Kittens

kitten-kollege-thumb They’re cute. They’re adorable. And they’re….about to have student debt. But they’re kittens, so, I guess they’ll just pay back their college loans with kibble. Kittens win again!

It was a delight to work with both College Humor and Whiskas to bring this imaginative and amusing world of Kitten Kollege to life! In this online episode, part of Whiskas ongoing commercial campaign to educate cat owners on kitten care (and just to have a little fun!), I play Professor Pawterson, a young history professor tasked with teaching a classroom of adorable kittens about ancient Egyptian history. It turns out my class has a few history lessons for me too.

Check out the 60-second spot below:

For more adorable Kitten Kollege videos, visit Whiskas on their YouTube page at www.youtube.com/WhiskasUK.

Write the Good Fight

when-life-gives-lemons-apply-pressure

When life gives you lemons, apply pressure and kick ass!

When I write, sometimes I really am punching the keys.

It’s not easy: you want to tell a story, but you can’t articulate. Not just writing a screenplay, but anything. I’m talking about conversations, career choices, coping with rejection, coping with success, responding to the silence when you were expecting an answer.

An example? Almost two years ago, I’d just finished a 12-week screenwriting intensive sponsored by New York Film Academy LA. I’d won a scholarship, I’d learned so much about the language of writing in (motion) pictures, and I hadn’t even finished 10 pages of my screenplay (spoiler alert: I still haven’t). I was frustrated.

Fast forward, six-months later: I’m hunched over the kitchen table in my studio apartment, determined to write a one-scene-wonder monologue for my acting reel and somehow – call it inspiration, call it saturation – I knew what I needed to write: a story about a man who takes away the painful memories of others. One week later, I had written the first draft of my pilot. My mentor, Dan, kindly informed me that I had actually written *half* of a pilot, so time to expand.

Type, type, backspace, type. Done.

Well, not really.

END FLASHBACK. Back-to-the-Present: I don’t know how many drafts it’s been, but my sci-fi pilot, The Relief, has transformed. I’m seeing things I didn’t see before, and I don’t flop out of my seat in panic when new imperfections complications arise.

I look to my fridge. These words, comforting, spur me on:

“It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to exist.”

The Relief - SciFi Pilot by Ross Denyer

Well, now it does exist. Won’t ever be perfect, but it might be memorable.

So, What's Happening With Your SciFi Pilot?
As of today (2/11/2016), THE RELIEF has finished as a Top 10 Finalist in the 2015 ScreenCraft Pilot Launch, 12th Place in the 2015 Emerging Screenwriters Competition, and has progressed to the Quarter and Semi-Final rounds with Fresh Voices and Stage32.
What Else Are You Writing?
My other writing projects currently include: the femme fatale short story “Turn Off” (also a Quarter-Finalist with ScreenCraft), the 1/2hr animated action-comedy “Nostalgia Squad”, and a feature screenplay based on one of the great, unsung military miracles of World War II.
And then...?
Win a contest with “The Relief”, gain traction with my other projects, acquire literary representation, and above all, keep punching those keys!

Right on, Write on…

When To Say No

ross-denyer-hiking-vasquez-rock Last month, I wrote about taking a “Leap of Faith”, so it’s interesting to consider the alternative.

Recently, I faced a dilemma. I was really wrestling with a stressful situation, and it wasn’t until I sat with myself and asked uncensored questions that I realized what was preventing me from making a decision – my fear of saying “no”. I won’t speak for everyone, but I’ve been conditioned to believe that “no” is negative (“It’s what lazy people say! It’s what ignorant people say! It’s what cowardly people say!”), whereas “Yes” is the answer of go-getters, forward-thinkers, and champions (“Yes, and…” being the answer of champion improvisers). But now I realize that this is only one perspective.

when to say no

Here’s a different perspective: every “no” allows the opportunity for a “yes” somewhere else. If I were to say “yes” to everything, I would soon have time for nothing. I realized that a fear of saying “no” was going to force me into an irreconcilable place where I could no longer say “yes” to what I really wanted. In essence, I was imprisoning myself. Hard to see at the time, but after contemplating my true desires, I realized I had only one authentic response. Making the decision to say “no” was scary at first, but almost immediately, I could feel relief on the horizon. I was no longer out of control, flailing in a sea of other people’s momentum. I had a say. And to bring my discovery full circle, my “no” was less of an end, and more of a beginning; a leap of faith, in a different direction. And I believe that will make all the difference.

