A Deep Dive (Bar) With Bill & Turner Ross

Sibling filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross have built a reputation in the nonfiction genre with their keen eye for rich, humanistic details and an exhilarating storytelling flow. Beginning with their auspicious 2009 SXSW hit 45365, which New York Times critic Jeannette Catsoulis called “a beguiling slice of Midwestern impressionism,” the Ross brothers have found universal emotions in unassuming locations. Their latest film, BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS (opening this Friday), is both a distillation of their past and a leap into new territory, as they blend narrative and nonfiction techniques to stage, then document, the closing night of a beloved neighborhood bar.

We spoke to them about their unconventional approach, and they shared a fascinating clip reel of classic dive bar cinema that served as a guide during their elaborate pre-production process.

VF: You were in pre-production on this movie for quite awhile, and then shot the entire thing in real time, the 18 hours in which the story itself unfolds. Can you describe what the inside of those 18 hours looked like? felt like?

We prepared copiously for the shoot, pre-producing it much like a fiction film (casting, locations, set dec, shot list, lighting, sound…), with production itself more like a sporting event. Once the thing started we were determined not to break the spell. We wanted the cast of characters to claim ownership of their space and the narrative, responding only to the provided stimuli and each other. That meant Bill and I had to be prepared to capture everything as it happened while also keeping in mind what we needed to capture in order to illustrate the underlying themes, the time of day, the evolution of the space… We had to be incredibly tuned in, and we were. It was winning time. 

VF: We love the inspiration reel you made– including scenes from films like BARFLY and THE DEER HUNTER. What were the bars, or bar moments from your own lives that you brought up to each other when creating this?

So much of the film’s inspiration comes from lived experiences and notes written on bar napkins (it’s a theme we referenced in the interstitials throughout). But it’s also an homage to the cinema and art and literature and theater – a whole historical canon of works – that take place in establishments of commiseration. We reference some of these within the film directly through the televisions and set pieces, but also in our colors and textures and title sequences. We’re not the first in this, neither in form nor content, and the whole film is imbued with that sentiment. Underneath that, though, this film is deeply personal.

VF: We have to ask the Texas question– tell us more about what, if anything, you took from Texas filmmaker Eagle Pennell’s iconic and similarly low-budget Texas film about a last night at a beloved bar, LAST NIGHT AT THE ALAMO? 
Embarrassingly, we didn’t see Last Night at the Alamo until after we had shot the film. Louis Black sagely sent us a copy after we’d told him what we were up to. It’s an incredible film, a masterful predecessor of mayhem outsider art. What an inspiration.
VF: The movie has many poetic inquiries and avenues to explore, one that seems to come up a lot is whether bars are a cure for loneliness. How would you answer that? 

A bar is a certain kind of antidote. So are religion, sports. But the social lubricant in a bar can also lead to loneliness and despair. It’s a quandary. As Bruce said most eloquently, “It’s a place where you can go to when nobody else don’t want your ass.”

VF: Dive bar drink of choice? 
Budweiser, whiskey back.

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