by Cutter Kilgore
Guest Horizon Reporter
A shovel scrapes through soil beneath a gray afternoon sky, and a man is lifted, sputtering, from a shallow grave. He’s lugged by the arm through loose debris like a lumped-together duffle bag, or a child’s neglected toy. Or like an afterthought. He reaches for a gun, and on a 4-by-2-inch screen atop a chipped table in a coffee shop, he steadies the pistol at a bloodied goon before everything fades to black.
It is the just-completed trailer for the film, “Ball’s Deep,” the second installment of a planned trilogy, and the man is its writer and star, Ryan Covington, 32. He flashes a smirk amidst the buzz of hushed conversation and slopes forward in his seat, every bit the proud father.
Covington is a burgeoning filmmaker who resides in Bellingham, Wash. His ultra-violent style has drawn local recognition and fanfare. He says that making movies is all about attitude, excitement, and passion.
“Because you just can’t write an original story anymore,” he says, gesturing with his hands for emphasis. “Everything’s been done to death.”
Covington’s strong jaw and chic haircut suggest a youthful, modern version of Elvis Presley, if Elvis had sported an oops-I’m-sexy growth of three-day stubble. His voice is soft and precise. Enthusiasm boils to the surface of a relaxed demeanor, alight like a sparked powder keg when he talks about his work.
And he’s saying, “Nowadays, it’s about putting your own twist on a familiar story.” He pantomimes typing on a keyboard.
Covington’s stories are crowd-pleasers at the Northwest Projections Film Festival, held annually at the Pickford Cinema in Bellingham, where “Ball’s Out,” part one of his action saga, took home the Audience Choice award in 2009. He is known for producing campy, low-budget movies soaked in violence and testosterone.
As an actor, “He’s my go-to guy,” says Mikiech Nichols, 27, director and co-star on “Ball’s Out.” “If I need something uncomfortable, I know that he’ll do it whether or not he hates it.”
But as a writer, Covington is starting to branch out.
“I’ll write anything,” he says. “I try not to limit myself.”
His recent script, “Space,” a TV pilot about the first citizens living in orbit, earned him a Best Drama win in Nextv’s 2011 writing and pitch competition, singled out from over 850 submissions.
“I can’t write if I’m not totally inspired,” says Covington. He says that writing is something that can’t be forced. “I’m hyper-critical of myself…Every month I have a really good idea that I don’t follow through with.”
He admires any filmmaker who sticks to a vision, uncompromising. “If you’re making a movie just because it’s what the audience wants to see,” he says, “you’re probably doing it wrong.”
He flicks through dozens of pages of a creased original manuscript and flops it onto the table. The typeface is industry standard, crisp and businesslike, but the paper is crinkled and worn at the edges. “This is my puke pass,” he says. The margins are muddled with hand-scrawled notes and corrections, swollen to the edges of every page. Highlighter markings mar the draft in brilliant yellow and orange loops.
Whenever inspiration strikes, he peers off into space and watches an entire movie flash before his eyes. “I have to write everything as fast as I can before I forget it,” he says with a laugh. “I just have a conversation in my head, which I do all the time.”
And time is precious to Covington. Where does he find it?
On a drizzling Thursday evening, he’s working another late shift.
Instead of fake blood and a leather jacket, he’s wearing slacks and a white dress shirt. He is the assistant manager of an aging multiplex where the walls are lined with arcade games that haven’t been relevant since the Clinton administration.
Here, the air smells like gumball machines and stale popcorn, and movie trailers are screened on a 32-inch flat-panel behind an unoccupied kiosk. “If anything else, it’s helped me judge what’s good,” says Covington of his six year stint. His movies “cater to hardcore film nerds because I am one,” he added.
The theater’s carpet is patterned with a faded, diamond-checkered weave that, up close, resembles the pixels of a movie screen; each tiny speck of color makes part of a greater whole.
And Covington stalks from his perch behind the cash-wrap to the teal single-doors that lead into the darkened theaters, making his rounds. “It’s starting to get pretty boring,” he admits.
He emerges, momentarily, and returns only to repeat the cycle later, like clockwork. He sighs. He says he would eventually like to get paid for writing scripts, but until then…
He looks off into space and maybe watches his next blockbuster flicker before his eyes.
Covington’s films are mostly self-financed, and money is always tight. He won’t turn down a few charitable contributions.
When he was 4, he dreamed of being a Hollywood special effects wizard. “On “Ball’s Out,”’ he says, “we made an entire person out of newspaper and old cardboard poster tubes.” The film was made on a budget of roughly $1,000. And blood’s not cheap either. Chocolate syrup and red dye can get expensive, he says.
Onscreen, he is the character Frank Ball, whose voice sounds as if he gargles with fiberglass. During a tense altercation, he runs out of ammo and dropkicks a handgun into an assailant’s face.
Ball is typically doused in blood and pissed off. He shoots hard liquor that might as well be cherry soda and reaches for his gun, an accessory he employs with skill and attitude. He is part of a greater whole.
Back at the coffee shop, there’s just Ryan Covington; he is relaxed and charming, and he’s poring over note-cards scratched with blocky print. He shows them to a reporter like a child with a new action figure.
He’s not the snobbish writer who always has to get his way. What he says is, “I’m pretty open to change,” as he rifles through his notes. “Some writers are like ‘my script is the bible; if you change my bible, I’ll kill you.”’ Probably Covington is too polite to kill anyone. Off-screen, that is.
Here is a contradiction; first beaming, then modest and self-effacing. He’s talking about what it takes to make an entertaining film when his eyes light up.
“I’m a complete idiot,” he says, giving a half-cocked grin. “Go on YouTube…and watch ‘Ball’s Out’ again…I don’t take myself seriously.”
Maybe not, but Covington knows it’s all about attitude, excitement and passion. He’s proud of his films. “Some movies have a message. That’s great,” says the man who once broke his wrist during a shoot and stayed to finish the scene. “I’m never going to make a ‘Schindler’s List,’” he says. “I just want to entertain.”
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