Filmmaker Ryan A. Cole is on a quest to become the "greatest filmmaker of all time." At only 25 years of age, and with an impressive resume of film credits and awards—including an Emmy—he is well on his way.
Cole, who grew up in New Jersey and Texas, began his filmmaking career at age fifteen when he attended the prestigious New York Film Academy's filmmaking program for high school students. After completing the program, Cole established Point Bird Productions, a film and video production company under whose moniker he would begin to produce his own films. After graduating from high school, Cole attended Howard University as a Film Production major (B.A. 2009), where he was involved in numerous film-related projects. His personal body of work includes two full-length feature films, six short films, and ten music videos, most of which he wrote, directed, filmed, edited, and sometimes starred.
Cole credits his interest in filmmaking with his early fascination with comedy, and comedians, such as Eddie Murphy, Cedric the Entertainer, Jim Carrey, and, especially, the late Bernie Mac. "I remember watching him in the Kings of Comedy," Cole recalls. "I would study his eyes, his demeanor, his walk, and I remember laughing hysterically even before he said anything!" Cole began reading books about his favorite comedians—he read Bernie Mac's life story 3 times—and developed a deep respect for their ability to craft comedic reflections and stories from the pages of their often severely painful lives. Cole was inspired, but as a shy teen, with a profound admiration for their talent, he did not dare attempt comedy. But, he believed he could act.
In 2004, determined to become a famous actor, Cole enrolled in an adult acting class to begin to learn the craft. But, when his instructor commented that it could possibly take up to two-hundred or more auditions to land a starring role, Cole knew immediately that acting was not the path for him. Sensing his disappointment, his instructor uttered the words that, Cole believes, changed the course of his life and set him on the path to filmmaking. He told Cole that there was "another way." That, like Spike Lee, he could become a director, write his own scripts, direct his own films and, even, star in them. Cole admits that although he did not fully understand everything a director did, he knew instantly that directing was what he wanted to do.
In summer 2005, Cole enrolled in a beginning filmmaking camp for high school students at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, California, which he credits as the most influential experience that shaped his life as a filmmaker. During the six-week intensive course, students were instructed in all facets of film production—cinematography, lighting, directing, producing, and editing—and were required to work in teams to produce four films. Cole admits that in the beginning, he felt somewhat out of place as the only African-American student in the camp and with no prior filmmaking experience. But, as the classes progressed and his proficiency soared, Cole began to feel right at home. "We shot our films on the backlots of the Jurassic Park, Back to the Future, and Jaws movies," says Cole, "and I felt like a 'mini Spielberg'."
By the time the camp was over, Cole left with a newfound confidence and a new resolve: to become the first African-American filmmaker to win an Academy Award for Best Direction, and to become the "greatest filmmaker of all time." After all, if he could survive film camp, he could do anything.
While at film camp and still in high school, Cole remembered something that Spike Lee had said in his biography: that the true power of a film lies with its gatekeepers—those who own the production companies. So, he decided to establish his own film production company, Point Bird Productions, so that he could start to develop and produce his own films.
Following high school, Cole attended Howard University as a film production major where he was involved in close to one hundred film-related projects, including student films, commercials, and public service announcements.
In 2008 while at Howard, Cole financed and released his first feature film, The Rhythm of Struggle, which was awarded, a record, three Howard University Paul Robeson Awards for Best Actor, Best Editing, and Best Music Video. In 2009 he released One-Way Ticket, a short film which he wrote, directed, edited, and starred in, which garnered another Paul Robeson Audience Choice Award.
That same year, Cole was selected to participate in a new, creative internship program with NBC. What started as an experiment to increase online views, resulted in Cole and his fellow interns conceiving an idea for a reality show about interns and their quest to create a viral video. The web-based show, titled "Interns," was a huge success and became the number one visited link on the NBC website. It eventually aired on NBC after an episode of Saturday Night Live. For their outstanding work, Cole and his fellow interns were awarded an Emmy Award for Best Student Production.
In 2010, Cole released his next film, C.R.E.A.M., which he wrote, directed, filmed, produced, and edited. He is currently wrapping production on his latest film, Bittersweet, a short film that he financed, wrote, directed, and edited.
Cole gives thanks to his family, especially his mother, for his intense work ethic, as well as for their support. And, he thanks God for keeping him grounded and humble. "I never get arrogant about my accomplishments," says Cole, "because I know at any time, it can all be taken away. I feel blessed that I am able to do what I love, and I will never take that for granted."
And…about that quest to become "the greatest filmmaker of all time"? Cole says, "I do want to become the first African-American director to win the Oscar for Best Direction, but I'll know that I'm the greatest filmmaker of all time, and truly successful when I can reach back and help other kids become filmmakers, and be as much of an inspiration to them as so many filmmakers, especially African-American filmmakers, have been to me."