The last few months have been difficult for everybody. However, there are those who have found ways to continue creating interesting content even despite all the restrictions and the new normal of social distancing. And filmmaker Mary C. Russell is among them.
So today, we’re chatting with Mary about what it’s like working in the film and TV industry during these weird times. As well as learning more about EY3S, the TV pilot she wrote, directed, and DPed for.
EY3S tells the story about a hacker named Enigma (played by Brianna Kellum) who witnesses a kidnapping while spying on people’s video chats on the exciting new video communications system EY3S. She’s used to pranking people with no real consequences. But after seeing a woman get kidnapped Enigma has to decide whether she’s ready to step up and save the kidnapped woman.
A big thank you to Mary for talking to us and enjoy the interview!
Tvshowpilot: You’ve had an interesting life. You spent part of your childhood in Singapore. And now you’re an LA-based director, screenwriter, and cinematographer. What made you want to become a filmmaker? And how has your journey in Hollywood been so far?
Mary C. Russell: Why yes, I have, and thanks. It has been an interesting and exciting life! When I was in Singapore I would watch all of the Hitchcock films from age fifteen until I graduated high school in 2010 at Singapore American School. Watching Notorious and North by Northwest, after those films I was smitten.
I wanted to become a filmmaker to create messages and morals about people and events that could and can reach large audiences. Whether that is just storytelling or making movies just for fun. I enjoy this outlet of different ways to express a voice and hopefully people are entertained by my work!
My journey in Hollywood or Los Angeles has been a journey of growth for me. I have learned a lot and every day I learn at least five new things about the process of filmmaking and just life in general. I feel like I have found my trade in cinematography and whatever direction that takes me in if it is more directing or screenwriting; I will follow in the path life takes me.
Tvshowpilot: How did the idea for EY3S come about?
Mary C. Russell: At the start of the pandemic Karen Labranche, the wife of Gary at LaBranche Productions, whispered in his ear an ide, “What if someone disappeared or was murdered in a zoom call?”
Then I received the phone call to start writing a television pilot, got hired under a random circumstance to write up a thriller involving video conference calls. And I came up with the idea from there!
Tvshowpilot: Was the project initially planned as a regular shoot and you had to pivot to a remote one due to the pandemic? Or did the idea for EY3S came when the COVID-19 restrictions were already in place?
Mary C. Russell: We came up with EY3S right when the restrictions started to take place. LaBranche Productions wanted to employ artists during a nearly impossible time for work for us which I am very thankful for.
Tvshowpilot: EY3S was filmed during the pandemic which meant things like remote shooting and directing, small crews, the whole deal. How did this new format benefit or hinder the project?
Mary C. Russell: This new format actually worked in a positive way! EY3S was shot safely during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 50% remote shooting and directing, and 50% in-person.
The crew consisted of one to two actors and a three-person production crew. The crew all tested negative for COVID-19 in pre-production.
With a smaller crew, it actually created clear and simple communication, which really amplified the performance of our actors!
Tvshowpilot: What was the biggest lesson you learned from shooting EY3S?
Mary C. Russell: I think that every person on a film set is essential. Doing multiple jobs was a challenge, but very rewarding to work during this period of time.
Tvshowpilot: You were the writer, director, and cinematographer for this project. How was it wearing so many hats at once, especially with shooting the show the way you did?
Mary C. Russell: The writing actually felt like a separate job which was great in the first couple months that I was hired on the project, with two to three re-writes with notes from LaBranche Productions
I think with fewer actors and crew, it actually wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. Challenging, but again very rewarding doing the multiple jobs. Finding new and creative ways to shoot and edit! You learn the new tips and tricks of remote shooting.
Tvshowpilot: EY3S is one of many similar projects that embraced the pandemic and still made the show despite the challenges. So, do you think this pandemic-times format of shooting with a skeleton crew and doing it remotely could be something smaller budget productions could continue doing and actually benefit from?
Mary C. Russell: I think that during this period of time, it could give some lower-budget directors a shot at having shows picked up or their work getting seen by more people at the very least.
I think there is a lot of potential to benefit from creating during this time whether that is for yourself or to gain more work! A lot of productions are shut down. And there is a need for new content.
Tvshowpilot: Horror seems to be the running theme of the projects you do. What draws you to the horror genre and why do you love it so much?
Mary C. Russell: I think when you are able to laugh at what scares you the most, it creates a sense of contentment. I think as I have grown as a filmmaker, I love horror/thriller but really I will work on anything that speaks to the audience in general.
Tvshowpilot: You have worked on many projects and in many roles in the film/television industry. Which has been your favorite project to date?
Mary C. Russell: My favorite projects are the ones that feel rewarding at the end of the day. It is difficult to choose one favorite. Every project has taught me something that has made me into well… me.
Tvshowpilot: Since here on the blog we’re all about TV shows, which show are you currently loving? And which TV you think everybody should be watching?
Mary C. Russell: Probably the most recent television show, I can’t get enough of is ALONE. It is a reality survival television show, a guilty pleasure on Netflix. It follows 10 individuals attempting to survive in the wilderness with a small amount of survival equipment. I love the woods and hiking in them, so it is a fun watch for me.
One of my favorite hidden gems of a Mini TV Series is Dead Set, a British horror comedy narrative that takes place primarily on the set of a fictional series of the real television show Big Brother all while a zombie outbreak takes place. The main character is a Production Assistant. Too good to be true, I know! Probably some of my favorite writing, ever.
Tvshowpilot: Lastly, what’s next for you? Are there any new or ongoing projects you can share with the readers?
Mary C. Russell: On the radar recently… I was hired as the Director of Photography on a couple of projects as well as shooting many music videos this year. Looking forward to all the new projects in the future!
The next step is to join the Local 600. And of course to direct one of my feature film scripts. Or two or three…
So, there you have it, our interview with the director, screenwriter, cinematographer extraordinaire, and EY3S writer and director Mary C. Russell where we talk about her new TV pilot, working in pandemic-times, her love for the horror genre, and her favorite shows among other things.
I hope you liked our chat with Mary, don’t forget to check out the EY3S trailer up above and make sure to follow Mary on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and her website marycrussell.com to keep up with all her latest projects!