Leap of Faith

xo-prelude-to-a-kiss-LACMA Why do we set our hearts on something, and then wander in another direction? Maybe we aren’t ready? Or maybe, we still don’t believe we’re ready.

I’m about to turn 27. In June, I celebrated my 4th anniversary in Los Angeles, the city I decided would be my home after graduating with a theatre arts degree in May 2011. Even before I was old enough to verbalize it, I wanted to be a storyteller. I thrived on imagination, on pretending to be something other. This is something all children do well, perhaps because the world is still so new to them – nothing is set, or permanent. Everything changes. Maybe that’s why I enjoy working with children: they remind me to step outside of my certainty, which despite their reverence for me being a “grownup”, is really not very certain at all. But like actors, grownups are often good at pretending everything’s under control.

ross denyer turns five years old

22 years ago, celebrating my 5th birthday in style!

The past few years, I’ve been very uncertain. I always told myself it would be a tough business, and so many people told me the same. But no amount of preparation equates to the experience: you will be rejected, constantly, even if you do good work. Often times, you won’t even be given the opportunity to show if you can do good work. I’ve kept track of all my auditions, writing down not only the technical stuff down like where/when/who and whether or not I booked it, but also how it felt. It’s remarkable to look back on some of these notes (and to be transported back into those rooms) and remember these intense blips of joy/sadness/longing/frustration/(hopefully well-hidden) desperation! In my first couple of years in Los Angeles, I auditioned a lot (over 100 times, which as an unrepresented non-union actor is a statistic I’m proud of), and I booked a lot too, including my very first audition (that was an incomparable thrill, I truly felt like a child again!) But for various reasons, the past two years have been a bit more of a wandering, which I now believe was necessary: I needed greater stability, and (perhaps more importantly) I needed to trust myself.

In the process of finding those qualities, I became more involved with tutoring and for two years, I worked at an educational center helping young children to read. My tutoring expanded into other companies and freelance, and continues to be a source of financial stability and deep personal satisfaction. But while I was at this tutoring center, during the summers, the hours were long and intense, and my ability to film something or even get out for auditions was stunted. It’s true that in the past two years I found time for other creative avenues – I co-produced and directed a web series in New York, I won a scholarship to a screenwriting workshop and wrote a sci-fi pilot…and yet, I was afraid that I’d strayed from my reasons for coming to Los Angeles.

wanderer-above-the-sea-of-fog

“Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” (1818), by Caspar David Friedrich. Metaphorically, I think we’ve all been here.

My love for storytelling has led me back to the writings of Joseph Campbell many times. In The Power of Myth, he says:

“The achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s really a manifestation of his character. It’s amusing the way in which the landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one that he gets … The adventure evoked a quality of his character that he didn’t know he possessed.”

At the end of May, I quit my job of two years at this tutoring center, just before its busiest summer season. In June, I struggled to adapt to that loss of stability, which included losing many other regular tutoring clients for the summer season. I submitted to auditions regularly, sought stability where I could, and questioned my potentially foolish decision to take “a leap of faith”. But in July, just a few weeks ago, things started to change: I was getting auditions, and I was booking them. After months of barely even getting in the room, let alone getting the role, I won three parts in the same week. Last week, I was on set for two different projects every day. And I was so happy, because it felt like my desire had reconnected with my existence. It wasn’t until I was sitting down for dinner with friends, and they asked me about my recent adventures, that I realized what had changed: “for whatever reasons, I just feel ready now”. Joseph Campbell was right.

xo-santa-monica-beach-ross-denyer

A still from the short film ‘XO’, in production. Pictured on Santa Monica beach with actress Tara Brown.

