The Dancing Rabbit; Derek Carranza
Raised in Southern California, Derek attended the Mae West Drama school at age 15, now defunct, where he found representation with Todd Turzo at Encino Talent, an also now defunct agency. Over the course of that year Derek auditioned for big brands like Nike, adidas, Nintendo, Dr. Pepper, and Quaker Oats cereals, to name a few.
Once 18, after deciding acting wasn’t for him, Derek attended Cal Poly Pomona, where he obtained a bachelors and Master’s degree in Biological Sciences and even taught Human Anatomy there for four years. Always a fan of films and fiction novels, plus with the added experience of thesis writing and teaching, this influenced Derek’s attitude toward conveying information, and storytelling.
A few years ago, Derek made the decision to return to the entertainment business, in a different capacity: screenwriter and director.
Since leaving his job as a Professor, Derek has dedicated his time to writing several scripts and making films, which is how Derek got his first work – PEPPERBOX REVOLVER – optioned by producers. During this time, and before, he also worked on several videos for GIER PRODUCTIONS, in many capacities.
Furthermore, Derek is also an alumni for Jimmy Lifton at LIMSLA, where he took part in several productions that have included talent like Viveca A. Fox, Adrian Paul, Joe Montegna, and Nichelle Nichols.
He continued writing other works until eventually making his first feature. The low budget I FEAR NO BEAST, which opened at the IFS film festival to great response.
Currently, he’s in pre-production on his second feature.
What are you working on now that you’re excited about?
I’m currently working on a few projects, but the one I’m most excited about at the moment is a small contained crime mystery thriller called CAFÉ MONTEVIDEO. This is the one I’m working very hard on to get made at the moment. We’ll see it soon.
Why did you get into the entertainment industry?
For me it started back in 2003 with Kill Bill Vol. I. I was 21. Before that, I was in college, trying to make my way into Dental School, then I went to the theater on the Friday it opened and it was like holy crap! I knew from that point what I wanted to do, which was to make these commercial auteur vehicles that were all written and directed by me. As soon as the picture started, I was in on it. I got it instantly. I knew what Tarantino was trying to do in a way I hadn’t noticed before. He was paying homage to everything he loved and cared for, including himself. Before that, I didn’t think that was a thing. I certainly didn’t think you could make a profession out of directing movies like that. I said, I think I can do my own version of that. I want it to be funny and exciting and tense and engaging. Definitely pay homage, but go entirely my own way. That’s how it started for me. Now, I didn’t necessarily know what my own style would be, I just knew I had to work hard to find it. It took years, but it was worth it.
What was the first project you worked on?
It was an original screenplay I wrote called Pepperbox Revolver. It was a low-budget heist film. I wrote it with the intention of directing it myself, but when I got offered to get it optioned by actual producers, I couldn’t resist. I let it go. Well, I was actually talked out of it, but I didn’t resist much, because I knew I wasn’t ready to do a serious one yet. I was still developing my own signature. In the end, they paid me to rewrite it and optioned it for two years.
How did you find the optioning experience?
I saw many crime films, noirs, westerns, behind the scenes interviews and documentaries and decided that I needed to write something low-budget that had some punch to it. At the time, that was the best idea I could come up with. Thank God I let it go. Now, I look back on it and I realize why. It wasn’t that good. It was primer of who I wanted to be. But, at least it got me noticed.
What were your goals when you started Pepperbox Revolver?
My goals at the beginning, whether I knew how to articulate them or not, were to find my signature style. My personal niche. Define my uniqueness if you will. Even before writing that thing that sold for a lot of money and got recognized. I knew I didn’t want to be like everyone else, that much I did know, even when I tried to. I also wanted to learn and socialize with others who had similar goals in order to learn.
What are your future goals?
At this point, I have several screenplays in several stages of development, including CAFÉ MONTEVIDEO. I would really like to get all of them made, maybe not direct all of them, but certainly putting them in front of an audience. I think this is gonna help direct my original objective within the industry, which is to be that auteur director whose work is seen by lots of people.
What kind of school did you originally go to? And do you regret not going to film school?
I went to a polytechnic school where I majored in Biological Sciences. The plan was to go to Dental School and follow in my dad’s footsteps, but that really wasn’t what I wanted. Then I thought I’d be a teacher, which I eventually did for a few years, then I just decided to stop kidding myself and dove into the entertainment business, which is what I really wanted for myself.
Well, I think people should do what they feel they’re ready for with no pressure. If you want to go to film school and build yourself up, then by all means do that, but if you feel ready to play along with professionals and learn by doing, then I think diving into the industry is the path for you.
What advice would you give to a prospective student who is applying to film school?
Learn all you can, but definitely make your own movies. It never hurts. I did. No one’s gonna make them for you.
I always wanted to write and direct my own films. That’s still the goal.
What difficulties did you encounter in Hollywood?
Well, first of all, this is an industry (entertainment) where you really have to know people. A simple resume won’t do it. Moreover, it’s an industry where no one wants to help you get ahead. And no one wants to pay you for anything. Everyone wants you to help THEM get ahead and pay THEM. I mean, I understand it. Everyone has dreams. We’re all selfish. The challenge is that you have to be persistent and make things happen for yourself. Keeping that energy up. Waiting around for others to help you is a bad way to go about it, I think, here or anywhere. But especially here. If you want something done, you have to really sell yourself along with it.
What did you do for a day job while looking for showbiz work?
