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David Von Ancken Dies: ‘Code Black’, ‘Hell On Wheels’ & ‘Seraphim Falls’ Director Was 56

·5-min read

Prolific television director David Von Ancken, who also helmed the feature Seraphim Falls, passed away July 26 at his home in Agoura Hills, CA after a two-year battle with aggressive stomach cancer. He was 56.

David Von Ancken, known lovingly as “DVA,” was born in New York on December 5, 1964. His career got off to a hot start with the 2001 short Bullet In the Brain, starring Tom Noonan and Dean Winters, which Von Ancken wrote and directed. It won Universal/Hypnotic Films’ Million Dollar Film Festival as well as numerous other festival awards and opened the doors for Von Ancken to embark on a directing career.

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He became a sought-after — and beloved — episodic director who worked on some three dozen series over the past two decades, including Oz, Without a Trace, The Shield, Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, The Following, Intelligence, House of Lies, MacGyver, The Crossing and The Purge. He directed seven or more episodes each of CBS’ Cold Case and CSI: NY and Showtime’s Californication.

“David was the kind of person who walked into a room and you couldn’t help but immediately gravitate towards him,” Von Ancken’s partner in life and business, Meg London-Boche, said. “His vibrant energy towards life and years of personal adventures carried into his extraordinary direction of television and film. He was constantly formulating stories in his mind and always eager to share them with the world.”

A towering presence on set, the 6’4″ David Von Ancken also was a producing director, helming multiple episodes and executive producing series spanning different genres including WGN America’s Salem, Spike’s mini Tut starring Ben Kingsley, AMC’s Hell On Wheels, CBS’ Code Black, Syfy’s Ghost Wars, ABC’s The Crossing and Netflix’s The Order.

David Von Ancken - Credit: Mega
David Von Ancken - Credit: Mega

Mega

Jeremy Gold, President of Production at Blumhouse, was head of scripted programming at Endemol where he developed Hell On Wheels and served as an executive producer on the Western drama.

“I can see DVA now on set in Calgary, big smile on his face, toothpick in his mouth, NBA–length legs, charging down the tracks to the next set-up,” Gold said. “Boundless energy, can-do attitude, always finding the joy in the work! I like the world a little less without him in it.”

Intelligence and Code Black creator/executive producer/showrunner Michael Seitzman, who first met Von Ancken when he directed an episode of cyber-themed crime drama Intelligence before Seitzmen brought him in as director/executive producer on medical drama Code Black, remembered his friend on Twitter.

“Anyone who met David would describe him by his energy, boundless and infectious. He was unfailingly optimistic, and relentlessly positive. ‘Let’s do it!’ was his response to every single challenge, no matter how daunting,” Seitzman wrote alongside photos of Von Ancken on the set of Code Black. “One of the things we would say to each other constantly was ‘Never surrender.’ To the process, to the budget, to the schedule, or our own exhaustion. Even to cancer, especially to cancer, it was, ‘Never surrender.'”

Seitzman was able to speak to Von Ancken on the phone hours before his death, telling him what he had meant to him and saying goodbye.

“I always describe David as full of life,” Seitzman said. “He had been the brightest light. To watch that light go out is unfathomable.”

David Von Ancken during filming of ‘Code Black’ ep. 213, which series creator Michael Setizman said was his favorite episode. - Credit: Courtesy of Michael Seitzman
David Von Ancken during filming of ‘Code Black’ ep. 213, which series creator Michael Setizman said was his favorite episode. - Credit: Courtesy of Michael Seitzman

Courtesy of Michael Seitzman

Code Black, which aired for three seasons, starred Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden.

“He loved actors and loved crew, and in turn he was loved by all, and tackled cancer the same way he tackled life… with grace, dignity, ferocity, humor, and wisdom,” Harden said of Von Ancken. “He had so much left to do, and will be missed!”

Added Code Black series regular Emily Tyra who was a very close friend of Von Ancken’s, “David’s spirit was unshakeable and inspiring. He made life into a story worth telling through his art. I will cherish his guidance and friendship forever.

Rob Lowe, who starred in Seasons 2 and 3 of Code Black, also paid tribute to the late director.

“David was a smart, empathetic, energetic gentle giant,” he said. “The kind of director and man you’d want in your foxhole. I am so sad he’s gone.”

In features, Von Ancken co-wrote and directed the 2006 Seraphim Falls, a civil war action-thriller starring Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson, which earned him a Gotham Breakthrough Director nomination.

In addition to London-Boche, Von Ancken is survived by his parents, Eva and Henry Von Ancken, his sister, Beth McMullen, his daughter and his beloved dog, Oscar. A private memorial will be taking place in the coming weeks.

Von Ancken’s loved ones remember him as an expert sailor, avid outdoorsman, and spirited adventurer of life who treasured spending time with friends and family, always eager to end the day with those he loved by mixing his infamous “Manhattans” or sharing a beautiful bottle of wine.

“Words fail me to fully express how much he meant to me and how much he monumentally changed my life both personally and professionally. He opened up our world to me in ways I never knew existed and taught me how to live boldly with dynamic curiosity. For that I will always treasure him,” London-Boche said. “I’d like to thank all of our family, friends, and colleagues for their incredible support and love during this difficult time. My thanks extends to the team at UCLA Health Santa Monica for fighting so strongly alongside David during his war with cancer. May his legacy continue to live on with the stories he left behind.”

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