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
Having finished directing The Verge in October, the last few months have been a marathon of post-production: working with a composer, editor, co-producer, publicity outlets, social media, and festivals. Speaking of festivals (see below)…
Festival Selection and Series Premiere
The Verge premiered at LA Web Festival in March, aired Season 1 on YouTube (April 3rd – May 15th), and is now an Official Selection at the inaugural Austin Web Festival.
A Successful Kickstarter Campaign
As an editor and web-designer, I’ve worked extensively on the publicity and (successful!) Kickstarter campaign for EgoManiac: A Poetic Incantation. An original play by Paul Moore, it debuts at the Hollywood Fringe Festival next Friday, June 6th and you can purchase tickets online via The Fringe website.
Screenwriting Contest Winner
On December 16th (the day after my last entry), my screenplay one-sheet concept was selected as a Write-Start Contest Winner! I was 1 of 8 screenwriters awarded a full scholarship for an 8-week screenwriting workshop at the New York Film Academy’s Burbank campus.

NYFA Screenwriting Workshop

Color Correction and Editing
After completing Season 1 of The Verge, I’ve started seeking out new projects to edit and color through my production company, Little Kraken Films. I’ve created a 1-minute reel to show some of what I can do.

More to share in the coming weeks!

L.A. Anniversary

One year later, and so much has happened. A tennis match to the death, a tour of duty with the merchant marines, a dreamy encounter with the wild west, heated arguments and emotional blackmail, wild parties on Big Bear Lake, getting lost in the woods, a rather embarrassing incident in an elevator, a few ghosts, a giant, alien spider, and a really unfortunate first date (not my fault she went and got herself kidnapped by The Creature from the Murky Depths).

Okay, fortunately that all seems to have occurred between “action” and “cut,” but truth be told it’s been a wild, exciting first year in Los Angeles with some ambitious projects in development (and maybe a few behind the scenes). Currently, in the midst of filming the genre-savvy B-movie musical Attack of the Tropes which is an absolute blast. Vocals for the musical numbers have been recorded, my first day of filming is complete, and I’ve got three more coming up – as both Brad and a certain “creature” (from the murky depths!)

Summertime

Moving Boxes short film

June in Los Angeles, and it’s heating up. I’m coming up to one year on the West Coast but it feels like much longer (that’s a good thing!) Most recently, I was cast as a lead in a retro Sci-Fi musical short film, Attack of the Tropes! It’s not an easy one to describe, but it feels like it’s somewhere between Grease and a Mel Brookes film (excellent!) Lots of double-entendres and ’60s B-movie goodness!

In the continuing trend of internet casting (which is how I jumped aboard director Ken Gregg’s Moving Boxes, more on that below), Attack of the Tropes! director Carl Pinder requested an audition after discovering my profile on Stage 32 (a fairly new social networking site for entertainment industry professionals, which is definitely on the up and up!) I loved the story and musical numbers, auditioned, and the rest is in pre-production. To read about the casting process from the other side of the table, check out Carl’s blog entry on his film production website, Rubicon Crossing.

As for Moving Boxes (which wrapped filming in Prescott, AZ, a few weeks ago), director Ken Gregg recently released the first still from the finished short (see below):

Moving Boxes short film
Andrew McFadden (as Mike the delivery guy) and Ross Denyer (as the hapless, hopeless Daniel) star in the upcoming Moving Boxes.

 

I also just had word from co-star Nicole Neuman that the Ghostbusters 3 iPhone Promo we featured in last December is currently a finalist in the 2012 Cannes Future Lions Competition! Winners will be announced on June 22nd. To get the latest updates, check out the Future Lions facebook page and visit director Tyler Jensen’s online portfolio for some more examples of his innovative commercial work.

That’s all for now, but with 3 projects in post-production and 2 up-coming film shoots, I’m very happy to say summer’s just started!

When it Rains

April has been a busy month for me, and I couldn’t be happier. Just wrapped filming last weekend as the lead in a romantic-comedy short in Prescott, Arizona and this weekend I’m acting in a serialized Sci-Fi feature film, complete with green screen, giant spaceship sets, and aliens! I’ve been auditioning on a regular basis, my short film “Quiet Mountain” has been released on Vimeo and YouTube and is now featured on IMDb as it makes its way to a few film festivals (fingers crossed), and some projects I filmed last year are beginning to get released.

But perhaps the most remarkable moments of April have happened when I least expected them. I’ve met some really fantastic people on set, off set, in coffee shops, karaoke bars, airplanes, shuttle buses, and even just walking down the street. I’ve met like-minded souls, complete-opposites, seriously funny people, and intensely committed artists. I also received this pearl of wisdom from a man I worked with: “I have a story as we all do and it’s made me who I am, and when i get the chance to be with people who allow that self to come out, brilliance happens.”

I believe our best work happens when we are our truest selves. And it’s so much easier for our true selves to make an appearance when we create an environment of mutual respect and undying curiosity. It’s a tough world, but sometimes a gentle touch is more helpful … and disarming.

One last pearl, from a brave and gentle storyteller: “Grace is not a matter of time. It is a matter of timing.”

Here are a few “new releases” (which somehow feel so very long ago):

Ghostbusters 3 Phone App Promo from Ross Denyer on Vimeo.

Ross Denyer appears with Nicole Neuman in a promo for a Ghostbusters 3 smartphone app. Directed by Tyler Jensen.

“Tennis” (short film, 2011) from Ross Denyer on Vimeo.

"Tennis" is an experimental short film about a high-stakes tennis match …. to the death! Directed by Darren Herczeg. Ross Denyer features as a member of the Black Guard. Filmed on location in Malibu, CA.*

*I’m the one in the white facepaint.