Smart, business centric, gracious and confident, of Hollywood’s newer female film directors, Nicole Russin-McFarland has the greatest chance of becoming the next generation’s top blockbuster filmmaker.
“Everyone else is focused on getting their films what I call the ‘prestige’ moments, the film festivals and getting streaming contracts. My concern is getting my work actually seen,” the multi-hyphenate filmmaker-film score composer says, wearing “rock star” pastel pink eyeliner over a Skype interview. Her definition of making it is “being Peter Jackson and Hans Zimmer combined, having the power that they do to sell films, to sell film music, to have people care and love both their work and who they are as relatable human beings. Hans Zimmer could sell fake Louis Vuitton bags outside the real Louis Vuitton and shut down the Fifth Avenue store. I want in on that. Nothing matters in your art or how good you are if your art isn’t sold and noticed.”
Sell, she does, reinventing the wheelas part of a new breed of millennial celebrities inflected by Kylie Jenner. Russin-McFarland attracts numbers in the high thousands. She wants to turn those numbers into “millions of people.” Her film score album for her upcoming animated feature film, Esther in Wonderland, has drawn over 50,000 streams on the Stockholm-based streaming giant Spotify.Her YouTube channel has over 150,000 combined views of her animated shorts and one live action short film. Thousands of people are watching movies that cost Russin-McFarland less than $100 each to create.
The similarities to her idol, Peter Jackson, are everywhere. Jackson started his career with the low budget “Bad Taste,” about aliens starting a human buffet in New Zealand. The film was picked up at Cannes. Russin-McFarland’s most popular animated short to date is “Martians Take Belfast!” a balance of live action and “comic book style, quotes and all” animation, starring YouTube celebrity Dan “Pixel Dan” Eardley as Ned the Groovy TV Newsman.It became Google’s most searched keyword for “Martians” throughout the latter of 2019. Jackson studied special effects and puppetry. Russin-McFarland studies those skills with her Stan Winston School distance learning coursework. But Jackson didn’t have the selfie age tools promoting his films. Russin-McFarland does, readily posting on her website and social media. She promises a high commercial value to anything she touches, saying “if I can promote this into something, imagine what I can do when the studios hire me for theatrically released films and the film scores I compose.”
“The Homework’s Revenge: Esther in Wonderland isn’t going to look like my previous work. This is all me looking at, wanting to be vintage Walt Disney pictures in his early days of the studio,” she says. “We get black and white at one point. Everything looks like a moving painting in color. All of it has a retro feel, except the part where Esther draws to rescue herself from being trapped in Alice’s Wonderland.”
As Walt Disney adapted Tchaikovsky for 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, Russin-McFarland rewrote Grieg’s Peer Gynt for Esther in Wonderland. The album is a beautiful evolution of film score music’s prevalence into a modern time period. “The music came to me in my dreams a few years ago. My brain rewrote it as I slept. This album is me scooping up that, trying to remember everything. Every song begins with the original theme, and after that, you hear whatever my brain did. It was pretty crazy. If only it happened more often!” she says.
On the topic of women in Hollywood, not one to hold back her beliefs, Russin-McFarland, a former New York agency model, says being female is an unthinkable asset. “I can get the attention of any man in the industry I want because they are so used to hearing men’s voices on the phone and men’s names in their e-mail inboxes and texts,” she says.
“I want to make what is traditionally known as ‘men’s movies’ anyway when I end up doing both animation and live action. Our concept of men’s versus women’s cinema is really warped. You can have a movie like my favorite film Gladiator, switch it, and star a woman as the lead. It’s ridiculous we assert women filmgoers only like some types of movies. I know a market exists for women who want movies like that because I always wanted movies like that starring women. Instead, we’re told all female filmgoers want is another What Women Want.”
Her next act is getting hired to direct and score studio feature films. “How, I don’t know, but I will get there, and make people proud that they hired me. To get where you want to be, you can’t start tomorrow.”