Watt Tells Stories With a Paper Moon Touch

By Andy Meek

Someone who didn’t know Ryan Watt can already tell a lot about him and his work by the title of the Memphis-based production company dedicated to producing mostly local, Southern independent films he and a friend started in 2009.


The company is Paper Moon Films, and it harkens back to a golden age of entertainment, when paper moon photo backdrops were en vogue.

Late last year, Watt’s production company started work on its fourth feature film, “Forty Years From Yesterday.” The film was shot over several weeks in California. Also late last year, Paper Moon’s third feature film “The Romance of Loneliness” – stars of which include Memphis music scene veteran Amy LaVere – got its Memphis premier at the Malco Paradiso.

Watt said post-production is wrapping up now and the company is finishing up the sound work for “Forty Years From Yesterday.”

“That’ll be premiering sometime this year,” Watt said. “We don’t know where yet, but that’s our new film. It’s a story about basically how death is handled in a family in an older relationship, so basically the story starts out with the lead character finding out his wife has passed at the beginning of the movie. And the rest of the movie takes you through a very honest portrayal of what happens to people when they go through that process.

“It’s a pretty intense film, but something we think a lot of people can relate to.”

Watt’s business partner’s is Nick Case. The first movie they produced was “Open Five,” which The New Yorker listed as among the “Top 25 Films in 2010.”

After forming the company, the partners had a kickoff fundraising event at Minglewood Hall, did some online fundraisers and “Open Five” was their first project.

“Since then, we’ve done ‘The Romance of Loneliness’ and then ‘Pilgrim Song,’” Watt said. “We know we’re going to be involved in a couple of other productions soon. We’ve got enough irons in the fire that I know we’ll have a couple of productions going on this year.”

The company tends to focus on films with a Southern feel or that tell stories related to the South, because the partners feel like mainstream companies and mainstream media don’t tell those stories often.

The way the company pursues projects also sets them apart.

“We’ve got enough irons in the fire that I know we’ll have a couple of productions going on this year.”

–Ryan Watt
Paper Moon Films

“We do things maybe a little differently than some other producers,” Watt said. “We don’t think up ideas for projects. Instead, we’re basically looking to partner with really talented artists. So, we will see something a filmmaker has made, maybe somewhere like the Indie Memphis Film Festival. It’s more about trying to create a long-term relationship with directors who have tons of talent and who, if they’re given just a little more of an opportunity, a little bit more of a budget to work with and help with a production, they could potentially rise to do some great things.”

Before starting Paper Moon Films, Watt was involved with a venture called Old School Pictures. The people behind that group grew up in Germantown, like Watt, he knew them from high school and would always follow their progress.

“When they were working on a film called ‘Daylight Fades’ and trying to raise funds, I got excited, because I was looking for a new opportunity,” Watt said. “I thought it might be a kind of one-time thing. Produce this movie for six weeks and move on to whatever my next thing would be.”

His next thing turned out to be his main thing.

For now, Paper Moon Films loves doing what it can in Memphis and not necessarily worrying about tax incentives or similar extras.

“Because of our lower levels of budget so far, things like tax incentives – we’re not into that tier where they make a difference for us,” Watt said. “The other thing is, it’s great to film here, because you can almost film anywhere. Everyone here is really easy to work with. The Film Commission. The police department. Things like that are hard to do in L.A. or New York. You can shoot almost anywhere here. Also, with the way cameras are these days and the way technology is, it’s so affordable that you can really rent some amazing cameras. You don’t really need to be next to a big industry, necessarily. It’s just a matter of finding the right people.”