After some unfulfilling low-level industry jobs in Los Angeles, Ryan Love was anxious to flex his creative muscles.
But with so little experience, the Grapevine native knew his feature directorial debut had to be budget-friendly and logistically feasible — and preferably involve people he already knew.
Flash forward about three years, and Love’s indie drama Beauty of a Blank Space will have its world premiere on Friday at the Austin Film Festival. Love is a Texas State University alum. So are the two stars, Plano native Laurel Toupal and Carrollton’s Trevor Person, along with producer Emily Reas, also from Plano. Another co-star, Johnny Brantley III, hails from Dallas. It was a labor of love between friends.
“It had to be because we were working 15-to-16-hour days,” Love said. “Everybody was on the same page and knew what we were getting into.”
Love now lives in California with Toupal, his girlfriend and co-writer. That’s also where Love and Reas launched their upstart production company, Blind Salamander Films.
Their most ambitious project to date follows half-siblings Haley (Toupal) and Mac (Person), who are on a weekend getaway in Las Vegas when they impulsively decide to take a road trip to Oregon to dig up a time capsule they buried as children. A bracelet belonging to Haley’s biological mother is supposedly among the contents, forcing them to reconcile with their past.
“Haley’s at a point where she doesn’t know what she should be doing. That’s kind of where I was,” Love said. “This was a way of proving myself.”
Toupal and Person are former San Marcos classmates and Los Angeles roommates who had never acted together despite being close friends. Toupal said they were able to shape the characters to an extent based on their own personalities, relationships, and experiences.
“We had rehearsals, and that contributed to making us feel more connected to the characters and to each other. It was great working with someone I was so close with,” Toupal said. “Haley started feeling more familiar. Now when I talk about Haley, I feel like I’m also talking about myself. It’s very hard to separate the two.”
Love began writing the screenplay in late 2019, and cameras were rolling by October 2020, with the production schedule revolving around a pre-planned route with a tiny crew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Portland and back.
“Since it was a road trip and we didn’t have the budget to visit these places beforehand and plan it all out, the shot list was created very much on the fly,” Love said. “We would get there and start unloading the truck, and wherever we are, we would start figuring out the scene because we had never been there before.”
There guerrilla-style production featured other hurdles, too. A dead car battery enabled the creation of a new scene. A road was closed. Then the weather wreaked havoc, leading to multiple power outages in their rental house.
“Stuff kept happening, but it was still great in that sense because it made it what we wanted to begin with, which was spontaneous and honest,” Toupal said. “We had a lot of moments on the road to improvise.”
Love has directed music videos and short films, one of which earned a cash prize that helped fund the feature. As it embarks on the festival circuit, Love hopes Beauty of a Blank Space will open doors for himself and his collaborators. Regardless, they will relish the experience.
“It was very challenging, but I would do it again,” Toupal said. “We had a lot of things happen that were extremely stressful in the moment, but we look back on it and it’s funny. I don’t think I could have done it with anyone else.”