Former model Nicole Russin-McFarland is a film director and film score composer opening, not one but two film studios of her own in New Zealand and the UK.
With her first theatrical release films now in development, Nicole chatted about women in business and her career journey.
Can you give me an overview of CinematNIC.com, Haus of Film, and Lucky Pineapple Films?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: CinematNIC.com is my personal website with a blog that is half personal work and life diary, half professional entertainment journalism, meaning interviews with film and music names, and film reviews. My material does exceptionally well with readership on the Apple News and Google News free subscription apps. I get more readers for my journalism than many famous publications! CinematNIC has a matching film review podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Haus of Film is an e-commerce gift shop run by myself and two British actor friends, Samantha V. Hutton and Ryan McGregor. We are available on Etsy also. We love having women in film T-shirt fundraisers, kitchen and home products, and an assortment of whatever you might find decades ago at a friendly, humble hotel gift shop.
Lucky Pineapple Films is the name of my tiny US-based production company that began with me, all by myself, working with actors, and directing and animating my own work that I composed the music for. I have since joined up with my actor pal Ryan McGregor. And we are right now growing it from my tiny one-person company in America to two fully functioning film studios in the UK and New Zealand.
Ryan and I want to expand Lucky Pineapple Films into having our own in-house studio orchestras in each locale, creating lots of brands the company owns and manages like websites and e-commerce, and doing more than filmmaking but having it all somehow relate to the film industry.
Where did the idea for CinematNIC.com come from?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: I always had a day job as a disrespected, underpaid freelance journalist whose work was chopped up and made either super tacky or sensational by most editors. Editors a few times paid me but wouldn’t publish my interviews with some known actors with films out because I did not reduce them to exploited human beings.
One editor grilled me as to why I didn’t ask an actor bedroom questions the whole time. So, I went as a freelancer never to be hired again. Having my own journalism platform with new media apps and the web frees me to have respectful, traditional journalism-style interviews with people in the entertainment industry. Editors foolishly presume this stuff doesn’t sell. They are wrong.
A huge market exists for people wanting to read kind articles about their favorite names in film and music, and the people who work for them, such as brilliant special effects people. People enjoy reading film reviews from someone whose goal is to be a blockbuster film director.
Generally, people reviewing films pick everything apart but don’t understand the hard work going into filmmaking. Everything I do is very successful with the blog, yet it’s all things people told me would fail. Guess who is having the last laugh?
Can you take me through the growth of your company, Lucky Pineapple Films, and how you achieved it?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: I am still growing it and won’t be done for some time! I am at this moment wrapping up animation on my first feature film to be released online this eventful year of 2020 called The Homework’s Revenge: Esther in Wonderland. This is necessary to show people I am capable of animating a longer-length film all by myself. At the time of this interview, I only have self-animated short-length films available. The film score album, called just Esther in Wonderland, is going well beyond my expectations with how well it is doing on streaming.
I have long been enamored by directors who make Hollywood films outside of the Hollywood area, like Stanley Kubrick and Peter Jackson. Once Esther in Wonderland is out, I will be directing my first films intended for theatrical releases, with animation teams working from their homes in Britain and New Zealand.
This is all part of the filmmaking world. That is what I call the business of show business. Ryan and I are, as soon as, Esther’s film is available online, going to be meeting with our investors, actors, and their teams for our Loch Ness-themed animated film, our animators, and making the whole circus act come together smoothly. Then, I will get into the directing aspect, the creative side, but only after all the work of the business side.
As I am doing this, I will have some spare time at home to continue stretching out a short film on my laptop called The Eyes of Old Texas into a feature. In my life, I always wanted to animate two full feature films by myself to prove I am serious and capable. That I am deserving of everything, people give me and help me out with.
With my new film studios, we are going to be fully self-sufficient, responsible for producing all the way to our own distribution. In the future, when we collaborate with others in the LA film market, it will be as an option, not a requirement. We will deal with people in LA, and if they present business deals that don’t sound good to us creatively or as good businessmen, we can decline them.
