Getting it all on film in La Verne and beyond
Five-time Emmy nominee Bill Neill has deep roots in La Verne.
by Victoria Allende
photography by Sheila DelCastillo
Relaxing in the shade of his gazebo, Bill Neill drinks in the beauty of his garden. From the specially crafted barbecue to the tree house he built for his grandchildren, Neill’s home is filled with unique personality. Living in a historical home, located just a few blocks from the University of La Verne, Neill blends in with the close-knit community as another friendly neighbor.
But Neill is not your typical neighbor. He is a five-time Emmy nominee and successful documentary filmmaker. His most recent accomplishment is “Maloof,” an hour-long documentary on the life of world-renowned wood-worker, Sam Maloof. Maloof, who is 92 years old, creates unique, high-quality, furniture. At an auction held at Anderson Ranch Arts and Craft Center, one of his rocking chairs was sold for $180,000. Maloof has been designated by the California Legislature as one of California’s living treasures. His fans include actress Rene Russo and former President Jimmy Carter, who calls Maloof “the finest woodworker in the world.”
A few years ago, while visiting Maloof’s Rancho Cucamonga home, Neill met Russo. “I was there for his birthday, and Rene Russo came with a gift,” Neill recalls.
When Neill asked Russo if she would be willing to appear in the documentary as a host and voice-over, she happily agreed. “I’d do anything for Sam,” she says.
A 1962 graduate of what was then known as La Verne College, Neill returned to the University of La Verne in the mid-1970s to earn his master’s degree in educational technologies.
After many years of working in various television teaching positions, Neill accepted a job at KOCE TV in Huntington Beach. He worked as the producer/director of the television station for 11 years. He produced films on subjects that included astronomy, cultural anthropology and the arts.
Years after his graduation from La Verne, Neill returned to the college, this time to teach in the Communications Department. He was station manager for LVTV from 1988 until 1991. This time around his wife, Charlotte, joined him. She worked as assistant to the dean from 1989 until her retirement in June 2007.
ULV Communications Professor Mike Laponis reflects fondly upon Neill’s time at LVTV. He credits Neill’s experience at KOCE TV with helping LVTV become a better station.
“He did a very good job,” Laponis says. “He was a real professional.”
Although it has been several years since his departure from the university, Neill keeps his feet firmly planted in the ULV community.
“I’ve designated myself to be an archivist for the University of La Verne,” Neill says. He explains that whenever he sees something is occurring or changing on campus, like the demolition of the old gym, he goes over with his camera and documents what’s going on. Neill has such a passion for the university that he named his production company Lordsburg Productions, after the university’s original name.
Neill would like to produce a documentary on ULV President Stephen Morgan, and another on former ULV athletic coach Roland Ortmayer, who was Neill’s basketball coach when he attended the university. Ortmayer was the type of coach who encouraged his athletes to attend class over practice—not something commonly seen in school sports today. He’s also thinking about doing a documentary on a book called “Wine and War,” which is about the wine industry during World War II.
“[It’s] how the wine industry survived during the war.” He would like to first make a documentary about it, and then perhaps produce a theatrical feature.
In the meantime, Neill enjoys his days in his beautiful home with his family. “I love to come outside with my coffee when it’s raining and walk up and down my porch.”
Whichever project Neill decides to take on next, it is sure to be a success. This happy grandfather, father, teacher, filmmaker and Emmy nominee shows no sign of slowing down.