The Ross Brothers
The filmmaking duo of the Ross Brothers (Turner and Bill) have had quite a bit of success with their first two films. “45365,” their debut, won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW 2009 and an Independent Spirit Award in 2010, and their second, “Tchoupitoulas,” played to raves at SXSW this year as well as other festivals, and has since been picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories and will be hitting theaters soon. Our own review from SXSW says “Tchoupitoulas” is “a fascinating development in the filmmakers' experiments with documentary storytelling, and a damn good time exploring the sights, sounds and sensations of New Orleans at night.”

We caught up with the Ross Bros. recently to talk about what it was like shooting “Tchoupitoulas,” the philosophies they apply to their creative process, and the scoop on their third film, which is the final installment in their “Americana” trilogy.

Documenting the world around them is something they have always been doing. Though they don’t always consider their work to fall into a strict category of documentary or narrative.
Turner described the experience of how the brothers caught the filmmaking bug at a young age. “As little kids, when people in the neighborhood started to get their VHS cameras and camcorders, instead of filming family Christmas, we started using those to film the colorful people in the neighborhood, to make war epics, to document our experience," he explained. "As we got older and Bill went to film school, we were traveling together, we were still documenting ourselves, we were still documenting the people in our lives, and still documenting the travels and the places that we were in, so it seemed a very natural extension to make that the way in which we captured our first feature film... we delved into something that intrigued us, and was familiar to us, and we’ve been riffing on that theme since then.” However, he also said about documentary form that, “the more that we proceed with that endeavor, the more that we stray away from that theme, although that is technically what we’re doing.”

The shooting process on “Tchoupitoulas” was nine months of roaming the streets of New Orleans at night, with several happy accidents that truly made the film.
“We set out with very silly hopefulness that we would find kids in this town to follow around at night and see the town through them. And for seven months, we looked and we found no one, but through that whole time we were shooting around town and filming landscapes," Bill said about their approach. "After seven months we didn’t have anybody, and we got extremely fucking lucky and those three guys walked right past us.” As for how they knew the three brothers who serve as our perspective in the film, Bill said they knew they were the right ones almost instantly, “when they walked past, it took 20 seconds of looking at them and how they were interacting that we knew just listening to William we had something there.”

As for the way they shaped the story during the filming process, Bill said, “What we wanted to do what create a landscape both visually and aurally that these kids could walk through, a sensory environment where, everywhere you turn, that is where you are, and those are the people that would be there in that quintessential time and place. The kids themselves we only spent a few days with, and they were allowed to exist in that place as they would, and we just captured them in their natural state.”

As for the other happy accidents that offer some framework to the film’s narrative, they were just lucky to stumble upon them as they prowled the city. “Every night was interesting, and there’s a thousand stories to be told, and that’s why we make films the way we do. We have a story to tell and we get to go on these adventures. There’s countless stories of us getting in trouble and whatnot. Nine months up all night,” Bill said.