Wikinews interviews author and filmmaker Peter John Ross
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Wikinews held an exclusive interview with American author and filmmaker Peter John Ross. The head of Sonnyboo Productions, an independent film studio based in Columbus, Ohio, he has made numerous short films as well as co-directed a feature, the World War II B-movie Horrors of War.
He has also written a book on filmmaking, Tales from the Front Line of Indie Filmmaking. He says that it "combines helpful articles for beginning filmmakers with narrative tales based on my experiences raising money for features and the crazy personalities that invade the world of microbudget filmmaking."
When asked why he makes movies, Ross replied, "There is no greater thrill than sitting in a room full of strangers watching the stories unfold with flickering pictures and sound. I live for the moments when I can sit there and watch the movies with people I don't know and really feel how they react to what I wrote or directed or edited."
Wikinews (Joseph Ford): You've made several short films and co-directed a feature, Horrors of War. Tell us about them.
- Mr. Ross: I could not afford film school, so I set out to make my own movies and teach myself filmmaking. Each short I made for the Internet had a specific goal in mind to teach myself some new technique or challenge myself in a new way. To me it was all about "graduating" to making a feature film. After 5 years of making shorts online, most in digital, but some in actual film as well, I felt ready to tackle a feature film. Working with many of the people I had been for years, we set out to make an ambitious World War II Nazi Zombie Werewolf movie. Horrors of War is an homage to the "B" movie tradition, in that grindhouse style. We used the Internet to promote and market the film by putting out MAKING OF segments and helpful filmmaker tips.
J.F.: Horrors of War was shot entirely in Ohio, which doubled for France and Germany, on a shoestring budget. How did you manage this?
- Mr. Ross: We used World War II re-enactors in the film as featured extras; they in turn brought tanks, armoured cars, authentic weapons and uniforms, and more. We shot a D-Day re-enactment on Lake Erie with 300 extras and even a real P-51 Mustang buzzing overhead. This made our movie look a whole lot bigger and better. When I was on a train trip in 1997 going from Paris to Heidelberg, I noticed that the hills, grass, and trees all reminded me of Ohio. For our film, we chose the pine tree locations to represent Germany, as they are similar to the Ardens, and other parts of the state to represent France.
J.F.: You've written a book, Tales from the Front Line of Indie Filmmaking. Tell us about it.
- Mr. Ross: My book combines helpful articles for beginning filmmakers with narrative tales based on my experiences raising money for features and the crazy personalities that invade the world of microbudget filmmaking. Tales From the Front Line ends with my journal entries on going from short films to making my first feature film and the struggles therein. It's available at Amazon.com for sale and I think it's a good read for anyone starting out making movies in the era of web videos and aspires to make feature films.
J.F.: Why do you make movies? What inspires you to do this?
- Mr. Ross: There is no greater thrill than sitting in a room full of strangers watching the stories unfold with flickering pictures and sound. I live for the moments when I can sit there and watch the movies with people I don't know and really feel how they react to what I wrote or directed or edited. I love to tell stories and moviemaking is one of the most unique and immersive ways to tell a story. The payoff is always when you get to show your movies, especially in a theatrical setting.
J.F.: Do you have any advice for the amateur filmmakers reading this?
- Mr. Ross: Start small, then work your way up. Help on other people's productions and get an idea of what it really takes to make a movie, then start making small movies with a cheap camcorder and really get good at the art of telling stories with a camera before investing a lot of money into gear. It's the artist, not the brush that counts. Everyone thinks because they watch a lot of movies or TV that somehow qualifies them to make a good movie. No one thinks because they listen to a lot of music, they can buy a guitar and suddenly play like Jimi Hendrix. Why should movies be any different? Much like music, filmmaking requires practice to get good at it. Making short movies for the Internet is great practice. Go for it.