Cora Griffen Cora Griffen | December 8, 2022 | Feature
PHOTO BY PATRICK HEAGNEY
Devon Ryan (@devonryanfilm) felt the magnetic pull of Atlanta drawing him in, and we sure are glad to have him. The actor, producer, director, Airbnb tycoon and public speaker has collaborated with the NFL, Ford and other distinguished brands on creative projects and is now making waves in Atlanta with his unparalleled talent. Catch this hotshot on the big screen as a pilot or starring in and directing exotic car commercials. Take a seat—You can learn a thing or two from this savvy businessman.
Did you always know you wanted to be in the creative or entrepreneurial space growing up?
No, but I guess I took a Last Samurai approach to things. Katsumoto asks, ‘You believe a man can change his destiny?’ And Algren replies, ‘I think a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed.’
I tried to be practical about my career choices to a limited degree at first; I attended University of Texas at San Antonio where I earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering. But there was always a creative voice in me that wanted expressing. I just wasn’t sure how to evoke it yet. After graduating, I did what I knew best at the time and interviewed for the proverbial ‘real job.’ While interviewing, I gravitated toward joining the Air Force to compete for a pilot slot. I was always captivated by the idea of freedom—I mean flying. I took flying lessons during the day and studied pilot ground school at night—but I ended up getting an offer to build top-secret weapons for the government, so I put the whole pilot thing on the back burner. About six months into the new job, after receiving a distinguished engineering award, I decided to start my first company. My first attempt was marginally successful, but the sheer challenge in building my own company sparked something in me. I loved entrepreneurship so much that I began doing public speaking as a side hustle where I traveled and spoke at various universities about entrepreneurship. That experience led to me being mentioned in a book, 30&UNDER: Short Life Advice from Outliers Under 30 by Peter Cuderman. At this point in my career, it was time to get professional headshots, which caught the eye of another author. This time it was the author of a romance novel, and she wanted me to be on the cover for her new series. That cover led to more modeling opportunities, and then acting. Things started fairly well. I did a bunch of commercial acting work, had some small roles on a handful of TV shows—and then the pandemic hit.
Why was Atlanta the ideal place to expand your multifaceted brand? What do you hope to accomplish here?
There are more opportunities for film here than almost anywhere in the world. With the tax incentives, facilities, and experienced cast and crew available here, Atlanta makes sense for an entrepreneur carving their way into film. That’s true whether I look at my options practically, economically or creatively.
PHOTO BY PATRICK HEAGNEY
You’re an actor, director and producer with a tech background. What drew your attention to the film industry?
I’ve always been intrigued by film. When I was a kid, my uncle, who was a movie set dresser, took me to work with him after hours one time. It was the set of Christopher Nolan’s movie The Prestige. On the surface, the movie is about two ambitious magicians competing. Underneath, it’s about how magic is special in that it frees the audience from their painful and boring lives by allowing them to believe in something unreal. Magic liberates them to believe in something greater, enabling the audience to slip into the fantastical notion that there is an escape from the ordinariness of this life.
What has been your most exciting project thus far and why?
I’m really excited about this car commercial that spotlights a Lamborghini for Dream Exotics. It was my largest professional opportunity as a director to date, and my first production in Atlanta. I reached out to several local producers who turned down partnering with me because either they didn’t know me, they thought the project was too ambitious, or both. As my first production in Atlanta, I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet and hire top-notch local people in the industry here—people who believed in the vision and were willing to push the envelope.
How do you juggle both acting and directing a project? And is it challenging?
Hire an A-team—people who are positive and hungry. And every project should be a challenge. For me, everything boils down to one choice: You either decide to be a participant and perpetuate what you’ve already seen, heard and experienced... or you raise the bar.
“For me, everything boils down to one choice: You either decide to be a participant and perpetuate what you’ve already seen, heard and experienced… or you raise the bar.”
Acting and directing are both complex roles that take immense skill. Do you prefer either?
It’s about the story. If there is a story that resonates with me, then I will do whatever it takes to get it told. Back in the days of starting my first company, one of my mentors told me he began his career as a real estate agent. Then, he started his own real estate franchise company, where other agents would buy into his brand and then sell houses. He became the CEO and then chairman of the executive board for this company. What stuck with me was when he told me that when he died, his tombstone would only say, ‘He was a real estate agent.’ I respect that because, at the end of the day, he found the best way for him to sell the most houses. His titles were fluid, but the outcome and mission stayed the same.
You also manage multiple Airbnb properties. Why were you interested in building an Airbnb empire?
It’s supplemental income to make more films. Prior to the pandemic, I was starting to get work as an actor and had just finished an advanced acting in film and television training intensive at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles. Then the world stopped. The pandemic was an opportunity to reflect where I have been and where I am going. I calculated there is a better return on investment in real estate than in acting. I have trouble sitting by the phone waiting for things to happen. For me, finding ways to fund my own creative endeavors is time better spent versus competing with thousands of people auditioning for one role where you say one line that barely pays. With this new mindset, I ended up producing, directing and even starring in more projects during the pandemic than ever before. By the end of the shutdown, I was an award-winning, professionally paid director who owns a production company, Flying Aces Entertainment. That’s not to say I don’t read for roles anymore; I’m always excited for a new story to tell. I’m just more mindful of my time. I enjoy being on the side of the fence that’s creating work for other people rather than searching for work.
With several business ventures, how do you remain organized and energized?
Personally, I need to prioritize a body, mind and spirit approach, but of the three, I believe spirit is the most important. I try to put as much energy into that as I can. It’s what I have the most control over. I believe it’s our personal responsibility to put that thing in front of you that makes you leap out of bed every morning. No one is coming to save you. To me, the idea of wasting one more day of my life is madness. I strive to make sure no time is wasted ever again. There are infinite problems to solve, and we are externally influenced every day to focus on specific problems. My suggestion is to first solve the problem that is limiting you from doing what you love every day. As Denzel Washington said, ‘Do what you gotta do so you can do what you wanna do.’