Whether you found yours in elementary school, high school, college, university, or someplace along the way, we all have that one teacher who impacted us in immeasurable ways. For Writing for Film and Television grad Ryan Uytdewilligen, it was Film Theory Instructor Paul Jensen.
Ryan’s idea for a book was born and nurtured in Paul’s classes – a place where the two could share Academy Award trivia and love for all things cinema. What Ryan really wanted was a resource that combined all of his favourite films from the 1920’s to present day. So, instead of waiting, he wrote “101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies”, which was recently published and is now available for purchase on Amazon.
If you love films like The Graduate, Big, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, this book is definitely for you.
We had a chance to speak to Ryan about his time at VFS, what the publishing process was like, and what he’s up to next. Read on!
Where are you from originally? What made you decide to come to VFS?
Ryan: I was born in Lethbridge, Alberta and grew up on a family farm just north of the city. I was an only child and expected to be a farmer but a heavy dose of TV and movie watching gave me a love for Hollywood. I always wanted to be an actor and an author. I studied broadcasting and worked in that for a few years, which included creative writing for a couple of radio stations. It dawned on me then that writing for cinema would be the ultimate goal. Sadly, I lost both my parents to cancer around the same time. It filled me with questions and ideas on what to write about and fueled me to follow my dreams. So, I moved to Vancouver where I had a few friends living at the time and enrolled at VFS.
What was your time like in the Writing for Film and Television program?
Ryan: The program was great. It was very hands on and you got out what you put in. If you were there to write, you learned fast and could produce a lot of content. I made lots of great friends and even met my girlfriend. We’ve been together over two years now (she’s a writer, too). I did feel a bit guilty watching films and discussing film history all day but, truthfully, that was my heaven.
There were a lot of great teachers who I luckily bonded with – particularly the enthusiasm and knowledge of Paul Jensen. Workshopping always stung because it brought down your ego and reassurance but it helped to create great work.
What was your greatest lesson during your time here? How do you apply it to your career today?
Ryan: My greatest lesson while there was simply to write. We were told from day one that you just need to write and it makes sense because we are writers. The ones who didn’t turn in pages were the ones who stopped writing after school. Life gets in the way or some just discover maybe writing wasn’t for them. Some just can’t produce content that fast. But I remember being told numerous times that you should write right after you graduate from the program. Don’t stop or it will get less and less likely that you’ll continue. And that’s absolutely true. So I just kept on writing scripts, short films, books, poems, and any other ideas I had just to improve and get used to being self-reliant. Practise makes perfect, and while I’m far away from that, it has helped me to stay motivated and write every day.
Your book, 101 Most Influential Coming of Age Movies, was recently published and is now available on Amazon – congratulations! What inspired the idea?
Ryan: It was a mixture of things, mainly instructor Paul Jensen who was so enthusiastic about film history. He was the first person I ever met in my life who could name Oscar winners off the top of his head like me. We both enjoyed older films, particularly from the seventies, so I think it gave us a lot to talk about. He shared a lot of history that I was interested in.
My favorite film genre is coming of age. Anything John Hughes or stuff like The Graduate or James Dean movies. I wanted to read a book that grouped and listed them all, but I couldn’t find anything. So thanks to Paul’s influence (and for his help creating the list), I set off researching and picking and choosing my list.
Can you take us through the publishing process?
Ryan: It was a long journey. Well, felt like. It took me five months to write the thing, and then I spent another five months sending it out to publishers. Every day I’d research publishers for one hour and send query letters and sample chapters to ones that fit. I got hundreds and hundreds of nos. Finally, one said yes and then it was another five months of editing. They’d make corrections (I made many, many horrendously obvious errors that you just tend to gloss over after reading) and then send them to me for approval. Then, just like that, it was on the market.
What do you hope people will take away from your book?
Ryan: It’s an interesting group of films. The whole genre is interesting to me as is the era. I’m absolutely obsessed with the 1950’s to 1970’s, especially what it was like to grow up in those time periods. So there’s a lot more in the book than just movies. It takes a look at each decade since 1910 and explores what it was like to be a kid/ teenager in those times -- what the big current events were, and what was happening in film history. And each film has a long explanation of how it influenced or captured the times it came out in. I think it might be interesting for readers to see how things have rapidly changed, or it might make older readers feel nostalgic. Either way, it’ll hopefully be able to recommend a few good films, widely known or not.
Out of the 101 films discussed in the book, list your top five and why.
Ryan: Top five’s are my favorite thing in the world!
1) The Graduate (1967) because there is no other film as radical and wild as far as edits, music, and plot goes. It perfectly sums up how it feels to be aimless and confused.
2) Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) because it’s an ensemble film like no other. It’s an absolute blast to watch because of the characters (especially Sean Penn) who are in such awkward relatable situations like forgetting your wallet while on a date.
3) Big (1988) because it’s absolutely original and imaginative. Tom Hanks playing a 10-year-old kid is priceless, but there are just so many moments that work in this film to sum up childhood innocence and the loss of it when entering the adult world.
4) The Last Picture Show (1971) because, personally speaking, I have never seen another film sum up what it’s like to live in a desolate little farming town like this one does. It’s a bit older but the performances get it so right.
5) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) because obviously. Both this and The Breakfast Club perfectly sum up high school in the best and brightest John Hughesy way.
What are you working on now?
Ryan: Two of my scripts have been optioned (one of which I wrote while at VFS), so I’ve been busy doing edits on those and pushing for them to get produced. One of the companies has brought me on to write a few scripts for them so that’s kept me busy. I also wrote my first novel, a coming of age country boy story called “Tractor” which will be available on Amazon September 15. So I’m getting ready for when that one hits the market.
Ryan: I want to continue to write more scripts. I just wrote a mob thriller called “Bad Pasta” that I’d love to get out into the world. I’ve also planned out the plot for my next fiction novel, so hopefully I’ll get started on that one soon. I’ve got a few other projects on the back burner like a children’s book and a history book of my home town. The hard part is finding homes for them.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Ryan: I’d like to thank VFS for giving me my start and all of my instructors, mainly Paul Jensen, for the inspiration and valuable knowledge I use today. And if anyone is considering a career in writing, just know that it’s a lot of work sending things out into the world to get noticed. Edits are heartbreaking but often mandatory. But there’s nothing like writing. I want to be clear that it’s not a job. It’s a creative lifestyle that nothing can beat. I feel lucky that I’m able to do it and have people actually read and see my work. If you’re at all passionate about writing, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Exploring worlds, histories, and your own personal thoughts through storytelling is just pure heaven in my mind. It’s a great way to learn about yourself – especially if you’re currently coming of age.