Meet James Ross, One of the 5 Winners of the 5th Annual Focus Features & JetBlue Student Short Film Showcase

A Q&A with the writer and director of the horror short film Don’t Blink.

The Gotham Film & Media Institute announced that James Ross’s Don’t Blink is one of five works chosen by a special jury of filmmakers, curators, and critics for the Focus Features & JetBlue Student Short Film Showcase. Created as his MFA thesis film for Florida State University, Don’t Blink was selected out of a pool of projects from 34 different graduate programs.

In Don’t Blink, Travis (Samuel Isaiah Hunter) is invited to spend the night, only to find himself trapped inside a nightmare where his date, Reese (Tamara French), has morphed into a creature who attacks whenever he blinks.

We asked Ross to tell us a little about the inspiration for his film, the artists who influenced him, and his plans for the future.

Follow him on Instagram: @__lordjames__

James Ross' Don't Blink

Where did the idea for Don’t Blink come from?

At this stage in my career, I’ve been interested in exploring the unnoticed impulses we have as human beings and creating a source of fear out of them. Things we don’t even think about can become scary. In this case, blinking is what came to my head, and I thought I could take that and turn it into a fun short film.

How did you find your cast?

In the city of my alma mater, I was signed to a local talent agency when I was doing acting work. Tamara French was signed to that same agency, so I reached out and had her audition. She was so incredibly in sync with what I had in mind for the character that it even gave me the creeps. Samuel Isaiah Hunter was discovered at an open call held in Orlando, Florida. He had such great instincts with this magnetic charisma that I knew would immediately get the audience on his side. Both of them were amazing professionals and just as excited about bringing this project to life as I was.

Writer-director James Ross

What In the final cut most captures what you saw in your mind when you first imagined the film?

I wanted the film to play out within a shortened variation of the traditional three-act structure, something I hadn’t explored while working on short films. I wanted to give each act its own climax and take the audience on a thrilling ride. Also, there’s a jump scare early on in the film that was sitting in my head for almost a year. Judging by some of the reactions I’ve seen, it ended up working very well.

What was the biggest lesson learned working on Don’t Blink?

Having a great team makes all the difference. I’m very proud of the work of my collaborators, and I’m fortunate to be working with some of them on my next project. They play a huge part in what makes filmmaking so fun.

Still from James Ross' Don't Blink

As an emerging filmmaker, who are your influences?

As far as my style, I’ve taken a lot from so many filmmakers—too many to name. My influences are the people who’ve empowered me to pursue my filmmaking dreams and motivated me to push through anything to reach my potential. Those people are my family, my partner in art and life, Gabrielle Chapman, and the mamba mentality of the late, great Kobe Bryant.

What was the first film you saw that made you want to be a filmmaker and why?

There wasn’t really one film that set my filmmaking aspirations in motion. It was more a moment of reflection where I discovered the life path that would fulfill me the most was the path of a filmmaker. Having the opportunity to use my imagination to tell stories is what gets me out of bed every day. But, as far as the first experience I had that truly made me realize just how awesome movies can be—it has to be when I saw the first Transformers. 7-year-old James was absolutely blown away.

Are you working on a feature film?

I am! My team and I are on track to go into production in the late spring/early summer of this year. It’s a horror-mystery about a woman who awakens to a crime scene and finds a chilling connection that ties several grisly murders to her night terrors.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.