Digital Me

RossDenyer-as-Nikola-Tesla-TheOrder-1886 Two and a half years ago, I sat in a chair for several hours while a wall of cameras photographed me from every possible angle simultaneously. But it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally got to see the digital me.

As it turns out, my facial likeness is being used for a fictional incarnation of real-life inventor Nikola Tesla in an alternate-history, steampunk-esque Victorian London – replete with Tesla coil guns, walkie talkies, amazing muttonchops, and lycans (yeah….werewolves). I’m talking about the E3 wunderkind and upcoming PlayStation 4 title, The Order: 1886, set to release next month.

So how does Tesla factor into the story? Well, from what I can glean from behind-the-scenes videos, he’s kind of like the Victorian equivalent of ‘Q’ from the James Bond series. He supplies the story’s protagonists with all the latest tech, ranging from advanced weaponry to an early form of wireless communication. Find out more about the real and re-imagined versions of the legendary inventor below:

It’s funny, because this is actually the second time I’ve played the father of alternating current. The first occasion was in 2009 with “Potential”, an experimental 10-minute play created through SITI Company in Saratoga Springs, NY. But far removed from a theatre performance, it’s been an interesting experience seeing my face come to life in pixel-form, not knowing when or how it will impact the story. If you ever play the game, I suppose that’s up to you!

Thanksgiving

happy ross I’m a fan of seasons. Los Angeles is not known for them (let’s be real), but I like new seasons not just for a change in weather, but also a change of perspective. On Thanksgiving Day, ten years ago, my family had much to be grateful for – we’d just moved out of a tiny rental house into a new home. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, our family home has a breathtaking view and enjoys occasional visits from deer and black bears (we appreciate the latter from the safety comfort of our deck). I don’t think I would have appreciated the home nearly as much if I’d grown up with it. Part of me wonders if I would have taken it for granted. It wasn’t the place, but the journey getting there, that put the experience in perspective. It was the journey that created a source for my gratitude.

A view from our family home in North Carolina

Likewise, on any given day, it’s easy for me to take my existence in Los Angeles for granted. I remember driving across the country, watching everything around me change. I remember the shocked bliss of booking my very first audition out here (on the spot!) I remember so many frustrations with a culture I didn’t (and don’t) always understand, and anxiety about a profession that harbors no guarantees. It’s easy to forget how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. But I enjoy success, in that I still pursue what matters most to me. I have people in my life who love me deeply, and for whom I care immeasurably. The unknowns of my career choices remain anxiety-inducing, at times, but they also exhilarate me. It’s not so much the objects of my pursuit, but the chase itself that nourishes me.

Perspective aside (hah), there are some really specific, exciting achievements happening in my life right now!

1) Recognition for The Verge, in the form of a “Best Drama” win at Atlanta Web Fest last month. My good friend and Verge creator Mark St. Cyr, is pretty psyched, as you can see from that winning smile! :D
Verge Creator Mark St Cyr sporting our Atlanta Web Fest win

2) I’ve written a one hour sci-fi drama pilot and successfully pitched it to two top-level entertainment execs. What’s it about? Well, discretion is the better part of mystery…

Fade in, and then ...

3) When I’m not typing away at a computer or navigating a set, I get to work with kids. I’ve always loved connecting with them, and teaching (truly) is one of the best ways to learn. And they teach me plenty (such as reminding me to pay attention!)

Minion and me It’s been a busy year with unpredictable ups and downs, but it feels good (and truthful) to say that my life is better than it’s ever been and I am blessed to enjoy it with the people I love while nurturing the dreams I desire!

Learning the Ropes, Part I: Director’s Chair

“The directing of a picture involves coming out of your individual loneliness and taking a controlling part in putting together a small world.”John Huston

Ross as Director, on the set of 'The Verge' “Overwhelmed” was my strongest feeling the day before we began filming The Verge. I’d just arrived in New York City (along with my good friend and Verge cinematographer, Tony), discovered our lead actress was in Chicago filming a guest star role on ABC’s Betrayal, and our production meeting, while a success, reminded me just how much unknown territory I was about to step into.

