Six years in remission from having cancer in my mid-twenties, I was bellied up to a downtown Los Angeles bar, lamenting the fickle and unforgiving industry I chose. It was January of 2014, and I was a cliche – a down-on-his-luck actor claiming creative relevance in LA with little more than a regional insurance commercial and a couple viral videos to my credit. And I was floating further and further away from the safe, sandy, care-free beaches of my twenties and into the deep sea of expectation that is life in your thirties. Do I hang it all up and shift focus away from the unstable pursuit of creativity or do I keep showing up to auditions with my head held high?
It was then that my best friend, Tom, bought another round of craft cocktails and encouraged me to make the stories from my theatre show, Highly Evolved Human, into web videos. In 2009, when I was still living in NYC, I wrote and performed a storytelling show about my cancer experience for the UCB Theatre. After moving to LA in 2010, I wrote the feature film version only to be told by my now former agents and managers that unless Ryan Gosling and Jennifer Lawrence attached to it, no one was going to make it. Tom encouraged me to take matters into my own hands. He reminded me of the ability web content has to connect to people and reminded me that I had made web content that was good – that even went viral. He also relayed to me just how funny he thought one of my cancer stories was – a story about my Dad taking me to bank sperm. I found it hilarious that I might be conceiving my child, alone in a tiny hospital room with my dad browsing Golf Digest in the adjacent waiting room. With Tom’s encouragement, I wrote three of my favorite stories from the show into videos and assembled a talented little team of filmmakers.
We shot them on random days over a few months that summer, whenever we could get locations and actors and the DP all together in one place without any real money. I came out of that summer with three deeply personal videos I was proud of and no idea what to do with them. I put them up on my personal YouTube channel and bought a Squarespace site to give them the best chance I could to succeed. I tried to get the word out, but without a platform, it was hard. I screened one of the videos at an event for new web series in Santa Monica, and a woman I met at the event encouraged me to check out SoulPancake – Rainn Wilson’s YouTube channel and creative agency specializing in thoughtful, positive content.
I looked Rainn Wilson up on IMDB Pro and saw that he was represented by an agent I knew personally at WME, so I wrote an email to that agent that included links to the three videos and the simple Squarespace site I had made. A week later, I was sitting in the SoulPancake offices signing a deal to license the original three videos and produce more original videos in the Highly Evolved Human series. I watched in awe as they reached the exact audience I wanted these stories to reach. We went into production for the next four episodes in April of 2015. While in production, Squarespace expressed interest in sponsoring the series. It came full circle. The company I used to present my personal videos in an affordable, professional way ended up underwriting the series on SoulPancake, a platform with over 1.5 million subscribers.
In July of 2015, we wrapped 4 more episodes – making 11 total – of sharply produced, thoughtful, original content all based in a personal tragedy I could have never anticipated would be the foundation of a new creative career. I owe Tom a round of craft cocktails.
About Nick Ross:
As a 26-year-old up-and-coming actor and comedian just getting started in New York, Nick Ross was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Naïve about cancer before his diagnosis, Nick got an education not only in the disease but also in himself. When a friend told him during his treatment, that he looked like a highly evolved version of a human, it sparked a great idea. Once he was finished with chemotherapy, Nick started telling stories about his experience and compiled them into an anthology called “Highly Evolved Human.”
Highly Evolved Human was initially written with Graeme Hinde as a storytelling show for New York City’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in 2009. After being featured by Newsweek, the show toured across the US, eventually ending the run at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre LA. The current video series is directed by Nate Smith and produced by SoulPancake.