Minnesota Cable Channel MCN6 rebranding – Q&A w/ actor/producer Russell Johnson

One of my goals with FlixChatter blog is to help promote indie filmmakers here, near and far. So when I heard that a local cable network is being rebranded to focus on MN-made content, I knew I wanted to highlight that here. Fortunately, the producer of the Minnesota-made film programming, Russell Johnson, is a friend of mine.

MCN6 is a Twin Cities local, non-affiliated cable network featuring MN made content in support of building strong diverse community. It reaches seven county metro area, over 600,000 cable subscribers. This year, MCN6 is being rebranded as a Minnesota-made Channel, produced by Russell Johnson as the MN-made programmer. The MCN6 is now managed by Stuart Devann and his management company, and Kevin Chilcote is the station’s General Manager.

Quick bio on Russell Johnson:

My introduction to the media began with the 1990’s as I worked with several news journalist reporting on the crimes of a destructive cult and I even made an appearance on CourtTV. I would write my unpublished memoir Deceived A Journey into Darkness about my experience in the Chung Moo Quan martial arts cult. Although the book remains unpublished in 2017 I release a 19 episode titled Deceived Podcast. While living in Colorado, I assisted 7-time Women’s World Martial Champion Kym Rock in making several self-defense videos for her Fight Like a Girl program.

Moving back to Minnesota in 2013, I became involved in the film community first as a volunteer at Twin Cities Film Fest and as a production assistant on several films including Sad Clown, Dragonfly. I would fill many roles in film including location manager, producer, reporter and actor.

​How did you get involved in the rebranding of MCN6 as a MN-made channel?

Russ: I am a member of the Minnesota Filmmaker Meetup group which is activity working with MCN6 on the rebranding. I was invited to the first rebranding meeting because of my connection to Twin Cities Film Fest and the local community.

Russell + Stuart Devann at the MCN6 Live Dance Party on Feb 9

A: What would you & the MCN6 organizer envision the rebranding to be and how it would affect the MN/TV film community?

Russ: Most of the talented people that I know who work in film do it for free and they do so because it’s their passion. MCN6 wants to give a home for Minnesota Made film to be seen. We want to a community sponsored channel that through advertisement and sponsorship that we will be able to pay for content.

Russell and director Jason P. Schumacher – Sad Clown won TCFF Best Audience Award Short in 2014

I know you’re passionate about films. What are some of your favorite movies growing up? Have your taste evolved over the years? 

Russ: I was a fan of the old horror films. When I was a kid there was a program TV called Horror Incorporated I would like to produce the Minnesota version of that. I am a fan of Alfred Hitchcock and films like The Birds and Rear Window. Bruce Lee martial arts films and the TV show Kung Fu had an impact on my life.

You’ve been involved in the MN film community for a while. What are you most passionate about that’s happening right now? 

Russ: I am excited that we are heading into the 10th year of Twin Cities Film Fest an organization that has brought joy and happiness to my life. This year the Independent Television Festival moves to Duluth Minnesota and for me this is an exciting time to work in television. Minnesota is about to become the hub of independently made television programming and with that comes opportunity for jobs in our community. My understanding is that they want to turn Duluth Festival into the Sundance Independent Television.

Lastly, please talk about the Valentine’s Day programming coming up on February 14th.

Russ: MCN6 wants diverse programming that represent all of Minnesota. I came about the short films selected in several ways, by posting that I had accepted them, reaching out filmmaker that I know and attending film festivals looking for them. The films are relationship-based but not all in a conventional or conservative way.

One of the films a woman falls in love with an electrical fan. As I understand, Hearts Want, the film that you wrote/produced Ruth, was filmed in MN but the story is actually set in the UK. The films are diverse in front and behind the camera. The Man Crush features a male to male crush and other films have black and women writers, directors.

LIST OF FILMS
(not necessarily in the order that they will appear):

  1. Sad Clown – Jason P. Schumacher
  2. Snail Mail – Josh Mruz
  3. The Man Crush – Ricky Loup
  4. A Verdant View – Nathan Block
  5. All Choked Up – Brent Duncan
  6. Hearts Want – Jason P. Schumacher
  7. The Unicorn – Jew DreamFirstBorn
  8. Wiggle Room – Pedro Juan Fonseca
  9. The Journey – Gwen Orth Ruhoff
  10. Sex Life – Cole Meyer
  11. It was you – Andrew Stecker
  12. Grown Men on Swings  – Dan Stewart
  13. A Perfect Night – Samuel Mueller
  14. Blue Silver – Nathan Block
  15. Cami Leon – Amber Rhodes and Ryan Schaddelee
  16. Herb & I –  Sebastian Schnabel
  17. BlunderLust – AJ Allan
  18. Relationship Spread – Jon Leininger
  19. M 4 W – Cynthia Uhrich
  20. Vows – Ingrid Moss and Alex Kohnstamm
  21. The Midway – Patrick Pierson
  22. Evergreen – Adam Zuehlke

Thanks Russell for the interview!

