Last week I flew home from Chicago, while most of my friends and colleagues were flying home from Salt Lake City. Although I missed all the hubbub that was the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, I was lucky enough to be a part of a truly inspiring and rewarding experience. All that, and I still got to go sledding!
Frank V. Ross, a completely self-taught filmmaker, has made seven movies in the Chicagoland area. Not only does he write, direct and edit his own films; but oftentimes he’s one of the lead actors, he runs sound, and up until his last few pictures, he’s operated his own camera. Essentially, he’s a one man movie making machine. He’s also waited tables for over ten years and has no idea how to do anything else.
I first met Frank after a screening of his fifth film, PRESENT COMPANY, at the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival. I was impressed with his ability to capture working people in real situations in an interesting way. Maintaining that balance between real people and the characters they play is key when creating a narrative meant both to convey the real world and to entice its viewers. Additionally, I’m fascinated in Frank’s remarkable ability to play jokes on his viewers and get away with it. He’ll often use suspense in humorous situations throughout his films to build the interest of the audience and then offer no real payoff. The audience will go along with it, oftentimes knowing they’ve been duped, because of his keen ability to distract and redirect.
As I read the script for AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK (our first collaboration), I found myself consistently amused, expecting something to happen and then chuckling when it didn’t. Frank even blatantly adds a title card, displayed after the main title while a supporting character has a tire blowout, that reads: “Or… These Things Happen in Threes.” Maintaining a pleasant vibe and keeping it fun for the audience, we ultimately get a payoff at the end – albeit, a non-traditional one.
In Frank’s latest incarnation, TIGER TAIL IN BLUE, he ups the joke’s-on-you ante. The film will thoroughly confuse some audiences and they’ll be constantly trying to figure out what’s going on. Whether or not the confusion over something so simple actually matters in the grand scheme of things is up to them. That being said, when discussing filmmaking over a glass of Scotch one evening, Frank said, “Movies aren’t a painting that you can stare at and make your own conclusions.” The endings don’t change, and the viewer can either accept that and go along for the ride, or not.
Some of the highlights in Chicago included reading an infamous John Wayne interview from a 1971 edition of Playboy Magazine, sledding down a hill on a snow shovel, Drew falling down the hill with all the sound gear (unscathed!), sausage and peppers, stares I got when I whipped out my koozie, realizing that I really enjoy slate jokes, laughing at how much fun it really is to count down the New Year over and over again in the middle of January. Somewhere in between all of that we made a movie. Follow TTIB on Twitter @TIGERTAILinBLUE.
In the meantime, the day before this edition of The SCENE Magazine rolls out, AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK will be screening in Los Angeles at UCLA. Towards the end of March, we’ve got a screening in The Netherlands. You can catch up with Frank while he’s waiting tables at Vincitori Restaurant in Westmont, Illinois – despite the fact that aspiring filmmakers should be paying him buckets of money to teach them how the heck to make movies.
Originally published in The SCENE MAGAZINE – February 2011