BAYONNE, NJ - Lifelong Bayonne resident Dan Gregory hasn’t experienced that rare “overnight success” that people fantasize about in the entertainment business. But then again, the majority of successful filmmakers don’t take a fast road; rather, they see the fruits of their labor after lots of hard work.
Gregory has been acting, writing, and directing award-winning projects since graduating from Kean College with a communications degree in 2007.
“I feel like my time is coming, but I’m not yet exactly where I want to be,” he said in a recent interview with TAPinto Bayonne. “I don’t want to be pretentious, but I don’t think any actor is truly content with where they are.”
Gregory grew up in downtown Bayonne and graduated from Bayonne High School in 2002. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do career-wise, but he recalled watching Al Pacino’s ‘Carlito’s Way’ as a student and thinking “that’s what I want to do, bend and flex and get into character.”
He said he was shy when he was young, but he enjoyed a public speaking class freshman year of college. He majored in communications and acted in a friend’s student film.
Even the most talented and versatile actors have to vie for gigs. Gregory took various acting jobs after college, while also working in sales for Budweiser and shining shoes at the Bayonne Golf Club. “I made a ton of money,” he said, recalling that “a shoeshine boy would get $20 thrown at him for nothing.”
Soon, he began amassing credits.
He’s been working with a film company in Bayonne called Narrow Bridge that has been producing movies for 10 years.
While most people only hear of major film studios – Paramount, Disney, Warner Bros., Universal, and Columbia -- hundreds of movies each year are produced by smaller companies that they hope to debut at film festivals and then get an investment from a studio or larger company.
It was while working with Narrow Bridge that Gregory realized he liked writing, too. “It comes from wanting to play specific parts, outline a character for myself,” he said. “An outline turns into a little story. Then I pitch it to filmmakers.”
He originally learned the screenwriting format by buying a script at Barnes & Noble 10 years ago, like “Good Will Hunting,” he said.
In the last three years, he’s won a number of awards at festivals, and has been able to work with people he admires. Some of his work comes from auditions, some from word of mouth. “Film festivals have helped me book work as well,” he said. “If a director sees your film and likes your performance, it opens doors."
One of his proudest accomplishments was a part in the 2016 short film "Speculo," directed by the Emmy winner Obba Babatunde. “To have him direct me was an honor,” he said. “He was a fountain of knowledge.”
He recently played the role of an agitated NYPD police officer in a film starring Eric Roberts, of whom he’s a big fan. “Elevator” is in post-production now. “Eric Roberts is a hero to me because of ‘Pope of Greenwich Village,’” he said.
He’s also a big fan of Robert Rodriguez, and starred in a commercial that played on Rodriguez’s network, El Rey.
In 2019, he’s won and received nominations for more than a dozen film festival awards, including most recently best actor (honorable mention) in the 2019 Independent Shorts Awards in Los Angeles, for work in the web series Compromise Lost, which he also wrote and produced. It’s “a story that intercuts a couple falling in love with the ugly breakup,” he said.
Gregory feels he’s in a good place. “It’s both exciting and extremely nervewracking,” he said. “I just auditioned for a bigger film, and I feel really good about the audition. I try not to beat myself over it if I fail.” He has learned a lesson: “Don’t let success go to your head, but don’t let failure go to your head either.”
He said that it’s good to stay busy and diversify. “It shows other industry people you’re in it for the long term,” he said, “That you’re not going to sit around hoping the phone rings. If I’m not working on someone else’s project, I’m working on my own.”
It’s also important to encourage other people in the industry. One of those is his girlfriend, Jayleen S. Perez, who just wrote and directed a short thriller called “Karmen.” Gregory has a role in the film as Alex. When she first decided to make the film, she was worried about stepping on his toes, he said.
“I said to her, ‘Go for it,’” he recalled. “She said, ‘I don’t want to jump into your life.’ I said, ‘Absolutely, I encourage you.’”
The film is being edited and will be entered in festivals in December.
“She is a first-time, female Latina director with a bold project,” he said. “I predict success for her."
Gregory wants to be as encouraging to new actors as professionals were to him. Some discouraged him, he said, knowing how competitive the industry is, but others were generous. He cited Bayonne native Tammy Blanchard, a successful Tony-nominated actress.
“She was so encouraging,” he said. “She’s one of the ones who said, ‘Go for it’!”
Gregory said beginners should ignore the naysayers.
“Reach out to anybody that you know who you respect in some way,” he said. “I’ve seen that -- and not just with acting -- anybody finding any level of success in their career, those are usually the ones willing to help.”
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