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Filmmaker Spotlight: Allison Riley (Open Projector Night Audience Vote Winner)

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Allison Riley talks about process and inspiration behind their film that won the audience vote at Open Projector Night.

We'd like to congratulate our last Open Projector Night audience vote winner, Allison Riley and their film 'In the Blood.' Nicholas Hartman from Grand Rapids Film Society sat down to have a conversation with Riley to learn more about them, their process, and filmmaking background. 

Sit back, relax, and enjoy this interview with an award winning filmmaker; Allison Riley

  1. For those that don’t know you, tell us about yourself. Who is Allison Riley?

    AR: My name is Allison Riley, but I usually just go by Riley! I am a writer and director originally from Holland, Michigan, currently living in Grand Rapids. I graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2022. At the moment, I’m working as a teaching artist with the organization Artists Creating Together and as an adjunct professor at Compass College of Film and Media.  

  1. I find myself to be one who’s easily inspired. I adore the arts whether it’s filmmaking, music, painting, etc. Tell us what inspires you and how it influences your creativity?

    AR: First and foremost, other movies. I love to challenge myself to watch as many movies as possible to learn from others. Some of my favorite directors are Greta Gerwig, Xavier Dolan, and Kelly Reichardt. I also love watercolor painting and my newest hobby has been 1/12 scale miniatures! Both have definitely inspired me to venture into stop motion filmmaking. 

  1. I know this is a difficult yet cliché question but I’m curious to know your favorite film, why, and how/if it played a role in your life. 

    AR: This is SUCH a difficult question indeed! Right now, I’d have to say Frances Ha (2012). I love everything about it - the writing, the characterization, the cinematography. It makes me cry without fail every time I watch it. I love the way that the movie portrays female friendships. I’m also a huge fan of Lady Bird (2017) and this feels like a grown up Lady Bird, thanks to Greta Gerwig’s writing on both pieces. Frances Ha hasn’t played the largest role in my life, but I hold it dear to my heart and see a lot of myself reflected in Frances. Particularly now, entering my 20s post-graduation-finding-a-career-and-purpose chapter of life that Frances is similarly in. 

  1. Can you talk about the process of the film such as where the idea came from and why you wanted to make it?

    AR: I wrote the first draft of In the Blood in 2019, planning to shoot the film in 2020 - until it got interrupted by COVID and went dormant for a few years. I came up with the idea first because I wanted to challenge myself to film something all in a bathroom stall. From there, I was thinking of possible ideas that would set a character stuck in a public bathroom stall (Diarrhea? Hiding from something? Ripped pants?) and ultimately ended up on a period. Periods for myself are something of a horror - my first panic attacks were at the sight of my own blood in the bathroom and I’ve accidentally bled through my pants in public more times than I'd care to admit. From that idea, I began to do research of periods in films to get more ideas, and it was while doing that research that I found that there are really no good representations of periods in filmmaking. That’s what locked me in to knowing I wanted to center the piece around periods.

  1. As a filmmaker myself, I understand that making a movie can be a lot like a game of telephone. From script to picture lock – the vision goes through so many different people. Do you feel like the final product stayed true to your vision?

    AR: I do feel that In the Blood stayed true to my shooting script vision through the shooting and editing stages, however, between my first draft and shooting script there were some significant changes. Originally, I went for a more comedic approach with the script, having several more funny characters enter the bathroom. Ultimately, I’m glad I settled with the two teen girls as our only characters in the bathroom. 

  1. Wow, so much blood! I’m a sucker for practical effects and your use of blood really gave meaning to the title. Can you share with us your technique and overall experience of shooting that bathroom scene?

