Five years after leaving South Portland for Hollywood, Ryan Shoos finds himself starring in a horror film that’s set to open in theaters around the world Friday.

The story of how the 25-year-old actor landed his role in “The Gallows” and how the low-budget film caught the attention of Warner Bros., is, well, the kind of thing people make movies about.

“This stuff doesn’t happen. It (the movie) went from being a YouTube video, to the very smallest of films, to being distributed around the world by Warner Bros.,” said Shoos. “And it was my first real movie.”

“The Gallows” was made with a paltry $100,000 budget, stars four relative unknowns, and was written and directed by two young filmmakers from Fresno, California, not Hollywood. But the executives at Warner Bros. saw enough in the suspense-filled flick to make them want to put their brand on it.

“I think a lot of the appeal is the cinematography, the eerie colors, and old-school suspense,” said Shoos last week, after spending a day giving interviews to 50 or so media outlets.

The film’s story focuses on a group of teens who decide to sabotage the set of the school play, mainly to stop a football player from starring in it. The play, also called “The Gallows,” hasn’t been put on at the school in 20 years, since the accidental death of a student actor during a performance. But now, on the anniversary of the student’s death, the school is resurrecting the play.

Not a great idea, it turns out.

“I play a jock, the jerk you love to hate, and I come up with this scheme to destroy the set,” said Shoos. “Then all this madness begins and we realize maybe we shouldn’t be taking down a set that someone died on 20 years ago.”

One of the film’s tag lines is “Every school has its spirit.” So the teens find themselves trapped in the school as the spirit of someone or something gradually terrorizes them.

The film is being promoted as a “found footage” movie. That’s because much of what the viewer sees is footage that is supposed to have been shot by one of the students, during their night of terror. One of the best known horror films shot this way is “The Blair Witch Project,” a major hit about 15 years ago.

The trailer for the film shows scenes that are shaky, dark and lit with eerie green or red lights. Unlike some teen horror flicks, there is not a lot of blood and guts in “The Gallows.” The terror lies in waiting for something to happen, Shoos said.


Shoos, on the other hand, does not wait for things to happen. Growing up in South Portland’s Meeting House Hill neighborhood, he was a big fan of Jim Carrey’s wacky films. He was in middle school when, after watching a Carrey film, he told his parents “I can do that.” He soon saw an ad for a talent agency in Maine, and found out they were auditioning kids his age to do public service ads on local TV.

“One day he just told me he had called this agent, and asked if I could drive him to an audition,” said Lisa Merchant, Shoos’ mother. “And he got the role.”

The spot he auditioned for was about how parents can talk to their teens about sex. Shoos played a teen.

Shoos was a freshman at Cheverus High School in Portland when the spot aired, and he says as a “scrawny 95-pound kid” he took some razzing.

But filming that public service ad convinced Shoos that he really wanted to act, or more importantly, be a part of the process of filmmaking.

“The greatest part for me was seeing everything that goes into it, feeling like part of he team,” said Shoos. “That’s what I loved about it, and still love about it.”

Through his teen years, Shoos acted locally, including in some small films. One day about five years ago he decided to drive to Hollywood in a Subaru Legacy he bought from his father. He stayed for a while with a fellow Mainer trying to crack the music business.

During the last five years he has worked as a personal assistant on sets, waited tables, and gotten acting roles in some small films.

“He’s done a lot of catering. But he’s really stuck with his passion,” said Merchant.

When Shoos auditioned for “The Gallows,” it was being funded by a group of investors in Fresno, who had seen a YouTube trailer made by the film’s co-directors, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing. The small movie got made, in Fresno, but was not slated for major distribution, when scenes appeared online. Executives from several production companies expressed interest in being involved. Soon New Line Cinema, a division of Warner Bros., was on board as well. Noted producer of horror films Jason Blum (“Paranormal Activity”) was brought in to polish and tighten the film.

One direct result of being in “The Gallows” for Shoos is that he now has an agent, who saw the film and wanted to work with him. Shoos said he had another role in a film lined up earlier this year, but he broke his foot in a motorcycle accident and wasn’t able to do it.

He hopes that once “The Gallows” hits theaters, he’ll get more opportunities to act. But if he doesn’t, he won’t sit around and wait for his next chance.

“I think of myself as a jack-of-all-trades, so I’ll do any work I can, bartending, being a personal assistant,” said Shoos. “But hopefully after this (film) I’ll be able to concentrate on acting.”


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