- John Ross Jesensky is a composer and screenwriter currently living in Los Angeles. John received a Bachelors of Music in Composition from the Hartt School of Music, where he studied with such composers as Stephen Gryc, David Macbride, Larry Alan Smith, and film composer Joseph Turrin.
Upon completion of his undergraduate studies, John began to focus his skills on the art of Film Scoring. While attending New York University’s film scoring program, John studied privately with renowned film orchestrator Sonny Kompanek as well as prolific film composer Ira Newborn.
Upon graduating from the Scoring for Film and Multimedia program at NYU with a Masters of Music degree, John was awarded the Elmer Bernstein Award for Film Composition. He also was the winner of the Skirball Film Scoring Competition with his score to Michael Daugherty’s short, Season’s Greetings, during his tenure at NYU. The winning piece was performed live in a concert by the NYU Orchestra.
Jesensky is currently the engraver for CineConcerts, creating fully-restored scores for live orchestra performances of feature films. He is also a freelance film composer, scoring short and feature-length films as well as trailer and source music for top production companies.
Several of his short scores have made appearances and won awards at events such as the Cannes Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival, Bare Bones Film Festival and La Gona Film Festival. A recent short has been selected to appear at the L.A. Film Festival, as well as the Newport Beach Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Hollyshorts Film Festival, and the D.C. Film Festival.
What was your best/favorite subject in school?
Considering the profession I’m in now, I’m surprised that my favorite subjects in school weren’t music related! I grew up in Cheshire, CT and attended Cheshire High School during the years when I really learned what I like. I found out – very quickly – that I gravitated heavily towards creative writing and literature classes.
I’d sit in class absolutely fascinated by the novels we were reading, or the poetry my classmates would write. I wasn’t always the best student by any means. Once I learned that music was my life’s path, I had a bad case of tunnel vision, but learning about O Henry or composing poetry to share for my classmates was incredibly fascinating.
What was your first job?
When I was 16, I got my first job working at a video store. To me, this was heaven on earth; people would actually pay me to live in this “Movie Utopia” and occasionally hand out late fees? I was in! Having constant access to such a large library of older and obscure titles also gave me a chance to watch, learn and hone my skills as a composer – and it taught me that some of the best stuff out there is the stuff nobody has ever heard of!
By the time I was in my teens, my mind was made up. Come hell or high water, I was going to be a film composer. So, right there, 75% of the struggle was taken care of. There was nothing else that ignited the spark inside me like composing, and I never once considered another job once the bug bit me, so mentally – I was already “in the industry.”
Where and how did you first get into the industry you currently work in?
Actually finding work in the film industry is a different beast altogether, and I’ve found that the old stories are true – hard work and a good deal of luck make all of the difference. I knew a very talented director named Joe Russo who was kind enough to let me write the music for his thesis project. Joe went on to become one of the most sought-after young execs in Hollywood, and we haven’t stopped collaborating yet!
How do you keep yourself motivated?
Keeping myself motivated can be challenging in my career. On a day-to-day basis, there is nobody to babysit you. Sure, producers or directors might call to check in on your progress, but from Monday-Sunday (yes, my job is a 7 day a week type of job!) I am in charge of my own hours, and it’s up to me whether I sink or swim.
I have always been very goal and deadline oriented with my workflow. There is the overarching dreaded deadline on any picture, but that tends to not be enough of a motivator for me. I find that if I set daily personal goals: “Finish 6 minutes of music; study 1 hour of the film” then I meet them every time. It’s a strange world to be a one-man business, and manufacturing your own motivators is imperative with my working style.
What wisdom would you have liked to share with yourself when you first started out?
If I could impart any wisdom on High School / College John Ross Jesensky, it would be that you have enough talent to get by in music. However, “getting by” in such a competitive industry is the same as not even trying. I had a bad habit of prioritizing relaxation over hard work when I first started. I would hear positive reinforcement from teachers, peers or bosses, and I used that as an excuse to ease off the throttle and coast. It’s great to feel like you’ve done a good job, but letting that be a reason to stop pushing and scratching at the door is a fatal mistake.
I’d wager that if I had the work ethic and drive that I do now, I’d be a far better composer, and I’d have even more work to keep me busy. Really, though, that’s what life experience is all about. I had to have that moment of self-realization about my bad habits in order to move forward and become the better worker that I am today.