One has long hair and one keeps it short, but alumni Bill and Turner Ross are still growing together. From their museum-going childhood in a small town in Ohio through their crucial skill-building years at SCAD, Bill (B.F.A. video/film) and Turner (B.F.A. painting) have developed a joint sensibility borne as much from encouragement as competition. In recent years the brothers have created a series of exquisitely personal, universally resonant documentary films including 45365, Tchoupitoulas and Western. We caught up them to discuss how their SCAD experience continues to inform their award-winning work.
SCAD: It’s been over a decade since you graduated. Do you still work with friends you made at SCAD?
Turner: A lot of our crew now are our friends from SCAD. We were a whole bunch of misfits who ended up together. Everybody had something that they wanted to do or somebody that they wanted to become. The people that we came through with are out there in the world, doing it in really exceptional ways. We still find a connection and are available to each other. It’s very much like family.
SCAD: What were the keys to your university experience?
Turner: For us, SCAD meant access to resources. Being there together, no matter what it was we were doing, we were able to bounce off of each other. We lived in a house on Anderson Street and we made all of our projects in our house with our friends. We went to class to learn from people, to get critiqued, but most of all, to have access to the resources that we needed to explore and the freedom within that SCAD environment to try things. We made a lot of really bad stuff and we learned a lot. In the end, we developed relationships that we took beyond the confines of the scholastic world.
Bill: We’d started out very young, running around with cameras and painting, and SCAD was a continuation of that in a more serious way. I worked at The Cage [the checkout locker at the film department], so we had access to equipment 24 hours a day. We were always taking it out whether we had a project to work on or not, just for the fun of it. It’s a little surprising to look back on some of those early things and see how similar they are to what do now. We’d like to think that our art has gotten better.
SCAD: So you were developing your passions from early childhood, before you got to SCAD?
Turner: We’re from a small town, Sidney, Ohio. Our dad was a historian and our mom was in education. As kids, we went to a lot of museums and they really fostered an interest in where people come from and who people are, which fed into what we do now, which is tell the stories of people and how they get to be who they are.
Bill: Growing up, I sort of hid part of myself because if the guys that I hung out with knew I was in the basement watching Fellini movies, they’d probably have been like, “What’s wrong with you?” Once I was at SCAD, I met so many people and we were just always making stuff together. Our work continues to be fun but there was something about that initial moment where the world just became a lot bigger and brighter because I had found a home and felt normal.
SCAD: Turner, you got to SCAD first, is that correct?
Turner: I got a scholarship through the SCAD Rising Star Program, which allowed me to graduate from high school early and go down and really pursue painting in a meaningful way. I still use skills as a filmmaker that I learned doing painting at SCAD: process, theory, color, light, knowing your subject matter, framing. Right out of college, I started working in art departments in film, which was an actual meeting of those two worlds.
Bill: I’ve always been proud of T. He is probably the most ambitious, driven person I’ve ever been around. He never had the fear of putting himself out there, which I think a lot of people can be hung up on. So he pushed me to do that as well, from a very early age.
Turner: It’s something more positive than a rivalry, you know.
Bill: Well, there is a little bit of that, too. We’ve very different individuals. If we weren’t brothers, I don’t know that we would actually hang out. But when we come together, our personalities mesh in a very good way.