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December graduate plans to take filmmaking experience to Nashville

David Floyd • Dec 26, 2016 at 12:00 AM

In high school, Ryan Renfro wanted to be three things when he grew up: a professional bull rider, a stock car driver or a park ranger. 

This changed when he took a drama course as an elective his senior year and made a short silent film for his class. Now, he wants to write and direct films.

“I just have not looked back,” he said.

Fast forward several years, and Renfro is now an accomplished filmmaker, boasting a filmography of short movies that have screened in local festivals like the Push! Film Festival in Bristol and the Made in East Tennessee Film Festival in Johnson City, an event that showcases films made by students in the Radio/TV/Film department at East Tennessee State University.

Renfro graduated from ETSU on Dec. 10, and in a few months he’s planning on moving to Nashville, which he believes is a more fruitful place for film production than the Tri-Cities.

Although he understands it will take time, diligence, and a willingness to work his way up from the bottom of the ranks, Renfro hopes to one day be a successful writer and director. And he’s ready to break free of the format that he’s been playing around with for the past few years.

“I’m tired of making short films to show in local film festivals,” he said.

Renfro has made at least 10 short movies during his filmmaking career, and he tries to approach every one of his projects with a fresh, innovative style. Many of them have been for classes at ETSU, but they tend to take on a life of their own after he turns them in for a grade.

In one of his films, “Bae,” Renfro takes a critical look at modern day relationships, using fourth wall breaks and an exaggerated visual style to poke holes in the idyllic perceptions that many young people have about romance and marriage.

Another of Renfro’s films, a mockumentary about cowboys in the Wild West, has undergone several edits, and Renfro feels like he is still trying to unlock the true potential of the movie.

His final college project, however, is a culmination of many of the things he’s learned about filmmaking over the years. It’s a feature length movie, running about 90-minutes long, and he’s still in the process of editing it.

The movie, titled “Brontosaurus,” is a big leap for Renfro.

“My goal is to make feature films,” he said. “No one is going to give me the money to make one, so I wanted to prove that I have the constitution, I have the drive and the motivation to do it.”

The movie follows a female mixed martial arts fighter who is grappling with her decision to continue with the sport.

“When she was young her stepfather was very emotionally abusive with her and forced her into fighting because his son was born with asthma so he wasn’t very athletic,” Renfro said, “so he kind of pushed everything on to her.”

The film is a departure for Renfro for two reasons: It’s much longer than the 10-20-minute films that he’s produced in the past, and it’s not a comedy, a genre that many of Renfro’s prior films would probably fall under. 

“Comedy is very easy for people because if it doesn’t work that well ... you can play it off,” Renfro said. “I wanted to grow. I didn’t want to get stuck making short films.”

His feature-length movie took 19 days to shoot, and his production schedule was patch-worked together during the school year, working around people’s class schedules and finding times to shoot on the weekend. 

“Some days I’m literally getting one shot,” Renfro said.

Even though filmmaking can be a challenging endeavor, Renfro said the challenge makes him more determined to see the finished product.

“I can't simply turn the ideas off, and until such a time as I can, there's always a strive to create, no matter how ridiculous the outcome,” he said.

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