Before Emmy nominations were announced, Ben Semanoff was shocked to find his name appearing in online forums that suggested he would be nominated for directing an episode of the hit Netflix crime drama “Ozark.”
When the predictions came true in July, the Bucks County native couldn’t sit still.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced as much adrenaline in my system,” he said.
Semanoff, 41, believes he benefited from “Ozark” being lauded as a whole for extraordinary performances, cinematography, production design and writing. The show tells the story of Marty Byrd, a financial adviser who moves his family to Missouri to launder money for a cartel.
His season 3 episode, “Su Casa Es Mi Casa,” begins with the main characters having an explosive fight in couple’s therapy and ends with a literal explosion. He is happy it is being recognized for its structure, pacing and satisfying payoff.
Proud parents Ira and Thea Semanoff said their son displayed creativity and determination from a young age as a child growing up in Churchville. He graduated from Temple University’s School of Theater, Film and Media Arts and worked as a camera operator for many years before making his directorial debut.
His previous television work includes HBO’s “The Leftovers” and Showtime’s “The Affair.” He also operated on the films “Creed,” “Collateral Beauty” and “The Upside,” among others.
Semanoff was connected to “Ozark” star and executive producer Jason Bateman through a colleague at “The Leftovers.” He initially passed when Bateman reached out and asked him to work on “Ozark.” The show was going to be produced in Atlanta, and he wanted to stay close to his family.
Bateman reached out again a few months later when a camera operating position opened up, and this time Semanoff disclosed his ambition to direct.
“I was very candid with them and I said, ‘Hey, you know, I want to direct eventually, and if that was something you would champion at some point in the future, I will make the sacrifice of being away from the family for so long,’” he said.
Bateman supported the idea immediately, and Semanoff began working as the “A” camera operator on “Ozark” in the middle of season 1 (cameras are typically assigned letters, with “A” being the most senior).
When the time came to film season 2, he asked Bateman again about the possibility of directing. Within 24 hours, Bateman texted him that he would direct episode nine, “The Badger.”
“I was just floored. Having tried before on other shows, it was astonishing,” he said.
Season 3, Episode 6, “Su Casa Es Mi Casa,” was only his second time in the director’s chair, but it earned him his Emmy nod.
He said working long hours with the “Ozark” cast and crew was like being at overnight summer camp (he attended Camp Nock-A-Mixon as a child.)
“I’ve never been with a group of people where I felt more like family than ‘Ozark,’” he said. “I’ve been down there now for the past three years for significant portions of each year. It has made that experience so much easier, because everybody truly is supportive of each other.”
Balancing his career and family life has been challenging but possible with the support of his wife, Erica Semanoff.
The family has lived together in Bucks County during the pandemic, but she typically runs her business and takes care of their two children from their home while he works on set in Atlanta.
His family flew down to visit him for long weekends at least once a month while he was filming the last three seasons. The kids enjoyed traveling and spending time with their father, even if it meant driving straight to school from the airport on Monday mornings.
Erica Semanoff is happy the world gets to see her husband’s talent.
“I could see where his career was going to go; I’ve been through all of it with him,” she said.
The award ceremony will be virtual this year, and the family is not sure if they will get to be on camera. They plan on getting dressed to the nines nonetheless.
This summer, Ben and Erica Semanoff found another creative outlet: filming and producing a virtual bar mitzvah for their son, Sean.
They created a video sequence of family members across the country passing the Torah from generation to generation. They also created an opening segment where their son, who is passionate about aviation and takes flying lessons, appears to be flying a plane before rushing to the synagogue.
“It was way better than having it live and in-person, because with a director dad and a producer mom, we got to put on this whole show,” Sean said.
Having a dad who works in TV has other perks too. Sean and his sister Sophia have both visited the “Ozark” set and watched their father work.
“It’s so fun being on set and seeing everything,” Sophia said.