When Bill and Turner Ross were in the early days of brainstorming their latest film, they decided to take each other out to lunch to discuss the ideas they’d had floating around for the past few months, mostly via back-and-forth texts. They sat outside at a restaurant in New Orleans, where the brothers live a 10-minute bike ride from one another, and ordered lobsters, oysters and a whole lot of beer. They got drunk, took out a notepad and — to their complete surprise — worked out nearly the entire movie.
It was Nov. 19, 2020, a date that Turner recalls while reading a journal entry he scrawled after the meeting. “There is no time, only fluidity of thought, things done and yet to be, epiphanies of what the future already knows,” he wrote. “Our easy rider rips off our won river, beginning with destruction, and setting out to seek, to find, to be there.”
Barely a week after that boozy lunch, the Ross brothers were already giving their first production presentation for what would eventually become Gasoline Rainbow. The feature, which will premiere at the Venice Film Festival as part of its Orizzonti competition, is ostensibly a road trip story, following a group of teenagers from a rural Oregon town as they set out to see the Pacific Coast for the first time. “During the pandemic, we were thinking about what it would be like if you were a teen in a town you already hated,” says Bill. Turner describes the idea for the film as “imagine shooting out of a cannon into the world.”
The filmmaking duo is known for their genre-defying work, such as their Sundance 2020 standout Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, a staged — yet unscripted — pseudo-documentary about a Las Vegas bar’s last night of business. Gasoline follows their oeuvre by employing a highly improvisational style, with a principal cast made up entirely of newcomers. It stars Tony Abuerto, Micah Bunch, Nichole Dukes, Nathaly Garcia, and Makai Garza, all playing themselves; though a few of them came into the project as friends, their chemistry as a group came from a combination of good casting instincts and luck. While the young actors — natives of rural eastern Washington state — were rookies, the directors leaned into their lived experiences to help them through the (very) loosely scripted shoot. “They hadn’t done a ton of traveling and were eager to explore,” says Turner. “[Our directing] wasn’t so much, ‘OK kids, you’re going to get super excited about this thing.’ It was, ‘Here’s where we’re coming from and here’s where we’re going, and it brings up these thoughts for me — what does it bring up for you?’ ”
Gasoline sees the group of recent high school graduates making the 500-mile trek by car, train and even foot, and the film’s production followed a similarly adventurous protocol. The crew used an RV as a roving office, staying in a different roadside motel each night as they filmed the teenagers’ adventures. The directors went on several scouting trips, running the route until they felt confident they could film on an extremely strict schedule with an even stricter budget, but they still describe the process as extremely stressful.
“It was a stupid way to make a movie,” Turner says, laughing. When they wrapped the film in Oregon’s coastal fog, they cracked a beer at the ocean’s edge in celebration. “Then we got back into the car and blared ‘Stay’ by Rihanna, and everyone was fucking crying,” says Bill. “We were so relieved that we’d done it, and we’d gone through so much together. Everyone’s heart was on full display.”