One of the most impressive directorial debuts I’ve seen so far in 2018 is Ryan Prows’ Lowlife, the viciously entertaining comedic caper that follows a variety of eclectic characters over the course of one day in Los Angeles, including a famed luchador with a temper (Ricardo Adam Zarate), his pregnant wife (Santana Dempsey), a motel owner (Nicki Micheaux) desperate to save her ailing husband, ana a pair of friends (Jon Oswald and Shaye Ogbonna) who see their friendship tested in unusual ways, with mob boss Teddy “Bear” Haynes (Mark Burnham) squarely at the center of it all.

Daily Dead caught up with Prows earlier this week, and he discussed the process of putting together the script for Lowlife with the writing collective known as Tomm Fondle (the group includes Tim Cairo, Jake Gibson, Maxwell Michael Towson, Ogbonna, and of course, Prows as well), the difficulties of pitching his wildly surprising crime story, finding the humanity in the world of Lowlife, and more.

Congratulations on the film, Ryan. Clearly there's a lot that comes together in this film, and there are a lot of intricate moving parts storywise. So, I'd like to talk about putting the script together, because I know you guys have a collective of writers that came together for this. Could you talk about that process and what inspired these stories?

Ryan Prows: We all went to school together at AFI. Actually, a lot of the crew were all at AFI, too. We all got out of school together around the same time, but we met there. But on the writing side of it, we had a definite sense of the same sensibilities of stuff of interest and everything. We were doing some sketch comedy pieces and a web series and that kind of stuff out of school.

And then the general idea was, how do we get a movie made? And it really was just, no matter what, we're going to figure out how to do our first feature. The initial idea I floated was to do a crime anthology. I would direct all the parts so that we could keep it more uniform than a lot of the normal anthology stuff, but we'd all write a short story of one of these characters and just fit it into that world. And Teddy would be the linking tissue between everybody.

It was like an experiment, and we treated it almost like a TV writers' room more so than a traditional film. We all broke the story down together and were outlining everything, and then as we were doing that, it became more apparent that this would be so much more dope if the stories are interconnecting and all the characters are colliding and overlapping. So, then the trick was to try and figure out how to practically do that with no budget.

Well, you guys really nailed it with the approach, especially once things start to come together with the characters of Crystal and Kaylee. That's when I was like, "Oh, man. We're going places I was not expecting," and I really, really enjoyed that.

Ryan Prows: That was definitely an early thing we kept talking about, was that this film had to keep gaining perspective on all these situations. And based on the characters, they're characters that the audience will make their minds up about almost immediately, or make some kind of generalization of who they think are. But that was the fun of it: how do you start giving context to their lives and really digging into everything, even from what we think we know from scene to scene when you're in somebody else's shoes experiencing the same thing? That just felt like a really cool narrative trick to play around with and to try and figure out.

You just touched on something that was going to be my next question. In terms of the characters in this film, what is really interesting is that other than Teddy, they initially seem like unlikable people, or characters, but as you pull apart these layers to them, there’s so much more there. You guys found a way to make a guy with a swastika tattoo on his face seem redeemable. It's not an easy feat to be able to do that.

Ryan Prows: Thank you. When we were starting this, we were like, "Can you actually make people like a guy with a swastika face by the end of the movie? What can you do to do that?" We were always talking about, "How do you take these marginalized people in general, and make them feel like real people with real experiences?" That was definitely a first hook for us. Writing it was like, "Okay, what's that person's story, and it's something so insane, and then how do you dig in and get to the truth of their experience?" And to me, that was exciting as a filmmaker, trying to find a new set of eyes or a new voice or a new perspective to bring to something that's a pretty tropey crime kind of thing.

Lowlife weaves through various tones and subgenres of cinema, and it does it really well. Was that a big challenge coming into this, to play up the comedy of certain parts of the script, but yet still tap into the dramatic elements at the same time? There are a lot of different waters that you guys tread in this, but it all comes together rather nicely.

Ryan Prows: It was always really hard. This film was a hard thing to pitch, even for me. It was super hard when we hadn't made it. I kept equating my pitch to, "If you get it, then you know what I'm talking about, and if you don't, I sound like an asshole."

But in my head, I felt like we were taking a John Cassavetes movie that Paul Verhoeven was directing, and that was always my initial pitch for what this movie was. It has humor and it has things that make up life that go really dark, but at the same time, you can't go too dark without having some kind of humor that cuts through that or else you're just wallowing in it. You can't have it be just entirely humor the whole time either, or else it's too light and you're making light of horrible shit that we're talking about.

So that was a really exciting prospect of how to actually walk that line. It was terrifying. When we were writing it was one thing, and then we were shooting it. I always try to use the example as the scene between El Monstruo and Kaylee where they're having a domestic dispute, but it's a luchador and a pregnant woman who's possibly a heroin addict who are arguing. Out of context, it seems pretty crazy.

I remember when we were shooting the film and I was like, “You know, we might be f--king up here. This may be too much.” But it was exciting as well just to double down on everything because the actors were on board, so that was really a big part of it. I was slightly nervous it might not work out, but I think we found a good balance in the end.

What is your biggest takeaway from this entire process of making Lowlife, seeing it do well at festivals and now having it come out via IFC Midnight? Has it been slightly surreal, considering this is your feature film debut?

Ryan Prows: It has been. This is a movie that no one would have ever given us the chance to do. No one's going to hand you money for this type of a movie, so to be able to go out and make it on our own terms was really awesome. And because this was my first film, I knew no one was going to hand me the opportunity to make any f--king movie, let alone this one.

It's so heartening to me and cool that a bunch of friends got together and figured out how to do it. We had limited resources and then those resources went away, and we had even less. But it was just knuckling down and figuring out whatever we could do to just make something, and that is just worth so much more than the perfect idea that you're waiting on someone to hand you a bag of money to do, which is never going to happen anyway.

So, we just focused on what was important with all those characters in the story, and how they all come together and knuckled down on that, more so than throwing money at the problem or having it be a mishmash of nonsense. Making this film the way we did really helped us more than it held us back, and I’m glad we all got to have this experience together.


In case you missed it, read Heather's 4-star review of Lowlife.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.