The magic of making movies

From computer science major to feature film producer

Ryan Casey came to ASU in fall 2011 as a computer science major. He was partly pressured by the respectful well-paid field but also had a secret passion for wanting to create video games.

However, his passion quickly fizzled because coding and calculus was involved, and he couldn’t find like-minded relationships.

When it came time for Casey to check off his humanities requirements, he immediately chose psychology and anthropology because of his fascination for humans. Eventually, he changed majors at the midpoint of his college career.

History repeated itself though. Essay after essay, lecture after lecture, Casey realized he'd lost his passion.

“I’d be walking around the school just being like, you know, what am I doing here,” 22-year-old Casey says. “This is college? What am I going to do for the rest of my life if I’m not enjoying this right now.”

In spring 2014, Casey spent considerable time off-campus thinking about his future. He says it was time for him to be honest with himself, which directed him back to entertainment - video games, films, movies.

“When I met (Casey), he didn’t really know what he was doing, but one of the things I really liked about him was he’d talk to anyone. He’d make connections. He’d network like crazy,” David Mayorga, "At Dusk" Henchmen and Casey’s friend of two years, says.

“He’s very good with people. He’s a talker,” Mike Halpin, "At Dusk" Regent, says. “I think he’s born to do something like this, to tell you the truth.”

Casey’s experiences with psychology, interacting with people and passion for entertainment formed a genuine relationship that could easily be translated in the entertainment industry.

Casey says it was hard to grasp this realization though.

“There’s definitely a lot of people at the school here who have no problem saying, ‘Hey, I want to be a director, I want to be an actor,’ but I have a more cynical perspective and so saying stuff like that is a monumental task,” Casey says.

So, instead of dropping out of school, he mustered up the courage to go ask around the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts for information, in which he was directed toward the 9th Annual ASU Film Festival that was a couple days later.

Mingling with others at the event and making contacts validated his place in the entertainment industry.

“It might not be Hollywood, but I can certainly make some beginnings here,” Casey says.

That’s when he got into contact with a few students wanting to make a feature-length film.

The film

"At Dusk" is a 90-minute western-noir thriller about a reporter and her boyfriend who uncover secrets of a vacant Southwestern mining town.

The film was shot entirely in Arizona, in the northernmost part of Maricopa County - New River, Cave Creek, Anthem and north Phoenix - through most of July and August 2014, four days per week, 12 to 14 hours per day. Yes, you’re reading that right. That’s the middle of summer.

Casey was on a family vacation in Hawaii in June 2014 when he received a phone call from the director and cinematographer.

When Casey came back from vacation, he was sitting in on table reads every week and  creating social media for the film and eventually being promoted to producer. .

Casey describes a producer as “someone who makes things happen,” an idea once described by the producer of L.A. Confidential, David L. Wolper. A producer guides a film from conception to its distribution, overseeing budget and time.

Even though Casey wasn’t brought on until the end of pre-production, he embraced his role, took it by the reins, acted as the film’s publicist, managed a cast and crew of approximately 40 people - mostly students - and led it to success.

Casey was able to pitch FOX 10 News Phoenix to feature the production on only the second day of filming.

In his role as producer during the year-long post-production process, he established an LLC, found executive producers to assist with legal representation, financing and equipment - a continuation from pre-production - acquired a composer and developed a plan for the film's launch with help from ASU organizations.

One month before release, Casey secured a production company to update their film's website and create movie posters, and even set up a Blu-ray release.

“He’s doing something he wants to do, for probably the first time in his life, and he’s seen such great success in doing that. He’s found that drive that people seek for a lot of their lives,” Mayorga says. “I think he’s going in the right direction.”

The launch

While "At Dusk" received enough support from family, friends and the community to make the film, a partnership between ASU and the Arizona Science Center proved successful in hosting a screening at the Arizona Science Center’s Irene P. Flinn Theater.

It was 6:30 p.m. Dozens - family, friends, community members - came to support the student filmmakers on the evening of Nov. 20. The fans waited in anticipation to see the film. Cast and crew were dressed to the nines to impress their fans.

Producer Ryan Casey’s nerves were running high as he said he wanted the night to run smoothly. He made sure movie-goers were greeted, the film was working correctly and that he wouldn’t make a fool out of himself during his speech.

As the theater finally opened at 6:45 p.m., fans were greeted to their seats by rock-and-roll music and a behind-the-scenes photo slideshow of "At Dusk’s" production.

Before showing the film, Casey, Director Vinny Viti, Writer Scott Suddarth and Cinematographer Shane Stevens made a short speech about the conception of the film and thanking all who showed up.

Once the credits rolled, Casey came back on stage to recognize all those who worked on the film, presenting them with their own copy of the Blu-ray version of the film, and some received theater-sized movie posters of "At Dusk".

Suddarth was one who received his very own movie poster. He made a speech about the conception of the film.

Suddarth and Viti, high school friends, used to go on late-night hikes in the desert where "At Dusk" was filmed. They joked around wondering what if they filmed their hikes, something killed them, their bodies couldn’t be found, but an iPod video was found of them being killed.

“Over the course of 18 months, it went from being ‘haha good times’ to ‘let’s make a movie,’” Suddarth said.

At the end of the screening, Casey announced the film would be available via Vimeo On Demand for purchase worldwide, and At Dusk would be submitted to a dozen film festivals - including one in Sedona - through FilmFreeway, a website used to submit to film festivals without paying entry fees.

From rags to riches, so-to-speak

Computer science major turned psychology major turned film producer, Ryan Casey, considers himself to be an unyielding producer.

His first experience wasn’t butterflies and roses though. Many surprises popped up throughout production, including typical challenges of student-made films including low budget and minimal props, equipment and crew. They were faced with noisy air conditioning, cast forgetting costumes while on a time constraint and keeping the crew preoccupied during filming.  

Casey said he could write a book about how many challenges occurred.

“It’s guerilla filmmaking at its finest,” Casey said.

But, as producer, Casey must act as problem solver. He must refer to contacts at the drop of a hat in order to get production back on track, including lawyers and vendors.

Before hypothetically signing on to be producer, Ryan had auditioned for a few roles. Cinematographer Shane Stevens said he was “awful” in auditions and “frustrating” when helping in the editing room but Casey’s persistence led to his callback for producer.

“He was good at hyping up the film, but his weakness was his creative input.”

Michael Harrelson, veteran actor and The Stranger in "At Dusk," gushed about Casey being everything a producer should be: focused, driven and result-oriented. He said if he wanted to make a film tomorrow, he wouldn’t have any regrets about asking Casey to produce it because he knows it would get done.

“(Casey) realizes that in order to be successful, the film has to be seen,” Harrelson said. “He’s just fortuitous enough to know if he gets the right attorney and he gets the right music and he gets the right distribution and he exposes it to people - if he sends it to film festivals, big and small - it’ll be recognized, and it’ll build it’s own audience.”

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