Interview With Ryan Lacen, Writer And Director Of ‘All The World Is Sleeping’

When I received the PR email for the new film, All the World is Sleeping, it was marketed as a “truly unique filmmaking experience.” Bold Futures, a reproductive justice based non-profit, joined forces with filmmaker Ryan Lacen to deliver to us a film “pushing back against the stigma faced by pregnant women and people living through addiction.”

ALL THE WORLD IS SLEEPING follows Chama (Melissa Barrera), who as a young girl in New Mexico, strived to be different from her mother. Now in her twenties, she’s found herself falling into a similar cycle of generational addiction. This struggle then threatens her balance as a mother to her own daughter. As Chama tries to keep it all together, a harrowing accident will spiral her out of control, causing her daughter to be taken from her custody. With nothing left, she’ll have to confront her past in order to fight for a future — one that can either guide her closer to getting her daughter back or lead her deeper into this dangerous cycle.

What we got is a thought-provoking and emotionally charged film with a powerful message. It’s a reminder that you never know what someone is going through, and it’s a test of your ability to be empathetic and understanding. It really is a truly unique filmmaking experience. To celebrate the release of the film, I chatted with Ryan via Zoom, and we discussed how he was approached to do the film, creating the character of Chama, what’s up next, and more!

PopHorror: I really loved All the World is Sleeping. It was such a great role for Melissa Barrera (Scream 5 and 6). She did amazing and I thought it was so good so I’m really excited to speak with you.

Ryan Lacen: Talk about one of the hardest working actresses out there right now. Scream coming out last weekend, she’s got our film coming out this Friday, and she’s got the film Carmen coming out next month. She’s just crushing it.

PopHorror: Scream was the first role I’ve seen her in, so to see her do something so different just shows how big her range is. I’m excited to see what she has coming up for us.

Ryan Lacen: That’s honestly one of my favorite things about Melissa – not only the evolution of her career – but the films and projects that she’s interested in too. She never wants to do the same character again. To go from the show Vida, to In the Heights where she’s singing and dancing, to obviously her epic role in Scream, and then now in All the World is Sleeping, playing a very physically and mentally demanding role.

PopHorror: I noticed the little things about her too, like the pallor of her skin, the way her jeans fell off her hips, the sweaty way her hair was sticking to her face. I was in awe of everything about her character. It was just phenomenal. The attention to detail is what got me.

Ryan Lacen: She was always dedicated too. Even on set, right before I’m about to call action, she’ll be there in the moment and be like, “No, no! I need more sweat. I need more sweat up here on top because my character is feeling this or that.”

PopHorror: Can you tell us about the project with Bold Futures and how you became involved?

Ryan Lacen: Yeah, so several years ago, I got a call from Bold Futures, and producer Ian Simon, and they were basically like, “Hey, would you be interested in coming to New Mexico and talking to these seven women? These seven survivors of addiction and basically hearing their stories?” So I went out there, and for several months I was able to sit in a room with them, and to listen, to learn, and to hear about their families, their lives, their experiences, their traumas. From that, they trusted me to be able to go back and write a screenplay off of that, which became All the World is Sleeping. When I finished that script, I brought it back to Bold Futures, and I brought it back to the women, and was just like, “Hey, read this and let me know if everything in this feels authentic, feels real.” They read it and gave notes back like, “Oh, no. Our experience was more like this,” or “I think we can make this part hit a little bit harder.” Because at the end of the day, it was their voices that the whole film wanted to uplift and hear. For the true survivors it’s like they’ve been spending most of their lives screaming into the ether like, “Hey, I need help. I’m going through this,” and just not being heard, and this film was a way to be able to uplift their voices. When we filmed the movie too, they were on set – the women and Bold Futures were there as consultants, so therefore every time we’d frame up a shot, I would ask, “Does everything in this frame look real? Does this feel authentic? Does this feel real to your story?” And same thing with Melissa too. Melissa was able to collaborate and to work with them and help shape her performance to make sure it was a true reflection of their lives.

PopHorror: That’s amazing! I love hearing that they were involved with the film and that they were there with filming. I did read that Melissa’s character, Chama, was based off of these seven women. What were the specific personality traits that you pulled from these women to make that character?

Melissa Barrera and Ryan Lacen on the set of All the World is Sleeping.

