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
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!

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.