When casting director Jennifer Venditti visited a high school in rural Maine, scouting for non-actors to populate Carter Smith’s Bugcrush (2006), one student in particular captured her attention — 15-year-old Billy Price. He was something of an outsider at the school, which, for Venditti, was all the more reason to understand and get to know him. “The more I was warned away from him,” she writes in her director’s statement, “the more I wanted to know.”
She soon decided to document a slice of Billy’s life, organizing a lo-fi, unobtrusive shoot to capture what she describes as “a life in progress”. The result was her directorial debut, Billy the Kid (2007), which was re-released this week by Oscilloscope Laboratories. It’s a film in which we may see our own teenage selves reflected back to us — in all their confusion, angst and beauty — presented without judgement. Across a mere handful of days, Billy lays bare his emotions and innermost thoughts for the camera, startlingly frank and vulnerable as he grapples with fear, anger, love, and pain — not to mention adolescence. “Despite the way I look on the outside,” he says in the film, “on the inside, I’m actually very sensitive.”
In the wake of Billy the Kid’s re-release, Ivana Brehas spoke with Billy Price himself to reflect on the film.
Ivana Brehas: How were you approached to be the subject of this film?
Billy Price: Carter Smith was at my high school filming a short horror film called Bugcrush, and Jennifer, who was the casting director, happened to be going around looking for extras. I signed up to be one, y’know, for the hell of it, and instead I wound up being in a supporting role. As the days went by, Jennifer got to know me, found out how I live my life, and saw what I went through and all that, and she became intrigued and decided she wanted to record a little of me going through my everyday life. It kind of developed a life of its own, and thus Billy the Kid got made.
IB: Did you have any reservations about it?
BP: I was a little nervous at first, I will admit, but within a matter of a few days I got used to it, and it pretty much felt like I was going through everyday, normal life — except for a camera following me.
IB: What was the experience like?
BP: It was a combination of many things. It was emotional, it was interesting, it was fun, there were moments I would just as soon forget — you know, like those awkward moments where I lost my temper, for starters — but as the years went by I started realising, “You know what? I’m a person like any other, so why should I be embarrassed?”
IB: It’s been 13 years since the film came out, so you’re 28 now, right?
BP: I’m actually 30 now.
IB: Oh, wow. So looking back, how do you feel about teenage Billy?
BP: I look at him and say, “This guy’s severely outdated.” [laughs] I mean, for starters, I don’t suck at singing anymore. Secondly, I’ve discovered I’m much better off at drums than I am at guitar. And thirdly, I found out the whole “allergic reaction to nuts” thing was actually a fluke, so that one definitely wasn’t true.
IB: Well, that’s good. At least you can enjoy nuts.
BP: Yeah, turns out it was a stress thing.
IB: You mentioned playing drums. Music was such a big part of your life in the film — are you making music now?
BP: No, I usually just go to open mic nights, karaoke and stuff, sing renditions of tunes that already exist. Sometimes I’ll team up with my father, who I’ve long since reconciled with, and go to open mic nights with him and my sister. All three of us actually do music.
IB: What kind of music is important to you these days?
BP: Just about any kind that captures my fancy, to be honest. When I want to relax, I’ll listen to a lot of classical music, or traditional foreign music, like Japanese or Chinese music. Stuff that can come in handy when it comes to meditating.
IB: That’s funny, I just meditated before this interview. I notice that I tend to get nervous before them. So you meditate to that music?
BP: Sometimes. I usually meditate when I feel I’ve had a bad day, and I just want to put it behind me and forget about it. Sometimes it helps, sometimes I have to focus on other things to put it behind me, like video games, y’know?
IB: Of course. Coming back to the film, how did things change in your life after it came out?
BP: Well, for starters, a lot more people in my high school were understanding me, and realizing, “This guy ain’t so different from me.” A lot more people were coming forward and saying, “Now I see why you go through this,” and on top of that, some of them were even saying that they were sorry that they bullied me. Go figure — nowadays, a lot of kids that bullied me in school are actually my friends.
IB: Oh, wow.
BP: Funny how that works.
IB: In the documentary, you’re clearly concerned about the environment, and you say that you hate litter. How are you feeling about our planet these days?
