Wonder Russell’s R E V E L A T I O N is an experimental short film premiering Wednesday October 17 at Teatro ZinZanni. Starring six talented local actresses in emotionally challenging roles, and featuring striking cinematography by Ty Migota, the ambitious, distinctive film is Russell’s non-student directorial debut. As an actress, Russell (above L, with REVELATION’s Lisa Coronado) has appeared in numerous projects, including Kris and Lindy Boustedt’s feature THIS IS OURS, as well as their short THE SUMMER HOME, which Migota shot and Russell wrote. At Caffe Vita in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, we discussed how Russell’s love for the creative process guided the conception and realization of the film.
Eric Stone: Where did the idea for REVELATION come from?
Wonder Russell: It was around December of last year, when THE SUMMER HOME had been released. That’s a challenging film, and was having a little bit of a hard time finding it’s audience. It’s ended up going to a lot of festivals but at first it was going slow. I felt kind of beat down and I was sort of questioning what I wanted to do with art and film – where I was going to go from where I was. I started writing down things that I love about the creative process. I came up with a list of projects that I had really enjoyed working on and that were generated in a collaborative way, yet lead by a single vision, projects that were really rewarding. One was a play I was in called THE EMERALD AND THE LOVE SONG OF DEAD FISHERMAN (by Brendan Healy), and another was a short film called TEETHING (directed by Ben Rapson), which was a dance film. Everyone was really invested in the film, and bringing a lot of themselves to the project. I loved that. I wanted to work on something that would be made in a similar creative space.
ES: With revelation as a theme.
WR: ‘Revelation’ was a theme that I wanted to play with because it can be explored in different ways, as something that happens inside of you (mentally) or as something that physically occurs… you can reveal something to other people or it can be something that’s revealed to you. It can come from inside you, outside you, to you or from you. So I started to come up with this outline and this idea of vignettes. I wanted to work with women. Many of my friends are working actresses, but I feel they don’t often get a chance to stretch, that they’re often doing girlfriend of wife roles, which can be great too, but there’s always a hunger to do more. They’re so talented. I wanted to showcase them.
ES: Can you talk more about the importance of the acting process?
WR: I had my own revelation last year about this time. I love the process of working on a character, studying, training, and being what we call ‘in process.’ I was in workshops at the time, with Steven Anderson and Gary Hoffman, who’d come up every couple of months to teach. They’re phenomenal and really push the actors. At the same time, I was working on my character for THIS IS OURS, which was a good experience where I realized that it’s not really about being in front of the camera for me, it’s about the process.
ES: The finished product is secondary to you as an actor.
WR: The journey has to be it’s own reward. You won’t want to stay with things too long if you don’t love the process of doing them, like the way cooks don’t only like to eat. They love the process of cooking, Writing’s the same, you don’t just read, you have to sit down and write.
ES: And since encountering process is basically inevitable, you might as well embrace it?
WR: The thought for me was that human beings will naturally embrace the process of what they love. After THIS IS OURS, I knew in my gut I had given everything that I had, and I didn’t care about the finished project. I invested in the character’s life and I felt like I’d done my work, which was being in the moment and being the character. Now (the filmmakers) job becomes shaping it in the editing process. Actors can’t effect that. All we do is give them as much as we can and be creative. That experience was the first time I had no attachment to the end result and that was really unusual.
ES: In terms of process, what was your tipping off point for the actors in REVELATION?
WR: We basically set it up like theatre rehearsals, then we did things that were about inspiration and play, that didn’t necessarily have to influence the end product. I’d also email out little homework assignments like ‘try this, try this’. I wanted to work with each actor in coming up with a vignette for them that had to do with revelation. We of course had a lot of ideas, and the more time we spent exploring these ideas and figuring out where these ideas cam from, the richer they became. We played with being in different states of emotion and working from there, a lot of exploration, a lot or journaling: ‘Why is this important? Why does this keep coming up for me?’… We had to find what that voice was for each part and refine it more and more; we worked like this all the way to the end. Chipping away and narrowing things down, and getting more specific.
