LYNN — Ryan Morrison got the wake-up call of a lifetime when he received word that his first full-feature film would debut at the Cannes Film Festival.
“I was in bed when I found out, because France is way ahead, time-wise, and my writing partner called me at 3 a.m and let me know after he got the call from our agent, so it was the best way to be woken up ever,” said Morrison, the Lynn native. “We were so happy just to make the movie, let alone get into Cannes.”
The phone call came from Morrison’s best friend and writing partner Joe Penna, whom he met in Boston about a decade ago. The May 18-19 festival announced the official selection list of films last week. The duo began writing the film in April of 2016 and spent two months shooting it on location in Iceland.
“Joe and I met at our first job after college around 2007, editing medical DVD’s, and it was a miserable job where I felt my creativity went to die because we were just doing the same thing over and over again,” said Morrison. “We would always sit at lunch and talk about how some day we would get out of here.”
After spending the majority of his life in New England, Morrison, now 33, moved to Los Angeles six years ago. His passion for film began during his Sacred Heart Elementary School years after he and his childhood friends, Joe Ford and Matt O’Neill, began making short videos of themselves jumping around the trampoline in Morrison’s backyard. From there, his passion flourished with the help of his friends and teachers at Breed Middle School and Lynn Classical High School.
“We had a lot of good support from school faculty that allowed us to either submit a video as a credited resource for class instead of a paper or be able to do little promotional videos to put them out there,” he said. “I did a lot of projects in school and it was always just my close group of friends making things to make ourselves laugh, so I’ve learned over the years there is more to it when it’s for an audience outside of your friend group.”
Morrison helped with the morning news broadcast at his middle school, and created promotional video clips with his friends for events and dances during his high school years in Lynn. After he graduated from Classical, he went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he created a short film for his senior project, which was selected for the annual Five College Student Film Festival.
The former captain of his high school hockey, soccer, and lacrosse teams began utilizing the resources at LynnCam shortly after he graduated UMASS Amherst in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. After finishing school, Morrison tried his hand at sketch comedy with the help of the staff of the former LynnCam television network. Hoping to further his craft in filmmaking, Morrison got the OK from the LynnCam head of department to write, shoot, edit and produce his own television show, which aired a few nights a week on the city’s public access station.
“That city is responsible for the kind of person I am, honest and responsible, so my heart is always there, especially growing up with terrible weather all the time, that makes you a special kind of person who is tolerant to so many things,” he said. “I didn’t have a sheltered existence in Lynn with all the diversity, I grew up learning a lot about the world and other people.”
Morrison, whose all-time favorite film is “Back to the Future”, made the big move to California after Penna’s YouTube channel and production company, Mystery Guitar Man, became an online success. Together, the filmmaking best friends began creating short, musical, and family-friendly videos that generated over 2.8 million subscribers around the world in the channel’s first year.
According to Morrison, the 97-minute-film, titled ‘Arctic’, is about a stranded man who is finally about to receive his long awaited rescue. After a tragic accident, his opportunity is lost. He must then decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or to embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.
Morrison produced and Penna directed the film. They spent two months with an all-Icelandic crew to shoot the film.
“I think the hardest part about the process was proving ourselves as first-timers,” said Morrison. “I totally understand why producers or agents or even actors would be hesitant to give a bunch of money and responsibility to someone on their first time making a film.”
It can be a mysterious deal getting a film accepted into Cannes, according to Morrison. With the help of his agency and sales team, ‘Arctic’ won over the right crowd and was one of 60 films selected out of about 1,600 films that were submitted into the prominent film festival.
“The theatre we will be watching it in holds 4,300 people and I’ve never even been in a theatre that big, so to go from counting my viewers on one hand to all those viewers is very cool,” said the Lynn native. “One of the big reasons we made the film is Joe and I like connecting with people by telling stories, and I take that very seriously because I love that human connection that can occur with sharing stories.”
Morrison was raised by his musician father Mark, his nurse practitioner mother Roberta and his older sisters Erin and Jessica, who the filmmaker considers his biggest fans. He credits much of his success to the years of support from his family and to the people in Lynn who helped him along the way.
“I would want any kid in Lynn that has any creative tendencies to follow it, keep hustling, do what’s fun and try to find ways to grow doing it because that’s what got me here,” he said. “I think that’s really important and there are some great resources kids should be taking advantage of and i hope the city can keep giving those kids the resources.”