Award-winning director Ryan Kruger is known for his unique visual style and experimental films. He started making music videos in South Africa in 2004 and in 2008, he decided to move to South Africa. His first feature film, Fried Barry, is based on a short film of the same name and takes the audience on a bonkers, psychedelic trip with a drug addict, who is abducted by aliens.
Kruger cast actor Gary Green as Barry in both the short film and feature film Fried Barry. Barry is a heroin addict in Cape Town, who is abducted by aliens, and taken on a bizarro ride through the city while ingesting lots of drugs and having sex with various women. The film is not for the faint of heart and has played festivals around the world and won numerous awards.
Dread Central had the pleasure of chatting with Ryan Kruger all the way from South Africa, via Zoom, to discuss the inspiration for Fried Barry, as well as his new short film, #MeowToo, a revenge story with cat people which supports the #MeToo movement. Read on to find out what we talked about and to see video clips from the interview!
Synopsis: Barry is a drug-addled, abusive bastard who – after yet another bender – is abducted by aliens. Barry takes a backseat as an alien visitor assumes control of his body and takes it for a joyride through Cape Town. What follows is an onslaught of drugs, sex and violence as our alien tourist enters the weird and wonderful world of humankind. Fried Barry is based upon the short film of the same name, which earned 57 official selections and 12 wins at festivals around the world.
Dread Central: I saw Fried Barry last year at Virtual Cannes and wrote a review. I really enjoyed it and it’s streaming on Shudder now. I just watched your short film, #MeowToo, and loved that too. The first thing I want to know is what was your inspiration for Fried Barry?
Ryan Kruger: That’s a hard one. I mean, there’s quite a few different angles of answers to that. Where I was at the time in my career, because I come from a music video background, so I started my career doing music videos and I was lucky doing music videos because I could always do what I wanted to do. But at the same time, I was in a box, where this has to get on TV, this has to suit the music, so I couldn’t go too crazy. Shortly after that, after shooting so many music videos, the big plan was always to make a film but then I started doing experimental films, short films, where I could do whatever I wanted.
I think with Fried Barry, there are so many other scripts I could have chosen instead of the ones I had in front of me and what excited me when I got this idea, because originally Fried Barry wasn’t an actual script, I had all of these other scripts I could have chosen. And when I got the idea what excited me more than anything was it was different. I hadn’t seen this film before and I knew from the start you were either going to love or hate this type of film, but no matter what happens people will speak about it and I thought that’s what really drew me to it.
Besides that, and where I was in my career, I went through a very tough time. I had something wrong with my kidney, I got sepsis, and I nearly died. My cat had cancer and I broke up with a girl at the time, so I went into a depression, this dark hole I went down. And at the bottom of this dark hole, I said to myself, “What is the number one thing that I’ve always wanted to do in my life, in my career?” And it was to make a movie, so I thought that’s it, I’m going to do it, that’s going to be my medicine, that’s what I’m going to concentrate on. Over the years I’ve come close many times to making a film where I met a producer and they’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s going to happen.” Then it doesn’t happen, and it starts to fade away.
The next time I met a producer I just didn’t get excited and the last producer I met shook my hand and didn’t want to let go of my hand. He was like, “We’re going to make this film!” And I’m like, “I believe you,” but it’s his money, so if he says yes, you say yes, and I say yes. Then that faded away. It always comes down to the bottom thing where you’ve just got to do it yourself. So, when I got the idea, it was really fifty percent scene breakdown within three days, ran to my producer, who I’d only known for a month and a half, and I said, “Do you want to co-produce this, mainly with me, but I want to do it next month?” He said, “Well, why do you have to do it next month?” And I was like, “If we don’t do it next month, it’s never going to happen, it’s just going to be one of those things that gets pushed back.” I knew I was going to have to shoot this movie over a long period of time so if we don’t start next month, it’s never going to happen so no matter what we’re starting next month and he said, “Okay, cool. I’m in.” And then a month later we started filming.
DC: Gary Green stars as Barry, in the short and the feature versions of Fried Barry. I have to ask; how did you meet him? He is so perfect as Barry!
RK: I’ve worked with Gary now, I think, eleven years. I met him on an indie movie back in the day, he was doing little feature parts and I was doing feature parts. And as a director, I love characters and I started putting Gary in music videos and just really small parts. And then obviously it got up to that point where I thought, “This Fried Barry experiment is perfect for Gary and yeah, we just did that, and it worked. But when I made Fried Barry the short it was never planned to make it into a feature film. It was a standalone short film that did really well at a lot of festivals, picked up awards, and randomly got fan art. But yeah, it was just a standalone thing.
I think because that did well it planted a seed in my head at the same time. When I got the idea for Fried Barry, there were so many things that had to be right, that ticked all the boxes, the story, the character, the way to shoot this type of movie over a long period of time. And when I got the idea, I just knew exactly how I was going to do it. With Gary, he comes from an extras background, he’s not a trained actor, so then with that I thought Gary would be absolutely perfect for this role. I chose him for his look because he has this great presence and look and nobody looks like him, so that’s what attracted me to him to do this thing. The character doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, it’s based on facial expression, him experiencing the world and the world experiencing him.
