Interview #46 Nicole Russin-McFarland #producer #director #writer

I’ll been following Nicole for quite sometime on Twitter now and I am so glad I approached this lady for an interview here on The Mighty Dragon. Not only is she a producer, director and writer but a film score composer, actress and so much more!

As you can see from Nicole’s IMDb listing, her first animated feature films are released this year. If you’d like to know more about her backstory and route to success please visit

What have been the greatest challenges in building your empire?
That I am still building it! I am a film director and film score composer trying to hike my way up the tallest mountain in the world. Every day is me convincing the worst haters as to why I deserve to be successful. The average person is supportive of me. The people I refer to are the gatekeepers of the world who determine who is “talented” and who isn’t. Two people can have the same work and one is declared the next best thing while the other is waiting to be successful.

I want to be in a position like Peter Jackson combined with Hans Zimmer, an A-list career in both filmmaking and film score composing. I recommend everyone in every profession think of the easiest comparisons for people to understand you, or they’ll be really confused when you try to create a career for yourself that few if any have created. Right now, I am working my way up into releasing at least one animated feature film this year, because people right now have only been watching my short films, and going from indie feature films to then getting teams of people to animate my films, either independently financed or through studios. I am going to end up a studio filmmaker/composer making both animated and live action studio films and don’t know the how, only that I am going to do that.

Absolutely, I am in the near future definitely going to direct films animated by teams of people based outside the USA such as in Britain and New Zealand, hopefully with stories that aren’t what we have already seen. Like I said, the how I don’t know, but I know I will. We’ll figure something out. Everything is a matter of researching and figuring out business plans right now. When I grew up in the Midwest, we were taught about Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and all of these amazing local people who never settled for anything. That was the American dream. Nowadays, we have this loser attitude in America with all these memes like, “Today was enough.” No, it wasn’t. We all have bad days. All of us, OK. The difference is, we might have 30 bad days in a year. Why make the rest bad and “enough” because we had bad days? People abroad thank goodness have not been so influenced by this new negativity of accepting anything inferior. I don’t understand it. Maybe I lucked out growing up in the Midwest and going back and forth between Illinois to New York all the time, because our cultures are more defined by European and Asian immigrants than the rest of the USA with our work culture of “I can do anything!” It doesn’t matter how poor you are, your gender, your background, Midwesterners and New Yorkers grow up believing any goal impossible to others is actually possible and well within reach.

As a director, actress, writer, producer and so much more, which is the most rewarding to you personally?
First, people on the outside tend to see those as different tasks, and they are all really connected. If I could tell people reading this who have never started on entertainment careers something, it is not to look at that as a dentist who is a NASA astronaut who is also an Olympic champion who is an electrician. It’s really all the same job area. Think of it as a question of, “If you want to end up the office boss, do you agree to work as other jobs for that company right now and in the future?” It is like working at Apple on the development team for the iPhone improvements as you aspire to work in executive leadership. Nothing wrong with that! And when you make it to leadership, that you still intend to pitch ideas with the iPhone tasks and not ditch it.

Because I originally wanted to go into filmmaking to have a say about my music, the music is the best part of the whole experience. I cannot wait until I am working with a professional studio level orchestra, or if independently financed for a higher budget instead for some time, with some kind of city orchestras around the world who help me with my film scores. If I can do more with crossover from music into the actual acting like writing raps and funny songs for characters, that would be great. For “The Homework’s Revenge: Esther in Wonderland,” a character from a fake MTV universe has a rap about him being a rich, snobbish, out of touch British man in Hollywood. For my short film, “Ever Been Ghosted?” which I directed that was written by Samantha V. Hutton, I am the character called the Mean Kawaii Ghost. I win a karaoke ghost contest like American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent singing, in a ghost voice, a song called “Boo!” where every word of the lyrics is “boo.” You can’t make filmmaking any more fun!

