Marja Lewis Ryan is not your average filmmaker. Not only did she write the The Four-Faced Liar- one of the most prominent LGBT films making festival rounds this year- she also co-starred and co-produced it. Although she was a theater major at NYU, Marja’s transition into film has proved a fantastic and inspiring success story.
Good news for those of you who have either seen The Four Faced Liar and loved it or can’t wait to catch a screening: it’s being released on DVD November 9th, so be sure to pick up a copy (it’s available on Amazon). The Four Faced Liar will also be playing this weekend at Reeling 29- the Chicago Lesbian & Gay International Film Festival- and while Marja couldn’t attend, she took some time out of her extremely busy schedule to talk exclusively to SheWired about the film, festival experiences, and future projects.
How did the Four-Faced Liar come to be?
The three other leads and myself moved out to LA together right after we graduated in 2006, I wrote a play, and we produced that play together in the spring of 2007. Then we took that play and I rewrote the script again and made it into a screenplay, and the four of us produced the film together.
Was it difficult to convert the play into a screenplay?
It was hard. I’d never written anything before ever, so I took three months off from my life and tried to construct something that resembled film instead of theater. Then I sat down with a professor of mine at NYU, and he taught me all about structure and piecing- basic things I knew absolutely nothing about- and that’s how I was able to piece it together. I workshopped the script for nine months with the other three actors both privately and publicly. It was a long process, but I actually call it my master thesis.
More on next page...
So you’d never written before. What inspired you to write a play?
We (the three other lead actors/producers and I) all went to school together, and we all went to the same acting program in NYU, and the one thing that we learned was that no one’s going to do it for you, you have to make your own work. And so when we moved out here together, we were the only people that we knew; we didn’t know anyone else. So I built this for us to workshop as actors, so that was actually the inspiration for the entire idea, and it spiraled from there.
What is the basic plot rundown of the Four-Faced Liar?
The Four-Faced Liar is a story about four friends in New York City and the first time that they all fall in love.
One of things I noticed about Four-Faced Liar that I thought was very unique and nice to see was that the relationship being between two girls was not a big deal, and in cinema these days that’s usually the focus, unfortunately. What are your opinions on that?
I felt really strongly because when I was in college I had this male roommate that was this total dude, and he never batted an eyelash. He never said “that’s hot” or “that’s gross,"he never asked questions. It was just a truth for him, and I really wanted to capitalize on that. I think it really speaks to my generation as to how they perceive same-sex relationships. I tried to stay as truthful to that as my experience allowed me to.
I want to thank you for that because I’ve definitely gotten some awkward comments, and I think more people definitely need to see more films like yours.
I don’t even recognize when I hear awkward comments anymore because I’ve been out for so long. But for those of us who haven’t, it still hurts and it still makes you feel angry, and I feel regretful to have lost sight of that in most ways, but I really have. Maybe I would have made a different choice if I’d written from a different part in my life, but this is just my experience.
You are the writer, co-producer, and co-star of the film. What was it like to balance all of those?
It is really hard to balance all of them because you can’t stop thinking about the money that gets spent in a day, you can’t stop thinking what it means to do an extra take every time you need one. You can’t stop thinking about the words that are coming out of your screen partner’s mouth and you’re just like, “Aw that’s not quite right!” So it’s hard to balance the three, but it got easier as it went along.
Did you have a favorite aspect of making the film?
I think that writing it was more fulfilling in a lot of ways because I got to really see what I could do. But as an actor it’s the perfect part for me; I can’t imagine any one else creating it. My least favorite job, though, was producing.
How huge of a jump was this from your theater career? Do you plan to stay in film now?
I’m still doing film, but I’m also a member of a theater company out in LA- Theater of N.O.T.E.- so I get to stretch my theater/acting muscles there, and I produce theater for them as well. I also wrote a new play that is being produced later this fall, and I have two other film projects in the works as well.
You’ve been to many film festivals now with Four-Faced Liar. What’s it like to see your project being brought to such large audiences?
We’ve been to about 40, I think, and it never gets old. It’s pretty remarkable actually, every time I still feel the same feeling, and that is that I can’t believe someone actually paid money to come and see this film. It’s really humbling and grounding and I really feel grateful to the people who walk through those doors.
More on next page...
From what I’ve encountered, The Four-Faced Liar seems to have a pretty intense fan base. Have you countered any of that?
I’ve had some great feedback. When we were down in Newport Beach- it was one of the first few film festivals that we attended at the beginning of this year- and this young woman came up to me afterwards. She was like, “My friend and I drove here from St. Louis just to see this movie,” and I was like, “What?! What are you doing? Why would you do that?” and she was like, “Well, we didn’t know if it was going to be near us, so we took a road trip for our spring break!” and I thought, ‘Oh my good God!’. If you don’t have the materials that you want to see, you need to find them, so I guess that’s where that spirit comes from.
Can you go into any more depth about your plans for the future?
I have a new short that will be out on the circuit this year, it’s called Daydreamer. It will also be a teaser for the next feature I’m writing for the LGBT community. I have another mainstream feature that I’m working on right now, and the play that I’m doing is going to be independently produced in LA. I’m also working on an LGBT dark comedy about a woman...who has been sheltered and comes out of the closet. I also just finished a queer lit novel about a girl who comes out in high school, so those are the main projects that I have going right now. The other three producers have broken off to do their own things as well. Jacob Chase, our director, has a couple of shorts that are coming out this year and a feature that he’s trying to get out there. We’re all busy making ourselves more projects right now.
Any parting comments?
I want to acknowledge the three other actor/producers of the film- Emily Peck, Daniel Carlisle, and Todd Kubrak. They also helped workshop the script and have been a part of this process for four and a half years now. Samantha Housman is our fifth producing partner- she’s not in the film, but she deserves just as much credit. Jacob Chase is our director, Danny Grunes is our cinematographer and Liz Osborn is our fifth leading actress. The eight of us are really appreciative of the attention that this film has gotten. And I’m always really grateful to do interviews, especially because the film is being released on Tuesday. So anyone who can go buy and order the film- that would be amazing!
Marja would like to invite everyone to a get-together with the cast on November 18th, 9 pm, at the Crown Bar on Santa Monica Boulevard in California.
Watch Rachel Paulson's SheWired interview with Marja and costar Emily Peck here.