Nicole Russin-McFarland, The Future Of Film, On The Future Of Filmmaking
Nicole Russin-McFarland is a disrupter in the status quo of women in film as a director, animator, and film score composer. She has etched herself into the public conversation with her passion for promoting her work with the purposeful ambition of a studio public relations team in one person. For a good look at the future of Hollywood, we asked the person who is the future of Hollywood what she thinks.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FILM INDUSTRY AFTER THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC CRISIS?
Studios are going to create more job opportunities investing in more films below the blockbuster budget levels. The success of Trolls: World Tour is the precedent we all needed. For people who don’t read up about the film industry, the animated film was supposed to have a theatrical release that never happened due to the Coronavirus business closures. Trolls: World Tour was released online on iTunes and elsewhere. While the rental price was above the standard rental cost, it was cheaper than the cost would have been for buying several in person movie theater tickets, or more if you have a large family. That doesn’t include extras like if kids want popcorn, candy, snacks, hot dogs, or drinks. People who said they would have never paid to see the cartoon in theaters over the money issue and inconvenience of hauling all these screaming kids in the car to the movie theater rented it at their homes. Others had an interest in it due to the comfort of being at your couch without having to look picture perfect heading out in public.
What does this mean with studio budgets? Things cost money preparing a film for a theatrical release. You then have to give more money to the movie theater. You have physical promotions like cardboard displays and more around each city’s theaters. Heaps of money get spent on physical releases. All fine for something like an Avengers movie. If you are a filmmaker trying to get a smaller studio film made, people will not want to spend that budget on your movie and use it as a decision maker in why they might not want to have your movie idea turn into a full theatrical film. Your film means taking a gamble to the studio.
With an iTunes release at the same time as a limited studio release if the studio wants to help qualify you for the Oscars, or possibly an iTunes only, you are far less of a financial risk to the studio helping you. The studio keeps far more of the money, giving a percentage to iTunes that is less than what one might give to chains of movie theaters. Your marketing is far cheaper because it is all done online.
Studios are going to look at hiring new filmmakers like myself for their first studio films, and they will finance more movies by established studio directors who are out there but don’t have the name recognition necessary to make films into hits. They will be able to create more quality entertainment and a whole lot more jobs. It sounds like a good thing! At the start of the pandemic, I like everyone worried about my future. Things are looking up for all of us newcomers. No matter the genre, we will all be working film directors in the future.
Absolutely, I love the movie theater experience more than anyone. I am not going to be unrealistic. I, and others like me who don’t have that A-list name status yet, do not have the luxury of being choosy. If we can work, that is a miracle. Do I want to eventually at some point make a movie on film and all the nerdy stuff about the cinematic experience? Well, yeah, I do. When I have that luxury. Right now, I am happy people care about my work and my future goals at all. Having a hit studio backed movie chart #1 on iTunes would be a blessing. Artistic freedom and the actual being a working director, working film score composer, working screenwriter has meaning to me that maybe someone else who has done that forever does not relate to anymore.
ON YOUR WEBSITE DREAM INFO PAGE, YOU WRITE YOU SOMEDAY WANT TO FILM A MOVIE AT PETER JACKSON’S STONE STREET STUDIOS. WHY NEW ZEALAND WHEN HOLLYWOOD HAS EVERYTHING?
You mean, other than my belief that his good luck will rub off on me on the same set? He made The Hobbit and all these films there. Because filming abroad mystifies me much like 1800’s New York was said to have streets lined with golden opportunities. How people flocked from Europe there, I imagine filming Hollywood films outside of Hollywood like a fairy tale.
I want to explore working more often in Britain and to also begin working within other global film scenes. You can absolutely make a Hollywood film, financed by Hollywood, and not be located in Hollywood, or at least, not be there during the filming.
As a voiceover actress and film director in terms of animation, I could and already absolutely work in any market right from home, anyway. Why not keep doing it? Let’s do it, but get better with every job.
The stereotype of the British film market is everyone is passionate about writing, directing, acting, singing, and the whole world of filmmaking. People work on bettering themselves at their craft in the film world, whatever it is. With an exception here and there, they are professionals with work and in treating you like a human being who they might talk to when they don’t have to, maintaining that business relationship. A business relationship is part human, part business, or the word “relationship” would not be in it. In my experiences working with UK acting talent and networking with British film industry and media professionals, that is happily 100 percent true. I couldn’t be any happier.
That leads me to believe since UK stereotypes are true, and how some LA stereotypes are true, it must be at least half true how people in Australia and New Zealand are supposed to be full of life and positive energy. They are said to value work opportunities more because historically, those things have been monopolized by the LA film market. People legitimately enjoy the filmmaking process. Whereas in America, you run into too large of a number of people who used to care about their art and now run around caring about the extravagant lifestyle one is supposed to have to impress other people. The way of life is said to be different, as is the attitude towards filmmaking, that bond you share with your fellow cast and crew.
