Operate with integrity. Be a good person, a thoughtful person. Be the friendliest person in the room. Be the person that anyone can tell anything to and be worthy of trust. Be the one who listens to people and is interested, not interesting. This might sound weird, but when you value decency and treated people well, it doesn’t matter what opposition you face, because you’re operating based on your own integrity and no one can take that from you. I remember being offered a role in a film and the part would have required me to do something that I thought it wouldn’t really add any value to society or to representing women. Even though it would have helped forward my career, I said no to it. Be willing to say no. That’s integrity.
As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing award-winning actress, successful filmmaker, writer and director, Ryann Liebl.
Ryann’s longstanding career has culminated in the launch of her production company REL Films and its first feature Mags and Julie Go On A Road Trip, dropping November 24 on iTunes and Amazon Prime. The film can also be pre-ordered on iTunes here.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?
I was born and raised in the Midwest and grew up spending a lot of time with my grandparents, being outside and getting my hands dirty. Where I’m from it’s expected that you do physical work, mow your own lawn, clean house often and work hard. My grandfather lived with us for most of my childhood and he introduced me to art, acting, musicals and opera. He was born in Austria and started a manufacturing company with his brothers. My other grandparents whom I saw every weekend were from Philadelphia and that grandfather fought in World War II. So my grandparents helped shape me as an individual. They taught me about decency, about fighting for what’s right, about love of country and about why the arts are so important. In fact, I doubt I would have gotten into the arts if they hadn’t been around to encourage me and show me things and ideas I wouldn’t have been exposed to if I had just learned in school alone. I spent a lot of time outside when I was growing up, I knew my neighbors, I had many friends that I’d go visit on my bicycle and I had a lot of freedom. My parents were very into film, and also into home renovations and interior design. So we moved often. I had to think on my toes and reintroduce myself to new people and new schools. So in that way I was able to adapt to new situations and make new friends. It made me reliant and malleable. I had to get good at getting along with different people every few years (new schools, new situations, etc.). I went to LA for university at the age of 18 and studied theater and film. When I was 19, I started working in the film and TV industry.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My new film, Mags and Julie Go On A Road Trip, was made to help people laugh and also to encourage people to go after what really matters to them. It is out on VOD November 24 and available for pre-order on both iTunes and Amazon Prime now.
I also have five films in pre-production. Sunshine Detour is a character based drama about the lengths a mother will go to protect her child and it will shed light on some human rights abuses in our country. We’re planning to start shooting that this winter in Florida. This Is My Life? is a comedy to be shot in the UK/Scotland. Plus, I have a few others which have been semi-announced and I’m working on fine-tuning those scripts.
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?
I’m not so much concerned with standing out in a crowd. I’m more concerned with creating material that has value, writing stories that have real meaning. I think, more than ever, it’s important to entertain people but also set a good example. I want to uplift people. My philosophy is to leave people better than I found them. Also, I bring a female perspective. I’m a mother, a friend and I care about community. I highly value good storytelling. It’s needed more than ever. I love what Clint Eastwood does…he’s been a big influence for what I do. His stories are strong, they are character driven and they are grounded in decency and what human beings struggle. In terms of comedy, I love what Melissa McCarthy does. She and her husband make very funny stuff that is purely entertaining.
Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?
As an artist you are constantly told everything is impossible. I remember having a meeting with a top acting agency when I was nineteen years old. “You should have come to us when you were younger.” “You don’t have enough credits.” “You seem too mature for your age”, etc. I was a teenager, I heard things like that a lot in my first few years in the industry.
Every big idea I ever had was met with opposition. But I never listened to any of it. I persisted even as I was told, “It can’t be done.” I think that’s the most important lesson for anyone that thinks big. Stop asking permission from others for your survival and to get into action. Get going creating your vision and eventually you’ll get the support you need to pull it off. Persistence is the only thing that actually works in the field of the arts. Plus, obviously be easy to work with… If you aren’t, forget it.
In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? 🙂
I think sometimes people lack the ability to see what someone’s vision is… They also are afraid to take risks on people if someone else hasn’t done so already. I see that all the time. I do the opposite. I love working with people who don’t have huge resumes. I look at what they can do and cultivate that… There are so many talented people in the world and they all deserve a bit of support, a leg up and someone to cheerlead them on their journey. I didn’t have mentors. I could have used them. I needed them. I made it up as I went along. Now I mentor people.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had a lot of cool people help me along the way. Mostly it’s been my close friends. They are also artists. So they get it. My husband has been amazing. My son is a big influence to making good work. My mom has always helped me. I have a lot of people that have my back, love my work and do what they can to help me. I had some great teachers, too. My high school drama teacher, Ken Miller, was great. He put me in my first play when I was fourteen, Steel Magnolias. He was focused, he was patient and he made magic out of nothing. I do what I do now because of what I learned observing him and admiring his gift to bring out the best in people. There are too many great people to list! What I do is a very specific group effort. So building groups of supportive individuals who enjoy the process is key.
It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?