Nicole Russin-McFarland Journey In Hollywood:
The entertainment we create is going to be so much better as a result. We’re starting out with animation and are going to end up with making a mix of animation, blockbusters, and classic Oscar-style dramas like you might find in LA made by Twentieth Century Fox, DreamWorks, or anyone studio I am already familiar with and love.
Because we won’t be forced to adhere to the LA film market’s demands bringing our own investors then later on self-financing our movies 100 percent, we are going to tell more riveting stories in our films authentic to other locales versus temporary flash in the plan gimmicks people think will do well.
Gimmicky trends are always poor business decisions. When it isn’t gimmicked, it’s Hollywood giving us a bubble of stories. If you notice, Hollywood films are almost always about goofy teens, rich white teens going to LA or NYC parties, or writer-fashionistas in Manhattan meeting the same types of men.
Our movies are going to expand on that to include authentic British and Irish stories, Kiwi stories, New York tales of everyday New Yorkers who shocker aren’t all Carrie Bradshaw wannabes, and really, include voices from cultures and people who are tired of Hollywood only making movies about its own area and the stereotypes of people in it. We are going to give the world interesting animated films that don’t all copy Pixar plots because there is only one Pixar and a bunch of people who fail at being Pixar.
If ever we come full circle to have a presence in the USA film market, we nonetheless won’t have to listen to negative people either who don’t have business minds first because we will be establishing our USA branch, if it happens, using our income from our Lucky Pineapple Films Britain and Lucky Pineapple Films Kiwi studios abroad. Nobody will be bossing us around. We will be more in touch with what audiences what and less consumed by the bubble of corporate suits who forgot how exciting it was when they watched their favorite movies as teens at the cinemas.
What would you consider the pros and cons of being your own boss?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: There are no cons. The pro is you are never the victim of someone’s #metoo workplace harassment repressing your career. You were already hired for the job when you hired yourself. All you do is make the rest of your good fortune happen. When I say harassment, I don’t mean trivial things like, “Oh no, someone today called me pretty!”
Being called cute or sweetie doesn’t bother me because mostly, it’s elderly people who mean well talking to me as if I am a granddaughter. No, I am referring to being fired because I would not have a personal relationship with men or women, yes women, mostly married people, where I was a freelance journalist, or never being hired in the first place because I refused to engage in inappropriate workplace conduct.
Knowing I never have to worry about being harassed for the rest of my life, or being withheld employment because I disagree with it, is a miracle.
Which celebrity or influencer inspires you the most?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: The career loves of my life are the men who created the foundations of blockbuster cinema and these amazing classic movies we all know and love. Without them, none of the modern franchises we love would be what they are. These fellows invented the marketing, filmmaking process, release schedule, and so much of the existence around what the film industry is today.
As a comparable, I am fully open with people as my elevator pitch that I am going to be Peter Jackson and Hans Zimmer rolled into one in my career because I love them equally.
Mr. Jackson is absolutely my favorite filmmaker because I relate so much to his story. He loved King Kong and animation as a young person making his own goofy movies around the house, like me. Mr. Jackson was working at a newspaper right out of his teens, like me, at the time wishing he would make the biggest movies in the world, like me. He started making his own material without permission from anyone, like me.
He began making his own opportunities, not waiting for people to discover him, because more often than not, being discovered is a PR myth someone creates when the real answer is nepotism or something else. Mr. Jackson rolled up to every studio in town with his girlfriend, without ever directing a blockbuster, asking for money to make not one huge movie but a trilogy of the biggest movies ever that would rival Star Wars, and he got that money, then he made his biggest wish happen. And throughout all of this, he never changed for anyone or moved for anyone.
He is one of the kings of Hollywood, living in Wellington. It’s unbelievable. I envy that, and that is one of the huge reasons I am basing, at least my first two locations, abroad. People have more of a quality of life and a sincere passion for filmmaking and acting abroad. Most people go to Hollywood to be famous in Us Weekly fetching coffee in staged photo ops. People go to Wellywood and London to be famous for making great movies.