Sometimes, detaching from the American film scene is what you need to have an incredible film you might not have made in LA. That is without getting into the added bonuses that outside of LA, you are able to tell other stories. If you venture off the green screen CGI stuff, you have other sceneries if you take advantage of your surroundings, from city to nature. If you notice, because so many films are made in LA, we see one view of the world. I felt all the time when I was younger, “Why does the world think anything 15 minutes south of Chicago is a bunch of Southern-accented people with toothpicks on tractors?” I imagine people around the world feel likewise about stereotypes proliferated by people in LA offices deciding what your local culture is like.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WOMEN’S VISIBILITY IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?
Much of Hollywood’s women’s equality discussion should be a question about women’s rights to work within invisibility, meaning, we need to think about women the world might never recognize because they don’t appear on screen. I always talk about the need to have security guards on set for the sole purpose of protecting the cast and crew from being harmed by people lurking amongst themselves, and we could include female security guards for people like actresses getting their hair and wardrobe done who might feel safer around women only. Women could do the catering. Maybe some women might want to dine with female cliques and only have them around. Who knows? Acting as drivers for people going to and from the sets, particularly, because some women do feel unsafe being alone with a male driver, or we wouldn’t have the number of female taxi cab drivers who only pick up groups of female friends. Maybe people in the wardrobe department helping you so you don’t feel on the spot changing in front of men. A secretary for a woman who might feel she can open up more to another woman.
Creating jobs on a grand level is a huge goal of mine. To people who don’t follow film like I do, they imagine it as another magazine cover story with some gorgeous female star talking about writing more roles for women in dramas. Attention is given to the on-camera people and the standard writers, publicists, all them. The average working class jobs that could be filled by women never get mentioned, when the working-class jobs are vital to the daily workplace.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD?
The Wachowski sisters, Lana Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski of The Matrix fame. Not one major women in Hollywood list or event ever has them. Why? They happen to be trans, they aren’t on TV like Laverne Cox, and therefore, they are not woman enough to be given respect within the women in film community. No hate towards Laverne Cox either, it’s simply she gets treated better because she has the stepping stone of being this beautiful woman on camera, and trans women behind the camera get ignored. Magazines are always running pieces, “Can you believe how horrible it was that people of color nominated for awards couldn’t attend the Oscars ceremonies due to segregation?” Those same outlets never honor the Wachowskis. Here you have the two women who are not only better because they are from Chicago, and you know me! Everyone from my home grounds is better. Haha. They created the most incredible trilogy ever made up there with the Star Wars of this world. No one ever sticks them on the covers for Women of the Year different magazine titles have. Why not? It is simple as this. Discrimination done through silence.
A metaphor? Yes. And no, because I get real silence. When I mention their names to anyone as women I admire, I get this odd reaction of actual silence. You cannot hear a thing. People think I am going to mention someone like Reese Witherspoon, and while I love Ms. Witherspoon’s work ethic helping women because she is a pioneer in that, it is sci-fi that inspires me. Blockbusters. Films making us question the future of humankind. I am not going to lie about my love for the Wachowski sisters because someone wants a more politically correct expected answer. If you want a really fun fact with how forward thinking they are, Sandra Bullock was originally going to star as Neo in The Matrix, not Keanu Reeves! They bring up valuable storylines of equality across orientation, gender, and race in Cloud Atlas. Every project they ever create makes me wonder about things I know I would not be thinking about.
HOW IS MARKETING A FILM LIKE SELLING A CONSUMER PRODUCT?
You need to ignore whatever people around you are saying and pinpoint the target audience your gut tells you about. Can we use TV as an example rather than film for a bit? Recently, I have watched two TV shows where the marketing was totally barking up the wrong tree. Netflix’s Hollywood and Apple TV’s Amazing Stories reboot are both clearly youth shows. They were promoted as new TV for people 30-45 subscribing to each streaming service. Wrong! I tuned in and said, “I would have loved this show when I was 12!” on both.
Hollywood, the TV show, was a little preachy for people who already knew about Cole Porter, Rock Hudson, the gas station scheme, and old Hollywood like I do. People on the show almost have to explain everything awkwardly. “That’s not any man. That’s Cole Porter! ‘Anything Goes?’” It was sold to people who already know about Hollywood as a guilty pleasure but we watching it, while enjoying it, already know this semi-fictional world. I watched it, and I knew, this is for young people who feel Disney is too safe, maybe too boring for them. They are craving something more adult, maybe a little historical, a little glam, maybe something with LGBTQ characters or people of color properly represented. People presumed because Ryan Murphy created the show, it must be like his other adult audience programming. No, it’s for young people! Nothing wrong with that. Why didn’t anyone catch on?
Amazing Stories, the new one from 2019-2020, is in danger of not being renewed if people don’t market it to young people. You can see how cynical the millennial and middle aged viewers are towards it. They are used to shows with more blood and gore. The adult themes you might find on Game of Thrones. Dark tales. You tune into Amazing Stories and don’t get that darkness. The tales end with mystery or happiness. The on screen characters are youth, much of the time. Every story point is something my younger self would have loved.
