Howland native brings home movie for local premiere

In professional wrestling, there are heroes, the ones the fans root for, and heels, the ones they boo.

Howland native Ryan Bottiglieri is trying to become a movie hero by playing a heel. The 1995 Howland High School graduate wrote, directed and stars in the film “Heels,” which had a local premiere July 1 at Encore Cinema.

Bottiglieri, who lives in southern California, said he got the idea for “Heels” while another project he was developing stalled.

“I came up with the idea of two brothers who go to extreme measure to save their family business,” he said. “I started researching professional wrestling and there is a whole subculture there outside of the WWE — fetish matches, weird stuff. I’d never seen anything on this before and that started priming the gears to get into the material and start building the story and characters.”

Bottiglieri’s character, Jody, and his brother, Ronnie (Britt George), don’t have dreams of glory. They just need cash, and they’re willing to get beat up in the ring to earn it. Bottiglieri learned doing his research that those guys have the toughest job in the ring.

“Professional wrestling really is the art form of getting your (butt) kicked, and the one who gets the beating is the one who sells the match,” he said.

His character takes the brunt of the abuse in the ring, a choice made primarily for practical reasons. It was a low-budget movie — Bottiglieri said they made it for less than $500,000 — and that budget didn’t allow for insurance.

“I’ll be the one who takes the beating all the time so no one gets hurt,” he said.

As it was, Bottiglieri dislocated his shoulder five days before shooting while training for the film, and he took a beating on camera as well.

“When I got to the final cut of the movie, I looked it over with my wife. There was one scene where I said, ‘I’ve got a concussion right there.’ I could see it. My eyes were, like, wandering.”

With a 10-day shooting schedule, the pace was brisk. And Bottiglieri the actor didn’t have time to nurse his wounds between shots because Bottiglieri the director had things that needed to be done to get ready for the next one. He said the rigorous schedule was possible because they spent several weeks choreographing every shot and scouting every location.

He said it wouldn’t have been possible without the work of his crew and his wife, Julie Foist Bottiglieri (a Lakeview High School graduate).

“She was there every step of the way. She’s the unsung hero of the whole project. She’s an executive producer on the movie. She’s the executive producer of my life.”

The cast also features Stacey Scowley, who has a recurring role on the ABC series “Fresh Off the Boat,” and Richard Riehle, who plays Jody’s and Ronnie’s father. Riehle is instantly recognizable from hundreds of film and television roles. He appeared in such movies as “Office Space,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” and he was a regular on the FOX series “Grounded for Life.”

“He’s one of those guys that just has a different mentality,” Bottiglieri said of Riehle. “He’s so down, so ready to work and so available when they commit to something … That generation just seems to have a work ethic that inspires us.”

Bottiglieri had the same experience with Academy Award nominee Bruce Dern, who appeared in Bottiglieri’s last directing effort, “Trim.” After problems with the original distributor, “Trim” may be close to finally getting a release, and Bottiglieri said they have taken some of the hard lessons learned on “Trim” to avoid similar pitfalls with “Heels.”

“It’s such a marathon getting these things out there,” he said. “What I realized is it takes coming from where we come from to say, ‘We’re just going to keep going, we’re going to keep driving.’ It may not be the ideal situation, but if we keep fighting we’re going to come out finally ahead.”