Robert Rippberger has made nine features, along with dozens of commercials, short films, and music videos that have been released theatrically and have reached millions of viewers worldwide. I chatted to him about life in Los Angeles and making entertainment, socially impactful movies with his production company Aletheia Films, which has over seven projects currently in the works.
Thank you for taking time to speak with us today. Congratulations on all your achievements to date. You were born in Boulder, Colorado. Can you tell us a little about life for you there?
Thank you. Yes, Boulder was a really great place to grow up, in a sense that it’s very much a little haven. But to do film you need to be in LA, so it was just a matter of time until I was living here. When I turned 18, in the very typical manner, I threw everything into my car and drove out to be a writer/director. Producing only came later, more as a necessity that I turned out to have a knack for.
What made you make the move to Los Angeles? Was it always a dream to work in the entertainment industry for you?
I first moved to Los Angeles to write and direct a short film called, Haven. It was a horror film based on a script that actually took place in Boulder, although we shot it in L.A. It was my first time working with a big LA crew, or for that matter a crew bigger than me and my friends. It was a really great experience and I’m pleased with how the project turned out.
As far as working in the entertainment industry, I’ve always known I wanted to make movies. There’s nothing quite like the way stories move people, excite, and entertain. It’s icing on the cake that the collaborative process and production is a similarly rewarding experience.
Every US state has its individual charms, but what one thing do you miss most about living in Colorado? Do you have any creature comforts?
Colorado is really great, but I am much more of a New Yorker when it comes down to it – even though I don’t live there full time. The great thing about New York is that I can work night and day and when I do finally end up going outside, no matter the time, places are not only open, but lively. Usually my creature comfort is street food, particularly from all the halal guys in the city.
From short films to music videos, documentaries to feature films. Do you have a particular favorite? If so, why?
My main interest is theatrical content and the reason for that is that it’s such a crystallized and focused experience. I love the routine of it and that it’s so communal. People are together, they go see a film, they get dinner afterwards and talk about it. I think it’s the genre that is shared most and it’s simply how my creative mind thinks. I’ve done pilots for TV before, and I wouldn’t rule it out, but the impulse is always toward features.
You have made several notable documentaries and films. One of your highly successful movies is the documentary ‘7 Days in Syria‘, currently on Hulu. Can you tell us about that project and what made it so successful do you think?
Of course. ‘7 Days in Syria‘ was successful because we really struck a chord and were really speaking to current events. I remember when we were in an office pitching the film in New York, that same day we found out that James Foley had died. We have the last footage of James Foley alive in Syria in the film. Then very shortly after, and very tragically, Steven Sotloff was killed, and we also have the last footage of him alive in the film. It was representative of how close to the front lines in Aleppo we really were.
We had two teams go in and document day to day life, and they really put their lives on the line. This is not a staged, security motorcade movie. It was under the radar, communication between our team inside and out of Syria was written in code, and tremendous sacrifices were made. I think the people that saw the film were aware of this and shared it knowing it was a unique perspective. It’s been shown at the House of Lords in London, it’s been shown to senior members of the U.N., at over four dozen film festivals, and it’s been distributed throughout Europe. In the U.S. it is currently available on Hulu.
Another highlight, so far, is the music documentary ‘Alive & Kicking‘ which was nominated for the SXSW Grand Jury Award. Can you explain the project and your involvement?
My involvement in ‘Alive & Kicking’ was that of an executive producer, which is really to help make sure the project gets across the finish line and that it has success at festivals, with distribution, and beyond. We premiered at SXSW and we were very honored to get the grand jury nomination. It was coupled with a really great review in Variety and shortly after we had a sale to Magnolia Films, where the film went on to a 50-city theatrical release, distribution on Delta Airlines, and a worldwide release on Netflix where it’s currently available to view.
Your production company is Aletheia Films. Can you explain the reasoning behind the name?
My production company, Aletheia Films is named “Aletheia” after a philosophy term used to describe ‘a disclosing of truth.’ Whether that’s ‘7 Days in Syria‘ giving a window into the day to day life in Aleppo, or whether that’s ‘Alive & Kicking‘ as a window into the wild, fun, corky world of swing dancing – the goal is to capture the essence of those characters and their stories in a thoughtful and entertaining way.
Do you have a specific preference of the genre or types of projects you want to spearhead with Aletheia Films?
With Aletheia Films, it’s a tricky question because I think the tendency for all filmmakers is to not get defined or get put into a box. That said, our niche is to make films that have a positive impact on the world. Often times people hear this and think, ‘Oh arthouse, oh documentaries, or journalism, but our perspective is that these films that are entertaining first and then also have an impact, are actually the highest grossing films of all time. For example, take the environmental film Avatar, or the look at good and evil within Star Wars. I understand it’s still a far-fetched idea for most, which is why I’m working on a book about Mega-Blockbusters and Mega-Impact, but more on that later. When all the cards are on the table, I know readers will be convinced it’s the right way to go – whether you’re a writer, director, producer, or studio executive.
What’s next for Robert?
Next is bigger and better things. Studio projects. Sharing the features we have with larger audiences and finding more like-minded allies along the way.
Currently out on digital release are ‘7 Days of Syria’ on Hulu and ‘Alive & Kicking’ on Netflix.
For more information on Aletheia Films visit www.aletheiafilms.com