LOWLIFE is the knockout first feature film from writer/director Ryan Prows and to say its wild is an understatement. The film takes the viewer hostage for a journey into a gritty underworld inhabited by ICE agents, drug addicts, human organ traffickers, and a luchador known as El Monstruo. You read that right; at the heart of this strange story is a luchador, “The Monster,” who just wants to make his family proud. Despite the grim subject matter, the colorful characters and in-your-face use of dark comedy allow LOWLIFE to achieve the look of a brilliant live-action comic book. The film is divided into four chapters: Monsters, Fiends, Thugs, and Criminals. Before the April 6th release of LOWLIFE, Nightmarish Conjurings had the pleasure of speaking with director Ryan Prows about creating the story, his twisted sense of humor, wrestling and more!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Ryan! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today about LOWLIFE!
Ryan Prows: Absolutely! Thank you for doing it.
Nightmarish Conjurings: LOWLIFE is your first feature film. Why did you want to be a filmmaker and how did you get started?
Ryan Prows: I’m from Atlanta and I was always making shorts and stuff. My grandparents had a farm and in the summer I would hang out there and get super bored, so I would draw comics and make movies. From there, it kind of grew to getting friends together and doing stuff on the weekends. I went to undergrad for film so I’ve always kind of wanted to do that.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I think the movie plays out a lot like a comic book.
RP: I think it’s kind of cool you said that. I feel like it’s more of a subconscious inspiration than consciously. We weren’t talking about it, but it feels like, the Avengers kind of come together by the end of the movie sort of thing. It’s kind of funny how it played out. A couple of the other writers are comic nerds, too, so I feel like it’s a in our DNA sort of thing kind of storytelling. Especially with Monstruo, even with luchador movies, they’re almost sort of super heroes, like folk heroes, bigger than life heroes. It’s hysterical to me that they have alter egos and their day job is being wrestlers and they also go solve crime and shit by night or fight werewolves or whatever (laughs). Those movies are insane. The idea that you have a guy wearing a mask and you never see his face, but you still treat him like a normal person is just really interesting visually.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Why did you make El Monstruo a luchador and I’m wondering if you’re also a wrestling fan?
RP: Oh yeah, not as much now, but I grew up watching wrestling. Being from the south, NWA, WCW and stuff was all big, especially in Atlanta. WWF stuff, like Ultimate Warrior and Undertaker were kind of ridiculous super hero, super colorful figures. I really liked that stuff growing up. The way we initially came up with the script was I read another script. There were five writers on it and we all had our own projects and we had been working on it individually. We had been doing web stuff and comedy sketches together after we all met at school. We all had different scripts we were pulling from to put into this. I had written a script that had a luchador in it, but it wasn’t really the same thing and two of the other guys had a script they had written about someone who was like a leg breaker for the mob, but it was just a normal dude, so it was melding those two stories. We wanted to know how we could make something arresting that felt different that you hadn’t really seen. Treating it with an indie film sensibility with these older luchador movies was kind of exciting.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Then the way you came up with the story for LOWLIFE was by each of you bringing little pieces of the story and putting them together?
RP: Yeah, the initial pitch was doing a crime anthology film. I would direct all the parts, but we would all write little short stories that would fit more in the world, I guess, than actually fit together. As we started writing and brainstorming on it, we came up with the idea that it would be cool if the stories started intersecting. Somebody is kidnapping someone in one story and there would be a hero in another section or whatever. It kind of folds into what the movie is about, sort of playing on assumptions being made, hopefully the audience even makes them. You kind of laugh at Monstruo and then you start hearing this sort of horrible backstory (laughs) and you’re like, wait, is this guy not supposed to be funny? (laughs)
Nightmarish Conjurings: There were certain times in the movie that I almost felt guilty about laughing and wondered if it was okay to laugh! (laughs)
RP: (laughs) Oh, that’s so cool because at some screenings if someone does an intro, they say, “It’s okay to laugh!” To me, that’s the fun of the movie because you’re jumping from really horrible shit into something that’s hopefully a little bit lighter that certainly challenges you as a viewer and keeps you engaged, hopefully.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I think LOWLIFE is a perfect example of a modern grindhouse film and I appreciate your use of dark humor. Are there any other grindhouse films that inspired you when you were writing and is your sense of humor always this twisted?
