Q&A with Ryan A. Paul: School of Communication student relives his homecoming vision
May 1, 2023
Ryan A. Paul is a Virginia Tech junior who specializes in creative directing and event production. A public relations major, Paul served as the vice president of programming for 2022’s homecoming festivities. In turn, he directed several pivotal productions for homecoming, including a “72 Questions” short film with the homecoming court and a subsequent documentary. Paul gained important real-world experience from his internship with the Emmys in the summer of 2022, an endeavor which has propelled him forward into a career in filmmaking.
Paul gave the following interview to Jacob Sawyers for Virginia Tech School of Communication.
[Edited for length and clarity]
Walk me through your vision for the Homecoming project and how you executed it.
Paul: Last year's homecoming was multifaceted. When I first accepted the position in November 2021, I knew that something had to change. I knew something was missing. I knew we weren't really targeting students anymore; it didn't feel right. For the role of director of events, I thought, “I'm just going to change everything.”
We branded it as the 2022 revamp which suited it perfectly as last year was Virginia Tech's 150th anniversary. When I started, I knew what I wanted to bring to the table. One of the main ideas was a showcase event. That meant highlighting student talent, diversity, ability and innovation. Another big portion was the visual components I created, including the film. As director of events, I took on a whole other kind of role as executive producer and director of that visual portfolio.
My main producer, Trish Grace, and I were doing pre-production for the “72 Questions” film; that was a process. I watched over 700 minutes of the Vogue series that it was based on. Then, in the midst of that, I was pitching headliners for the homecoming showcase. Since it was a new event, I had a vision of how I wanted the show to open. I remember going up to several groups and asking if this was something they wanted to be a part of. We had Exodus, a K-Pop group, Ballet Project, and the Cultural Dance Crew. They ended up becoming a really solid opening sequence. During this process, I was still building out a host and photography team to even think about producing a film. Maxwell Mandel [producer for the 2022 Homecoming] and I crafted our team and got to work. That was when all this video content—from the Vogue spin-off to the homecoming court recap—came to fruition.
What specific tangibles did you learn in your Emmy internship that you applied to The Homecoming Experience?
Paul: I was an intern from June to August, and then I came back to Virginia Tech to shoot the film. I flew back out in the middle of shooting for the primetime show.
At the primetime show, the main thing I took away was how to manage backstage. The homecoming showcase is a theatrical show. We have the theater, we have the stage and all that greatness that comes with it. The one thing I was really uncertain about was how to manage all the people who will be at the showcase. Being at the Emmy Awards backstage for the show, I was just observant of how people were operating and who was in charge of what. That made the homecoming showcase so much easier to do. At the Emmys, there are production people doing their rounds; there are also “talent” people who are getting people from where they need to be.
Being a talent escort for the Emmy winners was also cool because it just helped me practice timing. I remember one of my jobs was escorting the lovely Quinta Brunson, the creator and main producer of “Abbott Elementary.” See, she won her Emmy. It was great, yet I spent the whole time trying to get her back to her seat because she was nominated again. I had production in my ear saying, “OK, where's Quinta? What's going on?” Angela Bassett is talking to her. Regina Hall is congratulating her. I'm looking at her like, “We gotta go!” It’s a timing balance of giving her a moment, but making sure things are on schedule.
My main supervisors, Analiese Yu and Angela Peluso, taught me so much from the way they interacted. That translated into the way I communicated with talent and my production team on location when we were filming the first film. It's about being firm; it's about being accommodating, but it's also about getting a point across.
For a project like this, what do you hope the viewers get from it?
Paul: For viewers, I just want them to get a grasp of the scope of homecoming. People pin the homecoming board as this big executive thing. When people watch the film, I want them to think, “Wow, students made this; I can be a part of this!” That comes with being intentional when creating experiential events whether that be the homecoming kickoff or the showcase. Right now, we are bringing a lot more talent to the board with different perspectives which means we can target different demographics and different populations. That's always our biggest thing; we always want to make homecoming as inclusive and diverse as possible.
You had your “72 Questions” spin on the Vogue series. What other influences or programs inspired you when you ventured into video production?
Paul: As a kid, I didn't really care about the movie: I cared about the bloopers. I loved to see the cuts that didn't make the film, the boom mic that makes it into the shot or people just having fun on set. When Beyoncé Knowles-Carter released her documentary after her Coachella performance in 2018, I saw her behind-the-scenes of making that whole thing come together, and I was inspired.
Her documentary showed that everything requires a process. It requires not just creativity, but also logistical management. It requires people shooting down your ideas in the best way possible because you can't do everything. You have to have someone in your corner who's like, “Listen, that's a great idea, but maybe not right now.”
Talk about the documentary experience and what that will entail.
Paul: [Smiles] Originally, we were going to release the documentary in December; however, people were exhausted. I needed time to just not do homecoming for a little bit. We had a year’s worth of footage from spring through winter which was just so much to look through and analyze. Maxwell and I decided to push it back until April, and I’m so glad we did. With this extra time, we were able to incorporate sit-down interviews into the film. Some of the interviews are actually going to be in the docuseries coming this summer, so I guess that’s a little exclusive for you.
For this film specifically, it's an in-depth intimate look at the process of homecoming. It's a film made by students, for students and about students. It took so long to figure out how everything would be ordered and how to cut between live footage, rehearsals, board meetings and Zoom meetings. That was the longest process, for sure. When that got solidified, everything else was easy. Everyone will see what it took to make homecoming happen; that includes the good, the bad, the ugly, the excitement and the triumph.
Will you return to work on Virginia Tech Homecoming next year? If so, can you give me a glimpse or any ideas you have percolating for Homecoming 2023?
Paul: [Laughs] Yeah, I'm back on the board again. For Homecoming 2023, I made the decision to not be director of events again. I took on another role as vice president of programming. I oversee the events team, the production team and the finance team. As of right now, Homecoming 2023 is going to feel a lot more cohesive with all the different organizations that make it happen. That’s cohesion with the homecoming board, VTU [Virginia Tech Union] and the BSA [Black Student Alliance]. It's going to feel a lot more collaborative with a cohesive lineup of events, rather than segmented events.
What else do readers need to know about you or VT Homecoming?
Paul: 2022 was a lot; it was production. It was [working at] the PGA [Professional Golf Association] Tour. It was the Emmys. It was my directorial debut. It was homecoming. It was the documentary. That's a lot. I think Shonda Rhimes described it the best way possible. She said, “When you see me striving in one area of my life, it certainly means that, in another area, I'm failing.” For me, that was sacrificing all of my time in the spring semester. That was sacrificing exploring L.A. and really being immersed in it. However, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I say is when you have that idea, just do it. I’ve spent the last year sacrificing some personal items to pursue these ideas because if you don’t execute them, someone else will.
Written by Jacob Sawyers, student writer for the School of Communication