Craig Ross began directing seven years ago with a degree from NYU and a $2,500 loan from his mother. He parlayed that to become one of the hottest directors in indies and television. His story is the stuff show business is made of.
His feature credits include the well-reviewed film, Tracey Townsend, and the powerful Blue Hill Avenue. His television directing credits include Bones and Standoff for Fox, Crossing Jordan (NBC), and Cold Case (CBS). This season he’s worked on The 4400 for USA and Lincoln Heights for ABC Family. He’s currently on K-Ville, again for Fox. Next season, Prison Break for Fox, Numbers for CBS, and another Fox show. Busy man.
Craig came to prominence with his first feature, the gripping film Cappuccino, which he also wrote. “Believe it or not, Cappuccino cost $10,000, a lot less than some of the shorts I’ve shot,” Craig recalls. “I knew all the shortcuts, and most importantly, how to make things look expensive when they really weren’t.”
But he’s quick to add, “It was hard. My mom had sold a painting, she’s an artist. She said I can give you $2,500, and so that is what I started with. It was a small, gritty noir kind of film. Once we had written the script I started reaching out to people I knew to find my locations, and I got them practically for free. I knew a documentary filmmaker who shot on film. He told me I could have use of his sound equipment and his camera for $400, and I could have it for as long as I wanted. I then found a lighting company that would give me any spare lights that they had as long as I had insurance. A friend of mine went out of town, and he had a small little truck which had an open pickup in the back. It was really tiny, but it held all my lights and everything.”
Shooting anything for only $10,000 is pretty unbelievable, but then, once the final cut is complete, what do you do with it? “Well,” Craig says with a smile on his face, “I sold it out of the trunk of my car. A distributor bought a copy, saw it and said he could probably get this into Blockbuster for me. So I did a deal with them and they put it into Blockbuster. It did well. It took me two and a half years to do the project. Then, it was about another two years before I got another feature.”
Craig’s remarkable ability to create high production value on a minimal budget is one of the keys to his success. “Once I had done my second feature, Blue Hill, I started to take small budget films for studios – under three million dollars. And I did that for another three years. But I knew that was going to dry up and I was going to have to do something else. And I was lucky to be able to turn my independent film career into a TV career. Because if you want to make a regular living, it’s the way to go.”
As much as he loves shooting TV, get Craig talking about film and you see where his real creative fire burns. “I love noirish kind of thriller movies. Things with twists and turns and interesting endings you didn’t see coming. I like a lot of action, but I like them to be dark in some way.” Today, Craig still shoots independent films, and is now starting his own independent film company. “I’m hoping to be able to keep the balance between TV and features going, and to concentrate on building my company. Of course, I would love to do bigger features and more pilots.” And episodic TV? “Definitely,” says Craig. “TV has made me a better filmmaker. I call it dancing in a closet. You have to express yourself in a really small space, because you have so many constraints around you. But if you can really do your thing in a closet, give it your signature and creativity and deliver it as promised, then when it’s time to do your thing in a ballroom, you’re truly ready to break out.”
Craig has been a member of First Entertainment since 1991. “The credit union has been really good to me. My accounts are treated hands on, and when I call they absolutely answer the phone and get back to me right away and give me options. They handle situations for me all the time. When I need transfers or deposits made directly into my accounts because I’m on location, they accommodate me. I wouldn’t go anywhere else. It’s true. It absolutely is.”
Thanks, Craig. All of us look forward to watching your work for many years to come. No doubt you’ll soon be in that ballroom, and we can’t wait.