Brandon Ruckdashel is an actor most known for playing Zach on the hit HBO/Cinemax TV series, “Co-Ed Confidential.”
In “Grinder”, Ruckdashel plays a photographer who tries to save a young runaway from the clutches of a ruthless pimp in addition to this being his directorial debut.
His past films include “Changing the Game” and Torino Film Festival stand out “Boy in a Bathtub.”
Ruckdashel has appeared as a guest star on “The Lair,” “Life on Top” and “Deadly Sins.” As a theater actor, the Minneapolis native, on appearing as Lorenzo in “Ascension” was garnered praise from The New York Times.
Thom Cardwell: Why did you choose to title the film, “Grinder?” It’s certainly provocative!
Brandon Ruckdashel: The title of the film is the most important part of the process. It says everything.
The potential audience members get a visual image in their mind, an idea of the tone of the film, and it whets their appetite for seeing it. Our first drafts of “Grinder” were closer to an exploitation film. As we continued rewrites and under the advisement of my friend Brandon Maxwell I reworked the script from being sexploitation into more of a psychological thriller like “American Beauty.” The title also serves a dual purpose of providing a “tell.” When a gay person sees the title they have a sense that our film is an LGBTQ film, but someone who is more of the hetero audience sees “meat grinder.” I think one of our main goals as filmmakers is to open up communities and cultures for the consumption of a wide audience.
TC: Where did the inspiration for the screenplay come from?
BR: The story is based on a number of my own personal stories as a young actor getting started in New York and Los Angeles and also a couple of my friends.
TC: Are you making a statement about the state of contemporary life through hookup sites like Grindr and others?
BR: Not really. There is use of a modeling site, which I always envisioned as Model Mayhem, but I think it makes a greater statement about how easy it is for adults and young people (who have no relation) to be in private contact. Frankly, I’m glad I grew up when social media was in its infancy. I couldn’t imagine dealing with the bullying I did as a teenager and young adult broadcasting through a computer or phone into my own bedroom. We as a country really need to put a focus on cyberbullying and find ways of educating our youth about the damage it does.
TC: “Grinder” definitely has the look, tone and feel of Film Noir, an obvious intention of yours as director. Is it your favorite style of filmmaking?
BR: The look I really have to give credit to our cinematographer Derek Means and gaffer Alexa Wolf. This is the second feature that I’ve been involved with on the producing side and I thought we’d move from the three lights I had on my previous shoot to maybe six. We went through a visual reference sheet prior to shooting and I’ve always been a fan of the dark grit that James A. Contner achieved for William Friedkin on “Cruising.” I really think Derek did a fantastic job of creating that look. The feel of a movie for me comes down to pacing and audio choices. Pacing wise I’ve been honing my technique of using living portraits, which is inspired by Andy Warhol’s “screen tests.”
TC: What films or directors are particularly inspirational or influential upon the crafting of your own film?
BR: I think “Milk” by screenwriter Dustin Lance Black and director Gus Van Sant is an
incredibly important film.
TC: Is there anything autobiographical of your own, or others near to you?
BR: Yes, at times it was a bit much on set for myself and some of the actors to take and I believe it shows very clearly in the acting that Tyler, Jay, and Jon provide for the film.
TC: Was it difficult to draw a character so young, innocent and naive as the boy searching for his identity in New York City?
BR: Not so much. I was that young boy at one point. I didn’t come from the same family situation, but I find the young artist story is fairly universal. Looking back I know most of us don’t like to remember our
naivete but there are definitely moments I wouldn’t repeat knowing what I know today.
TC: What was the most challenging thing about making “Grinder?”
BR: The constant change. We went through 2 Rich’s, 2 Luke’s, 3 Sarah’s (one the night before we started shooting her role), and a director. Not to mention the major script rewrite a month before we started
shooting. I don’t think the outside world realizes how much change can happened in a short period of time while in the midst of a shoot.
TC: How would you best describe your own aesthetic of film?
BR: I think with mobile technology we’ve lost sight of the grandeur and scale of many of our films from previous generations. We are now forced to shoot tighter and smaller so that the audience can see the
character because their screen is only 6 inches wide.
TC: Have you found out anything surprising about “Grinder” that audiences have responded to, or commented upon in their reaction to your film?
BR: I’ve had actresses after screenings thank me for telling the story from the male point of view. That is something that has really struck me the most. People need to see how vulnerable young men are similarly to women.
GRINDER is screening on Saturday. September 16 @ 10:00 p.m. at the Hanover Theater.
Director Brandon Ruckdashel will be in attendance for a talkback after the screening.
Join Brandon Ruckdashel at the free afterparty at the MB Lounge @ 40 Grafton St, Worcester, immediately after the program.