ES: Did you pick your cast because you knew they would enjoy working in a more experimental style?
WR: I knew they were fearless and would be excited to stretch. I knew them all, I’d worked with all of them. I knew they’d jump in, even if they didn’t understand everything fully- and they did.
ES: Tell me about the masks and wigs in the film.
WR: They have to do with things we reveal, with persona. There’s your reality before a revelation and there’s your reality after, a strong shift from A to B. We had some guest instructors; Lyam White and Gabrielle Schutz (the choreographer from TEETHING) come in. They helped the actors do exercises, use body language to find what a revelation might be. Are we open? How would we stand? To think about the concept physically and then ask what is the opposite of that: if you’re open, get closed; if you’re feeling big, feel small; it you’re happy, find a position that indicates anger. We focused on this shift from who you were to who you are. We worked with disguises and things we could shed.
ES: Was there ever a script or shot list?
WR: No script. I had filmed where we were in the process a few weeks before we shot the film, and I went over that footage with Ty Migota (the Cinematographer). We talked about the story that we were telling and shots we definitely wanted- like the shot of Lisa Coronado going through the screen. It was more like taking note of moments. When we shot the film, we shot sequences from beginning to end.
ES: It’s an ambitious project.
WR: Yeah, but it was less scary for me than working with a script. There was a lot of open communication. I always felt right in the middle of the process of everything. One thing I did was make i-pod playlists for the shoot days, to help push the emotions more, and I came up with things for the actors to think about, and play with. It was more like guiding the process than forcing it.
ES: What was the most difficult part of the shoot?
WR: The fog machine! And we spent a lot of money on dry ice. It was expensive and we had to make the decision: Are we going to make like three vignettes that have dry ice in them? That was frustrating. It also took us a while to find the right location to shoot, but Ty came through on that. All in all it came together in a really lovely way.
ES: How involved in the editing process were you?
WR: It went like this: Lindy (Boustedt) edited it and she didn’t want to be involved in the shooting, so she could look at it with fresh eyes. What she did was watch all the footage and start pulling together a story that resonated for her, and she’d send me rough cuts. We’d talk about it, give feedback and go back and forth. It worked really well. The story meant some things for her that were greater than what we had thought of on the set.
ES: How did you decide on the music?
WR: I had a meeting with (composer) Catherine Grealish and we talked about what we wanted for the score and the project. Eventually we decided we wanted a unifying theme, a hook. At first I wanted a tone that was minimal but it turned out totally the opposite, which I love… The first time I saw it fully edited with the score, I was like ‘Damn, it feels like a whole piece rather than six individual ones.’
ES: So what’s next for you? Do you plan on directing again?
WR: I’m completely open to whatever comes next. I think directing is a natural extension of acting and filmmaking in general. I’ve tried on a lot of different hats. Directing for me is about trying to give the actors even more to work with. They’re already bringing their own world and imagination. I just give them some pokes and some tweaks. They want to go to places, they just need someone to believe in them and give them support and a little push. Directing wasn’t scary. It felt like a giant gift to work with all these actresses I love and admire and to be kind of like a mid-wife or something (for ideas).
ES: REVELATION could be interpreted as a kind of dream film, or maybe as being ‘about women’? Do you see it like that?
WR: No, actually. Seeing it as a whole I think it’s a very universal experience. It feels like it could be one woman’s story, that’s a very human story… it’s not really about gender at all. I didn’t see it as a dream film or not a dream film. I didn’t really put it in a definitive space… it’s not not a dream film… At the end of the day, I hope people just enjoy it. I hope it helps them find a little beauty in their day.
Link to premiere event 10-17: https://www.facebook.com/events/350601791688285/?ref=ts&fref=ts
REVELATION (14 mins.) with Lisa Coronado, Jillian Boshart, Jessica Martin, Lisa LeVan, Kay LaVergne Jaz and Bridget O’Neill. Music composer: Catherine Grealish. Sound Designer: Jon Goff. Cinematography: Ty Migota. Consulting Producer: Kris Boustedt. Editor: Lindy Boustedt. Produced and Directed by Wonder Russell.