As someone who is a serious filmmaker and aspires to be like Mr. Jackson, there is no question, nor was there ever a question. From the time I was 14 years old watching the first Lord of the Rings and reading about this new filmmaker on the blockbuster scene, I knew I wanted to make my movies where people were serious about the artistry and the business of filmmaking, and those places are the ones I named!
What advice would you give to other female entrepreneurs?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: Don’t take advice from other women on what to wear to work. When I was a freelancer struggling to get work, women in the media industry always bothered me about what I looked like. I needed an orange spray tan. No, I needed to wear more makeup than I liked, and compared to them, no matter how much makeup I threw on, it was never anywhere near the amount they were wearing. Women get dressed for other women.
People respond really well to me without the “costume,” which is a friendly chick with dark auburn hair, pale skin, minimalistic makeup if any that at the most has some punk eyeliner, and basic clothes that are either athletic or classy clothes like That Girl of Marilyn Monroe. I don’t feel like I am wearing a circus costume anymore, and like in all I do in life, I am more successful being true to myself.
What challenges did you face while building up your business?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: Any negativity is thrown my way has always been from narrow-minded people who do not actually write films, score film music, or direct films. I would add, negativity hasn’t been from people who are current or former studio executives either. It is always from people who don’t know how to do anything. They happen to have basic level corporate jobs in the Hollywood environment and feel they can boss people around. It’s not like Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu is bossing me around rudely. I’m talking about people who seem bitter that they will never be him, they fell into hairdressing or a corporate job and don’t bother trying anymore, so they take it down on others.
Lesson learned. Never listen to them. If they knew what they were doing as much as they claim, they would be actual working A-list screenwriters and filmmakers. I am new compared to some of the mean folks I have encountered and have already advanced myself way further in this short time if you can call a few years short because I spend my days on bettering my craft and business decisions instead of being jealous of new people who have futures ahead of them. If anything, the people who are big-time directors and working industry people are the nicest. They follow this example of focusing on your work, never on making fun of other people.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: I have physical health problems. Mondays mean I don’t work at all. Every Monday, I exercise with weights mixed with bodyweight reps, watch TV, listen to music, maybe play video games, and relax. If I don’t take care of myself, I run into problems like my vision looking like a smeared, foggy window, and other poor circulation issues. You definitely do not want poor vision if you are a filmmaker. I see well all the time now and don’t have any health problems because I am constant with my diet and weekly routine.
Tuesday through Friday, I only focus on one task. It might be animation, adding new inventory on Haus of Film, learning about special effects, focusing on as Ciara might say a career “level up,” or creating a script. If I have to interview someone, I will e-mail him or her the questions at the end of the day, maybe at night, when I can really focus on reading about that person’s life story. Any filmmaking process takes forever. People don’t seem to think it does. You spend ages making something that passes in front of people in 90 minutes.
What does success look like to you?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: I am a music brained person who did not begin with knowing anything about cinema other than I loved watching movies, who works hard to learn all I can say about filmmaking to become an A-list director and composer, having a say in what my music does because I am the film boss. Being a regularly working filmmaker and film score composer earning a solid income for doing what I love is the first step.
After that, success would be winning a Best Director Academy Award, and if possible, achieving my young self’s goal of winning it on the same night as an Oscar for my composing. When I was really young, I saw the male directors on TV accepting their Oscars in fancy suits, and all I ever wanted was to wear a black tie and a suit like them and accept my Oscar, proving I am no different than any of them because I am wearing the same thing instead of the focus being on who designed a really huge, puffy prom looking dress at the event.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: Understanding that anything you want to do is possible. I will give you an example. In the future, I am going to make a motion-capture animated film at Mr. Jackson’s Stone Street Studios with the help of hiring his Weta special effects unit nearby in Wellington, New Zealand. I wanted to do this the moment I saw The Adventures of Tintin, the animated cartoon made in this style by his collaboration with Steven Spielberg.
I own a copy from the Apple store I watch on my iPad on the go to remind myself, “Don’t forget!” or from time to time, on my TV. The John Williams score on it is amazing and very sweeping, representing to me that film score music is alive and well, and I too can compose authentic film score music as opposed to this new trendy stuff that sounds like banging on a trash can like I’m Nickelodeon’s Doug Funnie. The specific film I am making is adapting my story; The Big Bad Wolf Strikes It, Rich! Fairy Tale Wall Street Memoirs onto the big screen.
