“The Strongest Man
” is a record of determination; not just in plot, but in production as well. Riches’ stick-to-itiveness work method is on full display - par for the course for someone who, as a kid, lived, breathed, and ate skateboarding (and lots of concrete pavement).
Originally from Salt Lake City, Riches gained early experience making short films with childhood friends Patrick Fugit
, Paul Chamberlain
, and David Fetzer
. Branching out from an interest in skate videos and visuals, Riches studied art in university, but his success as an artist was not enough to deter his silver screen goals.
“I realized I wasn’t making films and doing what I cared about, so that’s when I started writing again.”
Utilizing the fanbases of Patrick Fugit
, and Ashly Burch
of the popular web series “Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin’?,” Riches partially funded his first feature film, “Must Come Down
,” by spearheading a strong Kickstarter campaign - a “good tool for young filmmakers” says Riches.
“When we lived together, every day, me and [David Fetzer] would wake up and watch a movie. We’d assign each other screenwriting homework. We had our own form of school. [Patrick Fugit] and David are so invested in performance. They were my film school. They were the ones that showed me how to appreciate story and character and writing. That’s the language they spoke. Patrick - going to visit him on set. He’s so supportive and he’s the reason why I’d ever been on a film set in the first place.”
Riches brought along the majority of the same cast and crew from “Must Come Down
” to “The Strongest Man
” likening it to a family reunion and a reason to get his friends all together.
“I’m learning as I go. I don’t like when people bring ego to set. I like the collaborative spirit. I’m very happy I can bring my friends along and they all found where they fit. It’s a family that I try to keep together as long as I can.”
“For the most part my films are regional, reactionary, and circumstantial. Just towards what is happening. Presently or in the past.”
On the strength of “The Strongest Man
”’s Sundance premiere, Riches has signed with UTA, and now faces a difficult decision about the direction of his career. For now, Riches has only directed features of his own creation.
“I think I’m hitting that step of my career where filmmakers have to find answers to that question. Right now I’m not sure what I want. I want to do what I do, but I haven’t closed that door of taking a look at other projects. I wouldn’t trust someone to direct something I’ve written because it’s so specific and visual… things might be lost in translation.”
With his career taking off to new heights, finding balance in business and creation is about finding the right compromises to make.
“It’s really hard to stay focused on writing if you have a day job. And I just try to live as thin as possible. My cost of living is so low and it’s more important to me to focus on film rather than upgrade my car. That’s the struggle all filmmakers have: you don’t want to lose your voice, you want to make the stuff you want to make so you have to sacrifice a little.
“Having a relationship with this place gives it another texture that you just don’t get. It’s just a weird place.”
Trading salt lakes for saltier oceans, Riches moved to Miami after a period of restlessness and took inspiration from the city’s unique way of life. Set on the streets of Miami, “The Strongest Man
” portrays a rare slice in an already legendary locale, incorporating ostentatious cultural norms with an introverted twist.
“My film is very Miami-centric, references that you’ll only know if you’ve ever been or lived [there]. Miami’s image of money and the complexities it brings with poverty and luxury bumped up right next to each other is interesting. All of that stuff is a part of the culture so I just thought it was appropriate for [Beef, the protagonist] to have a gold bike, but live in a tiny apartment across the street from a luxury condo development. Beef’s anxiety monster in the film is made of palm fronds and palm leaves that fall off the trees; they start decomposing and turn black. So everything was influenced by being there. My bike was stolen, just like Beef’s was.”
Contrasting, relative to the typical depictions of the city which have been immortalized in films like “Scarface” and series like “Miami Vice
.” A city of stereotypical excess has never been so humbled, down to earth, and yet so rightly touted and honored at the same time.
“There’s something very exciting happening in the indie film scene in Miami. It’s the one place I’ve been where indie theaters are opening instead of closing.”
Though the protagonist “Beef,” portrayed by Robert “Meatball” Lorie, has the Miami affinity for the material, his monastic nature is equally level throughout the film. Lorie’s performance is akin to surface tension - constantly on the edge of rupturing; and his relatively transparent tone and goal is tempered by humorous deadpan along with mindful contemplation, perhaps giving more insight into Kenny Riches
’ being rather than Beef’s.
“I had crazy bad anxiety. Beef is kind of a mash-up of me and [Rob Lorie.] I’m more introverted and he’s much more charming. I like the conflict it brings. Having this physically strong character who’s telling this story that’s engrained in masculine Latin culture, but on the inside… a small, insecure person – that juxtaposition set up something different.”The Strongest Man
There’s an understandable amount of ambivalence when it comes to Riches’ sophomore effort - a dark comedy that carries indie’s knack for quirk and offbeat mindsets; featuring a storybook aesthetic like Wes Anderson
, and sharing the esoteric humor of other Slc natives Jared and Jerusha Hess
, the film finds terra firma on universal themes in spite of its individual attitude.
“As long as your characters are relatable. That’s the most important part. I’m interested in flawed human characters that anyone will get it. With “Must Come Down
” I thought I was making a film that was more marketable or relatable, but this time I wrote something that I wanted, without considering how it would be received, and it’s interesting to me that this is the film that I went to Sundance with. Do what you want to do, oftentimes that voice is more honest.”
“The Strongest Man
” premiered at Sundance Film Festival 2015. FilmBuff has acquired North American distribution rights. Isa: Xyz Films
is the Vice President of the David Ross Fetzer Foundation which is a grant giving organization for filmmakers and playwrights dedicated in memory to the late David Fetzer
. Riches is currently represented by UTA .
The Phoenix Film Festival is an annual international festival that takes place in Phoenix, Arizona.
Special thanks to Erik O’Malley.