Bill and Turner Ross have been hailed as up-and-coming auteurs for the fly-on-the-wall vérité style with which they made their debut film, 45365, which premieres on Independent Lens on Tuesday, December 14 (check local listings). The film, which Roger Ebert called “achingly beautiful,” won the 2009 SXSW Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature. They spoke to Independent Lens about what strange trip it’s been, and the trouble with leaving Grandma on the cutting room floor.
What impact do you hope this film will have?
The impact that this very personal, handmade film has had already surpasses anything we could have anticipated or imagined. We worked together to finish a goal, make tangible a dream, and the reception of it has been overwhelming.
What led you to make 45365?
There’s always been this hidden need for us to document — an unquenchable interior desire to make sense of the fleeting and intangible moments that we live through. Our first feature film is an extension of something that we’ve been doing since we were children. The medium hasn’t always been film, but the idea has always been the same — capture the feeling and the moment and share it.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making the film?
We had to learn everything for ourselves. We just went out and did it with no guiding voice and no funding. The hardest part has been getting by with no money and no real home base. We’re fortunately wealthy in friends.
How did you gain the trust of the people of Sidney, Ohio?
We try to approach everyone with the same dignity and decency — whether they’re on camera or off. Without sincerity, it would be hard to capture honesty. We make a lot of friends.
What would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
So much of what we capture never makes it to the end piece. We filmed 500 hours to make a 90-minute movie. Some of the greatest moments and experiences didn’t make it in. Some of the best stories weren’t even filmed. It’s an unfortunate reality. As well, some of the most wonderful people that allowed us into their lives weren’t able to support a story line. Our grandmother was one of them. We took a lot of heat for that.
Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
It’s not so much the scene that we share, but the actual experience of filming it — living through it — that’s the real edifying experience. It was especially hard to see Justin walk out the door of the courtroom and into prison. It’s a very stark reality.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Most of the key players in the final cut have seen it — most of them together in an audience in Dayton, Ohio where we had our ‘hometown’ screening. There are some folks who don’t feel that way, but most in that case were anticipating a more traditional ‘documentary’ about Sidney, Ohio the town and not an ephemeral character study.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
The part that isn’t business.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
We need every outlet to survive. Also, we grew up on Sesame Street.
What do people commonly ask you after they’ve seen the film?
Filming with that many people over that amount of time there are many stories as you might imagine. We’re often asked what happened to this person or that person. We like to leave those questions unanswered because their lives are their own and they don’t start and stop within the framework of a 90-minute film. We only show a couple minutes of their experience, the film is not meant to define them.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
There’s always stuff you wish you had gotten or that you missed, but that’s going to happen and happen a lot. Just have to roll on because if you get caught up in it you’ll constantly break your own heart.
What are three films you’ve seen lately that you particularly enjoyed?
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo
Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be The Same
What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
I (Bill) overheard this piece of advice while working in a kitchen in Savannah, Georgia. An older guy told a younger guy who was slacking and making excuses: “Don’t talk about it, be about it.”
What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film?
We’d say beer but our mom might frown upon that. Let’s say fried chicken.