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Everyone’s a critic. But Bob Ross actually gets paid to be one.
For over 22 years, through a regular movie review column in the Tampa Tribune, Bob Ross shared his opinion with the Tampa Bay on every major Hollywood release. When the Tampa Tribune decidedit no longer needed a professional movie reviewer on its payroll last April, the 59-year-old Ross didn’t miss a beat. He simply changed mediums. He continues to review movies on a regular basis, switching from print to videotaped online movie reviews through his new website - www.bobrossmovies.com.
“This is what I love to do. I guess I have a knack for it. I have this great storehouse for useless information,” he said with a smile, tapping his index finger against his temple. “Just one day after the Tampa Tribune eliminated my position, Tampa Digital Studios approached me with the idea of continuing my career as a movie reviewer online. They said they’d produce it. All I had to do was show up and talk. It didn’t take me long to say yes. What else was I going to do?”
“I want to clarify one thing, though” he said. “The Tribune didn’t fire me, they fired my position.”
Instead of having an in-house movie reviewer, the Tampa Tribune now uses a wire service.
“It’s the same generic review that appears in hundreds of small newspapers around the country,” he said.”
The Tampa Tribune also publishes reader reviews.
“You get what you pay for,” laughed Ross.
Ross also scoffs at the idea that simply having an opinion on a movie is enough to make someone a movie reviewer. His reviews have always been more than just his critique of the movie. He adds a dose of journalism to his reviews and always strives to connect to the true film buffs. Ross believes the best movie reviewers are also students of film history.
“Some people, all they care about is who is in the movie and what is it about. So I obviously have to put that in all my reviews. But I also like to talk about a film’s background – what other movies the director has made, what other movies actors have been in, why the director wanted to make this film, and what inspired the writer.
Ross said good movie reviewers also need to enjoy a diverse range of films.
“People used to write letters to me, ‘You don’t enjoy a movie unless it has subtitles.’ That’s ridiculous,” said Ross. “I love all sorts of films.”
Some of his favorite films include The Godfather, Singing in the Rain and Casablanca – classics. But he also loves to watch films such as Repo Man and Deathrace 2000.
“A good movie is one that I can watch over and over again,” he said.
His favorite directors include Francis Ford Coppola and David Cronenberg.
“I loved History of Violence,” said Ross. “But I really enjoy Cronenberg’s old movies like Videodrome that some fans of his more recent films wouldn’t give the time of day.
Though he’s been reviewing movies for 22 years, the switch from print to video has forced him to learn his trade all over again. In print, he said he was taught to be restrained and conservative. But now that people are watching him review films, he has to find ways to liven up the broadcast. His producers ask him to be funnier, more colorful, and more excited.
“It’s exciting to try something new after all those years. Now I’m just not reviewing entertainment, they expect me to be entertaining,” said Ross.
The shoe is now on the other foot. People can watch his reviews and review his performance.
“I never thought about it like that,” admitted Ross. “My biggest concern is getting people to watch the reviews online so I can continue to do it. Regardless, I’m lucky to have been doing this for so long. It’s crazy to think I’ve been reviewing films for 22 years.”
It’s especially crazy that Ross was ever involved in the newspaper industry, as he was raised to believe it was evil.
Ross’ father was program director for WFLA in Ocala, where Ross was raised after short stints in Baltimore, Miami and then Lauderdale.
“And newspaper was the enemy,” explained Ross. “It was my father’s competition. He was proud when I got into the newspaper business, though. He always taught me it was important to learn to write.”
Ross’ first writing job was at WFLA. He wrote 10, 30 and 60-advertisement spots. While in high school he would regularly submit opinion pieces on both local and national politics to the Ocala Star Banner. Then, when he was a senior in high school, his essay, “Building Better Citizens for a Strong America,” won a Civitan Essay Contest. The grand prize was $1,000, enough money to pay for his entire freshman year of college at St. Petersburg’s Florida Presbyterian College, which has since changed its name to Eckerd College. He continued to write opinion pieces for local newspapers and earned his B.A. in political science.
“I chose that major because my teachers thought I’d make a good lawyer,” he said. “But I decided that wasn’t the plan for me.”
Actually, Ross’ plan was to not have a plan. Shortly after graduation, he hit the road, traveled west and “bummed around,” spending time in Berkeley, California; and Tacoma and Seattle, Washington.
“I worked in a hippie bookstore at one point,” said Ross with a smile. “You could do things like that back then, just travel around and take random jobs. It was fun.”
A year and a half later he returned to St. Petersburg. By day he worked construction, and by night he attended rock concerts.
In 1973 he received his first big break in the newspaper business. One of his concert-going friends was a copy editor with the St. Petersburg Times. Knowing Ross was a talented writer, he helped him get work as a stringer for the St. Petersburg Times covering concerts.
“My first assignment was reviewing Traffic at Curtis Hixon Park,” remembered Ross. “They paid me $20 and gave me a free ticket, which back then cost $5. I spent all night writing the review on a typewriter in my kitchen and they liked it.”
Not only did the Times continue to employ Ross as a rock critic, they also hired him as a proof reader.
In 1976 the Times promoted Ross to fulltime journalist. Writing for the Times’ then-Bradenton section, the Manatee Times, he covered everything from “sick animals to County Commission meetings.”
“That was my journalism school,” said Ross.
In 1982 his father opened Tampa’s first ever video store. Located on Kennedy Boulevard, it was aptly named First Video Station. Ross quit the news business to help his father run the store. One of the store’s regular customers was the Tampa Tribune’s film critic, Greg Tozian. When Tozian decided to move to France to write a novel, he suggested Ross apply for his job.
“To make a long story short, in 1985 I was hired,” said Ross. “And I was there for 22 years.”
He admits that on some days he misses the print business, especially the rush of making deadlines.
“But, I’m amazed how much more relaxed I am now,” he said.
Whether in print, on television or online, Ross said the role of a true movie reviewer never changes.
“The job of a movie reviewer isn’t so much to tell people whether they should see a movie or not,” explained Ross, “but instead to provide them with enough information so that the people can make an educated decision on their own on whether or not that film is something they may enjoy.”
To watch Bob Ross’ movie reviews, visit http://www.bobrossmovies.com.
"Filmlook" is ©2007 by Paul Guzzo. All graphics unless otherwise noted are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.