We Create Birmingham: Dan King and Ryan Kindahl

“Filmmaking is challenging, and each day is different, but we have each other to lean on, and that’s encouraging. Find a group of people you can make films with, and make sure everyone is as enthusiastic as you are.” Ryan Kindahl

Interview: Meghann Bridgeman
Photos: Ambre Amari

Alabama filmmakers Ryan Kindahl (based in Florence) and Dan King (based in Birmingham) have over twenty-five years of combined experience in the film industry. They are co-founders of the production company Obsolete Media and recently partnered to create the successful short “Last Request”.

This fall they are coming together again to film a feature in Birmingham. They’re creating a fantasy film in an 80s Amblin movie style. Although it has fantastical elements, at its core, it is a family drama about a son’s relationship with his father.

In our conversation they shared more about their journeys in the industry, their hopes for this film, and the future of filmmaking generally in our region.

Can you each tell me a little bit about your career in film? Where did you start and how’d you get to where you are today?

Dan: Out of college, I did some work in event media for a few years in Florida. I got sick of that and wanted to move home. I studied photography and graphic design in college and while working at a local event media company, I met Ryan. Probably around 2011 or so. We hired him for some events and we kept in touch. That snowballed into a production company doing short docs and commercial videos.

Ryan: Yeah, 2threefive was the production company we established that is now dissolved.

Dan: After we dissolved the company, I worked a “normal” job helping a group of family businesses for a year and a half. I really just needed my creative juice again, so I put in my notice. Amazingly, the last week I was working there I ran into Jonathan Wang who was working on “The Death of Dick Long” (producer of “Everything Everywhere All At Once”). That was my first movie (in 2017) and I have been working on features since as a camera assistant.

Ryan: When I went to college at Alabama, I wasn’t sure of what I wanted to do. I switched over to the telecommunication and film department my sophomore year after attending a screening of some senior thesis films the previous spring. Shortly after, I heard about some Alabama alumni living and working in L.A. I decided that’s what I wanted to do, so I dropped out and saved money for a year. I moved to L.A. and was there for two years. I connected with that same group of UA alumni, and they helped me find work.

During my first few jobs in L.A., I slept in my car while working for free on low-budget feature films just to get a foot in the door. I loved it. I was 21 years old and that was the dream. I was doing the worst grunt work you could think of, but I wasn’t jaded and thought I’d made it.

I was in L.A. during the digital revolution, meaning camera technology caught up and prices came down. So you could shoot digitally for not a lot of money. I thought I’d move back here and make a feature film. I’m 36 now and still working on getting that feature made!

L.A. was a really exciting time in my life. Meeting people all working towards the same thing invigorated me with creative energy. I actually felt the same way when I moved to Birmingham in 2011. Birmingham was on its way up and was a neat time to be here and be creative.

Dan: Yeah, it had a resurgence.

Ryan: The accessibility still stands out here. And I hope it never gets too big for its britches.

How long did it take you to find your niche in the industry?

Ryan: I don’t know if I have ever found my niche. I always wanted to be a writer/director but I wore a lot of hats when we had our production company (2threefive). We all did. When I worked freelance, I took what came my way and resisted committing to one thing.

Dan: I think I’m just now finding my calling or where I need to be. I’ve been working towards this point, but I just had to lay some foundation first and get some real set experience. I also needed to see things go wrong. Very few times have I seen it go right. But seeing it go wrong is more valuable. I’m not quite there yet.

I want to be a storyteller, and lately, I’ve been a camera assistant. So if I stayed on that track, I’d eventually become a Director of Photography. In my role, I get to see a lot more, which I really enjoy. It’s never been my goal to move up in the camera department. My dream has always been to produce and direct and be on the creative side of it. I want a say in the overall development of a movie. I feel like I’m getting to where I want to be, but I’m still having to take paying gigs to get there.

I met you all at Sidewalk in 2022 while your short “Last Request” was showing. Was that your first project together?

