“It Ended Up Being the Toughest Edit of My Life”: Director/Editor Bill Ross on Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
Documentary filmmakers Bill and Turner Ross depict a mosaic of fleeting American dreams and the resilience of community in Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. The film centers on a nearly defunct bar outside of Last Vegas, The Roaring 20s, as its patrons grappling with the uncertainty of a future without their beloved dive bar. The subjects often teeter between dismay and debauchery, offering glances into masculinity, vice and a culture of anxiety. Director and editor Bill Ross explains the nuances of editing a film to make an audience feel present, grappling with one’s own internalized imperfections and why this film was so painstaking to edit.
Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the editor of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?
Ross: I’ve always cut our films. I can’t imagine not doing it. It’s where our films get written essentially.
Filmmaker: In terms of advancing your film from its earliest assembly to your final cut, what were goals as an editor? What elements of the film did you want to enhance, or preserve, or tease out or totally reshape?
Ross: As always, I’m trying to give the viewer a sense of what it was like to be there. I thought that might be easy this go around. We’re in one room for just a day. It ended up being the toughest edit of my life.
Filmmaker: How did you achieve these goals? What types of editing techniques, or processes, or feedback screenings allowed this work to occur?
Ross: In the beginning, I wanted the film to just be a series of long takes. At least a minute long. So the film would be made up of these large blocks. The thinking was that it would give you a great sense of what it was like to be there. About a 1/3 of the way through the edit, we realized that being more cutty actually made the film more lived it, a more fully realized space.
Filmmaker: As an editor, how did you come up in the business, and what influences have affected your work?
Ross: I started as a runner at a trailer house in LA and worked my way up to assistant editor. What I learned there was invaluable. You have to tell a story in 2.5 minutes. Every frame counts.
Filmmaker: What editing system did you use?
Ross: Premiere Pro.
Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to cut and why? And how did you do it?
Ross: The opening. It’s always the fucking opening.
Filmmaker: Finally, now that the process is over, what new meanings has the film taken on for you? What did you discover in the footage that you might not have seen initially, and how does your final understanding of the film differ from the understanding that you began with?
Ross: Going into this we had a whole kitchen sink of ideas we wanted to dive into, but one that wasn’t predetermined that really worked itself into the film was masculinity. Day after day on the screen, I’d watch the guys in our film and wonder why they might be up to whatever it was they were doing: “My God, do I do that?” I learned a lot about myself on this one.