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The Road From There to Here: 'You Wont Miss Me'

Writer/director Ry Russo-Young's sophomore effort, You Wont Miss Me, is her second feature film to make the trip to South by Southwest: Her movie Orphans debuted at the Festival in 2007. It will be full circle for the Manhattan-based filmmaker, who remembers telling herself in 2007: "'If only I could get into South by, I would be on top of the world.' That was my goal with the movie. That is where I wanted it to go, and that is when I was up every night riddled with anxiety, praying that it got in."

Orphans did get in, and the film picked up a Special Jury Award in the Narrative Feature Competition. Afterward, Russo-Young found herself working on jobs such as artist Doug Aitken's large-scale film installation "Sleepwalkers" on the exterior of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. It was here she began collaborating on a new film with actress Stella Schnabel, daughter of artist Julian Schnabel. "I ran into her in New York, and she just told me that she was acting. I had just finished Orphans. I figured: Why don't we shoot a test or two and see where it goes?

"What we did at the time was we basically created a character. We thought, 'Let's get together, and see what we come up with.'" The result was more than four hours of film, during which Schnabel crafted a character they had written a biography for prior to shooting. "After that interview, I took the footage, and I wrote the script based on that footage, sort of using it as a jumping-off point."

While Orphans follows a more traditional narrative structure, You Wont Miss Me is a wandering look into the life of a young woman (Schnabel as Shelly Brown) who bounces aimlessly from party to audition to therapy session, often repeating the process. While it borders on docudrama, both Russo-Young and Schnabel said it began as a film exploring the death of Lily Wheelright, one of the leads of Orphans who passed away not long after its SXSW premiere.

Schnabel remembers: "I think that parts of Shelly Brown were taken from Lily, which I didn't really think about that much until just now. She was a bit more composed than Shelly, but she's based on things we did together ... places we went." It was an effort for both actress and director to deal with the loss, which was an unexpected event for both of them. "In the beginning, this movie was about a girl getting over the death of her friend," Russo-Young explains, "but that ended up not being appropriate for the film. We drew the line and ended up making this other movie." That other movie is an intense character study into the life of a drifting young woman, a role that Schnabel inhabits hauntingly.

Much of that is due to Russo-Young's growth as a filmmaker, clearly evident with this second feature. It's a much faster paced effort that also manages to linger on characters to let them develop, and the whole movie feels as though you've been brought along for a ride, not just passively watching it go by. That's a big step for a sophomore filmmaker who once interviewed to be director Brian De Palma's assistant. She didn't get the job, but she says De Palma paid her an even bigger compliment, telling her: "Well, you won't learn anything working for me. I am just an old, grouchy man. ... I made money all kinds of weird ways, working shitty jobs, and just kept trying to make movies."

She followed that advice, self-financing Orphans and finding grant money for You Wont Miss Me, but she also envisions herself working with larger budgets in the future. "I would like to make movies eventually that can hit a huge audience," Russo-Young says. "I think that is kind of about me figuring out what the best way to communicate to a mass audience is in a way that I feel is appropriate." Certainly a big concept for an independent director. "The thing about it is, I want my films to be able to communicate with everybody. I don't think of myself as making these movies that are, like, completely inaccessible, because I really do want to communicate with people."


Friday, March 20, 7:30pm, Alamo South Lamar

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

You Wont Miss Me, Ry Russo-Young, Stella Schnabel

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