BAMcinemaFest 2012: Bill and Turner Ross, Directors of Tchoupitoulas

06/20/2012 11:05 AM |


I think it’s interesting, by focusing on these kids, as a substitute POV rather than just subjects, you eliminate some of the problems of omniscience in direct cinema.
There are very much moments of direct cinema, or whatever it is you want to label that, but these moments, just documenting a space in these environments, that will always play a role. And I think it’s kind of fascinating; it’s like being invisible. But we also have to figure out how to structure these things differently moving forward. Something Bill and I talk about a lot is, no matter how open you are to the situation, however loose and experiential you are, you have to also address the fact that there people there with cameras documenting this thing and having their own experience and effecting the experiences.

We’re trying to evolve with every film. We set out initially to do a trilogy, this Americana trilogy. And use the same palette, use these standard def workhorse cameras in three disparate environments. And what can you do with same palette? What can you do with the same format? I mean, how can you make these different? How can you make these environments interesting and really speak to what they are? And for New Orleans it was this very dreamlike kids journey and that needed to be the focus.

I heard the next one is a western, about Texas.
Yeah, we’re making a western. When you watch John Wayne in Rio Bravo—and we grew up with my dad in Mississippi, watching all those classic B-westerns—it’s the American myth, but what does that really look like? What does the reality of the modern frontier, the west, look like? So we’ll see what comes out. We spent 13 months down there.

Then I spoke to Bill Ross in New Orleans.

So, at what point did you come to the conclusion to make this film, of New Orleans at night through the kids’ eyes?
Bill Ross: We spent quite a bit of time down here, when we were kids, and I think we were just wanting to speak to those images that we still have in our heads. So going into it, we were hoping that we would find kids to act as our eyes and ears. But it took seven months before we actually found those kids. And they were perfect. We got very lucky.

Ok, but did I hear you say at another screening that it was inspired from a dream?
Yeah, I did. [Chuckles] Well… you say stuff like that you can risk coming off as a little silly. But I did. I had this very vivid dream of kids running through the night in L.A., where I was living. So I wrote it down and I sent it to Turner. And that’s when we started talking about making the kids film, and that led to our talking about when we were kids, about being in New Orleans.

Well I think the dream origin is interesting because it has such a dream feel to it. Do you think that carried over to the way you edited it?
I think the dream was just a jumping-off point to start a dialogue about what are dreams, and what do dreams look like. Yeah, I was thinking about that stuff when I was editing. What does that feel like, and how does that move, and take shape… Yeah, I was thinking about that stuff.


And then you use a lot of the voiceover of the main little boy, William. And the first thing we hear is about him talking about his dreams, which sets us off in a weird time/space. I mean, that all seems deliberate to create that dream atmosphere. Right?
Yeah, William talking about what he dreams about, that was just pulled from conversations he and I would have later on, after we shot with them. He and I would hang out once a week or something, and I would record all our conversations because they were so good. That’s what all those moments are when we go away from the kids and you hear his thoughts. So there was this one conversation where he was talking about his dreams and it seemed like that was probably the way to start the film, and set the idea of—we’re going into a different space here. It’s interesting, no one has ever asked me about this stuff before. I haven’t thought about it in a while.

Turner talked a little bit about limiting yourselves to one specific palette. So I’m interested in what you chose for that palette in the edit, lights, for instance. Did you go into it wanting so much abstraction, or did you just find that?
Well, we’re always looking for something that’s interesting. At night with all those lights and stuff, we sometimes couldn’t help it; the abstract imagery was there to begin with. But you know, it’s also from being up for eight or nine months, all night. Being delirious, you sometimes just start shooting some really weird shit.

But, you know, when I edit, sometimes I don’t get too excited about narrative or whatever, sometimes it’s as simple as this image looks nice against this image. I think the editing is pretty organic, it flows. These images flow well with one another.

It is pretty organic, and dreamy. But there’s also story. I’m curious. Were you looking at more documentaries or fictions stuff while you were editing?
I don’t know, I think once we found the kids and their story, once they cross the river and they have this big night in this foreign but familiar land, different themes started to emerge. So I started reading stuff that echoed similar themes. So a lot of reading…

Like Pinocchio and Huck Finn?
Yeah. Stuff like that.

The story also becomes so sound-centric, with the music or bird sounds. It feels like most of the transitions are based on lights or sounds. Can you talk about that?
Back to the dream conversation, there really aren’t any hard edits, no smash-cut-something-or-another. Everything kind of bleeds.

That’s what a dream feels like?
Yeah. But I haven’t really thought about this stuff since I finished editing.