Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Roger Lyons has spent more than a decade on his film, “Steve Ross: Giving Back to America,” about Holocaust survivor Steve Ross. (Steve is also the father of Four Questions friend Mike Ross.) Roger is 90 percent of the way there and has a Jewcer campaign (think Kickstarter) to fund him the rest of the way. I talked to him about his project and how the television industry has changed since he began the film. His Jewcer campaign runs through Friday, Aug. 22.
Tell me about your film. Where did the idea come from?
My film is not your typical “Holocaust film.” It does cover Steve Ross’s early years (he was born Szmulek Rozental), including his horrific experiences in 10 concentration camps. But the focus of the story is how Steve pulled himself up from the ashes, educated himself over many years and dedicated his life to helping people. We follow him from his very first home in the Boston area, where he lived with many other war orphans, to schools and the streets. As a young man, he worked to keep disadvantaged youth off the streets and into schools. Eventually his hard work earning his education paid off, as he became a licensed psychologist for the city of Boston for over 40 years. His most enduring legacy is The New England Holocaust Memorial, which graces the heart of Boston on the Freedom Trail.
The film developed from a series of profiles I was producing at WBZ-TV called “Hometown Hero,” where each week we focused on an “ordinary person” who was doing extraordinary things in the community. When I first met Steve, it was on a phone call to set up the shoot, and he talked about his life and the Holocaust for about two hours. When I interviewed him at The New England Holocaust Memorial, I knew there was a much longer story than a 60-second profile. From there, I followed him around when he was lecturing at inner-city schools, appearing at Yom HaShoah ceremonies and being interviewed. Over the years, I’ve started and stopped working on the film several times due to health and financial obstacles. But not this time; I’m finishing this film about Steve as soon as humanly possible.
You’ve been working on this project for more than a dozen years. What’s your reaction to this new wave of anti-Semitism throughout the world?
It frankly doesn’t surprise me. There has always been a streak of it in many countries, much of it dormant. But now, with the Israel-Gaza battles and the skewed way in which the media and social media have portrayed the war, it has greatly exacerbated anti-Semitism. It’s very troubling.
You’ve been in television production pretty much your whole career. How has the industry changed with new technologies? Are producers going to have to find their own funding through Kickstarter and the like?
The television industry has changed dramatically. We don’t just want “television” on a “television set.” Everything is mobile. You can watch your favorite shows or movies anywhere on your chosen mobile device. Sometimes producers have to adjust their products, or programs, to fit on a very small mobile phone screen or a giant 60-inch screen. It’s a very different world than when I started out, not to mention social media, where you can get instant feedback and start group conversations about what’s being seen.
As for crowd funding, I wouldn’t say it’s the most stable way to raise funds, yet it’s very inclusive and works for lots of projects. I do feel it’s best used when people with little access to money are able to reach a lot of people and acquire funds they couldn’t otherwise obtain. I don’t like seeing Hollywood stars using crowd funding to get millions of dollars donated when worthy projects have difficulty raising a fraction of that money for their projects.
I’m a bit curious about the name of your production company—Many Hats Productions. What hat do you wear that would surprise most people? And do you actually wear a hat when you film?
I call my little company Many Hats Productions because of all the different types of projects I’ve worked on over the years. I write, produce, direct and do voice-overs, which most people don’t know. I’ve actually produced/directed a shoot with a drone camera. And sometimes I do wear a baseball cap when I’m shooting, although I never really thought of it as a “hat.” The hats are meant to be various skills and different types of projects.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!