Ryan Lacen: I think what’s interesting about life is that we all have our own individual stories but it does feel like we’re all a couple of steps away from living the life of someone else or walking in their shoes. Over the course of those months listening to the women’s stories, I was able to take all their experiences and line them out, and see how a lot of them connected, and if it wasn’t the exact experience, it was a very similar experience. I took all those pieces as little photographs of their lives, and put them together to tell one story, and that one story became a composite of all their lives into the character that is Chama. Also to be able to do it in a way that felt a little bit different as well because when it comes to stories based on real life people or biopics, I definitely wanted to approach this in a different way, especially since it was a composite of seven people. To be able to go into these photographs, almost like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where you can kind of jump around through different memories and experiences to tell one story. In this, we’re able to hear Chama’s thoughts, see her perspective of things even if it is contradictory to what she’s thinking. We’re getting a very different humanistic experience through the mind of an addict.

PopHorror: Were they happy with the final result?

Ryan Lacen: Yeah, once the film was locked – done with picture, color, sound, all the edits – I brought it back to New Mexico, and we had a small screening just for them. It was a very emotional and cathartic experience. All of us had put so much time and effort into this, and for them to have a film that they felt seen from, and also excited that this was going to go out into the world and other people are going to be able to see and hear their experiences. I think at the end of the day, all of our goals were to create something that got people talking about it afterwards and created empathy for the people around us because you never know what anybody is going through and who may need help. This film, the whole goal was to show, hey, this is a person. This could be our mother, our sister, our neighbor, our friend. Before we go and judge them, let’s actually know what their life has been like. Let’s see their experiences.

PopHorror: I appreciate that and agree. You never know what your audience is going through or who you’re going to touch or reach. 

Ryan Lacen: I’ve been around addiction my entire life so to be able to do a project that I feel is very personal for myself as well as everyone involved in the film. It was definitely one of those experiences too, where I’ve done and been on a lot of film sets, and a lot of times it could be treated as a job or maybe the grips and electricians aren’t happy to be there, but on this film – from the first day until we wrapped – everyone was excited about being able to create this message and put it into the world. Every single day on set, no one was ever complaining. There was always a sense of community and a bond around this film that attached us all together.

PopHorror: I love that! This film has had a prestigious and successful film festival run. How does it feel for this film to obtain not only awards, but eyes on the subject matter?

Ryan LacenRyan Lacen: That was, honestly, one of the biggest things for myself once we finished the film, was I felt like I had a service to the women the film was based off of not to let this film just disappear into the ether, which a lot of independent films can do. We finished during the pandemic so we were ready to go out to film festivals right when things closed down. I wanted to wait, like let’s hold off – things weren’t even hybrid – until they were actually open so therefore we were able to get people together as a community to watch the film. By the time the film premiered in New York, it was a point in the pandemic where things were making that progression and we were able to have a packed, sold out screening of it. From that moment on we did a little nationwide tour of the film. So it’s like people from New York to Seattle to California to New Mexico, all of these different states were able to experience and see the film and talk about it afterwards. The other big thing too is, once all of that was done, I didn’t want this to get dropped on streaming, and just be there. I like streaming in the sense of like, it has a wide audience, but to be able to get a theatrical release for this just felt like it give even more eyes on the film and the subject matter, so we pushed so hard to be able to get a theatrical release, which in this climate is very difficult, but luckily Gravitas was like, “We believe in this film. We will give you a small theatrical release. We’ll do everything we can to get this film out there.

PopHorror: Good! It needs more eyes on it. What do you hope people walk away with after watching All the World is Sleeping?

Ryan Lacen: I just hope that people are able to walk away with another sense of empathy. Especially if you’re not familiar with the subject matter of addiction, you might have these preconceived judgements or notions about it. To be able to sit there for an hour and 50 minutes and experience and see the perspective of the character Chama, who is the composite of seven real life women, to now be able to be like, “Hey, maybe that changed my mind a little bit enough to have a conversation with people about this, and not just go out into the world and point fingers and place judgements on people you don’t know.”

PopHorror: What is up next for you, Ryan?

Ryan Lacen: This film has definitely for the last year, I’ve put all my blood, sweat, tears, and joy just getting this out there. And now, after March 17 when it’s in the world, I’m finally able to move onto what’s next. So yeah, I’ve got the next film brewing in the works, and hopefully will be filming by the end of this year.

PopHorror: That’s exciting! One last question for you today. What’s your favorite scary movie?

Ryan Lacen: All time? I would say the original Scream was probably the one that I’ve seen the most in movie theaters. When that came out, I saw it six times in the theater.

Thank you so much to Ryan for taking the time to speak with us. All the World is Sleeping is now available on digital.

About Tiffany Blem

Horror lover, dog mommy, book worm, EIC of PopHorror.

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