is RECONCILED the beginning of a new direction for you?
TR: It could be, we'll have to see what unfolds in the unpredictable game of life. All these movie projects will take me through 2004 and by the time the smoke clears and everything is out there, it will easily be 2005! So because it takes so long to do all these kind of projects, that's why I'm not committing to anything else right now, we'll see where we're at when everything is said and done.
IW: Thanks for your time and good luck with everything!
TR: No problem, as always, thanks for the interest in what I do. Without the fans, there'd be very little reason to do any of this, so I count my blessings each and every day! THANK YOU!
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