Why aren’t we testing out these shows for people 11-15? How many movies are sold as R rated films that would perform better if some scenes were cut, at a PG-13? Right about now is where you get into the deep conversations about the business of show business. The business angle is why some things flop and others succeed. We could probably devote a whole MBA program to the business of film’s complexity.
WHAT ADVICE FROM THE FILM INDUSTRY WORKS FOR ENTREPRENEURS?
People fall in love with films and music because of the people creating them. The art itself needs to be good, but the films and music are secondary to their creators. Did your favorite movie sell the tickets, or did you have an interest in it because of Brad Pitt? What do you love about him? That he might be rich, talented, and beautiful, but within his soul, he will always be that down to earth Midwestern homeboy who, as we say in Illinois, “done good in the big city” of LA? Why is Steven Spielberg arguably the most prominent filmmaking hero to every aspiring teen film director on social media? Is it really because he made Saving Private Ryan? No, it’s due to people finding him on YouTube videos talking about his life, relating to his vulnerabilities. He at one time was just like them, struggling with normal teen stuff, dreaming big. I mean look, right now, I am seeing here a video pulls up with him talking about dyslexia. He probably felt ashamed at some time about that. Maybe some young people out there feel like losers who have dyslexia. And to see him overcoming it, it shows you, “You can become an amazingly successful person despite what you think is a flaw. Maybe it isn’t a flaw at all. What if all it does is show you the world differently?”
You might be in any profession following this tip. If you are a public person, and that includes if you own a small business or are an entrepreneur of some kind, share your life story. It won’t all come out at once. Sometimes, you might talk about tough things. All you must do is talk. Be yourself. You could choose to create a fake image of a perfect life. Or you could be that person who said, “I never got discovered at a restaurant. I worked for everything I have ever done.” I cannot vouch every single thing in life, I do it right. 100%, I will say I know what I am doing with showing the world you are a human being. People respond really well. I do see people who succeed in their careers having what I call “perfect life PR.” They don’t go as far as the people who are completely honest. You won’t have that pressure anymore of pretending all the time. Life feels amazing. You’ll notice your career going upwards. People might connect to what you say; you connect to them as a friend somewhat. What isn’t to love?
OK, I know I am going on quite a bit. If I might add a second tip, it is how Oscar nominated and winning films always make you feel something. Or, the film changes your views on the world. The quality might be there. If the movie doesn’t have either of those characteristics, it won’t win. Or be nominated, really. A snub. Your marketing as an entrepreneur must make people feel something, and ideally, it must ask questions or make people change their life views. A powerful TV ad could do that, for example. Think of some!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Things are not working out for you whenever you do what everyone else thinks you should. Please stop. Living for other people is making you less of yourself. My answer might change daily! I have too many regrets.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE FILM INDUSTRY IN 10 YEARS?
The lack of diversity won’t be a problem anymore. With more films having affordable releases, everyone will have at least a handful of movies he or she loves every year. Stories will become more original. Blockbuster storylines will return to the fans. Comic book movies won’t be going anywhere.
WHERE DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN 10 YEARS?
I am going to be working regularly as a film composer and writer-director for film studios, given full creative control over my projects…because my first animated feature film of 2020, The Homework’s Revenge: Esther in Wonderland, got the world talking about this lovely young lady who gave us the most personal film animated by anyone since Walt Disney with his early films. My films I have made and will be planning to make are animation, Oscar films, and blockbusters. I will on my own have a hugely successful production company, and another major company devoted to being a full time successful animation house. I will be making the studios heaps of money because I will make films, and compose the scores to them, that connect with people across audience demographics. As an actress, I will be a popular voiceover actress who sometimes does on camera work! I will have a large family of happy cats and dogs who all get along. I will be BFFs with all my favorite filmmakers, often eating lunch with them when we aren’t doing virtual lunch if we aren’t in the same city. When I am not involved in film, I am singing/rapping popular tunes and producing hit music for other folks. I of course will still regularly communicate with all of the people who support my work on social media, YouTube, my website, and whatever means necessary. My CinematNIC blog will be one of the most widely read entertainment themed blogs in the world on its own and across platforms such as Apple News and Google News. My Etsy shop, Haus of Film, with my friends Ryan McGregor and Samantha V. Hutton, will have massive day job income for all of us, enabling us to do more with our women in film fundraiser. We will frequently be donating millions of dollars yearly to, and 100% financing, important women’s films that defy stereotypes. Within the next decade or two, I will star in a hit film in which I am my own comic book superhero, who at one point has a super cool musical number in which I do something really rebellious; it will be one of the most famous scenes ever of any Hollywood era. And we could go on. Wow, imagine this! We should all try to be self prophetic in our dreams coming true. I will love myself as I do now. We must love ourselves to make things happen.