Veterans in Creative Careers: Ryan Curtis, Director (Army)

Ryan CurtisRyan is a Director/Producer living in Los Angeles. Originally starting off in the camera department, Ryan ascended through the ranks to Director of Photography and has DP’d multiple shows for Oprah on the OWN network and countless commercials. He has since transitioned to Directing, Producing and writing.

Recently, Ryan wrote and directed a short film for ABC and just wrapped a feature documentary that he produced and was the cinematographer. Ryan has produced and directed multiple commercials, music videos and brand integrated content through his production company and other companies based in LA and Las Vegas.

Some of his clients include:  Oprah, OWN, Audi, Under Armour, Honda, Ford, The Wynn Las Vegas, and Life is Beautiful.

Justin Sloan: I am glad to have you with us and look forward to sharing your advice with my readers. To get us started, please tell us about your time in the Army and what you feel that taught you.

Ryan Curtis: I was a US Army Engineer from 2001-2009 and deployed to Iraq from ’03-’04 and Egypt in ’05. The military taught me what life can be like outside of the US and how lucky we really are to live here.

JS: When you were still in the Army, did you know you wanted to be a director in Hollywood? How did the transition out go, and at what point did you fully commit to your film career?

RC: I had no idea. When I grew up I used to make movies with my friends – but I had no idea it was a legit career.  My transition had its ups and downs like everyone. There were a couple of years where I was just figuring it out and bouncing from job to job. I ended up as an extra on a few things – that turned into me doing a couple acting gigs on some terrible projects. I stepped back and thought, “I could do this better.” So from then on out I tried to get on every set I could and just worked my way up the ladder. The big moment for me was deciding to move to LA in 2010. I decided I’m either going to make it in the business or die trying.

JS: Do you feel your time in the military has been a help to your film career, and if so, how?

RC: Absolutely. The military was one of the best things I’ve done in my life. The leadership experience, confidence, people skills and work ethic learned in the military have directly had an impact in my civilian life. Film sets are stressful environments and can cripple a lot of people. It’s a sad thing to watch. I sit back and chuckle sometimes because I know that nothing will ever be as stressful as some situations I found myself in with the Army. I will say that having leadership experience has been a huge leg up for me as a director. Wouldn’t trade it for the world.

JS: What about the network – is there a bond among veterans in the industry that has helped you at all, or helped others that you have seen?

RC: There is definitely a growing network of military veterans in LA. A lot of us are part of an organization called Veterans in Film and Television ( It’s pretty amazing. Everyone is doing what they can to help one another and grow in the business.

Personally, some of my best friends in LA are veterans. It’s an unspoken trust and bond that’s shared that can’t be explained.

JS: I actually met you through the Veterans in Film and Television group. Have you been very involved with the group, or found people through it in the past?

RC: I try to stay involved as much as I can. There are monthly meetings that I attend and I post castings or other projects in the group.

I’ve also met some very great friends in the group. It’s a special place.

JS: For all the young military veterans or current service men and women who may be interested in pursuing a career in the film industry, what would be your advice?

RC: Get ready to put in the work. There are thousands upon thousands of people trying to do what you are. Military service is a great start but it’s not your golden ticket. You need to study your craft, educate yourself constantly and ALWAYS be making something.

JS: What are some characteristics or attitudes of veterans that you have seen help the most to survive in Hollywood?

RC: Leadership, the ability to handle stress, work ethic…  But it’s really about following your dream and making sure you do everything in your power to make it happen.

JS: Can you share a fun story from your time working in the industry?

RC: I was directing one of my first big projects. We scheduled two nights of shooting with the second night for aerial photography. Night one happens and it goes great. Night two comes along – It was huge. We shut down four city blocks, had about 300 extras, huge crew, everything was in motion. So we start building the camera on an octocopter for the aerial shots, place everyone in their positions and begin a test flight with camera on the octocopter.

About sixty seconds into the first flight the octocopter sparks and falls 40 ft out of the air, smashing the camera and lens.

Since it’s night we couldn’t replace anything. So we scrambled and somehow found a huge eighty foot lift and had to rewrite the script on the fly. Crazy. People were loosing their minds but we pushed through and still got a great product.

JS: Talk about stressful situations! I’m glad it worked out in the end. You have experience across the board, with directing, writing, producing, etc. What are your thoughts about the different roles and what should aspiring filmmakers consider when debating where to put their focus?

RC: It has helped me immensely to be able to do different roles. It’s allowed me to really learn the business inside and out. I would recommend to anyone getting in the business to try out as many jobs as you can… you never know what will stick.  Find where your passion is and then do it. You can’t be a director unless you direct things, you can’t be a writer unless you write things… bottom line is you have to be proactive and always be working toward your goals.

JS: Can you tell us about some upcoming projects you are excited about or anything you are currently promoting?

RC: I have a new show coming out called ‘Oscar Mike’ where we travel around to find military veterans working in really cool civilian jobs and spend a day with them. Things like stunt drivers, pilots, MMA fighters etc. They teach us a little about their job and talk about how the military helped them get to where we are. It’s really fun. You can check that out at starting this spring.

I also just finished a short film that will be doing the festival circuit and we have a few commercials that are in preproduction at the moment. Luckily we are busy.

JS: Thank you again, Ryan. I look forward to checking out your projects. This has been a wonderful interview and I certainly appreciate it. Do you have one last piece of advice to leave my readers with? Maybe something I forgot to ask about, or a summary of points you made above?

RC: No problem Justin, happy you had me.

The biggest thing I’ve learned is you have to just get out there and do what you love. The more you do, the better you get. The better you get, the more you do.


These interviews will appear in an upcoming book on military members and veterans in the world of entertainment. As you wait, please read my book Creative Writing Career, on Amazon.

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