Be sure to tune in MCN Channel 6 on Wednesday evening, Feb 14th
and MCN6.org Live Stream from 6 – 10:03PM CST.

TCFF Insider Series: BETTA FISH script reading & Interview w/ screenwriter Joshua Barsness

Next Tuesday, TCFF is hosting a screenplay reading BETTA FISH written by Josh Barsness, as part of its Insider Series events. This informal reading serves as a kick-off event for the Minnesota film project of the feature length script, it will be performed by a group of professional actors.

When TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper asked me to interview Joshua, I jumped at the chance! The fact that I just had a reading of my first script back in January, it’s always good to chat with fellow screenwriters and get insights on their own creative journey. 

Synopsis:

Betta Fish is a story that revolves around Danny Bishop, a mischievous, manipulative gambler who is known to be a prodigy con artist. Fresh out of prison and in trouble due to a large debt to Alex, a beautiful, elegant, malicious mob boss queen of the city. Motivated by the pain of her enemies and the destruction of Danny, she swears to kill him and his family if he does not pay his debt, putting Danny on a collision course with old friends and rivals to succeed. This socially progressive story involves a mixture of race and diverse communities, centering on family and the right to equality.

This event will take place:
St. Paul Athletic Club
Butler’s Bar and Cafe (Second Floor)
340 Cedar Street
St. Paul, MN 55101

The event is free and open to the public and will conclude with a short Q&A session with the screenwriter and cast.

How long have you been involved in the film community, specifically as an actor and screenwriter?

It feels like forever, but as an actor five years. As a screenwriter about two years.

How did you come up w/ the idea for the story? Does it have a personal bent on it, what was the inspiration behind it?

I was in between jobs didn’t have much going for me as an actor always was one step away I looked in the mirror and told myself it’s time to do something about it. I sat down at my computer then it hit me like a lightning bolt. The story needed to be socially current but have something to say and give the audience something they haven’t had before. I noticed many issues in contemporary cinema a major one being women do get their fair share. They may get parts but there not good. Writers in Hollywood are incompetent at writing quality parts for women. So due to that I wrote a very exciting and provocative role specifically for a women more importantly a women in charge.

The other inspiration was a lack of character-driven films however it is getting better Moonlight was wonderful. The other driving force was, I’m inspired by other actor, producer, writers like Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, and Denzel Washington. To be in there league would be a great achievement something that always keeps me up at night is pondering whether I will be.

What’s the significance of the name Betta Fish?

The title Betta Fish was inspired by a film called Rumble Fish directed by Francis Ford Coppola based on the book by S.E Hinton. The story revolves around two brothers one of which walks in the others shadow. Furthermore, I used this as an inspiration to draw from for the dynamic between Arthur Bishop and his younger brother Danny Bishop who is the black sheep of the family. In addition, Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one in the same fish tank. This is the main draw of the story. The film will circle around Alex and Danny as they collide against each other in the criminal underworld resulting in a power struggle. Betta fish fight to the death there can only be one. They city they occupy and control serves as their fish tank that theme was inspired by a film called Heat directed by Michael Mann. Essentially he used the city as a third character that helped establish the battle ground and frontier for the protagonist and antagonist to duel over.

You said in the video that this is a socially progressive story that involves people of color, etc. What specifically is the message you would like people to get from your film?

Your film is better off drawing power from diversity then not. Whitewashing in Hollywood is an issue that we are tackling head on it’s the only way. The message is simple our film is flipping things on their head to make things right. Our film celebrates social change and diversity not necessarily to be rebellious but because it’s the right thing to do. And sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing, but I have no fear.

What are your plans in regards to the film, are you planning on having it shot here locally or somewhere else in the US?

I would love to shoot in the Twin Cities that’s the goal! There’s plenty of untapped beautiful locations here that I have in mind. However, it is possible we shoot somewhere else.

Since your film deals with gambling, what are some of films about gambling or game-playing for money that have inspired you?

The Hustler starring Paul Newman no questions asked. One of the characters in the film Danny Bishop is based off of Paul Newman’s character “Fast Eddie Felson” from the film. Both characters share the same theme that their natural raw talent at times is simultaneously their weakness which is something as humans we struggle with but rarely ever identify with. As far as the climax is concerned it’s purely inspired by the film The Cincinnati Kid starring the King Of Cool Steve McQueen. It’s an excellent film that introduces the two opposing forces and builds to a terrific climax for the final card game and is executed perfectly shot by shot.

In one sentence, what would you say to people to convince them to come to the reading as well as support your film?

If you want to be part of a cause that will bring people together then attend our reading and please support our film.

Thanks Joshua for talking to me about the creative journey of Betta Fish