Video killed the radio star, her career role model Hans Zimmer and his The Buggles bandmates prophesied. We learnt from model turned filmmaker and film score composer Nicole Russin-McFarland, the Internet killed the oughties Hollywood star making method of “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Nicole, who wants to hop to it working for the studios after the COVID-19 rubbish passes, is a household name from promoting her shoestring budget filmmaking and orchestral scores “like it were Gone With the Wind. I can’t stop until people finally pay attention to my work, and when they do, I do it again.” She talked to us about her new film she is working on, The Homework’s Revenge: Esther in Wonderland, and its lush film music album that has already had 45,000 streams on Spotify.
Is it true your film score music for Esther in Wonderland took leverage after you posted selfies and new headshots on social media? Did you violate any social distancing orders getting those photos taken?
The photos were all taken ahead of the Corona drama and simply not released because I was hanging onto them nervously, so no! A friend of mine asked me the same thing. I wasn’t getting enough traction on the new album. Feeling like I had nothing to lose, I pretty much said, “I don’t care. Let’s have some new photos.” Before this, I was often in the scenario of absolutely hating my modelling photos most times, because I wouldn’t have any input, or people were trying to force me to look like someone else. With my new 2020 photos I took for marketing my Spotify artist profile, I did whatever I wanted. No makeup under neon lights that looked like, you know, it could almost be a dreamy strip club. Me in a huge hat and tight black dress as if it were the 70’s, but you don’t really know what decade it is. Timeless. Me in a men’s dress shirt and the matching Burberry tie. And others. Glasses. No glasses. I wanted to be myself for once. Have auburn hair. Look like the real me. Market the me I am. And wow, I mean, 45,000 streams is a lot. I would love it to be a million or more. But when you think about how I started smaller, my Spotify not really getting the notice I wanted, that is a huge improvement, and more so when you realise it is film music. Instrumental music is a hard sell. And I am selling it like hot cakes! I try.
Why does the film have a long title?
It is an animated feature film I am working on, animating right now actually, that is made up of two different stories. The Homework’s Revenge is the outer layer about a girl based on me who doesn’t like doing her homework. She is 13 years old in the year 2000, like me. Really, it’s me. I don’t hide anything. Esther, who is named after Ester Dean the hip hop singer-songwriter, and her legal name is really Esther with the full spelling hence my movie character’s spelling, would rather watch her favourite movies after school, MTV before school, and whenever, work on her music like the cool people close to her age on TRL. The fantasy portion of the film is the part called Esther in Wonderland. In it, Esther follows the white rabbit into Alice’s wonderland. Which is where you hear the instrumental music from my film score stuff we’re talking about.
What is the animated film for Esther in Wonderland going to look like?
I am trying hard getting different animation styles in. To free herself from the evil trolls and Queen of Hearts, Esther has to hand draw her escape, imagining her story melted into her favourite sci-fi and blockbuster films. So we have her playing a little girl version of Sarah Connor from The Terminator, but oh no, there is stuff from The Matrix! To get out of there, she has to learn how to do her homework, learning how to solve a matrix. Before she goes into there, wonderland looks kind of like a painting. And some parts are mixed with black and white modern art styles. At one point, I myself get animated into the cartoon narrating Esther’s story because I am pitching myself to a studio executive, “Hire me!” And he only wants to hire people who have been to wonderland. You have to understand, art is something I have been having to learn and improve on. You can always get better. I wasn’t born one day understanding animation and art. I made the decision that if I want to be a total control freak about every aspect of my films because I so badly want to control the narratives around the film music, I need to learn how to animate, direct, write, and later on, switch into doing both animation and blockbuster films, and hopefully, live action Oscar films. Goals, goals, goals. Life is one big adventure. I hope Esther in Wonderland gets wrapped up for the summer 2020 web release in my head. Learn from me. Never make plans. Plans fail. I had this whole plan to get it done by May 31, and now, look! The Coronavirus hit. Everything has gone wack. I’m doing my best.
Your “Martians Take Belfast!” animated short film was the most Googled search term in the English speaking world for “martians” last summer of 2019. It has got over 100,000 YouTube views. With all this success online, how are you planning to jump ship to working for the big Hollywood studios?
Besides Hans Zimmer, I love Peter Jackson. Those two gentlemen’s careers in a Jamba Juice blended smoothie would be my dream career. I hope for doubling up to make me unique in a good way and a good sell. If I could say something to studio heads, it is how if I am able to do so much with these tiny budget cartoons and my film music, imagine what I can do for you if you hook me up with directing, writing, and scoring a $5 million movie. Then once I really shine with that going beyond expectations, imagine how I’ll bring it big in revenue and fandom for my films like the best blockbuster filmmakers whose films we all know by heart. We can recite their lines. They who give us pop culture moments we buy and hang onto no matter what the medium is, from VHS to us now buying things on the iTunes film store and streaming those classics on Netflix. I can, and I will, do that for your studios. If you only hire me and give me the budget! I will sell a $5 million film like it’s a $50 million film and make it look really cool, with these amazing scores. Someone has to give you the chance. And like the men I love, and I guess that would also include James Cameron and other filmmakers, the Wachowski sisters so much of Matrix fame, so many people, I strongly believe I can sell a product like no one else. I have that part of my blood boiling that most people in the arts don’t. Few really are passionate about the business of show business like I am. I love the show. I love the business. You’re not going to find many like me. So hire me! Get on it! Haha.
Do you plan to remain in the Hollywood film system or work in the British film market part time?
Ideally, I will film anywhere I am welcome. I have long wanted to make a movie covering a man’s journey from normalcy into homelessness, and if we can have that set in Britain, that would be amazing. I don’t know where my life will lead me. Will Hollywood still be the centre of the film world after the Coronavirus? We don’t know. Also, I have long felt I would love to film in New Zealand where The Hobbit and King Kong were made right on Peter Jackson’s soundstages. A dream come true. Maybe some of his good fortune will rub off on me like a maneki-neko! I don’t know. I try hard all the time incorporating all kinds of actors from the UK into my work because they are so good, it’s impossible imagining going back to life without them. Brits really train people with perfection in acting classes. We could use more of whatever you’re doing here and maybe eat what you’re having for breakfast!
You don’t only compose film score music, you release music you sing on. You knocked it out of the ballpark with your version of the Jessica Rabbit tune, “Why Don’t You Do Right?” Are you willing to explore more smokey jazz releases?
I want to release different genres. Hip hop. Rock. Pop. Anything. I feel so lucky getting to do whatever I want these days.
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