Brothers, Howard natives, moved to Hollywood to follow their dreams

For Howard Magazine
Meet two pairs of Howard County brothers who moved to Hollywood to follow their dreams.

In the real estate business, it’s “location, location, location.” In show business, it’s all about population.

That’s what Ellicott City natives Matt and Ryan Gielen found as they pursued their dreams in the entertainment industry — and that’s what made them successful once they moved to Hollywood.

In 2007, the duo had worked together making “The Graduates,” a coming-of-age film set in Ocean City. The effort won awards at independent film festivals but didn’t capture the interest of distributors. They were living in New York at the time and weren’t making the right connections.

“In New York, you meet actors and filmmakers,” Matt says. “But in L.A. you meet producers, managers and distributors.”

In January 2014, the brothers moved Los Angeles, the heart of the film industry, and haven’t looked back.

The Gielens are one of two sets of Howard County brothers who took the cross-country leap for the chance to make it in show business. Aaron and Ryan Pinkston, originally from Highland, did the same, pursuing careers in acting and producing.

For the Gielens, the struggle to find a distributor had an unexpected silver lining.

“I locked myself in the basement for nine to 12 months to learn that side of the industry,” Matt says. He soon discovered he enjoyed film marketing and promotion.

Meanwhile, Ryan thought about more platforms for film than movie screens.

“Today you can do film on the Web — YouTube and Vine — as well as TV and screen,” he says.

Fittingly, Ryan, 36, now manages Believe Ltd., a producer of branded digital Web content and videos. He’s also an independent film director, writer and producer currently working on a crowdfunded feature-length film about severe stuttering for the nonprofit Stuttering Association for the Young.

Matt, 32, went on to be director of programming (“in the traditional, not the computer, sense”) and audience development at Frederator Networks, one of the world’s largest online animation networks.

The brothers’ films are now available on Hulu, YouTube and iTunes. They’ve even written books to help others get into the industry

Ryan, a Centennial High School graduate who studied mass communications at Washington and Lee University, advises aspiring filmmakers to “grab a camera and just do it!”

“You don’t have to be a professional director,” he says. “Start creating content over and over; learn every job — how to get financing, to budget appropriately, to get an audience.”

He says he and Matt, who went to McDonogh School in Owings Mills and later to Columbia University’s film school, have wide skill sets and that makes it possible for them to make a living from their passions.

“It’s a little disconcerting when your children go into fields you know nothing about, but we encouraged them to pursue careers they found interesting,” says their father, Price Gielen. “Both our boys have great work ethics, and neither has allowed fear of failure to deter them from doing what they wanted to do.”

The brothers remain close, never living more than 20 minutes apart, and often get together for dinner, a movie or a game with their significant others.

“Next mission,” says Matt, “is to get Mom and Dad 20 minutes away!”

Brothers Aaron and Ryan Pinkston remain close, too — literally next door on the same lot while Ryan shoots a new TV workplace comedy called “Clipped” and Aaron works as a field producer for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” (though Aaron is often on the road).

Hollywood already was familiar to 27-year-old actor Ryan when he moved west from Highland in 2006; he lived there for a few years as a teen while filming “Spy Kids 3-D” for the big screen and “Punk’d” for TV. He made friends and learned the showbiz routine, but he came home to graduate with his River Hill High School class.

As a 13-year-old martial arts student, Ryan was “discovered” by a talent agent during a “most talented kids” competition on “The Jenny Jones Show.” He loved to perform live, feeding off audience energy, finding out what works and what doesn’t.

But that early start in the entertainment industry was also his greatest obstacle. He had to convince people he was an equally capable adult actor. Only lately has he been playing characters his own age.

“I have to prove myself, going up against experienced veterans,” he says.

When Ryan made the move west permanently, his brother Aaron, now 32, was already there.

Aaron had considered majors in pre-med and business, but after getting a taste of the entertainment industry watching Ryan shoot “Punk’d,” he studied film at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and later became an assistant to the director of MTV News. Last year, in his “dream job, the best job in the world” with DeGeneres’ show, he won his first Emmy, and this year he received a second.

But this path hasn’t been without challenges. Aaron’s greatest was taking the leap to Hollywood alone, “a tiny fish in a huge bowl,” he says. “I was scared. I knew no one.”

He spent his first six months in L.A. sleeping on the couch of a friend of a friend. “But I knew if I wanted to make it into the industry, I would have to take that chance,” he says.

As for Ryan, even with a job he deals with daily rejection.

“Not funny, not clever, not good enough,” he says, recounting feedback from rehearsals. “I don’t like having some guy who doesn’t even know me telling me that!”

Auditioning for “Clipped,” in which he plays the owner of a Boston barbershop, he felt confident using the familiar Boston accent of his dad’s best friend. But that wasn’t what got him the job — a dialect coach told him it was all wrong. (See what you think on Tuesday, June 16, when the show, which also features Ashley Tisdale and George Wendt, premieres on TBS at 10 p.m.)

Between parts, Ryan says, he uses the time to audition, take classes, write and help friends shoot indie films. The brothers compare show business careers to martial arts, the sport at which they both excelled; there’s no easy path to success, they say.

“It may take a month, it may take 10 years,” Aaron says, “but at some point it will happen as long as you want it bad enough!”

“This has been Ryan’s destiny — he always loved to perform,” says their mother, Linda Pinkston. “And Aaron loved the atmosphere. They’re on opposite ends of the same business — Ryan in front of the camera, Aaron behind it. My wish is that someday they’ll work together!” 

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