Watch David’s films on his website at davidjruck.com
David J. Ruck is a documentary filmmaker and educator, originally from Michigan. In 2010, he moved to Washington, DC to pursue an MFA from American University in Film & Electronic Media. Ruck has recently finished a documentary short film titled "I want to be an Astronaut", about a young man's dream of being an astronaut during a time when NASA currently has no means of getting astronauts to space. David is an avid scuba and skydiver and loves taking stills of the night sky. His photographs have been featured in the New York Times, The Associate Press, and hundreds of local and international media markets. David hopes to build a career in documentary storytelling and begin teaching at a college or university looking to expand their non-fiction media program as a professor of media.
TERRA: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
DR: It's hard to say. My dad had access to a VHS camera when I was really young. He would typically bring it home from work on holidays or for family vacations. I started videotaping our family adventures and doing skits with my sister. One of the first things we did was a "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" spoof about an RV park. It was a big hit (on the family TV). I narrated as a 10-year old Robin Leach. As I recall, we were in Florida and focused primarily on the alligator that lived in the pond at the park.
In high school, I was a trouble maker and was always sarcastic and anti-authority, haha. I would pretty much bring my camera with me whenever my friends and I were hanging out. When I had to decide if I wanted to go to college, I took a tour of Grand Valley State University's equipment room at the film school and all I saw were possibilities. That's pretty much when I decided to make a go of it. I'm still a trouble maker. I've just directed that energy into searching for answers to questions about our society, our culture, our abilities and limits as a species.
TERRA: What has been a rewarding moment for you in the field?
DR: I try to pick projects that will take me on a journey of understanding. My most recent project is on a young man's desire to be an astronaut. I didn't care about the space program much at all until I saw an interview with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Bill Maher show. He was discussing NASA's budget vs monies we'd spent bailing out Wall Street. Regardless of my personal views of the space program, I saw that as a serious misallocation of resources and priorities. I knew, for sure, that unlike bailing out banks, NASA had once inspired people to want to become astronauts. So I went on a journey to discover if that dream was still in the vernacular of America's youth. I found a young man who, for him, that dream was still very much alive. But what were we doing as a nation to allow people like him to have an avenue to pursue that dream? During the process, I got some pretty exclusive and personalized access to several NASA centers. Meeting the people that are working in the space program, or once did but lost their job because we basically cancelled our human spaceflight program for the time being, has completely changed who I am. So I guess the short answer is, I tend to be attracted to projects that deal with issues I am a skeptic about. I began "I want to be an Astronaut" as a skeptic about whether or not the space program is worthy of our tax dollars. I've been converted. That's the joy, the beauty, the honor, really, of taking on a documentary experience. You will not be the same person you started as at the end of the project.
TERRA: What are the three things you would never go into the field without and why?
DR: 1st.) A headlamp. It can serve as a camera light or help you find your way through a forest at night with your gear. 2nd.) A Go Pro. I snap it on my primary camera rig - either above or below water - and have it take photos every 10 seconds of whatever I'm seeing. Especially if it's something awesome, like shooting a shipwreck underwater. Many of those photos ended up in the national and international media. 3rd.) A camera phone. You never know when you're going to be confronted with something immediate that you can send out on social media to keep your audience engaged. Maybe this one's obvious, but I've been growing my audience for "Astronaut" for two years before it's release this way.
TERRA: What's next for you?
DR: I haven't decided yet. I'm going to go jump out of airplanes for a week in February in Florida. And I'm going to ride the wave of my finished film for a while and see what kind of impact I can make. As far as topics I'm interested in, I'm interested in energy. Nuclear energy is very interesting to me. I can't make up my mind about it. People on the left scream about how horrible it is. People on the right talk about how amazing it is. It think it's somewhere in between. But we have an aging nuclear infrastructure. Too many plants are on the verge of a Fukushima. But modern nuclear engineering is impressive. We currently have a robot on Mars that's running off a nuclear engine. And it will run for over a decade, at least. You can't tell me that under every circumstance nuclear is a bad thing. The atom is amazing. But it's also extremely dangerous. What are we doing to use it responsibly? I might go that way.
TERRA: Anything else you'd like to add?
DR: I'd like to just add a shout all to people considering making a documentary. It's so very different from feature filmmaking, which is kind of the direction I thought I'd go when I started out. But, as I've found - and as many documentary filmmakers will tell you - this is a real adventure. You learn as much about yourself as you do whatever it is you are focusing on as a subject. It's an exercise, a way to challenge yourself, your beliefs, your "truths". If you aren't feeling that, I don't think you are focused on the right topic. If you already believe in something 100% when you start to investigate it, you'll miss something. You'll skip over it or take important information for granted. I'm not saying you should go make a film about something that absolutely disgusts you - though maybe you should - but something that has aspects to it that you aren't sold on. Then go make the world and the people you interact with convince you of something. And only when you've had that transcendent experience do I think you've made a good film - or shot the material to make a good film. Documentary filmmaking is not for people that are set in their ways.