Artist Spotlight: Jay Russell

Jay Russell began his journey as a screenwriter/director at Columbia University in New York City, where he studied under the tutelage of Academy Award winning director Milos Forman. Subsequently, Russell was invited to attend the Sundance Institute Film Workshop to develop what would become his first film, “End of the Line,” starring Levon Helm and Kevin Bacon. Russell followed with his Critics Choice Awards winning, “My Dog Skip,” with Frankie Muniz, Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane. Other films include, “Tuck Everlasting,” with Alexis Bledel and Sir Ben Kingsley, “Ladder 49,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and John Travolta, and “The Water Horse,” featuring Emily Watson and Brian Cox. His credits also include numerous documentaries and films for television, and served as the producer of the Hartford Stage production of “Rear Window,” starring Kevin Bacon. “Black Sparrow,” is his first graphic novel.

1. First John Carpenter memory?

The first time I became aware of John Carpenter was when I was 16 years old and saw a movie called “Assault on Precinct 13”. I was beginning to make my own short films at that time and had started paying attention to particular directors and their styles. I wasn’t familiar with his name then, but I was immediately struck by the raw intensity of his storytelling and filmmaking approach. I recall gripping the arms of my theater seat until I was sore! Then a couple of years later, I had the same experience with a little movie called “Halloween.” At that point, John Carpenter’s name was locked in as a director I would follow closely. The consistency of his work is remarkable and I remain a huge fan.

2. How did you get started writing/drawing/lettering?

As a kid, I was an avid comic book enthusiast (I learned to read around 4 years old because of comics – I wanted to know what they were saying). I first started drawing my versions of my favorite characters and then began to put together little stories using frames like the books I was reading. This led to writing out longer-form stories and eventually trying to tell those stories with a camera.
My first stabs at moviemaking were with my parents’ Super 8 (film) camera. These classics were usually blood-filled gore-fests. I would contrive scenarios just so I could use a rubber severed hand that I had found at a novelty shop. Almost every 2-minute film (edited in-camera until I got a splicer), involved a character who somehow would lose a hand either by accident or in a battle.
I never really thought of it as something I would do as an adult career, but once I got started, I just never stopped.

3. How did you get involved with Storm King Comics?

I had been working with my good friend Steve Niles on a few movie ideas and we had always talked about writing a book together. There was a particular story we loved, an epic horror tale set in the Old West. We called it “Black Sparrow.” Steve was working with Storm King at the time on several projects, and he suggested we run the idea by Sandy King-Carpenter. Thankfully, she took to it and provided us with the platform to run the project. I found Storm King to be a wonderfully creative and encouraging environment in which to work, and I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to work with them.

4. Who are your idols/mentors?

My idols are some of the great filmmaking maestros – Kubrick, Coppola, Friedkin, Bertolucci, and many others. My mentors were many gracious teachers who took me under their wing along the way – in particular, the late great writing guru, Frank Daniel, who was the Dean of the Prague film school, as well as headed up the writing programs at the American Film Institute, USC and Columbia University. Also there, I was so fortunate to study with my mentor/idol, the also late-great, Milos Forman who had made one of my favorite (and still to this day) films of all time, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. Milos helped me understand how to convey humanity and emotion in my work. I owe a tremendous amount to Milos.

5. What is the thing you geek out the most about and why?

While I have made my living making movies – I still geek out about them. I have somehow remained a fan, even though I am in the business. I’m especially obsessed with the old Hammer Horror movies. I can watch them over and over and over again – Lee and Cushing are a big part of my life.
Otherwise, I am a music geek, as well. I have a particular fascination with The Beatles and know far too many facts and trivia than a normal person probably should.

6. Guilty pleasure….food? music? entertainment? Everyone needs an escape.

I am quite the foodie. I love to cook and find new ways of preparing standard dishes and surprising those who try them. As a subset of my “geek out” answer above, a guilty pleasure of mine is the old “bubble gum music” groups of the ’60s and 70’s – like The Monkees, for instance. Love The Monkees.

7. The world has changed..is there anything you like in the post covid world?

I think the sequestering we all did during the height of Covid made a lot of people more insightful and appreciative of the simple things in life and our families. Because there was not a lot we could do during that time, I spent a good deal of it hiking in Griffith Park and it really caused me to value the nature around us more than I had before, which we often take for granted. I never want to lose that connection.

8. What change would you like to see in the world?

I would love for the human race to find a way of dealing with conflict without violence, war, and aggression. It will be the end of us all if we can’t figure that out. Leave the violence and battles to movies – not real life.

9. Favorite 2021 memory?

If I had to pinpoint it down to one – It was probably driving across the country to visit my son at his college. I was still uncomfortable with flying in a packed plane at that point, so I decided to drive. It was a great reminder of how vast the country is and how the landscapes change every few hundred miles. It was also a great way to ruminate about life and career and family. I hope to make a big drive like that an annual event.

10. What brings you joy?

My family, movies, music, a great meal and some vino with friends, hikes with my dogs – and rain. I love the rain.

See Jay Russell’s work in this Storm King release: