Greetings valued Dan's Movie Report readers. Today I unleash an interview 16 years in the making. I have known Russ Emanuel since 2004 when he released 'Girl With Gun' with Michelle Lee. I had a chance to meet him and I covered that film in Vengeance Magazine. Fast forward to 2016, and the Florida Supercon, Russ was here for his parallel universe film “Occupants”, I had the opportunity to be at the booth to assist them when they had a screening at the 2016 Florida Supercon, I had the opportunity to be a representative for Russ and producer Paul Hickman's action film “The Assassin's Apprentice”. Russ is one of the hardest working guys I know, a professional, and a man of honor and dignity. Russ is quite interesting to chat with and is a very personable gentleman, Russ is currently working on part 2 of “The Assassin's Apprentice” and “Staycation”. Russ chats in depth about independent film making and the art of raising money through Indiegogo and Kickstarter, and various people he has worked with. Live long and prosper while Dan's Movie Report beams down a new interview...ENERGIZE!
DMR: Chat about the concept for “Routine”, working with Paige, and the idea behind the comic book ending.
RE: During a mysterious pandemic, Cassie’s quarantine life has turned into a routine, day in and day out. Nothing new seems to happen, until she realizes she’s out of coffee. And she’s determined to get her cup of joe, even if she must face the horrors of the outside world. Because “she’d kill for a cup of coffee.”
This film is a test of our new 6K pixel resolution camera package which we happened to get right before the Covid-19 outbreak. We decided if we were going to do a test, we ought to create a meaningful film, one that fit in with the pandemic times.
Therefore, teaming up with my longtime film-making partner Emile Haris, along with our lead actress, newcomer Paige Laree Poucel (who was amazing to work with and she will reprise her role of “Cassie” in “Staycation”), we set about thinking about what life has become under quarantine – one of “routine”, but one where we thought artistically outside the box, and subverted expectations, even under the 5 minute length of this film.
With additional voice talents of Alan Courtright and Bill Victor Arucan, as well as working again my longtime composer Vasilis Milesis, employing a wonderful song “The Moon and Back” sung by Ana Maria Escobar, along with DC/Marvel Comics Artist Dave Beaty who literally draws the “third act” of the film, we hope the audience will enjoy this brief yet poignant story that reflects our present realities.
We drew the third act of the film because of the Covid-19 restrictions which took place in Los Angeles around the time we filmed (April 2020). We couldn’t film outside so we had to think outside the box. Hence, the employment of Dave Beaty our wonderful comic book artist.
Above Image: Poster for the 2020 short film "Routine" (C) 2020 Russem Productions, all rights reserved image not monetized
DMR: Always difficult to adjust to shoot with Covid restrictions. Chat about the 'Staycation” feature, obviously no spoilers, chat about working and filming during the pandemic, did you have to alter some scenes?
“Staycation” is a midquel of sorts to 'Routine' where the
three main characters of the latter film make a comeback in
“Staycation” (Paige Laree Poucel as “Cassie”, Alan
Courtight as the “News Anchor” and Bill Victor Arucan as “Rob
“Staycation” expands on the storyline created in “Routine” but in a feature film version. We decided that because of the success of “Routine” at various film festivals including getting into one of the top genre festivals in the United States, FilmQuest, we ought to see if there was demand among potential investors for a feature version. And thankfully there was.
We raised enough money to film the B-storyline during November 2020 in Burbank, California with “Star Wars” actress Olivia d’Abo and “Star Trek” actor Sean Kenney, with further pickups in December 2020 with Tracee Lee Cocco also of “Star Trek” and Eileen Dietz of “The Exorcist”.
Filming during the pandemic was really tough because there were many Covid restrictions put into place which dramatically increased our budget and we unfortunately ran out of money after filming. Due to this, we decided to do an Indiegogo Campaign to raise finishing funds which we were too successful (at 201% raised) and now have an additional 50 actors to film. The film also has expanded by around 30 pages. We will be filming these actors in May and June 2021 and two notable name actors include Kelli Maroney of “Night of the Comet” and Laurene Landon of “Maniac Cop”.
I think many people outside the business do not even realize how much additional work and money has to go into proper covid protocol, I know many productions have to hire a dedicated Covid Complience Officer. Shifting gears, Russ you are extremely experienced in the art of raising money through Indiegogo and Kickstarter, as a writer, I am always interested to listen to some of the good and bad things from these sites. Do you feel more pressure, and does your sense of honor and quest for perfection often make you lose sight?
It was only out of necessity we used crowdfunding to raise monies. To be honest, it is really stressful and if I could have avoided it, I would have. But that said, a lot of good people including yourself became a part of our campaign and for that I am truly grateful.
Above: Poster for "Staycation" scheduled for release in 2022 (C) 2021 Russem Productions, all rights reserved image not monetized.