I’ve always been a believer in justice. I’ve never liked bullies, or people who undermine people of goodwill. I was the girl who would chase after bullies at recess, run them down and tell them to leave someone alone. Other classmates came to me for help when teachers looked the other way. So early on I got a taste of what it is to work in large groups. Sometimes they were fine but more often than not a few bad seeds could make it miserable for the majority. So I stood up to them. I can’t even tell you how many times I got sent to the principal for standing up for myself or someone else but I always had great principals who would tell me “good job” for standing my ground. I guess in that way I’ve always been a fighter and when someone tells me I can’t, I say, “watch me.” I’m a firm believer in standing up for what’s right and I find if you can communicate you can fix anything.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)
1. Operate with integrity. Be a good person, a thoughtful person. Be the friendliest person in the room. Be the person that anyone can tell anything to and be worthy of trust. Be the one who listens to people and is interested, not interesting. This might sound weird, but when you value decency and treated people well, it doesn’t matter what opposition you face, because you’re operating based on your own integrity and no one can take that from you. I remember being offered a role in a film and the part would have required me to do something that I thought it wouldn’t really add any value to society or to representing women. Even though it would have helped forward my career, I said no to it. Be willing to say no. That’s integrity.
2. Be specific about your goals. What are you trying to accomplish? What effect do you want to create on others? If you don’t know that, it will be hard to know what you want to create. So get so specific that if someone asks you out of the blue, you could respond easily with the answer. My new film Mags and Julie Go On A Road Trip was specific. I wanted to write a comedy from a female perspective. I wanted it to have a clear message. I wanted it to entertain people like the show I Love Lucy with old school physical comedy. That’s what I did. So, that’s why you get specific.
3. Surround yourself with people who understand you, who also want to do similar work and have a sense of play about life in general. Nothing kills a dream faster than a Debbie Downer. So I purposely choose to work with people who like to create, who have a positive attitude, don’t think in terms of barriers but instead think in terms of solutions and who like to work hard to accomplish their goals. I recently won a Best Director Award for a music video I did for actress/songwriter Franki Moscato (she’s also in Mags and Julie). She’s an incredible talent, works hard to uplift people and helps her community. She’s a person who is filled with light and cares about the world. So working with her was a no-brainer. And because of that we had fun on set. It was pleasant, not stressful. And then I won an award. So that concept is very important, it helps cultivate good work.
4. Push yourself past your comfort zone. A lot of people say to themselves that they can’t do something. They limit their scope by saying they can’t. But it’s just not true. A person is capable of so much more than they realize. And if they just get busier, move a little faster, eat a little better and push a little harder they can create really cool stuff. Also, be aware of those around you who tell you to slow down, to not work so hard or say that you can’t do it. They can’t have the dreams, the ideas and the big goals. And they’ll try to undermine yours. In order to pull off the big stuff, you’ve got get out of that comfort zone and just leap off the cliff. I remember doing a play a few years ago. I hadn’t produced a play in LA before and I had a lot of people tell me it couldn’t be done, it would be too expensive, etc. But I took the leap. I built the sets myself, did the costuming, the casting, finding the theater, negotiating contracts, the lighting, etc. And we sold out every single weekend. And it was hard work, a tremendous amount of effort and work, but it paid off. We got great press and I got to produce a Tennessee Williams play. Which is something I’ll always be proud of.
5. I believe the purpose of art and the value of art is that it rises above the boring, mundane aspects of life. It shows people what is possible and how the world can be. I think far too many entertainers are getting involved in politics and other things that divide people. I think the greatest entertainers decided to really entertain. They put their positive messages in their work and that’s why they reached such a wide audience. I think of people like Charlie Chaplin, who made great, epic art. He reached the whole world with their art. I believe art can bring people together and we need more of that because none of us are exactly the same and the thing that unites us is our humanity, our desire to do better, be better and accomplish more. Anything else is playing politics. And art is not politics; it’s above politics. I’m a painter and I remember doing a show a few years ago, I had thirty paintings hanging and I got this question from someone about my art. It was along the lines of “this is what this art makes me think of…” and I remember thinking “that’s not what I was painting at all.” But I didn’t say that. It was my first real lesson that people will interpret things no matter what you do, so let them. What they get out of it is for them. It’s not my job to be serious about art or over think it. It’s my job to make it and get it out there and move on to the next project.
So these are ways to rise above naysayers. The biggest thing is to believe in yourself no matter what happens. Because if you know you can create quality, you must persist.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
“Continuous effort — not strength or intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.” Winston Churchill. And “Imagination means nothing without doing” — Charlie Chaplin
Life really is a journey. I’ve realized you have to enjoy the journey, not the end product. The hardest worker in the room who has good intentions will do much more for society than a critic, an expert or a thinker. I like people that do.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think we need an enormous focus to get back into reading and the arts. A culture is great when you have individuals who have seen all viewpoints, understand history and get to work in the creative arts. The Renaissance came about because people decided to focus on the fine arts and support artists, writers and philosophers. From that came a huge surge of beauty and hope. The world changed for everyone during that time. The art and focus on it gave rise to hope and a shift in the culture. So we need art, we need museums, we need libraries, we need live theater, live music and we need to give people access to these things. From that you’ll have a positive shift in the culture. Also if a culture doesn’t know History they are doomed to repeat it. So you’ve got to teach it and show people how every decade there is improvement. If someone can’t compare now to before, they’ll think now is bad.
Also, bring back humor. We need comedians more than ever. We need to be willing to make fun of ourselves and others. It’s how you balance the bad things in life. Comedians are being cancelled and targeted right now, which is a horrible idea. It was always humor and comedy that brought people through the wars and tough times. So encourage in others the necessity to laugh, to make fun of what is ridiculous in life. That’s needed more than ever.
Can our readers follow you on social media?
Yes, I’m on Instagram at @ryannlieblisreal and @magsandjuliemovie. You’ll find me on Fcebook at @RyannLiebl and @MagsandJulieGoOnARoadTrip. They can also get updates from https://www.magsandjulie.com/.
Ryann Liebl of REL Films: They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.