Ryan: That was our first narrative short film together, and it all came during COVID when the world was shut down.

Dan: I came up with a logline… a man on his deathbed asked to see his childhood bully.

Ryan: I was itching to do something creative. I was looking for something low-stakes, while Dan wanted to make a directorial debut. Since I have a family and kids, I thought I could write something and be done with it. That wasn’t the case. It turned into much more.

The intention of the short was to make something, and it would be fun. And it was. But the success of that led us down this path, and now we have this concrete goal in mind with this feature and a five-year plan together as a team.

Yes! Tell us more about the feature you guys are shooting in Birmingham this fall.

Dan: Our working title is “Feed Me”.

Ryan: We can say it’s a fantastical dramedy that harkens back to 80s and 90s nostalgia. It’s made for our generation, so we know the audience well. We’re making a movie that we want to see that doesn’t exist in the marketplace.

Dan: An Amblin-style movie… you could call it a “creature feature.” It’s going to feel familiar, but it’s a new story. And it’s set in the present day.

Ryan: One of the central characters is a creature that’s going to be a puppet. And we’ve hired a craftsperson, out of Denver, to create this puppet. He’s been working on this creature for over a year!

Dan: We’ve gotten sketches and prototypes and refined them several times.

Who envisioned this creature?

Ryan: Adam Dougherty, our creature designer, brought it to life based on the script.

Dan: But you came up with the concept, Ryan.

Ryan: Adam’s had a lot of creative autonomy and we sought him out because he’s so talented. We’re actually his third feature. So we’ve gotten in early, which is great. I think if we’d gotten to him a year later, we’d be too late.

Dan: He far exceeded what I thought we were going to get. And I’m sure Ryan can agree.

Ryan: Yeah. He lived up to my expectations. I knew it was going to be cool, but the finished product blew me away. We’ve been very excited. He and the puppeteer will be coming to work on the shoot for a week.

Will folks in Birmingham get to take a look at this amazing puppet creature?

Ryan: Maybe we’ll release images early… which would be good for Adam and for the film.

Dan: We need to figure that out. We want to create a buzz, but not give too much away.

Everyone is really excited to have local filmmakers filming a feature. When you guys say you’re assembling the dream team, what does that look like?

Dan: We just, you know, want to give our local Alabamaians work and pay them a fair rate. There has to be a basic hourly rate that people need to make. And some movies that come in don’t meet that standard. We’re also really passionate about being family friendly.

Ryan: In our dream scenario, we’d love to have eight-hour days. For our first film, we’re aiming for ten.

Dan: Yeah, ten-hour days, four days a week. I’ve worked on so many movies where you come home and you’re a zombie and can’t get anything done.

Ryan: There is a significant financial component, and we know we’re responsible for paying folks. But we don’t think we have to kill people in the process. We want it to be fun. We’re making consumable art, and there should be some joy in that.

How big is the cast and crew?

Dan: Right now, we’re probably around roughly 30 crew members and a cast of 26 with four main principal actors. So, as of now, all of the crew (outside of the puppeteer) is local. And the cast is entirely local, too. We might have to bring one role from out of town.

We plan to be a non-union movie, but we haven’t ruled out going SAG. There are so many talented local actors that we have a lot of options.

The goal is to be local.

Ryan: For potential investors, the message is: yes, you’re investing in this project, but it’s also the long-term vision of this company (Obsolete Media) and our work in the state. We want to keep doing this in Birmingham.

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of Alabama Filmmakers and our local filmmaking community?

Dan: Underrated.

Ryan: That’s a good one. Family also comes to mind. 

We really have made all these friends and built relationships. Everyone in L.A. was in a rat race. It was so hard to get anything going. But here, I’m more part of a community.

That same spark of creative energy lives on here. Everyone feels so excited to talk about our short and this feature.

Dan: The word you’re looking for is passionate.