BP: The way I feel about my planet remains the same. I still care about her, and I really wish the environment was in much better shape, but unfortunately, people are still doing stupid stuff and whatnot — and now there’s this pandemic, so I’m thinking, “Okay, this has really made things complicated now.”
IB: Are you still in Maine?
BP: Yes. I can’t really see myself living anywhere else.
IB: How are things going there with the pandemic?
BP: The sensible people are doing what they should, the not-so-sensible people are not, you know. About the same as every state, I guess.
IB: With this film coming out again, whole new audiences are introduced to Billy the Kid. What do you hope they’ll take away from it?
BP: Well, that in the end, just because you’re autistic, or have some kind of ‘handicap’ as they call it, doesn’t make you any different from any other person. You have the right to live your life as much as anyone else, and to enjoy life. And in all honesty, the fact that more footage is being shown in the movie — the way I see it, it’s almost as if more parts of me are being revealed, that more people will hopefully relate to.
IB: A lot of people online watch the film and say “I hope Billy’s doing fine now,” and they want to know what you’re up to. What do you want to tell them?
BP: Well, I’m still alive and well. Living the quiet life, mostly, and just doing what I do best. I’m still very much into my rock music, I’m still very much into my movies and video games, and I do still like to write stories, obviously. Though, lately, I’ve had writers’ block, so I haven’t been able to come up with many fanfictions. [laughs]
IB: I feel you. What’s the best movie you’ve seen recently?
BP: Geez, that’s a hard one to pick. I’m gonna sound like a mega-nerd for saying this, but I think the coolest, most recent film I saw was that new version of Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
IB: Oh, I haven’t heard about this. A new version?
BP: Yeah, it’s a sequel to that Godzilla film that came out in 2014. It’s a lot different from the original, though.
IB: What was different?
IB: Godzilla isn’t portrayed as the antagonist or anything like that, and he doesn’t die in the end, either. Plus, a whole bunch of his allies and enemies, his most well-known ones, show up. You’ve got Rodan, you’ve got Mothra, and you’ve got King Ghidorah — definitely gonna appeal to any Godzilla fan out there, y’know?
IB: I’m looking this up. This is the one with Millie Bobby Brown?
BP: Yeah. As much as I’ve tried to turn my back on the monster films, as I got older I started to realise, “Wait a minute, I can’t just turn my back on the stuff I grew up on.” So I basically took my gloves off and said, “Hey, if these people wanna ridicule me for liking what I like, then fuck ‘em.”
IB: I love that. Anything else I should watch?
BP: If I was to recommend some really good films, I suggest you check out all the old black-and-white Universal monster films — the classics, like The Wolfman and Dracula. The way I see it, if you’re gonna enjoy horror films or monster movies, always give the ones that started it their due. I mean, where would we be these days without the old movies?
IB: This is great. I have a lot of monster-movie education to do. I’ve gotten so off-track here, but is there anything you want to add before we wrap things up?
BP: Well, I will admit, this is the first time I’ve ever verbally spoken to someone from Australia. For the most part, the only thing I’ve gotten to do is chat to them on Facebook. So this is a new experience.
IB: Well, I’m honoured. I hope I did our country justice.
BP: Two things I really enjoy actually come from Australia.
IB: Oh, what are they?
BP: First of all, I really love the Crocodile Dundee movies — good ol’ Paul Hogan, y’know? And secondly, the first rock band, besides KISS, to ever really influence me, was AC/DC.
IB: Right, of course! Well, I believe Billy the Kid won an award at the Melbourne International Film Festival when it came out, so the appreciation is mutual.
BP: Yeah, I heard it went out there. I hope they liked it.
IB: I think they did. I really appreciate your time, and I wish you all the best. Thank you so much!
BP: Oh, it was a pleasure, and it was definitely an honour to meet you.
Billy the Kid was re-released by Oscilloscope Laboratories on September 30, 2020, and is available to watch in selected virtual cinemas here.
Ivana Brehas is a writer and filmmaker living in Naarm, Australia. She has written for Dazed, Bright Wall/Dark Room, The Big Issue, 4:3 and more. She also makes lil videos. Contact her at www.ivanabrehas.com.