Movies & TV / Columns

Bryan C. Winn Discusses Writing and Directing His New Film Thieves

August 10, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz

The 411 Interview: Bryan C. Winn


Bryan C. Winn is a writer and director who has made two short films, Satyricon, which was made in 2014, and Nowness, which was made in 2015. Winn’s latest movie effort is his first full length feature, Thieves, starring Dakota Kennedy and Eric Menyuk. In this interview, Winn talks with this writer about maklng Thieves, his movie making influences, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved in moviemaking?

Bryan C. Winn: I always loved movies since my parents took me to see Superman and Star Wars at Grauman’s Chinese Theater when I was a kid. In the late 80’s, my father bought an 8mm video camera and my brother and I started making short movies. Most of them were inspired by Miami Vice which was huge at that time. In high school I started routinely making short films for school projects instead of writing papers for classes. That continued through film school. After film school, I worked at various studios and production companies. After learning what the business of making movies entailed, I decided I just wanted to focus on making my own films. So, I made a sci- fi short called Satyricon which won some awards and later Nowness. And finally about three years ago, I decided it was time to make a feature film.

BK: Why did you want Thieves to be your first feature film as a director?

BCW: I had been thinking about the kind of film I wanted to make as a first feature. I knew I was going to make it on a very low budget and was really inspired by early films of Stanley Kubrick and Michael Mann. I thought about the style of Kubrick’s The Killing and wanted to do a heist film in Los Angeles in black and white to maintain the look of a classic film noir. And because I am a big Michael Mann fan, movies like Thief, Manhunter, and Heat played into trying to obtain that aesthetic and feel.

BK: Where was Thieves filmed?

BCW: We filmed Thieves all around Los Angeles. At Union Station, Santa Anita racetrack and Cal State University Northridge where I attended film school. We also used a couple of locations where they shot the film Heat. In addition, I was able to secure a restaurant scene in a restaurant that appeared in Nicolas Wending Rfen’s Drive. I wanted everything to be shot on location and feel as realistic as possible. I really took the Robert Rodriguez approach to heart which is “use what you have.” A number of scenes were shot at the law firm where I practice as an attorney, Newman.Aaronson.Vanaman, LLP. Valerie Vanaman and Joel Aaronson, who are partners at the firm also produced the movie, so we used the firm like a mini studio because we always had access to shoot there.

BK: How long did it take to actually make Thieves, from finishing the script to completing postproduction?

BCW: I finished writing the script in January 2017 and started looking at locations and planning the production around that time. We did the casting of the film in July 2017 and shot the film over the course of about nine full days in August 2017. Editing, sound and visual effects were completed at the beginning of July 2019. So, it took roughly two and half years from script completion to the end of post-production.

BK: How did you cast Thieves?

BCW: There were so many roles to cast. It was much more to deal with than what I was used to on a short film. So, I enlisted the help of one of my colleagues, Annabel Blanchard, to help cast the film. We started with posting a breakdown on Backstage and sorted through the submissions which were in the hundreds. Also, I wrote specific parts for actors I had worked with before on my short films, specifically Dakota Kennedy, Eric Menyuk and James MacEwan. We brought everyone in over the course of a couple of weekends. Almost everyone we saw was cast in the film because I had a good idea of what I wanted before we saw them. There were some smaller roles I had not cast by the time we started filming. My sound recorder and actor in the film Rocco Bovo was able to pull in some great actors he knew which saved me a lot of trouble. In one instance, an actor quit the night before filming. Rocco was able to persuade an excellent actor, Luciana Vara, to play a pivotal role in the film just hours before we shot. Not only did she come to the set knowing her lines, but she killed her scenes. And that was one of our best days of filming.

BK: You’ve worked with actor Dakota Kennedy on your two short films and Thieves. Did you always intend to have Kennedy star in Thieves or did it just sort of work out that way/he was the best actor for the “Johnny Clay” character?

BCW: Dakota and I have worked together on four projects and we get along really well. He is an amazing actor who really brings one hundred and ten percent to the production. Dakota is the kind of actor who is always prepared and constantly trying to figure out ways to make the production better. He would bring props he thought would add to a scene and in a couple instances even built some amazing props for the movie. Although he had always played the good guy in my previous films, at first I cast him against type to play one of the heavies in a role that ultimately went to an amazing actor named Greg Hill. The person I had cast in the lead had scheduling issues and dropped out a week before shooting so Dakota played the lead role instead. Dakota always made it easier for me to get through the shooting day because we work so well together. I really don’t have to give him much direction. Everything is just understood between us.

