An Interview with Ryan Coogler

by Michele Turnure-Salleo, Director, Filmmaker360

It's clear when you meet Ryan Coogler that he is something special.

I met Ryan in January 2012 at Sundance Film Festival. Soon after the festival, we met again back in San Francisco and began talking about living in the Bay Area, filmmaking and his film, Fruitvale, which follows the true story of Oscar Grant, who was killed in a police shooting in Oakland on New Year’s Eve 2008.

He shared his script with me and it was clear that he was a natural fit for our recently launched Off the Page program, where we bring actors to the Bay Area to workshop scripts with writer/directors involved with us in various ways. Ryan had actors Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan attached and it looked likely that they were going to start shooting in July. We thought it would be an incredible experience for them all to get to know one another in the Bay Area where the film would be shot, and to meet Oscar Grant’s family prior to beginning production.

Ryan was already a finalist for the SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant, but it was during the months leading up to and during Off the Page that we really got to know him, his producing team (Nina Yang, Sev Ohanian and Gerard McMurray) and his project. He had recently graduated from USC and had returned to the Bay Area determined to make films here. We introduced him to Bay Area crew and then in late spring 2012 awarded him a $100,000 SFFS/KRF grant for production. The grant review panel was incredibly moved by this very timely and poignant story of Oscar Grant, and its exploration of the contemporary issue of the police shooting and killing of young unarmed African American men. And while we are committed to working with filmmakers from all over the country, finding someone local who so perfectly fit our mandate to support filmmakers and films that uplift the Bay Area professionally and economically . . . was like hitting the jackpot.  

But to be honest, a big reason the film was funded is because we were so taken by Ryan as an individual. He is talented, passionate, creative, collaborative and yet very humble . . . Every interaction with Ryan has been a pleasure. He is the heart and soul of his film and that really came out in the way we’ve worked together this past year.  Hard to believe it’s only been a year.

I wonder who I’ll meet next year . . .


Ryan Coogler is currently a finalist for the Fall 2012 SFFS/Kenneth Rainin Foundation Filmmaking Grant. Winners will be announced in early December.

‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ explores the fertile and terrifying world of a child’s imagination. Its fertility and its terror stem from the same truth: To the young mind, there is no sealed barrier cleaving reality from fantasy … The film is its own beast, and it’s a rare one.
— SFFS fiscally sponsored project Beasts of the Southern Wild nabs the elusive standing ovation man from the SF Chronicle!