When Lone River called Chris Malloy to direct a spot for the launch of Ranch Rita, Chris was instantly on board. With a good friend in tow, the musician and actor Ryan Bingham, Chris decided to go back to basics, highlighting the authenticity and easy going nature of the drink. Set in an old cantina, the spot also features the World Champion Steer Wrestler, Luke Branquinho. Incidentally, all three are dear friends and the shoot’s set was more akin to a get together than a production. Bathed in sunset colours and lit with the glow of old neon lights, Chris captures Ryan effortlessly performing on stage to a smiling crowd, joined by the character of Rita, played by Sulem Calderon.
Leaving specific references aside, Chris let the aesthetic of the Southwest serve as his guiding light, harnessing his experience of spending time there to recreate the energy and the images for Ranch Rita. The location was carefully chosen so that production wouldn’t have to “doctor” it at all, with Chris simply capturing and retaining its nature on screen instead.
The song Ryan performs is central to the spot. When they first heard the song, Chris and Ryan immediately knew that it was the right one for the space, the actors, and the new launch’s down-to-earth image. Together they advocated for the song on the day, ensuring that it made it into the final spot when the creative team were debating the right musical direction to pursue. The result is a harmonious blend of sound and image that pays authentic homage to its surroundings.
Today, LBB spoke to Chris Malloy about the collaborative process of shooting with friends and capturing the authenticity of the Southwest for Lone River’s Ranch Rita.
LBB> The Ranch Rita spot feels rooted in something deeply authentic and atmospheric. What was the client brief like and what was your initial response to it?
Chris> Ryan Bingham and I have spent a lot of time in the back country together, our families have spent a lot of time together. When the idea for this project first came up and I saw the script with his name in it – well for him and me to get to spend a day together promoting something that we drink anyway, shoot. That’s the perfect combination.
And then we got to bring in Luke Branquinho, who is also a dear friend and a bona fide five-time World Steer Wrestler champ, as another character in the film. All three of us got on the phone together, like “Let’s just get out there in an old cantina and make something special.” I went out with them and the Farm League team, and it didn’t even feel like working.
It was such a fun shoot; the characters we got to use were so great, and it came out really pretty with beautiful colour and energy. Once Ryan started singing, it just felt electric. The film is all rooted in that long-time connection between the group of us, and our genuine connection to these places and this Southwestern culture.
LBB> Where was the spot shot and why was this particular location chosen?
Chris> We got to see a bunch of different spaces, but when I saw this cantina, I knew right away it was the place. It was as real as real gets. We filmed in Southern California, off the beaten path in an area with a real raw natural feel. It was a tight space, which I love to shoot in. The other places were these big grand spaces that you’d have to doctor so much, but in our location we really had to do very little. The most authentic location is usually the one that requires the least amount of fixing.
LBB> Did you use any references for the spot?
Chris> I was really just inspired by a true, gritty Southwest aesthetic. Ryan is from New Mexico, so it’s what he embodies naturally too. Sometimes you have references in your head that are a far stretch of what you’re actually going to make, and yet they’re still your compass. Like, I was thinking of old Spaghetti westerns and films like that. Joe Aguirre, our DP, is so smart and you can reference anything to him – he’ll know it and he’ll know how to shoot it in a way that makes sense for your unique film. Capturing the feeling and spirit of it.
LBB> The song, performed by Ryan Bingham, is one of the spot’s main characters. Tell us the process of finding this song and what it meant to the piece?
Chris> Ryan and I both knew right away when we heard it, this is the song. But these creative decisions sometimes take time and discussion with other teams, so we just kept advocating for that song knowing it would be the one. I did not want to be deciding the song on the day, I wanted to know at least five days ahead so he could practise and we could approach the shoot with that song in mind.
But then it gets down to the fourth day, and then the third day, and then the day before. But the thing is with Ryan, he’s so malleable, he’s so, “All right, now, what do you need me to do?” and always prepared. So on the shoot, still no song formally decided, I went to the teams and told everyone, “We feel great about this one, so that’s what we’re going to play. Buckle up!” And it came out great. It was a perfect fit.
LBB> Tell us a little bit about who you decided who to feature alongside Ryan?
Chris> Our female lead, our ‘Rita’ character, was played by Sulem Calderon. She was fantastic to work with – she was stunning and a total sweetheart, but with so much gravitas and depth in her eyes. We needed someone who could hold her own with Ryan, because he’s so magnetic and grounded in each scene himself.
Sulem naturally had this really pleasant smile and jovial personality, so at one point I pulled her aside and told her, “This is a dark smokey bar and this song is pretty heavy. Imagine that Ryan is your husband and you just found out he cheated on you, and you’re walking into this bar to confront him. This is not a fun night out in a traditional commercial. No, you’re fricken' pissed.” And I think it comes through. Her performance comes across so powerfully.
It was also an important creative decision we made to have her wearing jeans rather than a dress or something more traditionally feminine. Our costume designer, Cathy Hahn, is just amazing. She gets this Southwestern culture so well, she understands that grit and she’s fearless. Sometimes the agencies and clients will ask, “Woah, what’s that?” and I tell them, “Just have faith and watch the monitor. She’ll nail it.” And she always does.
LBB> What’s your highlight from working on this spot?
Chris> Well you’re never supposed to drink on set, but Ryan had to crack the can for the shoot. He said, “You’re not gonna drink with me?” And I didn't do it all day long, I behaved myself on set, but I will say…I definitely had a couple sips of a Ranch Rita with him as soon as we wrapped.