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updated: 7/5/2011 8:43 AM

'Flipper' fuels Des Plaines native's movie ambitions

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  • Declan Ryan commutes between his home in Bartlett and various movie sets, where he works as a lighting technician and "best boy."

      Declan Ryan commutes between his home in Bartlett and various movie sets, where he works as a lighting technician and "best boy."

  • A best boy? A gaffer? Des Plaines native and Bartlett resident Declan Ryan has been both of these, plus a producer, director, cinematographer and balloon lighting technician working on independent productions and big-budget Hollywood films.

      A best boy? A gaffer? Des Plaines native and Bartlett resident Declan Ryan has been both of these, plus a producer, director, cinematographer and balloon lighting technician working on independent productions and big-budget Hollywood films.

  • A best boy? A gaffer? Des Plaines native and Bartlett resident Declan Ryan has been both of these, plus a producer, director, cinematographer and balloon lighting technician working on independent productions and big-budget Hollywood films.

      A best boy? A gaffer? Des Plaines native and Bartlett resident Declan Ryan has been both of these, plus a producer, director, cinematographer and balloon lighting technician working on independent productions and big-budget Hollywood films.

 
 

Declan Ryan apologized before we even started our interview.

"Please take in mind I am a no-holds-barred kind of person," the Barlett resident said. "I wouldn't be where I am if I wasn't. But I also realize you have to make an article that your audience can read without being offended. I give you minor creative liberty with these answers."

Uh, like what?

Oh, yeah. Like when we asked Ryan to name the single biggest challenge he faced while working on the set of a major motion picture.

"Being saddened by the fact that the director or actor you admired so much is actually a total (derrière)," he answered. Creative liberty exercised.

That's just the kind of no-holds-barred guy Ryan is.

But let's go back a little bit.

Ryan, 36, freelances as a lighting technician and a "best boy" handling electrical elements on movie sets. He's a proud member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees 478 union. He makes his bread and butter on big Hollywood features, but he also shoots and produces indie films. He has shot footage for Fox television and for Moscow news.

"And I know a vast amount of folks in the biz," he said, modestly.

If you saw the current movie "Green Lantern" and happened to be impressed with the quality of lighting, some of the credit goes to Declan Ryan.

He served as a technician and filled in as a "best boy" (that's movie code for middle management) when his bosses had other obligations. Ryan lighted the film for legendary cinematographer Caleb Deschanel of "The Natural," "The Right Stuff" and "The Black Stallion" fame.

Ryan has also worked on lighting for films such as "The Mechanic," as well as the not-yet-released "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part I" and "Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter."

Not a bad professional gig for a kid who grew up in Des Plaines.

"My parents moved to the West suburbs around my 18th year," Ryan said. "I never felt like I belonged in the new home, so I left at 19 to Chicago, only to return to Des Plaines where I met the girl of my dreams and moved out to the Western suburbs near my parents when I was 26."

The girl of your dreams? Seriously?

"I was with the most amazing blonde bombshell for 10 years," he said. "She supported my goals and aspirations and we were madly in love. We bought a house together in Bartlett. We had two dogs, a 100-gallon fish tank and two cars.

"Unfortunately, my career took me 1,000 miles away for five years. We didn't pass the long-distance test. At the age of 36, I now live a more Hugh Hefner lifestyle."

Again, not bad for a guy who credits his life calling to watching the TV show "Flipper."

Come on now. "Flipper"?

Really?

"I'll never forget 'Flipper,'" Ryan said. "It was an old show about a dolphin. Everyone loves dolphins! After that it was 'The Muppets.' I loved those (darned) creatures more than fish!" Creative license taken.

"And shortly thereafter I became obsessed with space Legos. I would create entire scenarios and societies, then role-play using the structures and vehicles along with troops to wage wars."

Granted, his battles took place on a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood covered with felt.

"But to me it was very dramatic. I began photographing my endeavors on 160 Kodak film and I think it really started there."

It continued at Maine West High School in Des Plaines and at Chicago's Columbia College, where Ryan received his technical education.

"It was very rewarding," he said about the Columbia experience. "My instructors were always very good about giving advice, helping us along, getting us work and being very honest.

"Some of my attempts were good, but most were tragic losses that needed guidance. I was also able to weed through the subpar folks and meet up with the hard workers."

Fast forward. Ryan and a Des Plaines friend, Jason Dean, started up their Bartlett company, One-6 Productions, in 2003 to make short films. The "One-6" is an homage to their hometown Des Plaines ZIP code: 60016.

They formed the company to shoot a documentary titled "Ulbert," about artist Joe Ulbert, who grew up in Des Plaines with Ryan and Dean.

Ryan also shot the doc "Shell-Shocked: The New Orleans Youth Story," which is almost ready for release.

What's the best part about being Declan Ryan right now?

"I am finally happy with myself," he said. "I know it's a temporary plateau. But I've been very happy for at least three years and it seems to get more and more rock and roll."

No creative license needed here.

Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.

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