After that in second place, I love learning about animation and special effects, which is an ongoing process. You have to consistently try new styles and reinvent yourself. Improve on yourself. Gain skills, and what you will never be able to gain because it takes decades for things like costume design, learn about those areas enough to be able to later on tell your crew what you dream of. This takes all takes years. For anyone reading, please know when some super cool starlet announces she is “directing!” or “producing!” a film, most likely that person is going, “Yeah, that looks good,” or “Cute!” The people who really are involved, like Peter Jackson, do not one day announce they are directing something because it is a cute goal. They work really hard to get where they wind up.

As a writer, do you have a specific writing process you apply?
Not at all. It might change according to the animation decisions. Writing is only part of the filmmaking process. Imagine the tomato in a sandwich. The mistakes are when people think one part of filmmaking is the only part, whether it is writing, great acting with bad writing, or visual effects without a good sci-fi story. Do you want a plate filled with tomatoes? Probably not. You want the whole sandwich with the olives, tomatoes, cheese, and veggies. And yes, that is why making great films is so difficult! You have to have everything right at the right time!

Does animation allow you more creative licence?
Somewhat, because right now I can go at my own pace. Before the pandemic, I loved the work from home aspect it gave myself and everyone creatively involved. With animation, you don’t have people in makeup chairs and wardrobe or cameramen. Nobody is waiting around. People do what they need to do any moment, day or night. That is part of why I am pushing ahead with what I can do with this at bigger budgets with animation done by people in Britain, New Zealand, and so forth, because I know people are really excited about animation and often don’t get to do it because of all the stalling and preference for live action projects. Maybe someday I will look back saying, “COVID-19 is the best thing to ever happen to my film career. It gave me the boost I needed and in turn, I hired so many others through it.”

Has being multilingual opened up more opportunities, is it something you are constantly learning and developing?
Yes, I get to audition for roles, including things outside of film like advertisements or goofy characters for podcast ads, in multiple languages. I narrated an audiobook that had lots of Spanish language words mixed into the predominantly English story. Christoph Waltz is a huge inspiration to me with how he acts in a handful of languages, and I hope to do so at the same level in my own career. Sometimes, because I grew up in America, I need to go over the words to improve my inflections and it is work but work that I love very much.

Do animations sit better on streaming platforms than any other method?
Animation does exceptionally well on YouTube, streaming, and home movie rentals/purchases such as Apple Movies (iTunes) and Google. The success of the Trolls sequel has inspired me that I can independently have some feature length films animated with more local stories from Ireland and New Zealand, Spain, wherever it is, and have an audience for them, as well as the possibility of getting my finished films on Netflix as a goal. We can skip theaters altogether, or do a joint theatrical-home video release as Trolls: World Tour did. As I said in the other question, maybe this pandemic is going to help my career blossom!

What does animation bring to an audience that other genres can’t?Spreading truth without violence or profanity. You can have cartoons relay messages about society as a whole, stand as moving pieces of art like a painting or comic strip come to life, speak about inequality, be vocal about social messages, be parody works, or whatever it is and reach people of every age and demographic. Cartoons are more universally beloved, hitting every type of demographic! Some ideas in my head are going to talk about history or equality through the eyes of animated characters.

Is there a common theme or message you take through all your projects, writing or art?
Whether completed or still in my head, animated or future live action, all of my films have a piece of me in them, or something on my mind. Long before Black Lives Matter, my short film “Pizza Delivery” was about how people tend to look the other way on wrongdoings. That by being silent, you are part of the problem with any type of issue. People in Germany seem to be receiving that story the best, I almost assume, because their families taught them about the mistakes made during WWII. My films all have ideas about how people sell out for money or change who they are, and also, how all these characters in them really love the performing arts. They always watch television, because our reality is we do in our lives as humans, so I have them watching TV shows or movies that relate to the stories.

Do you have any words of advice for those inspired to get into animation?
Learn. Never stop learning. Learn on your own because schools tend to take the fun out of animation. If possible, and you want to take classes, enroll in classes where you are not graded and/or distance classes so the pressure of learning is removed. A friend I recently consulted for advice told me I need to learn like it is my job. Do what he says! I really admire all he does on the FX side of work and can use a piece of his talent in my own career!

Wishing you all the very best with your career Nicole, thank you for your time.

Please see my other animator interview here: Steve Segal, Pixar.

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