*Russ Parr has been around the world and back again as far as the entertainment industry is concerned. He has worked behind the scenes at ABC, worked as a stand-up comic, and he has even appeared in bit parts on a few sitcoms as well as some commercials. But you may know him from the radio and the “Russ Parr Morning Show”, a nationally syndicated radio show with around 3.2 million listeners in 45 cities. While that is where he has buttered his bread for over 20 years, Parr has been quietly building up his IMDB credits with 5 film and television projects on his directorial resume.
Recently EURweb.com’s Lee Bailey had the chance to speak with Parr about his most recent work, and perhaps his best to date, “35 and Ticking.” First he was asked why he decided his hand at film after becoming a household name in many radio markets in the country, and why would he risk tarnishing his reputation with film’s high failure potential?
“I love it because of the writing and directing and watching people take your words and make them come to life,” he explained. “It’s still very exhilarating for me. It’s almost like radio when you’re directing. You’re directing a bit on the radio and you hit the punch line here and you lead up to it, and it’s the same thing with film. The timing is slightly different, but it’s almost a natural thing to do. I didn’t think I had the ability to direct until my co-worker said ‘Hey, you’re one of the best directors I know. You direct us everyday on the radio’. I just took that to film and I direct film just like my radio program. Nobody is allowed to yell at anybody and you can do what you want as long as it’s spontaneous and as long as it fits into the story line, but for the most part it’s just a natural thing to move into.”
While Parr’s move into the film industry may feel natural in his heart and mind, it’s a rough go for his bank account to be sure. Russ says, to our surprise, that he’s yet to make any money from any of his works.
“To be honest with you I haven’t profited off one film yet,” he admitted. “I’m just keeping it real. It’s tough. I’m getting close but no cigar. It’s like I’ve realized that I was spending too much money making movies. My budgets weren’t allowing me to make a profit. So my partner and I decided to change the business model. Like ’35 and Ticking’ … I shot that in 15 days, as opposed to 25 days. The big thing is you gotta keep down costs. I was spending too much money. On ‘The Last Stand’ I invested too much money and it didn’t see the light of day. Good movie, but it just didn’t see the light of day. I decided that it would be better for me if I just lowered my costs and got some of these actors to partner up with me. It’s like ‘Hey, I only need you for 3 days’ and they’re like ‘Yeah, I can do that!’ It’s just a matter of people liking the script and agreeing to work very quickly because I move very fast.”
In addition to the duration of the film shoot being cut by nearly one-third, Russ says the location is paramount as well. Not only is it important in helping tell the story, but from a financial standpoint as well.
“That was the other thing,” he explained. “But what had happened is if you get a lot of actors and they’re all from L.A. it’ll probably cost you more to fly them to Atlanta if shoot there. One of my other films, ‘Love for Sale’ was done in Wilmington, N.C. and at the time it was a lot cheaper to shoot it there, but now L.A. prices have dropped because business is slow. L.A. is starting to get hip to the fact that everybody is going to Toronto, Atlanta, Detroit and all of these other places. They’re like ‘You know what? We’ve priced ourselves out of the game.’ Now we’re able to secure locations cheaper. I’ve financed it myself and I’ve got quite a bit of my own money in it, but I think with the reviews we’re getting I really do believe this one will turn the corner for me.”
Did we mention that Russ’ prior works have gone straight to video, but not with “35 and Ticking”, starring Kevin Hart, Meagan Good, Tamala Jones, Nicole Ari Parker, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Darius McCrary and many others. This cast may have been what prompted AMC to give Parr a shot as far as screens is concerned.
“AMC is doing this thing with independent filmmakers where you cut a deal with individual theaters,” said Parr. “It’s 3 test markets and if you get a good per screen average then they’ll roll it out to some of their other AMC theaters. It’s a good look because this is my first theatrical. Everything else went straight to DVD. If we do well on May 20th then we’ll roll out further. We’ll go to Chicago, Dallas and Miami. If we do well there then we’ll go to Los Angeles, New York and so forth. It’s good do it this way especially when you don’t have the brand like Tyler Perry. I don’t have the big studio behind me where I can buy advertisements on ‘The View’ and ‘Oprah’. We have to prove ourselves.
