Film Reviews: Wednesday February 13, 2003
Russell of Spring

A Bedford filmmaker finds his career in the rough-print stage.


Like a great many filmmakers, James Russell looks like an ordinary man. The sandy-haired, bespectacled 48-year-old Bedford native has a folksy, down-to-earth manner that’s wholly unlike the caffeinated personal style of many people who have grown up living and breathing film.

Russell got into filmmaking after careers in photojournalism and repairing race cars, but had always been a movie buff. While watching the 2001 Oscars at an actors’ hangout in L.A., Russell struck up a casual conversation with a Hollywood production manager, which promptly led to coursework at Hollywood Film Institute, Independent Film Project/West, and Summer Film/Video Institute. His credits include a short film of commercial parodies called Good Dog, and second assistant director duties on a locally shot, yet-to-be-released supernatural thriller called The Bells of Innocence.

Currently making the rounds of the film festival circuit is his Breaking In, a good-looking 35mm short film about a desperate debt-ridden man who tries to rob a restaurant, only to find himself on the set of a movie, where the director mistakes him for the new lead actor. The film was written by Joanne Groshardt, who pitched the script to him at a film appreciation club. Russell isn’t a credited writer on any of his upcoming films, either, so I asked what he looks for in a script. “I trained as an assistant director, so I look for what I can shoot,” he said. “I think that’s just a reflex.”

Is it a challenge to work with actors? “Blocking is a big deal,” he said. “For Breaking In, we just had one table read and one dress rehearsal.” Citing an actor who came up with a funny bit in Good Dog, he credits his collaborators with improving his product. “I think this whole ‘cult of the director’ thing is bad. If you don’t shoot, write, star [in], and edit the picture yourself, it isn’t by you. The people around you can make it 10 times better than you could by yourself.”

He lists Kubrick and early George Lucas among his favorite directors. “I also like John Huston’s films,” he said. “I like the big canvases.” Still, when I asked for his favorite film last year, he immediately named About a Boy. “It’s closest to what I want to do. I like movies about relationships, with no guns or violence — that’s lowest common denominator filmmaking. I want my films to be feel-good, though not in that Frank Capra sense.”

Currently, he has many balls in the air being juggled by his production company, Electric Shadows, Inc. (“I heard that that’s the literal translation of the Chinese word for filmmaking,” Russell said.) He mentioned a short film called Deep Nights, a digital video feature that he’s co-producing called Reunion Queens, and a film called How to Land a Millionaire that he’s directing.

There are two other films, however, which seem to have more of a claim on his attention. One is a feature called And Elvis Makes Eight, a comedy about six people traveling to Las Vegas to get married and one going there to get divorced. The other is called The “M” Word, a romantic comedy about three guys with commitment issues, which he said is modeled on When Harry Met Sally.... These are all in various stages of development, but the latter project will be shot in the Dallas/Fort Worth area with local actors. “Everyone says you have to do Austin or L.A., but you don’t,” he said. “There’s enough talent out here.”

Even if all these projects come to fruition, don’t expect to see Russell at a Hollywood premiere schmoozing with the starlet of the month. “I don’t have any limousine dreams,” he said. “I’m just looking to make a reasonable living.”

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