During the summer of 2016, Ryan Renfro would go to the top floor of the East Tennessee State University library and plot out the idea he had for a feature film on a whiteboard in one of the study rooms.
“It became my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I would plot out the film on that whiteboard from beginning to end. I would take a photo of it and the next day I would do my best to recreate that, but at the same time I was editing it as I was doing that.”
A college student at the time, Renfro was gearing up for his capstone project, a final assignment that students in the Radio/TV/Film program at ETSU must finish before they graduate.
Although he only had time to turn in a truncated version before he graduated in December, Renfro has been plucking away at his film over the past few months, and at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 22, he will be showing it at Real to Reel Theater in Johnson City. Renfro anticipates the finished product will clock in at a runtime of about 90 minutes.
The film, titled “Brontosaurus,” follows a female, amateur mixed martial arts fighter as she struggles with her commitment to the sport. She was bullied into participating in the sport by her stepfather, who pinned his expectations on her after he learned his son had asthma.
The movie has a fluid story, and because Renfro didn’t have the money to set up elaborate set pieces, the film focuses more on characters.
“There are some (sports dramas) that are very plot-driven in the sense that ‘you’ve got to get to this fight, you’ve got to win this fight,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Renfro said. “I just wanted to avoid that.”
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Renfro shot the film around Johnson City, using local establishments as settings and drawing on the talents of his peers at ETSU. Principle photography on the film wrapped in December.
The film was shot on a relatively tight budget, a little less than $300, and although Renfro benefited from the cooperation of a lot of people in Johnson City, he and his crew did run into some pitfalls.
After failing to hear back from a local gym about filming a significant chunk of the film there, Renfro had to rewrite part of the film.
“I had me and two of the main actors just sitting in my living room, them watching me have a crisis,” Renfro said. “We all just kind of put our heads together, and I pitched out an idea I had.”
Renfro also had to remix the audio for a scene he shot on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at a local restaurant. The place was packed with people, and the sound was difficult to shoot around.
“We could’ve had a usable audio track that I could’ve worked with, but they were playing a jukebox right beside us,” he said.
Concerned about licensing and the difficulties the music would cause in the editing process, Renfro said he decided the best route to take would be to manipulate the audio during post-production.
“We were able to use it,” Renfro said. “I built the whole scene from scratch. We did loop all the dialogue and then I added in some sound effects.”
The movie will show for the first time on April 22, but Renfro hopes to show it in as many different venues as possible. He has a few places in mind, and he hopes to enter it into several film festivals in the near future.
Tickets for the showing at Real to Reel Theater are $3 and are on sale now at the theater.