Alumnus Q&A: Writer-director Nate Ruegger ’06
Nate Ruegger ’06 is a writer-director who graduated from Dartmouth with a major in film studies. He got his start in the film industry at a young age by voice acting in “Tiny Toon Adventures.” Several screenwriting competitions have recognized his work, and his thesis film from the USC School of Cinematic Arts “Another Life” won multiple accolades and was screened at several film festivals, including the Newport Beach Film Festival and the San Antonio Film Festival.
You’re a director, writer, producer and actor. How do each of these roles fulfill your creative needs, and do you see synergy between them?
NR: First off, I just want to clarify that I am a former actor. I used to do voice acting for cartoons. It’s definitely been a part of my toolkit as filmmaker, but I primarily identify as a writer-director. I definitely see myself producing in the near future. Entertainment these days has changed because it’s so much easier to make a movie than five or 15 years ago and get distributed. With the technology we have now like phones, you can make a feature film and edit it with apps that are free or very easy to purchase to make it look relatively good — good enough to be watched as a webisode on our phones or on computers. And people would want to see something like that just as they would want to see a movie or a show on a major network. The difference is that because now that everyone can do that, the question is how you can break through that noise. How do you make that happen? To break through the noise, it’s a matter of making good content that rises above all of the noise of everything else. And that’s where it gets really hard. It used to be that you could write something or direct something and hopefully make connections in entertainment. It’s now kind of on you to produce, write and direct. Some actors I know are doing the same thing I’m doing, where even though they want to be actors, they may not have the next thing in their reel so they make it themselves. I definitely think that we’re now at a place in film that if you want to write a script and get it made, you have to take it upon yourself to learn as much as you can about producing or directing and get out of your comfort zone to get your content made. The person who is most likely to help you get something made and get it right and be true to what you think is the story that needs to get out in the world is yourself.
Can you tell me a little bit about your screenplay “An October Wedding, recently named to the 2016 BloodList?”
NR: Both my wife and I are Dartmouth graduates, and we got engaged in our final year of college. When I told my parents, both of whom were divorced and coming from a place of love, they wanted to make sure that I didn’t make the same mistake. They told me, “Whoa slow down, you guys have only known each other for a year. Both of you get jobs. Both of you get apartments. And then maybe you can revisit [this] when you have enough money. You don’t need to rush into this.” And my wife’s family, which is from Texas, was like, “Congratulations, this is fantastic. You guys have been dating each other for like a year or more, why is it taking so long?” For me, I kind of shared some of my fears with my parents. It wasn’t necessarily that I was afraid to marry my wife, Alexis. It was more the sort of fear that I would make the same mistakes as my parents. It sounds silly to say out loud, but deep down these are some of the fears that people have — that I inherited some kind of curse that would make a marriage fall apart. So what’s at the heart of this screenplay is the question of whether we are destined to inherit the sins of our parents or can we overcome the fears of our past.
How did you know you wanted to have a career in film?
NR: I definitely think that being a voice actor on “Tiny Toon Adventures” as a kid was a major influence for me. It’s one thing to watch cartoons as a kid but to go behind the scenes and to see that this is a job that people do, to be standing in the booth and seeing a sound mixer who is pitching your voice or making sure your voice syncs up with the part of the episode or talk to with a director who is directing all of the actors and overseeing the creative output was really kind of amazing.
What advice would you have for Dartmouth students who want to pursue a career a film?
NR: My advice is that if you want to pursue a career in entertainment, you should move out to LA. It’s not to say that you have to spend the rest of your life there or that is the only way to have a career. But it’s like if you want to have a career in finance and you move to New York, you are surrounded by people who work in finance and your odds are improved. That’s the case with LA. In LA, the major industry is entertainment. So the person who is serving you coffee, the person who is walking beside you on the street, might be an actor or a producer or the people you go to parties with. Just by living in the city and getting to know people, you are building a network of people who could eventually make a film or a web series you have an idea for.
What is your favorite movie this year?
NR: “10 Cloverfield Lane.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.