The average person might see that as impossible. It isn’t. It only requires a few steps. Those steps started with learning about animation, taking special effects course that I still take at this moment, learning the ins and outs of writing screenplays, learning everything I can about the business side of show business from observing people who do it and reading about that, asking questions intelligently and sparsely so I don’t annoy people who are nice to me and know this stuff and releasing my own animated shorts and one live-action short film online and on a streaming service.
It turns out, my films do better on YouTube, and if that’s the case, good because all that proves is I have a willing audience that will only be much bigger with theatrical releases. Mixed in here, I also built a personal brand for myself that is only going to get bigger and more familiar to people. Every director I love has that connection to audiences from the moment they walk into a theater or rent a movie because those people have such amazing personal brands. I wanted that. OK, caught up?
The next steps are releasing the first animated feature I made by myself, continuing my special effects classes, and keeping up my DIY learning with the software that animators and FX people use. Leveling up into having my own two separate film studios I co-run and direct films through, is the best thing I can do.
In my first films for theatrical releases, I am showing Mr. Jackson that his team is not going to waste their time devoting efforts to a film of mine if I come up with the financing to pay them. My having theatrical feature films is going to show investors that I am fully capable of handling a huge budget animated film with the best animators in the world who made Lord of the Rings and just about all of the movies you probably love without realizing they were behind those effects. My first theatrical animated films will build more of a name for me, so Mr. Jackson and his employees will feel safe knowing they are investing their resources wisely, helping put my creative vision to life.
And from there, I have other goals built upon me making that movie. This all started about 2015. The desire for this started long before that when I was probably 11 or 12. I loved composing and felt I would do whatever I wanted if I could control the story. I saw the success of Titanic’s film score and imagined, so if I were James Cameron and James Horner on the same day, could I really do that?
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: I love eating cozy, comfort food. A nice, quick meal is a small part of my day, making me really happy! Grilled cheese and tomato soup are a favorite. When you feel good, you make wiser work decisions. In this life, I only love movies, music, and food.
Do you feel like giving up at any moment of life, then what keeps you get-going or motivated?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: I never feel like giving up. My personality is like Maximus in Gladiator, or Uma Thurman’s The Bride in Kill Bill, with the exception of my to-do lists being about achieving my career goals. People think because they meet me as this very nicely mannered, pleasant person, I won’t have that aggressive side to my personality.
What I always explain is, the only difference between arrogance and self-love is, you aren’t mean to people when you are confident. Those traits are very much two sides of the same coin. By the way, if I may say something about one Mr. Quentin Tarantino, is it is nobody writes strong female leads as he does. He really loves women, and it shows in his work. People misinterpret his films to be anti-women because they contain action, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth! I mean, if you want references, note how the men glowingly rave about how fantastic all of the women are in his movies. Jamie Foxx’s character endures all obstacles to save the woman he loves.
How does your morning look like?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: Every morning starts with a big thermos of my favorite Earl, Grey tea. Tea is very important to me for the health benefits and the inner positivity it brings me. As I drink tea, I read the news, chat with people I do business with, or respond to e-mails. I drink all kinds of tea.
My great aunt married into my family is from Japan. When I was growing up, she was like my grandmother to me, so as a kid, I absorbed amazing Japanese customs for life into my very Midwestern personality.
Tea is one of them! I own all kinds of tea objects, a mix of the standard stuff you might find in any tea lover’s household, and some Japanese items, like my Medieval style iron geisha tea ceremony kettle with a wooden base. I cannot imagine my life without tea. There is no tea on this planet I haven’t tried.
If you had to live anywhere else in the world, where would it be and why?
Nicole Russin-McFarland: New Zealand, Britain, and California! Maybe someday, I’ll live entirely abroad! I love the idea of my actors, crew, and I chilling and laughing at a fish and chips shop in New Zealand having fun as everyone in Hollywood is starving down for staged paparazzi photos and living out negative stereotypes!