Rising Star Russell Brown: “Diversity in entertainment is so important because stories can build empathy between communities”

…I think stories can build empathy between communities; I think young people need positive role models, especially if they are living in areas where it’s difficult to find people like them; and I think diversity onscreen can promote diversity behind the cameras, which opens doors and opportunities for those who otherwise might not have them. I […]

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…I think stories can build empathy between communities; I think young people need positive role models, especially if they are living in areas where it’s difficult to find people like them; and I think diversity onscreen can promote diversity behind the cameras, which opens doors and opportunities for those who otherwise might not have them.

I had the pleasure to interview filmmaker Russell Brown. Russell is currently editing Loren and Rose starring Jacqueline Bisset and Kelly Blatz, featuring Gia Carides, Erin Cahill and Paul Sand. The film wrapped principal photography in May, 2019. He is also completing post-production on two nonfiction films — a short conceptual documentary entitled The 44 Scarves of Liza Minnelli and Above the Arroyo: A Dream of the Stairs of Los Angeles, a feature length art installation which includes a live performance component. His most recently exhibited film — a mid-length documentary entitled The Kaleidoscope Guy at the Market — had its festival premiere at the 21st Dances with Films in June, 2018, and has continued to play over 25 festivals since its release, garnering awards in a variety of categories. His fourth narrative feature, Search Engines, starred an ensemble cast including Joely Fisher, Connie Stevens, Daphne Zuniga, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Barry Watson and Michelle Hurd. It premiered at Cinequest and has played more than 70 festivals across the country and internationally, picking up over 25 awards in categories ranging from acting, directing and writing to audience awards and best picture recognition. It was released theatrically by Indican Pictures in October, 2016. Brown’s third feature film, Annie and the Gypsy, starring Cybill Shepherd, premiered at the Seattle Film Festival in June, 2012. Osiris Entertainment distributed the film in Spring, 2013. The Blue Tooth Virgin, his second feature narrative, was released theatrically in the United States by Re- gent Releasing in September, 2009. It won the Special Jury Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival in the New American Cinema competition, as well as other festival prizes. Race You to the Bottom was released theatrically in the United States in March, 2007, by Here Films. The film played at festivals worldwide and earned a best actress award at Outfest. Brown directed the educational program Karen Black: On Acting, a master class seminar with the iconic actress. The film has screened at festivals across the country and had its television premiere in August, 2014, on PBS stations. It is being distributed by First Light Video. Russell is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and is a Film Independent Producing Fellow. His films are held as part of the collection at the UCLA Film and Television archive. He also dedicates a significant amount of time to philanthropic efforts. He is the founder and board chair of Friends of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles (FORT: LA) — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting stronger civic identity and community cohesion among the residents of Los Angeles County by advancing scholarship and facilitating wider exploration of our architecturally significant residential homes. In the past, he provided support to hospital patients across Los Angeles as a certified animal therapist with Love On 4 Paws and was also awarded a commendation from the City of Los Angeles for his work with the Boys and Girls Club of Venice. A Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Southern California’s Film Program in 1998, he held creative executive positions with Laura Ziskin Productions at Columbia Pictures and Saturday Night Live Studios at Paramount Pictures. Russell is a long distance runner, swimmer and triathlete.

Thank you so much for joining us Russell! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was raised by parents who valued art, music, theater but who also were businesspeople and practically minded. I think my career, in large part, is guided by these values.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I made a documentary early in my career about a blues club in Los Angeles. That film has continued to have a life and affect viewers — and it’s 20 years later. I love the work and I love the fact that my “product” can have an unexpected life of its own.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’ve been lucky to work with incredibly gifted and talented artists. Each one has his or her own story, and interesting things happened in my interactions with each of them. Karen Black walking onto set, asking whether her character is “wise or silly” — and delivering a profound performance based around the concept of wisdom; Ian Hart jumping between two characters — almost effortlessly — in a one man movie; watching Jacqueline Bisset use the tools of cinema to build her character — these are standouts.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I once packed a box for a boss in the most ridiculous way possible. It was a mess, with strings and papers hanging from all corners. I was 18, and mocked relentlessly in the office. I think artistry and care can be brought to all levels of work.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m currently editing “Loren and Rose” — a two-hander feature narrative which follows a friendship over the course of 6 years between a young filmmaker and once iconic actress.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have a personal relationship to this issue. I think stories can build empathy between communities; I think young people need positive rolemodels, especially if they are living in areas where it’s difficult to find people like them; and I think diversity onscreen can promote diversity behind the cameras, which opens doors and opportunities for those who otherwise might not have them. My new film, Loren and Rose, is about the relationship between an older woman and a younger gay man — both groups that historically have been underrepresented in the media.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Art is a long game. The immediate results aren’t important. Early in my career, I allowed “early results” to color my perception of my own work.
  2. Don’t get into business with bad people — listen to your instincts. The worst business relationship I’ve had started before the contract was signed. I knew early on and I should’ve listened to my gut.
  3. Relinquish control and allow things to happen and unfold. Films require lots of people to say no before the right people say yes. Time allows for the right person or situation to present itself.
  4. Listen. I’ve learned so much from my collaborators — but you have to listen hard.
  5. Push the work. You can always make it better. I’ve never regretted “one more pass” on a script or a cut. I would include in this the effort necessary to get work into circulation.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

If you live with an artistic spirit in your heart, you can’t burn out.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d like to see every member of society involved in some form of community service, or contributing financially in even the smallest way.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My friend and collaborator Christopher Munch is my artistic rock. He’s been through thick and thin with me and I am incredibly grateful to him. He’s the person I turn to first when things are hard, and he always listens and cares.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Producer Peter Guber once told me to “think about the next hurdle and not the end of the race” and I think he was right. You need to focus on what’s in front of you, and not a career-end result. Basically he was telling me to live in the now and do the best I can with what’s right in front. I think it was great advice.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes, Joni Mitchell. She’s a type of spirit animal for me.

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