Director Terence Nance inspires young creators

By CHARLOTTE WOOD | October 31, 2019

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PEABODY AWARDS/CC BY-SA 3.0 Terence Nance is a director known for the HBO series Random Acts of Flyness.

This past Friday I had the pleasure of taking a seat in the Parkway’s main theater — which is a pleasure in and of itself as the place is gorgeous — and watching some truly amazing work from TV writer, director and creator Terence Nance.

If Nance isn’t on your radar, he should be. He is the mastermind behind the HBO series Random Acts of Flyness, which is one of the coolest, most inventive and innovative series on television right now. It is an avant garde, surrealist, late-night sketch comedy show about life in contemporary America, specifically for the African American community. It is bizarre, hilarious, well-written, visually stunning and entirely singular. If you’re in need of something new to watch, you should add this to your list.

He also wrote, directed and starred in the semi-animated, comedy-drama-romance film An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, a breakout hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012. The piece is about an artist who gets stood up by a woman, makes a film about it and shows it to her. It is, like the rest of Nance’s work, striking and bizarre, but with such heart and humor that it draws you in. It is personal and honest and earnest without being cheesy. It is, more than anything, new.

Nance represents this new wave of young creatives in and around Hollywood. He’s on the cusp of something incredible. Better yet, he was there to speak between screenings about his process and inspirations. I particularly enjoyed the return to some of Nance’s early work, which he made when he was my age. Although he is young and he is still considered an up-and-comer, I was struck by the fact that after many of his early clips he would say, “Wow, I barely remembered that. I haven’t seen that in ages.”

He is so prolific, and is clearly working so hard and with such frequency, he hasn’t thought about films he made five years ago in what feels like decades. That was inspiring to me, because hopefully by the time I’m his age, I will have had a career fruitful enough and busy enough that I’ll feel like my work from college was a million years ago. We watched some of his early music videos which have stuck with me ever since.

The way that he works with music and choreography, facets of film often neglected in favor of camerawork, lighting or traditional performance, is indicative of how his view of what film is or can be is fundamentally different from that of so many other filmmakers working right now. He seems to see music not as an accessory to film, but as its equal. He seems to see film as an expression or illustration of music, as its codependent collaborator. Traces of these early works can definitely be seen in his more recent work, particularly in Random Acts of Flyness, which uses music and choreography in lots of new and interesting ways.

Many audience members were young, aspiring filmmakers (myself included), and he seemed particularly conscious of who he was talking to. It was comforting knowing that he was once in our shoes, and that someday — perhaps someday soon — we might be in his. I was struck by a particularly profound gesture he made during the Q&A portion of the night.

One young filmmaker asked for advice about how to get started, especially when she felt like no one really cared to see her work or hear her voice. He asked the audience, “Who here cares about hearing her voice?” The question was met with raucous applause. This one moment reinforced the fact that Terence Nance is committed to the future of filmmaking, the future of storytelling and, in short, the future. Learn his name now, because I’m certain he isn’t going anywhere.

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