I’d directed a couple of short films back in North Carolina, but these were the epitome of micro-budget productions (a few hundred dollars). I’d made these films with a handful of passionate friends, and fulfilled most of the production duties myself, from camera operation to editing (and even acting, in one of them). I’m proud of those films, I enjoyed making them and learned so much, but the stakes were pretty low. Now, I had a 60 page script, 10 days to film it, a cast and crew of 20+ professionals, and a modest few thousand for the budget.

Ross Denyer directing The Verge in Harlem.

On set in Harlem, day three of filming.

I discovered very early that, yes, it’s totally true – things can and will go wrong! But I also discovered, to my great relief, that if you surround yourself with “good people”, these problems are always workable or at least work-around-able. We had a lot go wrong: rescheduling the entire shoot in less than 48hours to accommodate our lead actress (who was totally worth it, she was amazing when she got on set!), talking our way out of a misunderstanding with building management and NYPD (full credit to producer/writer/star/champ Mark St. Cyr on that one!), speedily repairing our Nikon’s damaged image sensor, surviving an SDHC card failure, getting thrown out of a location we thought we had but managing to change the script and get a *better* location for the remaining scenes, and so many other victories in the face of disaster. People rallied, and it made my job easier.

Lighting Test in Harlem

Serving as a lighting subject for our cinematographer, Tony, who pushed the Nikon D800 to the limits and captured some beautiful images.

What would I do differently next time? Well, first of all, I’d make more time for the actors. I was so engrossed with the technical aspects of shooting in locations I’d never visited before (some of which, including an impossibly cramped kitchen, inspired creative solutions, see picture below). I was managing sound, light, and continuity, and I felt neglectful of my actors. Fortunately, they were all amazing, had done their homework, and brought their best to set every day, but as an actor myself, I know what a difference it makes to be actively supported and pushed by a director. That enables good performances to become great ones. Next time!

Creative camera angles on The Verge using Nikon d800

Never underestimate the usefulness of fruit cups on a film set!

A year later, I’m proud to say The Verge has done very well for itself. It’s been accepted to six film festivals and counting, won “Best Drama” at Atlanta Web Festival last month, was featured in print and online in Backstage Magazine, and is currently in 2nd Place for First Glance Film Festival’s “It’s a Short” contest, which ends next weekend.

One Year Later... Verge Accomplishments

From Left to Right: (1) The Verge featured in Backstage, (2) Mark, Tali, Pamela, and Maxwell on the red carpet at Ocktober Film Fest in NYC, (3) The Verge wins ‘Best Drama’ at ATL Web Fest

What’s next on my plate, directorially-speaking? That remains to be seen, but I won’t deny I have stories in mind. But right now, I have some more immediate stories coming to life in an editing suite and behind a writer’s desk. In Part 2 of Learning the Ropes, I’ll share some of my adventures in editing…

Learning the Ropes

Ross Denyer directing The Verge on set in New York, October 2013

The last few months can be summarized as trial and error, discovery and reinvention, looking in and pushing on: a lot has happened.

Consider this an introduction. I’m going to devote a three-part series of blog posts to these developing artistic avenues: director, editor, and writer. Stepping back to take in the big picture, here’s some of what’s happened in the 5 months since my last blog post:

Post Production on The Verge
Festival Selection and Series Premiere
A Successful Kickstarter Campaign
Screenwriting Contest Winner

NYFA Screenwriting Workshop

Color Correction and Editing

More to share in the coming weeks!

