In the world of cinema, certain filmmakers possess an uncanny ability to transport audiences into captivating realms of storytelling, challenging perceptions and emotions. One such visionary is Chris Robert Riegel, an emerging filmmaker whose unique style and creative prowess have been making waves in the industry. With a keen eye for visual storytelling and a knack for pushing the boundaries of traditional filmmaking, Riegel is a name that cinephiles and critics alike are beginning to take notice of.
We had a chance to sit down and ask Chris a few questions:
Tell us about your background in the film industry?
I’ve had the benefit and incredible fortune to wear many different hats and grow into many different roles in this fun and creative business. Starting from being an executive, then growing into a producer, and now as a filmmaker, my experiences have given me such an insight into all of the different methods and roles that so many of the talented artists that I’ve had the privilege of observing or collaborating with utilize when making their art. I’ve personally found that so much of this industry is allowing yourself the opportunity to go out and express yourself and learn what works, and what doesn’t, because it’s going to be different for every single individual. And that’s a great thing because it also allows our audiences the opportunity to spark to what they might uniquely connect with as well.
Can you provide any details about your upcoming film “Expectations”? What is the plot or genre?
Expectations is really a comedic take on the idiosyncrasies we all have and espouse about ourselves. The ways we view ourselves, and the things that other people tell us, or we tell ourselves, can at times be completely at odds with our true feelings. This film takes a deep, and hysterical dive into those moments to understand and reconcile what’s buried deep inside and what we might project for everyone else. The majority of the narrative takes place over a wintry weekend where a group of orphaned 20-somethings congregate for a weekend with their benefactor, as they come to grips with themselves and this found family that none of them really ever asked for, but all have unwittingly pursued. And, there might be a murder or two, a succession question for the fortune, and a lot of pseudo-sibling rivalry that sharpens the tongue and might offer a few self-awakening laughs along the way.
What was the inspiration behind EXPECTATIONS?
The origin of the film is actually in its namesake. Expectations is a contemporary companion piece to the great Charles Dickens novel, Great Expectations. But I put the emphasis on “companion” piece, because whether you’re familiar with the source material or not, it doesn’t matter. This film takes many of the themes, motifs, and characters straight out of the Victorian era and plants them squarely in our present-day society where our audience can answer for themselves a simple question: how much really has changed in our society since the nineteenth century? There’s also a host of new characters unique to this film that our classic ones encounter. But creating it, for my part, was something I never thought I’d do. I first encountered the novel when I was a child traveling internationally. Though my tween version would hate to admit it, many of the themes stuck with me. Decades later, it was these notions that led me to revisit the characters and intricacies of the novel Dickens created. I wondered where they’d be after the events, and what they’d be doing if they were in our world today. There’s so much in those classic pages that went unsaid, and unregistered. For me, this film completes a little journey of my own and hopefully permits the audience to feel the same. The goal was to present the material in a way that isn’t our grandparents’ “Great Expectations.” I’d say, if you find yourself laughing at the antics when you’re watching, then hopefully we’ve achieved just that.
The film has a terrific cast! Were there any fun behind-the-scenes moments that you can share?
It was a blast and an absolute honor to collaborate with this incredibly talented cast! It also could be a bit challenging as we navigated the beautiful Canadian winter to achieve some of our lovely outdoor shots. There were just so many delightful memories. The very first day the incredibly talented Samuel Arnold was on set, he brought an entirely different energy to his character Bernard, which is one of our original characters, not based on any in-the-source material. If you like his performance in Emily in Paris, I think you’re in for a real treat, because his interpretation of Bernard is so amusing that I can tell you without hesitation, it elevated the material from the page. For my part, one of my favorite shooting days was the one where we got to do some improv. Our audience will find that there are organic moments within this narrative where our characters get the opportunity to communicate their innermost thoughts. A great friend and mentor of mine is the amazingly talented Marc Lawrence, who has always championed the connectivity of his characters to his audience. Or another 2000-era reference, like the film The Proposal, where the characters literally give an interview as the film comes to a conclusion. Much like the tools used in those iconic Y2K films, you’ll find Expectations features a lot of fun opportunities where these immensely talented actors get to ad-lib in character, and hopefully, that allows our audience to have some fun and connect over some chuckles with our cast.
You grew up all over the world—what was that experience like and how has that shaped you as a filmmaker?
