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Wonder Russell
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ATHENA

an interview with wonder russell


The Green Room

October 17th, 2012 will see the premiere of filmmaker Wonder Russell’s transmedia project, Revelation.  Built around a series of short films that explore the theme of personal revelation through the eyes of six actresses, it is an artistic endeavor that goes far beyond those few intense moments on the screen.  Here, Wonder gives us a preview of what we can expect from Revelation, and the process that’s taken her and her fellow artists this far… a process which is as integral to the statement made by the project as the final works themselves will be.

This preview is the first of a set of interviews about Revelation.

The Interview

Click here to see Revelation for yourself!


Ziggy:  You’ve called Revelation a brainchild that “sprang from [your] head around Christmas like Athena sprang from Zeus.”  Describe that moment of revelation.

Wonder Russell:  Really, it came out of a lot of journaling.  I felt out of touch with why I was creating art in the first place.  I was a little bit disillusioned and in an artistic slump.  I was asking myself, "Why am I doing this, where is the joy?"  The stress of shopping The Summer Home to festivals and getting rejected made me question my motives.  Was I just creating art to get into this vicious cycle of paying for rejection?   I pursued this question openly, and really devoted a lot of time to where my joy was.  It kept coming back to the process.  I felt joy in class, where I was uncovering and discovering character and circumstances.  I felt more alive there than on some sets, and definitely better in process than slogging through the business side.

I worked on a few projects – one theatre and one film – that had a very open ended, physically-based process.  I loved that experience of creating something from nothing based on inspiration and suggestions, working without a script in pure play.  In each case, we created something very special that I am incredibly proud of.  I wanted to work from that space, for a change, rather than from a result-oriented goal of trying to, say, make an award-winning short.

Deciding that one starting point was the touchstone for everything else.  And because around New Year's 2011/2012 I felt more uncertainty than ever in my life, with my Dad's cancer diagnosis, I wanted to explore a theme of revelation – things that are revelatory to us, in us, and to others.

Ziggy:  It all starts with six actresses.  How did you go about selecting each of these creative performers?  What’s one thing about these actresses that you’d like the audience to know?

Wonder Russell:  I knew who I wanted to work with immediately.  I've been in projects with some of them, and classes or rehearsals with all of them.  Firsthand I witnessed their vulnerability and sense of play – two qualities that would be of paramount importance in the project.  A sense of willingness, for a project like this, is often more important than talent.  Luckily, they're all incredibly talented, and I was just itching to work with them again, to stretch their own process and let them surprise me.  They are Bridget O'Neill, Lisa Coronado, Lisa LeVan, Kay Jaz, Jessica Martin, and Jillian Boshart.  I'd keep an eye on all of them, if I were you!  :)

Ziggy:  Why did you choose to not act in this project yourself?

Wonder Russell:  You know, at the beginning, I had a sense that I would if something strong manifested for me.  I was completely open to the idea, and I kind of liked the notion of appearing very briefly in this project.  It just ended up not being good timing, and I didn't entirely feel I had something to 'say' that would justify a vignette.  I was also far more invested in the girls' vignettes.  So in the end, the decision was made for me.

I did get involved in our Reveal All photo shoot, though.  We bare all in it, and at that time, I had a giant wounded heart that I felt was the most precious thing I could share with the lens.  So I did.  More on that soon.  :)

Ziggy:  The creative process you’ve gone through with these actresses far exceeds anything I’ve ever heard of for a short film project, and even outdoes most feature films.  No script, just parameters.  Determining what each person’s moment of Revelation would be a revelation in and of itself.  Describe the process for us.

Wonder Russell:   I wanted to delve into the process in a play and inspiration oriented way, rather than going after a specific goal right away.  This was for a couple reasons – we weren't working with a script, first of all.  Secondly, the theme is a big one, and I wanted to provoke thoughtfulness and exploration around that theme.  I knew that early ideas would change and morph, so the idea was to hold all things loosely and explore, explore, explore.  We did mask making, movement workshops, Rasa boxes; I brought in movement experts/choreographers Gabrielle Schutz and Lyam White.  It was a new way of working for a lot of the ladies, and I wanted to challenge them to think about the story originating in their bodies, and follow those impulses.

We also played with journaling, keeping an online inspiration board via Pinterest others could follow, and I offered up lots of homework. :)

As stories began to emerge, I then shifted the focus onto specificity to hopefully heighten those moments.  I worked with each actress to help me understand the heart of her own revelation, and then offered suggestions from my own eye to what would make those moments we clear.  It was really important to me to break down a revelation into its parts – the inception, the realization, and the denouement.  I wanted to see a shift in everyone's character – the world before and after their revelation.  It was an amazing process, largely because the actresses were so fearless.  They were game to try every weird exercise I came up with, and played full out from a non-judgmental place.  Every rehearsal was like a playground.  Very magical. 