DMR: Thank you for the insight to the Covid filming issues and intricacies of raising money. On a happier note, chat about some of the incredible work you have done, do you have one feature film and perhaps one short film you can say, wow, I am thrilled this happened. Perhaps share some highlights.
RE: By this point in my career, I have been fortunate to be able to have directed five feature films with “Staycation” being my sixth and also directed some amazing short films including “Girl With Gun” way back in 2004 which was instrumental in my being able to direct my first feature film “P.J.” (now called “Heaven’s Messenger”) and met my producing partner Howard Nash who produced all five of my feature films that are out.
I would say the feature film that stands out for me is “Occupants” which was my fourth feature film and is a sci-fi thriller starring Robert Picardo of “Star Trek: Voyager”. As for a short film of mine that stands out, it’s either “Girl With Gun” or “The Assassin’s Apprentice”. Both are action films and the latter stars some more “Star Trek” actors including Robert Picardo (again) and Marina Sirtis (Counselor Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation”).
Above: Girl With Gun Poster
Photo by Nick Smirnoff, Jorge Nuno - © 2006 Russem Productions
DMR: Russ I think you are a great action director, hope to see more of it. When you look back on your earlier work such as Girl With Gun, what advice would you give yourself now and perhaps discus some techniques you have learned throughout the years of making films.
RE: I would say learn to trust others under your crew to carry out their responsibilities. I was very tight gripped back in my 20s and I hopefully have mellowed out some since then.
The Assassin's Apprentice: Silbadores of the Canary Islands
(C) 2021 Innomagic Productions all rights reserved, image not monetized
DMR: Very important to delegate and not hover over those you trust. Chat about working on short films vs features, obviously much more work goes into a feature, but a short film can lead to a feature, do you approach short films a bit different than features, if no perhaps tell me some of your techniques in pre-production etc...
RE: I look at short films as the beginnings of a feature film. So for instance, the first “The Assassin’s Apprentice” is Act 1, and the second “The Assassin’s Apprentice” which is currently in post-production is Act 2. I am discussing with my producer/writer of those films Paul Hickman about a potential Part 3 thereby completing the trilogy.
Above: Russ in red working on pick up shots for TAA2! April, 2021 Photo credit: Bill Victor Arucan - All rights reserved, image not monetized.
DMR: That is a great way of thinking about it, eventually if you do a third TAA film together length wise you have a feature. OK I have to say it, you know we are both HUGE 'Star Trek' fans, and you had the opportunity to cast a few Trek universe actors in your films, name a few you would love to cast and why, for me hands down is Nana Visitor! She is the real deal, complex and humble.
RE: It would be amazing to work with Nana Visitor. I enjoyed her acting on “Deep Space Nine”. Some other fine actors would be Sir Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Jeri Ryan, Scott Bakula, to name a few.
Above: The side by side weight loss- 11-8-19 to 4-12-21! (C) 2019 and 2021 Russ, all rights reserved, image not monetized.
DMR: Bakula, good thinking! I know you have been knee deep in work, but someone I see has lost 50 pounds, spill your secrets, so hard in the pandemic!
RE: Thank you for asking. So because of Covid, the gyms had shut down and I was running a very tough Indiegogo Campaign for “Staycation” causing my weight to skyrocket to 200 pounds which for a 5 feet 9 inch guy, that put me in the overweight category. Once the campaign ended in late January 2021, I knew I would have time until we filmed in May/June 2021 to do something about it. So I decided to try NutriSystem for 2-3 months and I am very relieved to say it worked. I lost 50 pounds in 51 days. Basically I just stuck to the diet plan and through thick and thin, I persisted, persevered and prevailed. I am very grateful at my age of 43 I was able to accomplish this.
DMR: Russ, think of it as a lifestyle change not a diet! Chat about TAA2 are you still on track for a 2022 release, I am sure you are going to want to wait until live film fests open again.
RE: Yes “The Assassin’s Apprentice 2” is very much on track for a 2022 release. We are doing final pickups on April 25, ADR sessions on May 15 and are knee deep in the scoring, sound design, and visual effects part of the post-production process.
Above: Russ on location during pick up shoots for TAA2 April - 2021. Photo Credit Eric D. Brown. All rights reserved, image not monetized.
DMR: Wrapping up, advice you young directors, if you could go back to your 18 yr old self and impart words of wisdom, what would they be?
RE: Just stick to your guns and never veer from your goals.
DMR: Thank you Russ for this insightful, illuminating, and honest interview. We will do a Jen Psaki when The Assassin's Apprentice is ready for viewing!
For further information on Russ and all of his endeavors point your browsers to:
Above Link: Russ 2021 Director Reel
For "The Assassin's Apprentice" check out the official Facebook Page @ https://www.facebook.com/taamovie
IMDB page for Russ: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1479322/