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 I would write my unpublished memoir Deceived A Journey into Darkness about my experience in the Chung Moo Quan martial arts cult. Although the book remains unpublished in 2017 I release a 19 episode titled Deceived Podcast.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.

Short Film Spotlight: ‘This Is Home’ + Q&A with writer/director Jason P. Schumacher

Going into its ninth year, Twin Cities Film Fest is launching a brand new initiative in its INSIDER SERIES program! As a first-time writer/producer who just made my first short film last year, I’m thrilled to see short filmmakers getting a platform to showcase their work. One of the eight outstanding short narrative films screening in TCFF’s first MN Shorts Showcase is a drama made by Jason P. Schumacher, whom many of you might know as the director behind Hearts Want.

Check out my Q&A with the MN-based filmmaker (who also directed the documentary Beyond the Thrill that’s screened at TCFF in 2016):

A coming-of age-story about a young boy realizing that his parents are alcoholics.

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Q: You’ve said that this is a personal film for you. Would you elaborate on that? Was it based on true events?

My co-writer, Jesse Frankson, and I have known each other since elementary school but never really realized we had similar experiences in our upbringing, when it came to our proximity to alcoholism. The film is a work of fiction, but it includes inspiration from things that happened to one or both of us, or things we’d heard from peers with similar experiences.

I’d also looked at the “Laundry List” created by the organization Adult Children of Alcoholics.  Those who grow up around alcoholics often share similar traits with one another; feelings of guilt and abandonment, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, suppressing emotions, and also a tendency to also engage in addictive behaviors.  In “This is Home”, the young boy is in the early stages of developing and showing these traits, as he begins to realize more and more that his parents are alcoholics.

Q: The film had a child actor (who was about 10 at the time of shoot), who’s terrific in the role. What was the biggest challenge(s) working with a young talent?

Honestly, we didn’t really treat Will Hugo too differently from the adult actors. Working with any actor, it is all about building trust – letting them know that you trust them and earning their trust. The first day of filming was the scene in the river and successfully getting everyone through a logistically challenging and uncomfortable scene like can really be a bonding experiences for the whole cast and crew. The river was also two and half hours a way, so we got to talk on the way with Will and his mom and build rapport and get to know one another more. Will is very involved in various activities in his own life and has great supportive community around him (and siblings too), so we asked him to imagine how different his life might be if he didn’t have those things, which helped him imagine the feelings of the character more.

Jason with Will on set

We’d often talk him through what his character’s feelings are at each moment. He’s a sharp kid and we threw a lot at him. The rest of the cast was really great at working with him too. He was a little shy at first, but by the end he was cracking jokes with everybody, like, “Excuse me, excuse me – lead actor coming through!”

Q: Can you tell me a bit about casting? I recognize the taxi driver was the same actor who played the ringmaster in your other short, Sad Clown.

Even though Darrin Shaughnessy is incredible in Sad Clown, we still made him audition! He’s great at playing characters that seem a little surly but are still sympathetic. When his character enters the bar to pick up the drunks, his face is worth a thousand words. We’ve all been there. We did a pretty extensive casting actually. We had two days with long casting sessions and then a call-back. We knew the film would live or die by the casting.

We needed actors that played the actors as real people, without too many preconceived judgements. And also actors that we could believe were a family. With the wrong casting or performances it could play like a PSA or a melodrama and we didn’t want that. It was very a delicate.

Megan Kelly Hubbell, Sean Dooley (who played the parents) and Will really stood out as the right people to play the family in the film. They just connected with the material. Megan’s audition was one of the best I’ve ever seen for anything. We actually saw a lot of great local talent and instead of performing a monologue, we asked them to tell a story about drinking or being around drinking. We heard some pretty wild stories! The co-writer of the film also appears in the film as Dan, their annoying drinking buddy.

Q: There is an extensive river tubing scene which I’d imagine must’ve been pretty tough to shoot. Would you share about shooting that scene and the toughest part about that particular shoot?

We filmed at a river on a relative’s property that I go tubing on every summer. Tubing down the river each year always felt like one of the most cinematic things I could imagine and I’d never seen tubing down a river in a film before. It became this perfect metaphor in the center of the film, this family drifting somewhat aimlessly together.

On the day we filmed, it was cold! Maybe 62 degrees, so who knows what the temperature of the water was? And it occasionally drizzled ice cold rain on us. We did a lot of the filming from a canoe that we managed to secure the camera and the tripod in. Luckily we didn’t tip. The director of photography (Max Sjöberg), myself, and the boom operator were in the canoe, simultaneously trying to steer it and capture the scene. There were a couple times where a branch almost knocked the camera in the water. It also was a challenge to get our canoe and camera lined up with the actors as the river moved us around. It was the first day of filming, so I was worried the actors would stop talking to me after I stuck them in a cold river all day. But I think it was a good bonding experience for everybody. Despite being uncomfortable, it was a really fun day. It was also the lead actor’s first time tubing.

Q: Lastly, what would you like the audience to take away from your film?

The film isn’t a PSA.  I don’t want to spell out a message for anyone, but I will say that alcoholism and low income families are rarely show this way in cinema, yet this situation is so common.  A loving family where the disruption of alcohol chips away at them.  The film a vignette, a glimpse into the lives of others, but for many who’ve seen it, it is a reflection of something they are all too familiar with.

That’s a wrap!

Check out the filmmaking journey of This Is Home


Thanks Jason for chatting with me!