Roger Lay, Jr. was the cinematographer for the documentary 95 Miles To Go about a comedy tour comedian/actor Ray Romano did. He has also edited and directed several movies, including the upcoming documentary Toy Masters.
First of all, thank you for taking the time out for this interview. You were picked to film the road trip of Ray Romano and Tom Caltabiano. What was it like to join these two men? I understood you were still in film school.
I was about to finish up film school as the opportunity came along to join Ray and Tom on the road. I’d like to be able to tell you some inspiring story about Ray coming to the USC Film School and plucking me out to join him on the road, but that’s not really what happened. In fact I had already known both Ray and Tom for a year prior to the tour — if that hadn’t been the case Ray wouldn’t have felt comfortable with the idea of having me tag along and follow him around with a camera during his time on the road.
I’d actually met Tom at the USC film school a year earlier — he was there taking a summer class in TV directing since he wanted to make the jump from writing to directing on Everybody Loves Raymond and so he felt it would be good to take a multi-camera directing class before attempting that. We weren’t in the same class together but we wound up meeting up through one of our professors and we hit it off right away. We have a similar sense of humor and we both loved jazz so we started to hang out and soon after he introduced me to Ray when the show went back into production. A year later when I was looking to do an internship he helped me out by introducing me to the production people on the show and at the same type he got the idea to try and document his road tour with Ray so everything sort of fell into place. It was a case of being at the right place at the right time and having the skills they needed to pull this thing off.
You were also part of the production crew on Everybody Loves Raymond. Can you tell me something about it? What was it like working on a show like that?
I went to film school as an undergrad student but ended up getting my masters in production at Warner Brothers on the set of RAYMOND. It was such a well-oiled machine. The production of that show ran so smoothly on every department and at every level so it ended up being a great education. It was a real blessing to be there immediately after film school. It was really eye opening. I was exposed to so many elements and aspects of the industry that they just can’t teach you about in film school and I think that was a key part of my professional development.
95 Miles to Go originally came out in 2004. It’s now eight years later and I was wondering if you would have done the shoot differently with the experience you’ve now gained?
I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. Every time I’d see the film at a festival or when it ended up playing on HBO I’d look at all these tech issues and little imperfections I wanted to correct and I kept thinking how if I’d had a certain type of equipment I now know about or some other camera accessory or an actual crew then it would look so much better, but if that had been the case it wouldn’t have ended up being the intimate piece it turned out to be and Ray wouldn’t have been as unguarded as he was by the simple fact that it was just him and two other guys he knew and trusted. Maybe nowadays I could make it look flashier and more stylish but that wouldn’t make it any better. It wouldn’t have had the unvarnished honesty and intimate feel it has and in the end that is the best thing about the film.
The documentary very much feels like something you would now see on reality shows. Do you think it was ahead of its time?
I think it was ahead of its time, absolutely. When we first thought about doing it the reality TV genre didn’t even exist. Nowadays nearly anybody can get a reality show and people will actually watch it. Cable networks are now being built around this type of programming. Back then we had the biggest star on television headlining our movie and when we initially pitched the project to HBO an executive in their documentary division said that no one would care about this film, no one would watch it unless something amazing happened on the road such as Ray helping deliver a baby. So it’s pretty surprising to see how that attitude has changed and how much reality content there is now.
Why should people see 95 Miles to Go?
It’s a fun movie. You’ll laugh from beginning to end and you really get a sense of what it’s like to travel around and hang out with one of the most talented comedians in the history of the craft. One of the best reviews we got came from Daily Variety — the reviewer went on to say how Ray is funnier in real life than in Everybody Loves Raymond — that’s saying a lot.
Which project(s) can we expect from you in the future?
I have another documentary coming out later this year called TOY MASTERS which deals with the rivalry between a bunch of toy designers over the creation of Mattel’s billion dollar-grossing He-Man and the Masters if the Universe action figure line. We premiered the trailer at last year’s San Diego Comic Con and it’s been getting amazing buzz. It’s being hailed as the Social Network of the toy industry and also being compared to KING OF KONG which is a great documentary I’ve loved since it first came out.
I’m also working on the Star Trek The Next Generation High Definition restoration project. I’m part of the production team for those blu-ray sets and I’m directing a series of documentaries on the making and the legacy of the show. The first blu-ray set is out on sale in July and I’m really excited to be a part of this project which we all feel will make a little history since no other television series has gotten a restoration as complex as this one.
I also just finished up production on a documentary called THE TABLE (Nostra: My Filmviews review can be found here)which is out now, it was acquired by the folks at New Video Group and it’s been getting amazing reviews. It tells the story of a support group for filmmakers in Hollywood which has been meeting once a week for the last 16 years and it features some incredibly talented people including Guillermo Del Toro, George Takei, Armin Shimerman, and Marc Zicree.
And I’m also developing a new science fiction series with Gary Goddard who produced Terminator 2/3D and a ton of other groundbreaking projects over the years. We hope to be shooting a pilot next year, so it’s a really busy and exciting time for me right now. You can find out more about all these projects at my production company’s site: www.urbanarchipelagofilms.com