Ian Rao plays Jimmy, the lead character's best friend
At just 19 years old, Ian Rao is producing his first feature film. Directed by Will Bigham, the winner of Fox's film competition reality series, "On the Lot," "The A List" is being filmed at Lake Oswego High School in Portland. Rao talked to The Skanner News about acting, producing and how to crash the film industry.
TSN: What's "The A List" about?
Rao: It's a comedy. It's about a high school senior named Eric Schultz, who has to follow a list of ideas that his guidance counselor Sylvia wants him to do in order to graduate. She wants him to do the things she always wanted to do when she was in high school, with hilarious results.
TSN: Who is in the cast?
Rao: We have Alyson Stoner who plays a character called Lacey. We have Deanna Douglas who plays April. Hudson Thames plays Eric Schultz, Jack DePew plays Trent and Hal Sparks plays Eric's dad. Skyler Vallo is Hannah. And I play Eric's friend, Jimmy.
TSN: But acting is just the start of your role in the movie.
Rao: Yes. I play one of the leads, but I'm also the executive producer on this project.
TSN: Where did the idea come from?
Rao: From a friend of mine, D.J. Halfert. We'd been talking about doing a project to collaborate on for about a year. D.J. showed me the script, and I read it and really liked it. So I said, 'Why don't we produce this together?'
So we wrote a business plan and we went out and got investors, which is how I came on as executive producer.
TSN: You started out wanting to be an actor didn't you?
Rao: I haven't done much acting. I've done short films, here and there, for the last two years. This is actually the first big film I've worked on. It's been a great experience so far.
"The A List" director Will Bigham's winning short "The Yes Men"
TSN: So this is your first big project. How scary is that?
Rao: When we started talking about the project I didn't think it would be as big as it is. But it didn't actually hit me until July 15, the first day we started filming. I came onto the set and went into the wardrobe room and there were 40 people working on the movie. All those people on the movie that me and D.J. had thought up. That just scared me. It took about two days of filming before I started easing into it.
TSN: Where are you from originally?
Rao: I'm from Texas – Houston. But I started living in Los Angeles every summer starting when I was 16. When I graduated from High School at 18, I made the move to Los Angeles so I could pursue my acting full time. But once I met D.J. and we became friends we got talking about our different career paths. We decided we were doing the same thing more or less so I thought 'Why don't I start producing projects as well?' So for my first project I decided to take my time and find something really good.
TSN: Why Lake Oswego High School?
Rao: We saw a lot of high schools that we liked. But there was something about Lake Oswego that felt like a place a high school movie should take place in. It matched the tone of the project. We're trying to pull this off so it could be anyone's high school.
TSN: You are the only person of color in a lead role. Why?
Rao: Honestly, a diverse cast would be great, but we based our choice all off of acting skills. We had a whole range of diverse actors who auditioned, and these guys –these very talented actors --just happened to prevail.
TSN: What advice would you give a young person of color who wants to get into the film industry.
Rao: What I would tell them is to make their own opportunities in the industry. I've had friends of different ethnicities who tried to get into the industry and what I would say is, 'Think outside the box.' What I mean by that is instead of waiting for that part, or always just doing short films, or trying desperately to find work, just make the work yourself and show your skills. Because otherwise you'll be feeling that with this ethnicity, you're going to be typecast and a lot of the time that's fair. So if you show that it shouldn't matter. The type of person you are and your abilities as an actor are all that really matters.
TSN: What music are you listening to right now?
Rao: I listen to everything except for country – I don't know why. Even though I'm from Texas there's something about country music that drives me crazy. I just want to shut it off. I have about 10,000 songs on my ITunes library. The last song I listened to? Probably the Backstreet Boys.
TSN: Are you a shoe person?
Rao: Right now I'm wearing Supras. They're black hi-tops and they look a bit like Vans but they're more comfortable.
TSN: What brought you to Oregon?
Rao: We brought on some other very talented producers and one of them was Brett Cranford. He has shot several projects here before. He told us about the state incentives for filmmaking, and said he could help us out. We knew he could help us out because he has done multiple projects here and knows what he's doing. So it just made sense. He helped to write a lot of the incentive deals and he's a very talented producer too.
TSN: How do you like Portland?
Rao: This is my first time ever in Portland and I love it. I almost want to leave but I'll have to go back to LA and keep on working. I've been downtown a little bit. I visited Powell's bookstore and went to the beach on Sauvie Island. I went out to the Gorge about an hour out of Portland and that was a fun experience. The whole cast also got to go to a friend's berry farm on the beach for a day.
TSN: But you're not going out clubbing?
Rao: I'm a really laid back person. I don't really care to go out to a club and go dancing. I'd rather just hang out with a few friends and have fun – nothing crazy just talking.
|Inspiring: Rao loves Disney and often visits Disneyland|
TSN: Who has inspired you?
Rao: This might sound crazy but it's George Lucas and Walt Disney who really inspired me to get out there and try. I go to Disneyland in my spare time.
TSN: How much money did you have to raise to get the movie off the ground.
Rao: I can't talk in detail about the budget or the investors. But what I can tell you is, it takes a lot of persistence and patience. If you don't have patience you can get the wrong type of investors or the wrong type of investment. I came from a family background where we are all engineers, doctors, things like that. So I grew up learning how to write business plans. It's all about writing the right business plan and the right pitch for the right investors.
TSN: What's the biggest stress?
Rao: If you're taking people's money you have to make sure you don't screw it up and make a shoddy product. In our case, we were able to increase our production values and have a decent budget. We were very fortunate to do that in this economy. A lot of productions have trouble bringing in money.