Billy Palumbo joined OCU as a visiting assistant film professor this fall. The week before classes began, he moved from Boston to Oklahoma City without a car. He’s been biking to and from the school daily to adjust to the move.
Palumbo grew up in Bridgewater, New Jersey. After graduating high school, he began attending Emerson College in Boston.
He stayed there for 11 years, completing a graduate degree and then teaching. After three years of working at Emerson part time, he decided it was time to move onto a full time gig.
“For a lot of film positions, it’s highly competitive, so you have to be willing to look nationally. I was willing to look nationally,” Palumbo said.
He saw the listing for OCU, looked into it and landed the job. Having lived on the east coast his entire life, acclimating to middle-America is a process, Palumbo said.
“It’s a different way of being,” he said.
He said he has hope for his new home, though.
“My sense is that people here are nicer, in a way, or more interested. You don’t have to prove yourself, people will give you the benefit of the doubt. In some ways that’s good, but in some ways it may be giving people too much credit,” Palumbo said. “But that might just be the east coast cynic inside me.”
He also said he sees potential here and feels a freedom to start something new.
“In Boston, if you’re interested in something, someone’s already doing it. Here, you can just start up. So even though there isn’t a big experimental film scene, I’m not too worried about finding people,” Palumbo said.
Palumbo said his attraction to the filmmaking process began in his middle school years.
“I had a compact VHS camera, and I would mess around with my friends and the camera,” he said. “A lot of times it was just us following each other around, filming constantly. We’d come up with mockumentaries, whatever was on the top of our heads.”
From kindergarten on, he was interested in writing and storytelling. When he first applied to Emerson College, he thought he would apply for screenwriting. Instead, he applied for general film production, and fell in love with the camera itself, he said.
“I had some professors that were experimental filmmakers, and they changed the way I approached holding the camera, looking through the camera and constructing something,” Palumbo said.
He said he became enthralled with experimental film his sophomore year of undergrad, realizing the different ways a story could be told.
“In a way, you’re watching something that makes you aware of how you watch it, or how you feel as you watch it,” Palumbo said. “The camera can change how we perceive space and movement, and that can tell the story, or create the mood as much as what people are doing or saying or what’s happening in front of the screen.”
Films like Transport by Amy Greenfield, he said, create a relationship between the camera and the subjects. A dance, of sorts, he said.
“Experiences that are unique to film are something I’m always interested in, in films that I see or do, an experience that is unique to the screen,” Palumbo said.
He began teaching during his last semester of graduate school, in the fall of 2014.
“I love it. I love teaching,” he said. “ I watch some of the same movies every semester, but every time, when it’s with a new group of students, I see something different.”
He said watching a student’s artistic perspective change is what he loves about teaching.
“It’s great when somebody is skeptical, they don’t know what to expect, and they see something that makes them say ‘That made me think of this!’ or ‘I want to try that!’ Seeing that spark, that, to me, is awesome,” Palumbo said.
Lysa Engle, film production junior, has two classes taught by Palumbo.
“He’s very relatable. He’s not talking down to us at all, he’s very much trying to talk to us on the same level,” Engle said. “I really like that.”
Palumbo said he strives to inspire students to think outside of a rigid box and to instead look at things more fluidly.
“One reason I’m interested in teaching film is challenging the way that we accept the status quo of film. I’m interested in encouraging students to work in ways that challenge these accepted character or story types, to move away from stereotypes, whether it’s stereotypes of characters or people that we work with, to break down the patriarchy that’s over everything,” Palumbo said.
Working towards an image of masculine power and notoriety is besides the point, he said.
“Challenging the idea of these ‘great men’ filmmakers, and realizing that film isn’t about being a monolithic vision of genius like Quentin Tarantino, or Scorsese, or Christopher Nolan,” Palumbo said. “It’s about expression. It’s about communicating and sharing an experience with an audience.”