BK: Why is Thieves in black and white? Was it always your intention to have Thieves be in black and white?

BCW: I love film noir movies. The Killing, D.O.A., Touch of Evil, and Double Indemnity are some of my favorites. We even used the same home from Double Indemnity for a few of the exterior shots in the movie. In addition, I felt that because I was shooting so quickly without having a lot of time to light and such, black and white would give me a consistent look throughout. Also, I like the contrast of shooting black and white, reminiscent of film noir contrasted with Otto Nilsson’s 80’s style John Carpenter sounding score. I thought it would be something totally unique in the current environment where too many low budget movies look the same and don’t really have their own identity or feel authentic.

BK: What was the hardest part of making Thieves? The easiest?

BCW: The hardest part of making Thieves was the time it took to put it all together because I was always eager to see it completed. At the same time, I always felt that I did not care how long it took as long as we got it right. Luckily, I had some amazing people working on this movie for two years like Kevin Valan, my editor, Eric Raingruber, my visual effects supervisor, and sound designer Michael Benish, who really made it sound like a real movie!

The easiest part of making Thieves was probably the casting process. It just felt like the people we found were meant to play their roles. And when things went sideways like with people dropping out there was always a better actor waiting to take the role. The cast did such an amazing job! They were always prepared and made my job so much easier.

BK: How is making a feature film different from making a short? How is it the same?

BWC: Making any movie is hard. And even bad movies have a lot of hard working people who put their heart and soul into making those films. The difference is that when I did my short films which ranged from 14 to 23 minutes, you can shoot what you need in two or three days. The shooting process for a feature takes much longer than that. And once you are finished shooting the footage, the editing can take years on a part time basis. Granted, I have a law practice and could not work on this film full time and neither could my collaborators. So, you have to be persistent to get you through the slow times that aren’t always glamorous. Like when you are working on sound editing, doing ADR, reviewing multiple versions of scenes and so forth. But no one said making a film is easy, if it were, everyone would do it. I think making a feature film and a short film are similar in the sense that your primary challenge is to tell a compelling story and that goal always comes first. If you don’t have a good story, no one is going to care how much you put yourself through to get the movie done. And that is always true no matter what format you are working in.

BK: Who are your moviemaking heroes?

BCW: Michael Mann is one of my heroes. I love the scope and level of research and detail he puts into his movies. The television show Miami Vice really inspired me to become a filmmaker because I had never seen anything like it on television. Martin Scorsese is another. I love how his knowledge of the history of filmmaking is evidenced throughout much of his work. I think he is one of the most technically gifted filmmakers ever, along with David Fincher. Steven Soderbergh is another filmmaker I really admire. There are very few people who can make large scale commercial films and then makes movies on I- Phones which are equally as compelling as his large scale projects. And Sidney Lumet is someone whose films continue to inspire me. William Friedkin is another, The French Connection and To Live and Die in LA are endlessly rewatchable.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

BCW: I am working on a film that is a throwback to the thrillers of the 70’s that I love. I hope to be in production by summer 2020.

BK: When will audiences be able to see Thieves and how will they be able to see it?

BCW: I am in the process of submitting to various film festivals across the country. After the festival run is over, we plan on doing a theatrical run in LA and nationally as well. We are also planning a self-distribution plan on most of the online platforms. That will probably be in spring 2020.


BK: After using the pool to film various scenes, did you get to use the pool yourself?

BCW: The pool and that home we shot at were provided by Valerie Vanaman, one of the producers on the film. It was a great location. After we shot the final scene in the pool, it actually started raining, so, unfortunately, we did not get to swim there on that day.

BK: How often do people spell your first name with an “I” instead of a “Y”?

BCW: All. The. Time!! It’s kind of a running joke. And they actually use a “Y” in my last name, instead of an “I” and an “I” in my first name instead of the “Y.”


A very special thanks to Bryan C. Winn for agreeing to participate in this interview.

Check out my review of Thieves here.

Check out the official Thieves website here and Facebook page here.

All images courtesy of Bryan C. Winn.