I don’t just want to create, I must

ross-denyer-directing-the-verge I woke up this morning to discover Peter O’Toole had died. Watching him as King Henry II in The Lion in Winter, I didn’t think it was possible to love and hate a character so equally. When I experienced Lawrence of Arabia for the first time last year, part of me longed for the three and a half hour film to continue. And as an animated character, he was capable of delivering one of the most heartfelt monologues of all time in Ratatouille. I keep a mental list of individuals I really want to meet someday, and Peter O’Toole had been on it. We even share a birthday. According to his New York Time obituary, when he was 18, he wrote a self-addressed ultimatum:

“I will not be a common man. I will stir the smooth sands of monotony. I do not crave security. I wish to hazard my soul to opportunity.”

nothing is written, he said

In October, I directed The Verge in New York City. Now back in Los Angeles, I’ve been burning the midnight oil working with post-production to translate those experiences into a finished story. Some filmmakers hate the process of editing, but I enjoy it. Seeing possibilities shift back and forth in a digital timeline, the ability to change perception in seconds. But it’s exhausting. And because it’s digital, my computer screen can sneakily drag my focus out of the real world. When that happens, creation gives way to pure analysis. Dangerous, if I lose sight of the purpose. In Letters to a Young Poet, I have a favorite quote which I return to at times like this:

a work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity

It’s been a cold winter (by LA standards), so when the sun came shining on Friday morning and the day was mine to make, I went for a walk. On the UCLA campus, not far from me, hides a surprisingly intimate botanical garden. I had just received an email from Vimeo about the latest “Weekend Challenge” to visually express words untranslatable. With my cellphone, and some advice from a good friend in the back of my mind, I returned to creation.

The joy of making something is incomparable. And to be an artist, it’s not simply a question of want, it’s a matter of need. I need to eat, I need to exercise, I need to sleep, I need to create. They are all of equal importance and I’m not my whole self when I forget. They should be a daily part of me.

It’s just like Chef Gusteau says in Ratatouille: “Anyone can cook.” Or create. Or inspire. And I must.

Changing Gears

If blog updates are anything to go by, you might suspect it’s been all quiet on the western coast – but this is not the case.

ross-denyer-director-for-the-verge-web-series I’ve been working feverishly behind the scenes on a passion project with my good friend and fellow Elon alum, Mark St. Cyr. He’s making it happen in NYC and last March he came to stay with me in LA for a few days to attend a national callback for Space Command. During that transformative weekend, he mentioned a web series he was writing called The Verge. Here’s the synopsis:

On the verge of success, what would you leave behind to get ahead? Gambling the happiness of his loved ones against the success of his career, a young actor must navigate a minefield of ambition, delusion, and precarious loyalty to decide what matters most.

Fast forward, Tony Scott-montage style, to 6 months later: we have a 7-episode first season, a cast of 10 selected from more than 5,000 online submissions (!!), an experienced crew covering all aspects of production, locations locked, [self]funding complete, and filming underway in Manhattan by this time next week…and I’m directing.

I love story-telling. I’ve been obsessed with films and the art of movie-making for as long as I can remember, and several of my film idols and inspirations (Clint Eastwood, John Huston, Kenneth Branagh, and most recently Joseph Gordon-Levitt) have found a way to navigate the medium from both sides of the camera.

“It is impossible not to be passionate about a story as personal to me as The Verge, especially when it was introduced by a friend who shares that same desire for connection and relevance.”
I’ve directed and produced two short films through my production company, Little Kraken Films (Just Desserts in 2010 and Quiet Mountain in 2012), but this is surely the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted. It’s impossible not to be passionate about a story as personal to me as The Verge, especially when it was introduced by a friend who shares that same desire for connection and relevance. The great thing about working in LA for a couple of years before jumping aboard a project like this is having a network of talented friends in all aspects of production – three of The Verge’s key positions (cinematographer, editor, and composer) are all individuals I’ve worked with previously. And many of the other positions have the same in common with Mark. This is a dream team, bicoastal ensemble and I’m ecstatic to be working with all of them on the same set.

And just in case you’re wondering if this is a stop to acting, it most certainly isn’t. But since nobody told me that producing and directing a self-financed, feature length web series was a full-time, non-paying job…I’ve had to focus my priorities.

Exciting updates are on the way, but for now, it’s back to the trenches.

Want to support us? Like ‘The Verge’ on Facebook and spread the word! More information about the series can be found on our website at www.VergeSeries.com.