Growing up for me, there was no more influential part of my life than getting the opportunity to experience other places, cultures, and ideas. Exposure to different films, foods, and ways of life in places like Australia, New Zealand, Latin America, the Continental U.S., and Europe didn’t make me feel lonely or isolated. Quite the contrary, actually, it helped me feel seen and heard. Because everywhere I went, I got to meet people that influenced my upbringing and taught me that there’s not only one way to think or experience life. I’m grateful for every single one of those opportunities, even if it makes seeing friends in adulthood difficult because they’re not in one place! But I would say that it’s molded all of my views as a filmmaker. Expectations showcase that specifically, with actors of all different ethnicities and from all different cultures and countries bringing these characters to life. That’s because it’s just how I see the world. It’s one of the great gifts I’ve found in this occupation. Filmmaking gives us the opportunity to welcome everyone into our own worlds. Hopefully, everyone finds this one just as fun as I do.
How would you say indie films differ from big studio films?
Having had lovely experiences making both in my career, I would say that every single project, whether independent or studio, is unique. They both present fantastic moments to express your art, and through both, there are amazing individuals and artists one gets to collaborate with. It’s quite like playing a sport, really, playing for your AAU or grassroots team can be different than playing for your high school or university team, because different projects and the individuals working on them can have different objectives. One of the really fun aspects of studio filmmaking is getting the opportunity to formulate a specific plan, from script to screen, and getting to have a say in the molding and execution of that plan. Being a part of a team like that means focusing above all on the successful management and outcome of the project, focusing on an overall team win. It’s one of the greatest aspects of the job! Sometimes on indies, part of the fun is being able to experience and explore the unknown. Independent filmmaking can allow an artist to explore the journey of the narrative with a different perspective. Sometimes independent filmmakers might not have any idea where they want to premiere their film, or what timeline of festival they might target. All of that leads to the excitement of finding the outcome of the journey along the way, and in that spirit, it’s another kind of team-building process as well. It’s been an absolute privilege to work on projects that fall into both categories, and I’d certainly continue to work in both aspects of filmmaking.
You almost had a career in baseball before an injury made you change course. How do you feel that experience has affected you?
I wish I had been that talented! Alas, I learned a long time ago, some things just aren’t meant to be. And that’s truly all right. There are things in life that none of us can really change. It could be a setback, an injury, a change in our environment, or the loss of a family member. It could even be an opportunity that we really wanted that just didn’t come to fruition, whether it’s our own fault or mistake, or someone else’s. The characters in Expectations are on this exact same journey. Most of them point a finger at someone else for their hardships, rather than looking within. Sports taught me a lot about myself, and gave me opportunities to learn how to work with other people, communicate, and understand what leadership and being a part of a community means. I rely on every single lesson and experience today when I’m making a film or writing a new screenplay or doing my work. Sometimes, for me, one of the most valuable things that I always try to remember, is that the point for which we select to start our journey doesn’t necessarily dictate the point for which we end. But it always influences it, and in that way, even if it’s not the destination that we might hope for or expect, it can be just as rewarding.
When not filming or dealing with the movie business, how do you like to unwind? Any favorite vacation spots?
I do get to travel quite a bit for work, and sometimes that leads me to places that I have to return to properly and fully explore. Germany, England, and Japan are three examples of that. But for me, there’s just something about Hawaii that is incredibly freeing and cannot be duplicated anywhere else. I remember once getting caught in a rain storm there, and not one of those gentle pats or pleasant drops mind you, but a torrential squall with high winds and powerful showers that made me almost want to take a knee from the overhead pelting. My wife and I were drenched. Yet there was just something special about that moment, and the moments that followed, when the sun came back out across the mountains before me, and not only dried everything but refreshed the landscape, like it was a cleansed beginning. A unique moment to say the least. That, and of course swimming with sea turtles at Hanauma Bay. Hard to beat!
How would you describe your go-to style? Any favorite brands?
Another key plus about working in the filmmaking business is that it gives every creative and artist the opportunity to say a lot about themselves with their looks! So many people vary their styles from day to day and occasion to occasion. For me, All Saints is my go-to everyday brand. The greatest pair of sneakers I’ve ever owned is from Yves-Saint Laurent (with apologies to Nike and Jordan). It might also be connected to all of this delving into the Victorian era and the havoc it’s wrecked on my wardrobe, but I’ve become a big proponent of the suit vest, whether atop a crisp button-up or as a piece beneath a sport coat or blazer. Every day is different in the filmmaking profession, so I’ve found it’s key to have a different look for each occasion.
Lastly, what’s next for Chris Robert Riegel?
We’re all eagerly awaiting the fair and proper conclusion to the labor unrest that’s dominating most industry headlines. Before the writer’s strike, I was working on a piece that I’m really excited about crafting for RainMaker Films. It’s the true story of one of the most inspirational individuals that I’ve ever encountered in sports. Well, in life, really. She’s a real-life superhero. When everything has been settled and the writers are given the fair deal they deserve, I cannot wait to share this narrative and the profound effect it’s had on me and my own life.