What’s been the most challenging part of pulling this production together?

Ryan: Being a stay-at-home parent.

Dan: Distance. Really, distance.

Ryan: It’s been hard when I’m in Florence and can’t just step out to our production office. And, of course, managing time is always challenging.

What might people be surprised to know about small-budget films?

Ryan: You can do a lot with a little! A professional-looking and feeling film doesn’t cost as much as you might think.

Dan: Right. With the right story and the right cast and crew, you can make something that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the films coming out of Hollywood.

How long will you guys be filming?

Dan: Currently, we’re planning on 18 days.

Ryan: We’re going to keep it as simple as we can.

Dan: It’ll be classic indie, down and dirty – like “Terminator” with close-up shots that were actually shot in John Cameron’s apartment, not during principle photography. It’s a much more economical way to supplement your footage.

Ryan: We’re just focused on essentials on the actual shoot days. We’re going to put a lot of effort into pre-production so we’re not doing really big problem solving on the day we’re shooting. We want to be as prepared as possible so we know exactly what we’re doing that day.

Dan: I’m already location scouting and preparing.

What are the looks for locations?

Ryan: Aesthetically, a throwback classic look. We’re not going to shoot on film, unfortunately. It’s prohibitively expensive for us now.

Dan: But we’re going to have a “film look.”

Ryan: We’ll play around with the footage in post to get it dialed in the way we like.

Why did you choose Birmingham for this film?

Ryan: Well, Dan and the crew are here. And I love it here.

Dan: I’ve worked in Mobile and Huntsville, but this is the biggest metro area in Alabama, and it’s where I call home. I’m not sure why I’d go anywhere else. I’ve established a name here and all the crew I know is here.

It’s centrally located, too, if we do need to go anywhere.

Ryan: Aesthetically, it’s a lot more interesting.

Dan: Yeah, you can make it look like whatever you want.

When will this be released? And how will people be able to see it?

Ryan: We don’t know yet. We are aiming to enter it in the major genre festivals like Fantastic Fest, Beyond Fest, and Sitges. All of those festivals will be in the fall of 2025.

Dan: We’d love for it to premiere at a major film festival.

Ryan: We have a relationship with Fantastic Fest in Austin, as alumni. Our short “Last Request” played there. It’s also just our target audience- that genre crowd. The big issue with festivals is timing. But if it’s meant to be, that’s how it’ll be.

It won’t go to traditional streaming. The idea is to do a limited theatrical run and then release it on BluRay, video-on-demand, etc. We’re making it for people who still buy physical media. It’s a niche audience, but they love physical media and want to own the thing. That’s us.

We’re putting a lot of thought into the actual physical media. It’s important to us as creators and consumers.

Dan: We’re going to do a small VHS run, too!

Ryan: Yeah, there is a subculture of people who still love and collect VHS tapes. There are also creators who make new VHS tapes of new movies that come out.

What do you hope for the AL Film Industry?

Dan: I got a couple things. To keep this steady growth that we have going on while not growing too fast. I want to build up the Alabama crew, and if we go too fast, we’ll have an influx that might change the tune of our local film community.

What would you say to aspiring filmmakers?

Dan: It’s cliché and you hear it all the time, but you just have to create and keep creating. Keep working on your craft and develop thick skin. Not everyone is going to love your work and you’re always going to have haters. It’s not giving up, in spite of that. Keep pushing. Just create, create.

Ryan once said, you have to find your tribe. Filmmaking is not a solo adventure. It’s very collaborative, and you have to rely on people you’ve hired and trust their intuition.

Ryan: You help build each other up. I mean, the fact that we have each other makes it feel so much more attainable. I joke and call him my work wife, because it feels like a marriage, and the film feels like our child. The filmmaking is challenging, and each day is different, but we have each other to lean on, and that’s encouraging. Find a group of people you can make films with, and make sure everyone is as enthusiastic as you are.