RP: Yes, I guess it is always this twisted. (laughs) I like true grindhouse and I really do like the stuff where they can still have a social message, but it comes at you a little bit lighter and it doesn’t feel super preachy because you’ve got entertaining stuff in there like humor and action. We talked about approaching the film from an exploitation mindset like okay, we’re going to have elements that are visually shocking, or different or enticing that you could almost just sell the movie off the poster, but then kind of dig in and try and do a little bit more of a dramatic, emotional story with bigger than life characters. When you see the poster with the characters next to each other hopefully you’re like, what the fuck is this movie? (laughs) Hopefully it’s enticing enough in a true, exploitational way, but the movie is then about the fact that these people are exploited in life and trying to dig into that. To me it was exciting trying to make a drama with a luchador in the middle of a crazy ass crime movie (laughs).
Nightmarish Conjurings: I don’t want to give away too much for the people who haven’t seen the film yet, but I really love Randy and Keith and their whole dynamic. There is an ongoing joke about Randy’s tattoo, which I found hilarious. How did you come up with the idea for his very unique tattoo?
RP: The idea itself was going to be a sketch and I floated it to the team a couple of years ago. It was just going to be the scene of Keith picking Randy up at the prison and then that opening stuff in the car. It was just going to be driving away from prison with your best friend who now has this tattoo. It was kind of cool that when we threw it out there, some of the team was like, absolutely not, that’s fucked up! (laughs) Some of them had a pretty harsh response right out of the gate, so we thought something was there. To me, if you saw a guy with that tattoo, you would make up an assumption of who that was. I would. I thought it was a really arresting way to get into what we were doing with all the characters and it was funny and just shocking. I really thought it would split the room more than it seems to. It’s actually the least crazy thing people talk about once the movie is over (laughs), but it was one of those things we wanted to take a chance on and just try it. A lot of people I talked to were like, “I kind of hate myself for liking Randy as much as I did,” (laughs) which is kind of the fun of the movie.
Nightmarish Conjurings: The entire cast is impressive! How did you go about casting the film and why did you choose Ricardo Adam Zarate and Nicki Micheaux for their roles as El Monstruo and Crystal? Their characters stood out for me.
RP: I had worked with Nicki, who plays Crystal and she’s awesome. My teacher at school gave her the script for my thesis film and she agreed to be in that. She was the first thing I built everything else around. That story, and her character Crystal, was really the start of the whole thing and the heart of the movie in the end is just her. It’s her movie. Ricardo, who plays El Monstruo, came in, auditioned, and it was incredible. He did the first monologue and that was it. We had seen other people and everyone was laughing, but he had such conviction that we were just like, I can’t laugh at this dude’s story. He told us after the fact that he was a champion bodybuilder and he was Mr. Mexico and his father and his older brother were both Mr. Mexico as well, so he totally is El Monstruo. Johnny, who plays Randy, is a childhood friend of one of the writers and he had been in a bunch of sketches and shorts. He’s just a savant. He’s a great artist and he was a drummer in a metal band for a while. Burnham, who plays Teddy, came in and he auditioned. I had seen him in Wrong Cops and thought he was awesome. He pretty much had it just showing up. It was a lot of people we had been doing smaller stuff with and then some people we met and auditioned. It was kind of asking a lot of them, too. I can’t imagine being handed that script and you’re like, wait what the fuck? (laughs) They were really game to push it. With Nicki, I could talk to her about it since we were writing it for her. Everything is so crazy around her and she still has to play it straight and be the realistic anchor to how nuts everything else is and almost be in a different movie. It was exciting to not be scared of the fact that it switches tones and goes off the wall, which really is a testament to the actors being down to do that, because that is a hard thing to ask.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Are you working on any new projects you can share with me?
RP: The writers and I are working on a thing now that hasn’t been announced yet. We’re trying to cast it now and it’s a horror/thriller film set in L.A. I’ve also got a feature version of my thesis film Narcocorrido which I just finished a draft on, so hopefully that will get going.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I’m looking forward to seeing more films from you. Thank you for talking with me today! Good luck with the release of LOWLIFE!
RP: Thank you so much!