    AR: It was a TON of blood. I give as much credit as possible to our production designer, Zach Thomas, and art assistant, Hannah Dunaway. They were able to craft all of these amazing practical blood effects. We used four types of blood all varying in viscosity and color. For the final exploding blood shot, we used a “blood cannon” borrowed from the amazing production designer Matt Cunningham. It was a manually powered cannon that we funneled blood into, then stomped on a squeezebox to shoot the blood out of a hose. For the shot, we also had to protect our camera from the blood splatter. This was done with a large sheet of plexiglass and several trash bags. With those supplies, we sealed the camera (and our DP Jordan Skutar!) above the toilet in the stall.

  1. Now, I want to be respectful as possible, so please don’t feel like you need to answer this question. The film obviously has a religious tone to it. Blood has always been metaphorically used in religion - as in drinking the blood (wine) of Christ it will grant you eternal life. What’s the connection here with the main character getting her period in church? Is there some sort of Catholic guilt/Catholic connection that you can elaborate on?

    AR: When writing the script originally, I tried to think of the worst place to get your period and landed on church. I actually did not grow up Catholic, so I had many consultants while writing the script. I loved finding the juxtaposition of the blood of Christ and menstrual blood which is viewed as unholy and impure. As an outsider to the church, I never really understood the concept of the blood of Jesus - especially drinking the blood sounded so scary to me as a child. As I grew older and heard more critiques of periods and had my own feelings of impurity and shame, I felt a double standard in the values of the two bloods. This double standard is what I wanted to call attention to with In the Blood.

  1. The final song “In the Blood of the Lamb” is such a perfect choice to end the picture on. Can you discuss your decision on this particular song?

    AR: I spent probably 20 hours on Youtube searching for every hymn I could find that included the word “blood” - and there are so many more than I ever imagined. It ruined my Youtube algorithm for a couple months. When I stumbled upon “Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb” (which goes by several variations of names online), I was instantly hooked! The first version I heard was performed by a Mennonite choir and it was haunting and had perfect lyrics for the film. When researching the song more, I found that it typically is sung in a country style, so we recorded our own version on set with the extras in the church while filming.

  1. To all the inspiring filmmakers – what word of advice can you give?

    AR: Watch as many movies, write as many scripts, make as many projects as you can, no matter how big or small. You’ll learn something from each one of them. Keep creating and learning as much as possible.

  1. What’s next for Allison? Any new film projects in the works? Any other creative endeavors you’d like to share?

    AR: I am currently working on a feature script that I hope to eventually film! I have no plans as far as a timeline, but I’d love to get a feature piece out. Careerwise, I will be relocating to Chicago in May to meet some new creatives and try to further my career. 

  1. This is a question I like to ask all our winning filmmakers – If you were granted an unlimited budget and you could make your dream film, what would it be and why?

    AR: With unlimited money I would definitely make a period piece - they just seem so unattainable to make as a newer filmmaker. I love movies like Little Women (2019), The Favourite (2018), and Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019). It would be amazing to have unlimited money to make extravagant dresses and period accurate set dressings. 

  1. Where can we find more of your work? Do you have a web-site/social media platform you’d like to share?

    AR: You can connect with and message me on Instagram @allie_riley. To see more of my work, you can check out my website

  1. As you know, OPN is a Michigan based festival that wants to highlight the talent we have here right in our state. What do you think are the benefits of making a film in MI compared to somewhere like L.A.?

    AR: I love the homey, personal feel of working in Michigan. I’ve had the privilege of getting to work with my friends on all of my sets - especially In the Blood! Actually all 5 people I’m living with now all worked on ITB in different crew positions. I also love the access to nature we have here in Michigan, which is something I’m looking to incorporate into my next piece - specifically the magic of the shore of Lake Michigan and the Dunes.

  1. Any words on Open Projector Night?

    AR: Open Projector night is a great opportunity for filmmakers! I had an amazing time participating.

    We hope you enjoyed this interview with Open Projector Night winner, Allison Riley, and we hope to see you at our next event on May 24th, 2023.

    Are you a filmmaker and looking to screen your film on the big screen? If so, please visit for submission rules and guidelines.


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