“I dream in full screenplays,” were some of the first words first-time filmmaker screenwriter/director/actress/executive producer Shaun Rylee said to me when I began putting together this featured post. “All of my screenwriting work comes from actual real experiences from my life or inspired by them, which my dreams seem to take and formulate into cinematic scenarios,” she said. Her featured length film debut Better. is no exception. “Better. is a story that comes from actual events in my life and that of the person the main character is based on…All I had to do was take a full-length dream I had about the real things that happened and write it down.” Shaun explained.
The story follows Nate who struggles with recurring night terrors that always win when he forgets his medication. After the traumatic deaths of his family members as a teen, he navigates adulthood alone, feeling incapable of love and being loved. Fate intervenes though as Madison strolls into his life. They embark on a relationship that fulfills the part of themselves each has been missing but no one can help themselves from the pitfalls that opening their hearts creates, or the pasts they never properly healed from.
Though Shaun has been asked to direct a horror film project next year, for this particular project she decided to executive produce and act in the film instead. “I originally wanted to direct Better. because it is deeply important to me to keep the vision of my story in tact” she said, “When thinking about all the moving parts of the film, I decided I wanted to bring in a female director that is on the same page as me and really wants to do justice to the screenplay. Bringing in another female to direct also allows the vision to be elevated by another creative’s ideas too and it is also crucial for me to include other female filmmakers.”
With plans for production to start in Mid-May 2020 a short teaser trailer was shot recently to assist with crowd-funding/investor opportunities for the film with the plan being to tour it on the festival circuit once completed. A big bonus for getting the production off the ground is the fact that Shaun is also staring in the film and her own production company, Cinema Dandan, is producing it. “That is something most filmmakers do, form a new LLC for each project.” Shaun explained, “I will likely use the same one for my next film as well. Forming your own helps you retain creative control over your projects. That’s obviously key in the independent film world and why we keep our projects independent.”
It seems to be a continuing trend, particularly amongst female filmmakers, to independently make the films they want to make and therefore form a new space where different stories can be told and listened to outside of the mainstream film market. “I think being really heard and taken seriously as a female filmmaker is always a struggle. People will try to overstep boundaries and impede on your work,” Shaun said, “Often times, it feels like you constantly have to prove and assert yourself without coming across as this or that. I have heard many female filmmakers say the same thing…That’s the beauty of independent film. You have the freedom to create what you want and for me, I wanted to show the realistic side of the human experience.”
Acting in the film as well as writing the script also provides a unique opportunity for Shaun to present a new kind of female role we don’t normally get to experience on screen. “The dream girl character in a film usually fits a certain mold. We are individuals and I wanted to be able to create characters that resonate with people on an emotional level.” She said, “Everyone who has read the screenplay for Better. has come out of it saying firstly that they love the characters and can relate to at least one of them intensely. It would be nice if the film industry as a whole realized how important that connection is for anyone that watches a film.”