Ryan Logan isn't the type of person you would expect to make the work that he does. Staring up at me behind his cup of coffee at Metropolis in Edgewater, Logan looks more like a model than a film director. On a cold November day, the director wears his hair pushed back as usual, sporting an ever-present three-day beard. But what's most striking to me about Logan is his small-town sensibility, the product of a Kansas childhood and a nomadic adulthood. Logan is forever plugged into a smile, not just as a reflex but a constant state of being in the world, a grin just as white as his skin.
Logan is the director of the Kam Kardashian web series, which stars Fawzia Mirza as a fictional forgotten Kardashian sister, shunned from the family because of her sexuality. Although the series is a lighthearted romp, Logan and Mirza strategically address issues of gender and race throughout the program. They don't shy away from the issue of the character's brown skin. Mr. Logan says that the racial and gender differences between himself and his characters have been a source of confusion for some when Kam or Logan's other project with Mirza, "The Queen of My Dreams," screens at festivals. People want to know what drew him to making the series. "They don't understand why I would be interested in these subjects," Logan said.
Therein lies a story, one inspired by a fateful friendship. The director's recent projects were born out of his relationship with Mirza, a young Chicago actress, producer and filmmaker; Ms. Mirza met Logan while screening the documentary she co-produced with Ky Dickens, "Fish Out of Water," at the Rhode Island Film Festival. When Logan saw a trailer for the film, he was immediately drawn to the project. "I knew this was going to be a big deal," Logan told me, "and I thought that if I met the people behind it, that means I've made it." Instead of just making an industry connection, Logan met a friend and future collaborator whose influence inspired him to find his creative voice.
"The material that I was writing in college wasn't very good because I didn't really have much of a perspective," Logan said. "Who can when you're young and not really suffering any hardships? To go to the next level, I needed more support, and working with Fawzia has been helping me get out of a very self-conscious place." Although Logan had one short film under his belt, entitled "The Single Mother," Mirza and Dickens helped Mr. Logan on a follow up. Dickens offered to help produce it and the pair offered him a support system in a new city, Chicago.
In Chicago, Ryan Logan was a long way from home. Logan described his hometown of Independence, Kan., as a "Norman Rockwell kind of town," one that with a "huge public park, a zoo and even this little train." This was a place where the closest mall was an hour and a half away and all the neighboring towns had names like Cherryville, Coffeyville and Mound Valleyas if they were "out of Super Mario Bros." Logan described the idyll as isolating. "I never met anyone else that I felt I identified with." Logan confessed. "I don't know if that was being closeted or just feeling different."
Moving to Chicago was a "huge culture shock" for Logan, coming from a predominantly white town to a city that's endlessly diverse. Growing up in Kansas was a different world in terms of race. "[Prejudice] was directed in a blanketat anyone different," Logan said. "It was something I always knew was wrong, but never paid much mind to." For Logan, writing and filming on subjects of race was a way to "confront the views" he grew up with by telling the stories of those different from him. "It's nice having the luxury to use your art to make yourself a better person and explore yourself," Logan said, "but I still have quite a bit of learning to do."
"The Queen of My Dreams," Logan's 2011-produced short film with Mirza, who shares the co-directing credit, was an exploration of the actress' Muslim background. In the three-minute clip, Mirza describes her relationship with her Pakistani mother, who struggles with coming to grips with her daughter's sexuality. The story of finding her identity against the backdrop of Bollywood was Mirza's own, but Logan's goal was to find what was "universal" in her narrative. "We couldn't deliver the story in a way that excludes people, so we stuck to love and the pursuit of happinessthemes that everyone can identify with," Logan explained. "My job was to bring those themes out of Fawzia."
Mirza's spirit is also the driving force behind their Kam Kardashian web series, and Logan stressed what a cultural exchange the show has been. Although Logan, of course, comes at the show from a "white male point of view," the scripts were developed as a collaborative process with Mirza; Joel Kim Booster, who stars in the series as Kam's Asian assistant; and the other actors. "We all had a hand in it," Logan said. For Logan, Kam Kardashian was a way to confront stereotypes and start a conversation on hot-button topics, rather than settling on easy jokes. According to Logan, Dr. Ebony Utley of California State University has even been using the series in her lectures as a teaching tool.
Logan conveyed that the second season is where they started to look at the effect the Kardashians have on society. "We made her real," Logan said. "When we were doing the first season, we approached it from more of a surface level. The Kardashians were something that were foreign to all of us." In the second season, Mr. Logan claims that the second season was about expanding Kam's world. After focusing so much on other people's stories, Logan also saw his own authorial voice shine come out more in the scripts he co-wrote with the castwhich were longer, with dry, fast-paced humor. "I noticed after the fact how much of it was inspired by Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday," Logan recalled. "I started to re-realize what my influences were."
Logan and Mirza plan to release the rest of the season some time around "the turn of the year," which includes two full episodes and a couple "mini-sodes." The pair will continue to screen "The Queen of My Dreams" on the film circuit, where it has screened at more than 50 festivals, including OutFest, Reeling Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival. But for Logan, the next big step is his own series, which is a look at the lives of gay artists in Chicago. Currently in early development, Logan based the project on the lives of his friends.
People should stay tuned to their computer screens, because they'll be hearing a lot more from Ryan Logan.