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Jay Russell: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Jay Russell: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Articles - Directing

When you show up to make a film, it requires complete focus and you better mean business if you want it to come out right. I was fortunate to have spent a bit of time around (then Governor) Bill Clinton when I was still living in Arkansas. What I observed about him was the complete focus and utter seriousness in which he approached his job. He always presented a comfortable, relaxed demeanor in public, but behind closed doors, it was all business. And, in my opinion, that is how he accomplished so much as President.

One gem Milos Forman dropped on us early on: Casting is everything. He said, “If you put the right actor in the right part, 75 percent of your job is done.” I still agree with that. Milos was one of those filmmakers who inspired me to attempt to become a writer and director. He brought so much experience and knowledge to the classroom that it would be impossible to [describe] in a sentence or two. Perhaps a book would be better.

First thing I do before I begin production of any film, I always go back to the films I’ve loved or that in some way relate to the one I’m about to make. In this case, there were two obvious choices—E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and The Black Stallion. Both films were about boys without fathers who dealt with that emotion through the experiences and adventures with their non-human companion. Same is true for The Water Horse.

Do as much research as possible into the time and place in which the story takes place.

I do a lot of daydreaming—imagining myself in the story—which helps me visualize the scenes and how I will shoot it. It’s hard to sell a studio on this last [step], but daydreaming is very important.

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