Ryan Gainey with dog

The Well-Placed Weed Filmmaker Interview

May 13, 2019 by Nicholas Price

Atlanta-based filmmakers Steve Bransford and Cooper Sanchez look back on their relationships with world-renowned garden designer Ryan Gainey and the making of the bio-documentary, The Well-Placed Weed.

What inspired you to make this film?

Prior to 2010, Ryan Gainey had been featured in a number of television programs over the years, but no one had ever really captured Ryan’s unique life story and personality. We started visiting Ryan in the Spring of 2010 doing little weekly filming sessions, and, once Ryan recognized that we were as interested in his story as we were in his gardening insights, he continued to let us in and the film began to take shape.

What makes this a Southern story?

What doesn’t make it a Southern story? Ryan grew up picking cotton in a small South Carolina town and developed a passion for plants via some encouraging relatives and neighbors. He even fits the archetype of small town boy making it big in the city as he developed a series of successful garden shops in Atlanta in the 1980s and went on to become an internationally renowned garden designer. He always championed the native plants of the South, even neglected and weedy ones like his beloved chinaberry tree. And, of course, the darkness of Ryan’s character and his ultimate demise are pure Southern Gothic.

What were the challenges and blessings in making this movie?

The biggest challenge was obviously Ryan passing away while we were making the film. We became close with him, and it was a tremendous loss for us and all who knew him. Telling his story took on an extra weight of responsibility when he was gone because we wanted to honor his legacy but still provide an honest portrayal of his character. The biggest blessing was simply having a person like Ryan as a subject. While we certainly poured an incredible amount of time and effort into the film, the filming sessions with Ryan often seemed effortless. When we turned the camera on him, we were assured several hours of zingers, horticultural tangents, and over-the-top boasts.

How did the story change you?

When you spend so much time with someone who is so passionate, you can’t help but get swept up in it. Ryan was passionate about so many things, above all beauty and plants, and he had a way of luring people into his magical garden spaces and into his crazy and curious mind. This film has inspired us to make more films about the intersections between plants and people. We’re planning to make a new film about the culture of camellia propagators and enthusiasts, both past and present.

What do you hope will happen after people see this story?

The biggest compliment you can get about a film is that people continue to think about it days after seeing it. Ryan’s character was complex and even contradictory, and we hope that people will appreciate his ambiguity and not just view him via a single lens. After seeing this film, perhaps people might view plants in a slightly different way, that they’re more than just beautiful things but carry with them whole worlds of personal, historical, and emotional resonances.


Documentary Filmmaking