VOL. 113 | NO. 202 | Friday, October 22, 1999
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Steven J. Ross, named Communicator of the Year by the Tennessee Speech Communication Association, enjoys combining visual elements with storytelling to create award-winning films
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
When Steve Ross went to see "Lawrence of Arabia" at age 12, the way he looked at the world changed forever.
"I found myself looking at everything differently. It was one of those epiphanies," he said.
Ross, who was recently named Communicator of the Year by the Tennessee Speech Communication Association, said hes known since the day he saw that movie that he wanted to become a filmmaker.
He jokes that the epiphany occurred at about the same time that he realized he wasnt going to become a professional baseball player.
Ross was born in Elmont, N.Y., in 1949, and his father worked at an insurance company by day and as a musician on weekends.
"I grew up with a sense of having some passion outside your regular job," he said.
Ross said he considers himself lucky to be able to combine passion and profession in his job as a professor in the communication department at the University of Memphis.
When hes not teaching students, he works making films or writing scripts that combine characters drawn from his life with historical events.
"Ive been working on this very whimsical historical fiction," Ross said.
His honor from the Tennessee Speech Communication Association follows his latest documentary film, "Oh Freedom After While," which earned him the 1999 Tennessee Independent Film Maker Award by the Nashville Independent Film Festival.
"Oh Freedom After While," which Ross co-authored with Candace OConnor, tells the story of the Missouri sharecropper protest of 1939.
Ross previous film, "Black Diamonds, Blues City: The Story of the Memphis Red Sox," was narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and aired on most PBS stations nationally.
His other films include "At the River I Stand," a 1993 documentary about the last crusade of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., for which he received an Emmy nomination and literary adaptations of "The Old Forest" from a story by author Peter Taylor and "A Game of Catch" from a story by Richard Wilbur.
These literary adaptation films have been televised nationwide on the Arts & Entertainment Network, as well as PBS.
Ross said it is the ability to get people to take a second look at issues that he finds most compelling about his work.
"Most of us dont bother to take a second look, and that second look can be very revealing," he said.
While Ross doesnt limit himself only to making documentary films, he enjoys working on those types of films because they combine visual arts with storytelling.
And even though Memphis might not be the first city that springs to mind when thinking about filmmaking, Ross said theres a good deal of activity here, thanks in part to the efforts of Lynn Sitler, head of the Memphis Film Commission.
Sitler convinced Sydney Pollack to film John Grishams "The Firm" in Memphis, although Pollack wanted to shoot the film in Chicago.
After that movies success, filmmakers decided to shoot "A Family Thing" with James Earl Jones and Robert Duvall in Memphis.
During the past decade that he has been making films, Ross has seen the film industry, like many others, change dramatically because of technological advances.
"It used to be very easy to explain the post-production process, but now its very complicated."
While shooting on film produces the highest quality product, many media outlets only accept videotaped material.
This advent has made filmmaking a more circuitous process, because once film is shot, material is transferred to computer for digital editing and then either transferred back to film or to videotape.
"It changes the way you go about working," Ross said.
However, Ross has adapted to the industrys changes while continuing to follow his passion, and his recognition demonstrates his colleagues are, as well.
The award traditionally has gone to individuals in other areas of communication than filmmaking, and Ross said that made receiving the honor, which took him by surprise, all the more special.
"It was very touching. I had no idea. I was really pleased."
name: Steven J. Ross
date of birth: Dec. 29, 1949
place of birth: Elmont, N.Y.
education: State University of New York, 1971
Bachelor of arts
New York University, 1974
Master of arts
marital status: single