Clayton Vila

NERVE (trailer for short film)

Clayton Vila

Greenpoint Pictures


What was your first professionally directed work and when was it? 
It’s hard to say because I’ve been making films my whole life for my own enjoyment, but I’d say the first time I actually got hired and paid to make a film was for a film called “Cowboy” for REI. I was really lucky to have that opportunity, as it came from the connections I built as a professional skier over the past decade.

How did you get into directing?
I grew up making surf and skate movies in Rhode Island, so I was always drawn to the medium I suppose. I became a professional skier at around 16 years old and started starring in ski movies. Being around cameras again sparked my interest again, and I made a bunch of ski movies with my friends throughout my 20s. Eventually, I decided directing/writing was what I wanted to do full-time, so I moved to LA.

What is your most recent project? 
I’ve done a number of commercials recently, but the most recent project that I really obsessed over was a short film that I made about the tiny little island I grew up on called Block Island. It’s a fascinating place — 15 miles off the coast with only 900-1000 year-round residents. It’ll be premiering in a number of festivals this spring.

What is the best part of being a director? 
I think watching your idea take on a life of its own is the most exhilarating part. No matter how much you prepare, you have to let go of the wheel at some point. It reminds me of competing as an athlete, so it sort of fills a missing void in my life for that reason.

What is the worst part of being a director?
…nothing really. There are obviously difficult times but experiencing difficulties is the only way something becomes fulfilling.

What is your current career focus: commercials and branded content, television, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.? 
I’d say I’m putting an equal amount of energy into commercials and film — I just had my first screenplay optioned by a production company which is exciting. But no matter what industry I believe there’s a common thread in my work. I’m really fascinated by diving as deep as possible into the psychology of characters that we often only get a bird’s eye view of. My interest in storytelling started when I wanted to understand what mentally drives athletes at an almost molecular level. Now, I’ve found myself diving deep into the psyche of many other types of people.

Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you? 
Tony Goldwyn really helped me out a lot in my early years. He always made himself available to talk about stories with me. Todd Jones, a ski-movie legend, hired me for my first-ever film so I have to give him a nod. There are really too many people to thank, you need a lot of help to make it as a director and I’m lucky to have people who supported me.

Who is your favorite director and why? 
I’ve been really fascinated by John Cassavettes recently. The documentarian approach he used to give the characters in his narratives space adds a level of realism that’s astounding. It’s currently a primary tool in my films.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content? 
I honestly don’t have an answer. There are too many.

Tell us about your background (i.e., where did you grow up? Past jobs?) 
I grew up on this tiny island 15 miles off the coast of Rhode Island called Block Island. Very remote — 900-1000 residents, 15 miles off the coast, an hour ferry ride to and from. There were 140 kids in my school, K-12. I was really motivated to leave and show off I guess, and I was primarily a talented athlete. I focused my energy there and became a pro skier, eventually moving out to Colorado to compete/star in ski movies. That was my passion until about 27 when I fell in love with filmmaking.

How has the pandemic impacted your career, art, craft, shaped your attitudes and reflections on life which in turn may influence your work, approach, spirit, mindset?
Honestly, it didn’t really have any effect besides a slight slowdown in work. In general, I wake up and start writing so my routine wasn’t interrupted much. I suppose if anything it reduced my distractions and helped me focus on my writing.