I’ve been a teacher, an insurance broker, a busser, a courier, a waiter, cashier. I’ve had lots of day jobs.
When did you decide to stop working for free?
As soon I got my first work optioned. That script wasn’t even that good, yet someone was willing to pay me for it. Why would I go back to doing free work? My writing would only get better, I thought.
So far all the scripts I’ve written have been on spec. It’s the only way I know I can write exactly what I want. But hey, look, I’m not opposed to working on assignment, it’s just that if you’re not into the project you’re writing or the direction it’s going, or the people with whom you’re doing business, then why get involved? Money only provides so much motivation.
I’m currently working on CAFÉ MONTEVIDEO. This is a confined crime thriller with elements of mystery, suspense, romance, character study and comedy. By confined I mean that it all takes place in a steakhouse. It’s an odd little duck, but a very entertaining one that I think is far above average. I think this is exactly what I always wanted to make with my first optioned work – Pepperbox Revolver – it’s just that I didn’t know enough and wasn’t refined enough as a writer at that point. I mean, it’s a completely different story and has completely different characters, but the energy of what I wanted drove it, I think. It’s an idiosyncratic signature piece that exemplifies everything I like about movies and then some, plus it’s probably the first purest creation that I wrote. Everything I’ve written after that has been more enjoyable to find.
What are the biggest mistakes a person can make when they first start working in the industry?
I think not improving and being lazy are the two biggest errors people make when they “break in.” Resting on your laurels is unfortunately how many people in the business fade away never recover. Look, if you make it in, that’s great, but then something else has to keep you there. Consistency in your work is a must. So overtime if you don’t learn or collaborate with other talented people, I think you’re shutting yourself off and won’t go beyond a certain point. Always learn how to do it better, keep entertaining people and avoid doing what you don’t want to do.
What’s the biggest thing you depend on, on set?
You mean besides the equipment and the script? Well, I don’t really have a thing I depend on, like a personal thing. No. Well, maybe my sense of humor. That definitely gets me through the day, always. I like making people laugh. That also comes through in my work, I think.
Did someone ever try to take advantage of your inexperience in Hollywood?
Yes. There was one work I got optioned a while back where one of the producers wasn’t fully aware of the terms of our contract and tried pushing me down over the phone when I asked for my option money. He was yelling and insulting. I told him to settle down, then when he wouldn’t I just swore at him, quit and ended the call. I was done and I meant it. About an hour later the other producer called and patched things up with me and got me paid.
Did you ever pay for a program that promised big results to help further your career, but it never delivered?
I once paid a line producer to make me a schedule and budget for $600.00 and he did a very poor job, so I fired him, then hired someone else [at Greater & Grander] who charged me less and did a way better job.
Did you ever come across a project or a person that looked promising, and then the whole thing blew up in your face?
A couple times. Mainly the one I just mentioned. That was the worst. The telling signs are when they seem standoffish or you feel you’re not welcome by them on the project; they won’t tell you certain things. They’re not friendly. It’s all in the energy that they project. In that case, from the very beginning I felt unwelcome. They thought of me as “just the writer.” It was all in how they dealt with me.
What did you do?
When he insulted me. That was the last straw. I quit. I meant it. It wasn’t a ploy, a game or a bit for me. When they called me back and ended up giving me what I wanted, I learned a lot.
Did anyone ever approach you and say they would offer you a job if you slept with them?
No, nothing like that. And I’m a little insulted, to be honest. (laugh) No, I’m kidding.
The BEST part of my job is finishing a project or getting it made. Even while you’re on set getting it made. It feels like you’re actually accomplishing something. It’s tangible. The worst part is when you’re gathering all the elements together; the writing of the script, the gathering of funds, the talent referrals, etc. It’s a lot of work.
Did you ever embarrass yourself in a job interview?
As a P.A. on a show I did once. I took a nap after my duties were done. That was not seen well. They still invited me back the next day to work though, so it all worked out.
Did you ever meet someone casually at a club that wound up leading to a great job, or a major step in your career?
Never at a club, but definitely online and on other sets. I met a few great people online which turned out to be people I’m collaborating with on Café Montevideo. One of them I met on a set that I was a part of a long time ago. Also, my first script option was done through people I met online.
How would you advise people to network?
Wherever you meet like-minded people, be sure to keep their contact information and reach out when you need them. Don’t be embarrassed to call and say hi even once in a while if nothing’s going on and definitely try to elicit other contacts from them that might be of use to you. Make sure it’s synergistic, too. You might have something THEY want.
If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently?
I would’ve started doing this when I was a teenager instead of at 30. (laugh) The quicker the better.
What motto do you try to live your life by?
A motto? I don’t really have a motto. Well, maybe something cheesy like:
LIVE AND LET LIVE. (laugh) There is something I do live by though, which is: be cordial and polite, but don’t just make friends with anyone. Not everyone’s friendship or acquaintance can lead to something. You also have to learn how to read people’s energy quickly. If it matches yours, then it could lead to something fruitful. If you spend too much time being casual, you’ll never go your own way or reach what you want. Things are earned, not given.
Where’s your favorite place in Los Angeles?
Definitely going to the New Beverly Cinema or the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. I just love seeing films on 35mm, they way, I think, they were intended to be seen.
Where can people find you and your work online?
You can go to my youtube page online at Oranje Pictures. It’s spelled with a J, not a G. Or type in Derek Carranza. You’ll see my work there. Or go to filmfreeway.com. All my work is on there, too.
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