When Expressway expanded into Upstate New York, we hoped to cultivate a close relationship with the local creative community as we’ve done in Philadelphia. Quickly after opening, we met Taryn Ward, a narrative director and Rochester native. Ward encompasses everything that excites Expressway: a driven creative pushing out brilliant content produced in Upstate New York by key players in the community.
In the past few year, Ward worked with Expressway a handful of times. Each time, bringing us a new project which raises the bar and exceeds our expectations. With Ward, we anticipate greatness, and though we know his capabilities, we are always in awe of what he creates. Ward’s projects with Expressway include The Whole World & His Wife, Palmyra, and Ten Dollar Funeral.
With a new film fresh on the market, we spoke with Ward about his creative process, what motivates him, and his shared love of Upstate New York.
Q&A with Taryn Ward
Expressway Cinema Rentals: Can you tell us about your film background?
TW: I studied photography and philosophy in college, but I understood that I was far more interested in pursuing filmmaking during and after school. In 2019 I moved to Brooklyn, where I still freelance as a filmmaker, although I spend more energy trying to get my projects made. Despite living in NYC, I’m constantly finding myself back in my hometown of Rochester, NY, where I continue to shoot pretty much all the projects we make.
ECR: How has Expressway been a resource for you during your productions?
TW: Because everything we make is built around a shoestring budget, utilizing a flexible and convenient rental house such as Expressway means our projects can be realized. I shoot most of my work in or around Rochester. It’s hard to imagine that these projects would even come to fruition without Expressway’s help. When Expressway developed their first Western New York branch in Rochester, I was pleasantly surprised. It is my hope everyone, locally or otherwise, takes advantage of the opportunities their presence creates here.
ECR: What brought you to Expressway in the first place?
TW: My initial introduction to Expressway was through my DP and main collaborator, Michael Faller, a fellow Rochester local. He used Expressway’s services quite a bit in Philadelphia for a feature doc. Sometime around 2019, he mentioned to me that Expressway was opening a branch in Rochester. Immediately we recognized how unbelievably helpful this would be. Not only to us but to the entire upstate production scene. Since then, we’ve utilized Expressway for three different narrative projects, all made possible by the locality and exceptional expertise in both the Rochester and Philadelphia branches.
ECR: What does it mean to have a resource like Expressway in Rochester?
TW: One advantage of living in a place like New York City is that rental houses are a dime a dozen. However, shooting in these locations, both personally and commercially, tends to be far more arduous than somewhere upstate. I’m far more drawn to the subdued landscape of Upstate New York. Having a rental house right here in the midst of it cannot be overstated. From pre-production to check-out, Expressway makes the production process smooth for filmmakers. I appreciate the relationships I’ve fostered with them along the way.
ECR: Your films utilize minimal dialogue and allow much breathing room between dialogue sections. It makes for a patient pace and allows the viewer the ability to focus on the imagery instead. What was the motivational factor behind this?
TW: I’m drawn to a comedic sensibility that tends to be more observational and less outwardly “silly” in tone- I think there’s something unique and often humorous about observing a peculiarity or oddity that’s moving at a leisurely pace. And while comedy and slowness seem at odds with one another, there are plenty of wonderful examples where this relationship is in harmony, and I find that inspiring to my work.
ECR: All three of your films are on vastly different subject matters. Where do you find the inspiration from your films?
TW: Everything expressive stems from some familiarity at a certain level, whether conscious or not. However, in the case of our Palmyra short, there was a far more direct inspiration from my past. I grew up in Palmyra and always felt it was a strange yet idyllic place. From there, I chose to embrace a portrait-like story that describes the location more than the rather uneventful narrative taking place within it. In the case of the last short we made, The Whole World & His Wife, the project ultimately stemmed from a scenario I imagined of an elderly person cheating on their eye exam which I found to be an amusing self-sabotaging act. Eventually, I built that absurd mode of stubbornness into a character, and through collaboration with Michael Faller (DP), we created a similarly uncanny world for this character to sleepwalk in.
ECR: While your film’s subjects vary, the emotions, themes, and slice-of-life aspects evoked in the film are similar. What draws you to a sense of what appears to be isolation and stagnation?
TW: I’m not sure why I’m drawn to that sense of aloneness thematically. I like the idea of a character searching, usually for something elusive or illusory. A protagonist embarking on a futile journey is a funny and sad circumstance that I love both as a viewer and maker.
ECR: One of the biggest takeaways from your films is just how visually stunning they are. Can you walk me through your process with your Director of Photography?
TW: Everything I’ve directed, Michael Faller shoots. His eye and intuition have completely heightened everything I’ve directed. His presence is integral to my writing process as well. We share who similar storytelling sensibilities with an emphasis on the idiosyncratic. The best part about no-budget filmmaking is that you don’t have to answer to anyone. We find ourselves answering to each other, and we’re all the better for it.
ECR: The crew of your films has a lot of crossovers. What does it mean to you to have built a robust creative community in Upstate New York?
TW: While we’ve garnered a handful of wonderful NYC-based collaborators who jump onto the post-production end of our work, everyone on location tends to be from Rochester or within proximity to it. I think Upstate New York is an untapped gem for filmmaking, and with places like Expressway, it provides all the more incentive to shoot here. Although Rochester may not have the largest film scene, there remains plenty of reason and opportunities for it to continue growing- which is exciting. It’s easy to get lost in the commercial end of filmmaking, but it’s nice to know there are still some like-minded people around here who want to make things for the sake of making them.
ECR: What is one piece of advice you would give a filmmaker about working with a rental house?
TW: Developing a relationship with rental houses is essential to being an independent filmmaker. Sure, there may be some chance of fiscal advantages to be had when this is the case; however, interpersonal support and community are at stake here, and because filmmaking is a wholly collaborative process, I can’t imagine anything more important than relationships.
ECR: Any projects coming down the pipeline for you?
TW: Right now, I’m juggling a few smaller-scale projects. My immediate future is mostly concerned with shooting my feature script. I have some grant support for its production, but much of my time is spent attempting to raise more money and interest. I hope to shoot it locally here, and I know we’d be operating through Expressway.