“There’s a lot of urban films and if you get 2000 screens, and 1500 of them are in the suburbs where your audience isn’t then that’s why you’re in the theater for one week,” he continued. “This way we’re going directly to theaters at our target audience and see if we can fill them.”
“35 and Ticking” is described as drama/comedy or a “dramedy.” With its considerable cast it’s easy to see why Parr is excited.
“I came up with the concept from watching all my friends hit 35 and older and this phenomenon just doesn’t happen to (women),” Parr told our Lee Bailey. “This is happening to guys where they’re like ‘Man, I’m 35 and I don’t have any kids, I’m not where I want to be in my career, I have no woman, I’m not married yet. I want to have children, I want to have a wife.’ 35 is the red flag number because then the clock starts ticking because then everybody feels like they have to get it done before they’re 40. That’s why I call it ’35 and Ticking’. People don’t like to have babies in their 40s, they like to have it all together before they’re 40.”
We sometimes hear directors speak upon how great their works are, as they should, but are often let down by the characters, the plot or the production. Parr says he has gotten some seriously positive feedback at screenings.
“You have these 4 friends who basically have come together and they all have different sets of issues. We try to solve them in a very fun and very serious way. I’ve screened this film all over the country and I had this guy come up to me at the Pan African Film Festival and say ‘Man, I’m gonna go home and divorce my wife’ and I’m like ‘Man, whatever’ and he’s like ‘Seriously, I’m going home and divorce my wife. That was me up there. That was my whole story right there.’ I hate the fact that’s he’s going to get a divorce, but I took that as a compliment.”
Why would a brother go home and get a divorce from a movie? Well, Parr hopes it’s because of the film’s honest realism.
“In this movie we show a man that’s doing it all. We don’t see that often. Here’s a man that puts his kids first and has a wife that hasn’t grown up and wasn’t ready as a mother and a lot of men see that in themselves. ‘That’s me! I’m carrying the load.’ It is legitimate. That’s not what you see if you’re watching ‘Maury’ all day and all you see is guys that are deadbeats and the whole nine. That’s not the face of all African American men. A lot of men were raised responsibly and are accountable to their children, but a lot of women are dropping the ball. I’m flipping the script a little. But it happens more often than (you think).”
Realism is one thing, but having a character become a emotional Hercules is yet another. Russ tells EURweb.com that he feels the realism of “35 and Ticking” is right on the money.
“We’re really trying to write something realistic and not put so much on one character’s plate that it’s over the top. I wanted to show that it happens. These things happen and I think I accomplished that in ’35 and Ticking’.”
Russ Parr’s film is being released on a limited basis on May 20 in theaters in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Georgia and Baltimore, Maryland. If they do well there then “35 and Ticking” gets bumped up to the next level, Miami, Chicago and Dallas. Doing well there pushes the film even further into the limelight. Despite having been a director for several years, many people may not know exactly who Russ Parr is. But a change is on the horizon.
“I’ve been doing my own P.R. because my plan is to brand myself,” said Russ. “I want people to say ‘Oh, this is a Russ Parr movie? I know it’s going to be good.’ You look at Tyler, Tyler’s a genius. He’s really good with branding. That wasn’t a coincidence that he told Spike to go to hell. That was great attention. That’s like a rapper going out and getting himself shot before his album drops. (Tyler’s) responding to a question that was asked 3 years ago. That was a set up. When he did that I thought that was brilliant because, number one, he’s getting ready to come out with a movie that Spike complained about, number two he didn’t screen it for anybody. He knows if he screens it he’s not going to make 50 million. So, he’s brilliant and I respect him. A lot of people want to criticize the ‘Madea’ roles and what have you, but that’s his truth. If everybody went and made the same cookie cutter movies it would be so boring. There’s room for variety. There’s room for a man in a dress and there’s also room for ‘Malcolm X’, there’s room for very powerful films. We need to be able to look at it all and make it entertainment instead of trying to make it reality for everybody.”