26 June 2019

Graduate Makes Award Winning Jazz Documentary on Shoestring Budget

By Danny Kelly | Categorised in Breaking News, Alumni Interviews, Student Stories, Industry Interviews, Filmmaking Tips, Film News

BA Practical Filmmaking graduate Ryan J Smith is just 20 years old, has earnt his degree and is now making a name for himself in the film industry, in fact, he’s multi-award winning.

Red Light Solo – an energetic feature-length documentary touring Amsterdam’s thriving yet still underground Jazz scene has already won five Best Documentary Feature awards*. The awards become an even more impressive feat once you learn the project was unplanned and made on a budget of less than £500.

On discovering filmmaking

“I don’t think there was a lightbulb moment for me, I can’t remember a time when I was ever going to do anything different other than make films.

“I started using a second-hand DSLR that I’d been given for my birthday. It was about 10 years old and priceless to me, it was what I ‘cut my teeth on.’ I taught myself how to use the right software and started making films with my mates in the park. I’d started my portfolio and entering the short films that I made into competitions.

After leaving school, Ryan went to college in Blackpool and studied a Diploma in TV and Radio Media production, noting it was the closest thing available to what he really wanted to do.

On making Red Light Solo

Ryan met Ally Pickering (Red Light Solo’s co-producer) at college and the pair later collaborated in The Netherlands when Ryan needed to take a break from a hectic schedule – he’d made three shorts and a feature film whilst studying.

“I’d planned to go out, have a few beers and watch Ally play – that’s what I did, but when I was there, experiencing the music and the lights, the drinks and the sweat, I got to thinking that I could create a really powerful mood piece.

A month later, Ryan returned to Amsterdam, this time with his camera. “The film cost me the price of two plane tickets. I remember vividly sitting on the plane, not having a plan and telling myself that I really didn’t know what I was doing. When I got home, I used the facilities at MetFilm School to edit and I submitted it to every festival I could find.  This was my graduation film too – I couldn’t fail.”

On studying at MetFilm School and the future

Ryan knew from an early age that MetFilm School was where he wanted to develop his filmmaking craft and even attended a couple of short courses.

“I am grateful for having the opportunity to go to MetFilm School, there’s only so much you can do with your mates and a DSLR. I was really nervous on my first day, but equally excited. MetFilm School is built around being very practical, set alongside a working film studio with real filmmakers – it’s all true.”

The future is looking busy for Ryan; he has written a few new scripts and is in advanced talks with a film production company about a script he pitched in 2017. The success of Red Light Solo has made Ryan somewhat bankable.


For more information on Ryan’s work visit: https://www.thunderstormltd.com

There’s still time to apply for BA Practical Filmmaking starting this October. Find out more.

*Winner Best Documentary Feature at the Pinnacle Film Awards, Royal Wolf Film Awards, Mindfield ABQ Film Festival, London Film Awards and Monthly Film Awards. Red Light Solo was also nominated for No-Budget Spirit Award and the Top Indie Film Awards and Best Documentary Feature Under $5000 at the Monkey Bread Tree Film Awards.

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