Ziggy:  In the end, each of the six vignettes that make up the core of Revelation is only about 60 seconds long.  With all of the discussions, creative exercises, rehearsals, etc., how much time would you say that each actress actually put in to make her 60 seconds happen?

Wonder Russell:  They actually ended up longer, as films tend to do.  :)

I originally set 60 seconds as a limit to help make the ideas we were playing with sharper and less nebulous.  Some of the concepts the actresses brought in could be fully explored in a feature length film.   Our challenge was: how do we best distill that concept?  What is its essence?  So the 1-minute guideline was given to help us think in terms of being specific.  I'm sure if I had said 3 minutes long, we would have ended up with 6 minute films, and so on.  :)  Ultimately, I lifted the time restriction because it was causing more harm than good to have the girls stressing about fitting it all in.  In the end, my rule of thumb was: if it resonated, keep it.

The actresses put in countless hours – with me one on one, in group rehearsal, and in their own private explorations. They really brought everything they are.  It was impressive and an honor.

Ziggy:  With those six pieces as created by the efforts of yourself and each actress locked in, you’re also having all of the footage that was shot – both “print” footage and “cutting room floor” material – handed over for editing into a seventh piece of greater length, with the editor interpreting the material into her own notion of a coherent narrative that all of this footage may tell.  Who is that editor?  As director, will you be in on that process as well, or does the editor have free rein?

Wonder Russell:  When we finished, Lindy Boustedt handled all the footage and began sifting, sorting, and poring over it.  She purposely removed herself from all of the process, so she could look at the films with fresh eyes.  She sent me rough cuts, and we'd talk about what worked and what was coming through.  Lindy deeply cared about the films and sought to find the emotional heart of every piece.  She did a phenomenal job.

The seventh film may end up being extremely short – almost more of a trailer.  We cherry picked so much with the six films that a seventh would either have to be very short or really, really long.  We opted for the former.  That should be out before the rest of the films, as a teaser!

Ziggy:  And even after all of the aforementioned work and effort, there’s still more to Revelation.  Describe some of the other components of this project. 

Wonder Russell:  Yes!  I'm working with visual artists to create original works based on each of the girls' vignettes.  They will be displayed in a gallery at our live premiere event.  The premiere event is also part of a city-wide arts fest called Arts Crush, free to the public.  I'm lucky to work with Anna Mroczkowski of Artists for Artists, who is putting together an amazing program of art, burlesque, theatre, and spoken word for the night of the event.

We're also having short fictional stories written for each of the six characters by Ross Pruden, from his campaign Dimeword.

I'm also going to have a downloadable PDF for others to find and create their own revelation in their lives based on our rehearsals.

The posters I'm having made are ones that I hope people will share - not just because they promote the project, but because they're works of art.  My goal is to see them pinned all over Pinterest just because they resonate with people.

Ultimately, we will release all the footage and the score under a Creative Commons license with the hope that people will continue to play within this project, and create many beautiful new stories.

Ziggy:  You recently had a “naked photo shoot” with the cast.  Why did you decide to do that as part of this project?  Talk about that evening, and the process that went into deciding what shots were taken.

Wonder Russell:  It seemed to be the ultimate revelation.  I started calling it the Reveal All shoot. :)

It came out of a natural progression of emotionally stripping down and baring all.  I wanted to do a shoot in that vein, without artifice, just ourselves in our womanly glory!  Of course they're tastefully done – we're draped and covered strategically, and they're shot by the phenomenal Dawndra Budd.  It was a hilarious and liberating night.  I felt free as a bird and gorgeous.  Jessica Martin did all the makeup, I made strong drinks, and we all danced in the living room. We even ordered pizzas – the delivery boy thought he had a scene in a movie, he was so shocked!

Ziggy:   Do you have a favorite photo from that shoot? 

Wonder Russell:  Yes.  :)

Ziggy:  You’ve really gone out of your way to make Revelation a transmedia project.  Even now, while it’s still a work in progress, the audience can start to experience what you’re creating and participate to a degree.  Why is it important to you to take this past the standard boundaries of film?

Wonder Russell:  I know there are a lot of snazzy marketing terms around this, but it comes down to one thing only: that's how I like to interact with projects I love.  I seek out more.  You don't have to seek out the other components if you love the Revelation films, but if you're like me and you want to dig deeper, we want to have something there to reward you.  Art lives in many forms for me; I have never thought of one discipline as being wholly separate from another.  Our process was so integrated with music and theatre that it would just be weird to not have components in other media.

And, I am no expert!  This is a very small transmedia experiment in the grand scheme of things.  It's my first foray, and it feels very natural. 

Ziggy:  What’s the next stage for the project?

Wonder Russell:  We're completing our score and will move into sound design.  October 17th is coming, baby!

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- Interview conducted by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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