Bill Ross (photo: Chris Keohane)
Who: Bill Ross
Artist’s Chosen Location for Interview: His front porch, with a rocking chair for each of us.
Q: What is something you believe is always worth thinking about?
A: How to make someone else’s day better and how to make the people around you really intensely happy.
You just missed her, but my assistant editor, Ellen, just moved here to work on our current project. I walked in one day and said, ‘Alright, Ellen, we’re not going to work today. We’re having a field trip’. We went down to the Bayou and caught alligators and stuff.
It was this great, happy moment, and you just know when those moments come because you’re also in that state. That’s probably the best thing—to build other people around you up.
Q: What’s a newspaper article about you from when you were younger that someone would most likely find folded up in your wallet?
A: Well, I keep everything, so there would be a lot of options. They would probably find the police logs from our small hometown paper.
The town was pretty small, so anything that happened was reported. My brothers and I were mischievous kids, and we didn’t have a lot to do, so we found it a fun challenge to get in the police log. You wouldn’t get caught, but there’d be a section in the log that said, ‘Saturday night at 11 p.m., someone has put Christmas ornaments in the parking lot of the Dairy Mart’.
There was another one we did—and I just want to say that this is horrible, and I would never do this now, but as a kid you don’t think about this kind of stuff. You know those lawn ornaments where it’s a cement stand and a mirrored kind of ball that sits on top of it? We went and took a lot of those out of people’s yards, and we lined the Interstate with them. It looked great, but the town took it down immediately.
We had a lot of fun growing up, and sometimes we made it into the police log.
Q: What’s something you’re happy that you’ve never caught on film?
A: Actually, there’s something that I did get on film that I wish I never did. I was shooting a film in Mexico. The place that we were filming has a firework festival every year to celebrate their culture because they make the majority of Mexico’s fireworks in this small town. Part of that life is that people get hurt, they lose limbs, they have scars, and if they live, it’s sort of a badge of honor to have these scars.
People often die because it’s a dangerous craft, and I filmed two guys… This is really unsettling. But I saw two guys blow up. I saw it, and I immediately stopped filming. You just stop everything and try to help. There was nothing that could be done. Their family was there. They were screaming. It was horrific. And death is something that’s private, so you try to help, and then you just have to walk away.
Everybody there knows somebody or is related to somebody there that’s passed away because of this craft.
Q: What’s a smell you never get sick of?
A: A basketball. It reminds me of childhood and being at the YMCA at five in the morning before school to practice. I don’t smell it nearly enough now. I should play basketball tonight, actually. That would make me really happy.
There’s so much sitting that goes on with editing, sometimes around twelve hours, but I love it. I was just working on a scene with the Beastie Boys and the color guard for this new doc we’re doing, and the music is great, so it’s not hard to sit there and edit for hours and hours.
Q: What’s a strange food combination you like to eat?
A: You mean like pancakes and shrimp? [Pause]. Not that I eat that. I’m just making sure I understand the question.
Yeah, you got it.
A: You know what I do like to do? I’ll just eat a head of lettuce. Iceberg lettuce. This started when I was a kid. I’d eat a head of lettuce before every basketball game—not for good luck or anything. I just enjoy it. I eat it like an apple. I caught a lot of crap for that.
Q: What’s a question you’d like to be asked but never have been?
A: I think a good question for a filmmaker is ‘If you could have existed in another time period in history, what would you most have liked to have filmed?’
I’d like to maybe film the Wright Brothers flying for the first time. That would be a cool moment. Although, it’s always nice when there’s repetition because if you botch the shot the first time you get another chance.
That’s what was really nice about these concerts that we just filmed for our new project. We shot them four times, so if there was a particular shot that jumped out, we had several opportunities to nail it. So repetition in film is good, but the stuff that’s always great is when something can only happen once, and you can film it. And you film it well.
A big example of that is in Tchoupitoulas. We walked through the Quarter—specifically down Bourbon—at night with three boys from Algiers who’d never been in the Quarter at night. At the time, the youngest was eleven and the oldest was fifteen, so every twenty feet their minds were just…you know. That was one of those moments.
Bill Ross is a filmmaker whose collaborative projects include 45365, Tchoupitloulas and Western, and the newest film—based off David Byrne’s Contemporary Color—is currently in post-production. You can find out more about Bill’s projects on their Website or Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Western will be screening this Friday (July 17) at the Episd Student Activity Center Fine Arts Center in Eagle Pass, Texas at 7:00 p.m., and it will be making its premiere in New Orleans this coming fall (date to be announced).