I did a lot of improv with the other actor with the dialogue from the film, but with Gary, I didn’t do any improv because the movie relies on Barry. He is the movie, so if that fails, the movie is going to fail. So not coming from a trained actors background, I had to work super closely with him to get exactly what I wanted. Before we started shooting, I was like, “This is the film, this is what it’s about,” and that was it. When it came to shooting, I would only tell him what we were doing a half an hour or an hour before shooting because I didn’t want him to overthink or prep anything, so I had this clean slate/blank canvas to work with every single day and what’s interesting about that is, his character is this kid that sponges up all this information in the world and then mimics people.
When it came to directing, it was funny because I was on the side of the camera going, “Okay Gary, now make this face. Scrunch up your face. Do this, do that.” And at the same time, I was editing the movie in my head. It was like it’s hitting all the beats but it’s all in the edit to hit those beats. But nobody could have played this part. Gary gave it a hundred and twenty percent. I think he knew this was his shot and yeah, we had a lot of fun.
DC: Barry is a drug addict; he experiences alien abduction; lots of sex, lots of drugs; and just this really crazy experience. It could be real or a metaphor for drug addiction. Is there an answer, or is that left up to the audience?
RK: No, no, it was real. This is what’s always funny about the film when I think about it. The story is easy: an alien abducts this human body and takes it on a joy ride through Cape Town. So, it’s almost like this alien tourist, but the funny thing is they just happen to pick the worst guy to abduct. It could have been a 9 to 5 guy and the movie would have been a different story, but because he’s an addict and there’s an alien in his body, nobody could take that amount of drugs in that amount of time. And as the alien he gives off, I don’t know how to say it, these vibes where everybody wants to fuck him while at the same time his body is craving those drugs, he’s getting withdrawal symptoms. He needs to keep taking drugs. And obviously, in the circle of people the normal Barry knows and the area that he lives in, it’s all about drugs. And then when the alien tries it, it’s like, “This is alright, this is quite nice,” and then it just gets worse and worse.
DC: I want to talk about your short film a little bit. #MeowToo is obviously inspired by the #MeToo movement, sexual assault, and sexual harrassment. It’s a great story, I loved it! I wanted to know, why did you want to make this film?
RK: I already had the story and thought it would be really interesting with this because you can look at that film and go, “You didn’t need this to be a cat person or anything like that, it can be just a straight story of what happened.” But as a filmmaker visually, and the style of the experiment that I did I just thought it would be interesting to put that element in there because it doesn’t really matter who it is. The #MeToo movement is a very important movement and I think this film celebrates female power and the survivors of sexual assault.
I think in the film industry it’s a very common thing. In the past two or three years we’re constantly hearing stories of big actors, producers, taking advantage of women and it’s up to men to prevent this from happening. When I was going through the story and it was the Meow thing and I thought #MeowToo and it just stuck. And it was also a good chance to push a strong message up and be really visual. You don’t really need the whole cat thing in there but as a visual filmmaker and going along with that creativity, I just thought it was a great thing to put in there to make it interesting, so it’s not just somebody trying to do something for the sake of doing something. I think it’s an important message and a strong enough thing just to say, “Watch what you do,” because it’s the whole reverse thing where she ends up fucking him up.
DC: I love how the cat people look! Are those prosthetics or are they masks?
RK: It’s all prosthetics, latex masks. The funny thing is, apart from that opening shot in the rain when people are walking, I think there is a second mask there, but the main meow mask, we used that, we only had one mask. So, when the camera goes to all the different angles, I was actually having a smoke on the street with the cat mask and then Barry, Garry Green, he was the human pet on the leash. It’s just amazing that it’s the same mask, but when somebody puts it on it looks totally different. Even when I put it on compared to when Suraya, the actress, put it on, it looked totally different, just the shape of the face and everything. So, I thought that was interesting. Then you’ve got the person reading the newspaper in the bar and stuff like that so yeah, there was just one mask, and it gets really hot.
DC: Fried Barry is on Shudder now and #MeowToo is playing festivals. I was wondering, are you working on something new?
RK: When I made Fried Barry, the short experimental in 2017, since then I’ve had Fried Barry and other projects, but it’s been a four-and-a-half-year project making all these experimental films. #MeowToo is the fourth. There are about eight in the collection, so I’ve still got these other ones I’m going to release into festivals. It’s some of my favorite work as well but it’s weird they are only starting to push them out now. I have two more in post. I shot another one a few weeks ago which is quite interesting. It’s called Alien Dick. I just have to start post on that, but that’s pretty funny, and like Fried Barry, just wacky and crazy and out there. Apart from that we are still in post with a feature film documentary and in August it looks like I’m going to start shooting my new film, which I can’t say too much about, but it looks like filming will start in August.
DC: I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me for Dread Central today, all the way from South Africa!
RK: Amazing! Thank you so much! What was your favorite scene in Fried Barry?
DC: The dance scene, where he goes in the club, takes all the pills, and does the crazy dance. That was my favorite scene.
Fried Barry is currently streaming on Shudder!