Nicole Russin-McFarland is a children’s book author, model, film score composer and filmmaker originally from Chicago, Illinois. In this interview she talks about her first audiobook for children The Big Bad Wolf Strikes It Rich!: Fairy Tale Wall Street Memoirs and her other passions.
You’ve got quite a “tumultuous” career. From journalism to modeling to filmmaking, and now children’s books author. How has your life experience shaped the person you’re today?
Eeeeek, no idea how to give a short answer on this one. To be fair, I wouldn’t call it tumultuous because that in my silly, childlike mind makes me think of airplane turbulence and nausea, which equates to really bad airplane snacks giving you further ailments. Haha. It’s more about one thing leading to another to end up on the right spot on the road map.
A lot of what I did when I was younger was really to have the excuse of meeting people and going to events without people feeling like I’m unwelcome. If you go somewhere and get permission to do so as a member of the press or tagging along with other press people, or people think you are a model so you can go somewhere and network with people, by all means, I love it. I’ve been doing this, going to events in Illinois and New York, since I was about 15. I’ll roll up in my jeans and sneakers but with my best makeup and hair on, and in the bathroom at the venue, change into a dress and heels tucked neatly in my purse!
As of late, I’ve laid low on this because the huge social media influence has caused a shift to where now you primarily meet people by posting on social media daily. Much of the time, you feel crazy, like you’re talking to yourself. All of a sudden, someone will friend request you or contact you via your website inbox or via your e-mail box listed on Instagram. That person has been eyeing hashtags for whatever you’re talking about and wants to befriend you. That person is occasionally a famous person in a particular industry, or an interesting acquaintance. Hopefully for me, my examples will often include people who want to hire me! So, yeah, very productive. Not so much about likes to me. I’ll get some likes. More than likes, more than followers, I get very interesting people to chat with me, or my dad will tell me someone unbelievably cool written me and to reply to them off my private e-mail address.
Maybe one day, I’ll get back to being the diet soda version of a celebutante who goes to a bunch of events and networks. For now, online is working great, as is being myself out and about, not expecting anything much to happen on a break. You can meet people at a sushi restaurant, store, doctor’s office, anywhere. Life pretty much happens by chance.
I never really wanted to be a journalist, although if I now and then today get the chance to do a guest article about food or the entertainment industry, I’ll jump at the chance as I’m obsessed with reading magazines! Journalism writing is a lot easier than creative writing. You pretty much train in the upside down pyramid of facts and spell everything in AP style. Get a lot of quotes out of people. You don’t have to do much else. As long as you pay attention, you can be a good journalism writer. If you can pass a college exam, please know that journalism writing is much easier.
What surprised me is I ended up liking modeling when I didn’t think I would like it. You learn so much about what makes women perceived as beautiful and how it’s not about slapping makeup and clothes on someone. You have to do it artfully. Dress to play up your body type. Paint on your makeup the right way. Do your hair a certain way. If you want extensions or a weave, here’s how to do it yourself.
The modeling industry has a lot of bad things going for it, yet that’s what I really love about it and hope I continue to get opportunities to do it every now and then. I’d love to prove leaving the agencies I felt didn’t have my best interests is great and I can do it all on my own – or at least, one day, with a smooth talking Hollywood agent or publicist by my side.
When I was in junior high, I loved the movie Gladiator but didn’t understand if it was only my favorite movie because I was younger and hadn’t lived enough. It had just come out. Today, Gladiator continues to be my favorite movie with the whole theme of vengeance, proving people wrong and finally making it after all. Maximus the main character has to do all kinds of things to get where he wants to be in the arena confronting the emperor. And with me, I always change up that poster headline they used. Maximus had some catchphrase on the poster like, “The general who became a slave. The slave who became a gladiator. The gladiator who defied an emperor.”
I have to remind myself, I can be like Maximus. My ultimate goal may be to do something, but it takes time. I have to focus on, “The girl who became a journalist. A journalist who became a model. A model who took on Hollywood with her amazing music and films and branded herself into an icon.” Obviously, currently focusing on that last part. To get there, I have to do all this other stuff because when I was younger, I had situations like when I was 20, a film director who seemed very professional asked me to give him a few themes and ended up stealing my music composition with his own composer and having that composer craft film music on MY work. I was so happy when his film didn’t do well. So much of this happening.
Lots of people not taking me seriously because when I don’t wear much makeup, I look like a very curvy college girl with a teen girl’s face. Which I happen to love to this day. I love that my face in the mirror is the same one I’ve had since I was 15 going on 16. Never want it to change – and it’s a major blessing to be turning 30 in June and not have aged in 15 years. Yet, to get taken seriously by very judgmental people, it wasn’t good, and that’s all changing with being very loud about who I am, getting my work out there, not letting people do things to me, and all of that.
The big lesson I can give people from my life, if I had to sum it up, is, there’s all this talk about people thinking if they only met someone, lightning will strike. Your career will be made. You’ll be discovered. What people must know is, this isn’t 1947 anymore. People, no matter what your talent is, don’t give one single care about you. I’ve met pretty much a good Us Weekly’s worth of people, a good New York Times’ worth of people in different fields. Did it make a difference in my life? Not really. You’re supposed to meet the right person at the right time.
Most people who are in positions of success are, primarily if female in America, lying when they say they got there by being good at what they do. Call it for what it is, OK. The casting couch. You will know when you meet someone and talk one on one with someone else, “Why did you ask her for advice? Don’t you know she dated my boss? Casting couch!” I’ve seen a man in the newspaper and on TV bragging how he loves investing in women because he’s a feminist, and yet, I bumped into him at a restaurant being creepy with a woman whose business he was about to fund and saying all this horrible stuff to her at the restaurant. People want you to believe the lies of the American dream, the Hollywood dream, the corporate dream. Refuse to do this, and you may have situations like men backstabbing you with gossip about how you were all kinds of bad things. It doesn’t matter how much money one has or doesn’t has. These people do not want your money. They do not want any perks from connections you may have, like say if you had front seat Yankees tickets for a whole season. They want to use you, and maybe, if you’re lucky, you will hired and not one of the strings of girls they use and give false promises to but whom they never give that big job.
For girls aspiring to work in journalism, entertainment or any big thing, please know, this is what has happened a lot to me and everyone. I may be all kinds of negative things as any human is, but I have a tiny hint of morale to me left. I’ll do anything to get a job back then in journalism and then and now in film music or filmmaking or modeling, anything but that. As I progress in life and see my success paying off but taking longer than had I agreed to disown my possibly only moral I have for work, I refer time and time again to the Gladiator theme of revenge feeling much sweeter when it takes longer and knowing I will finally make it.
And, interestingly, this has caused me to love the theme of revenge so much in my books, which are actually tales I want to make as movies. You’ll see my Big Bad Wolf starts out on the bottom because all of America thinks he murdered the three little pigs. He ends up having career ups and downs with all the backstabbing, and wow, he finally ends up happy by the end!
Why did you choose to concentrate your efforts on Lucky Pineapple Books, your small book publishing company?
I turned 13 in 2000. You couldn’t have picked a better age to hit the new millennium. The age of hip hop greats deciding they can be moguls. That people can indeed have side businesses and, as much as someone might be made fun of initially, that you can do anything through business. I loved guys like Diddy, Jay-Z who’s now Jay Z and no hyphen, Kanye West, Timbaland, all of them. Power producers. Long before the world fell in love with “Happy,” and my mom asked me who that cute guy dancing about was at the Oscars, I knew who Pharrell Williams was when he was in N.E.R.D. dreaming of composing for movies and producing for Britney.
What all these people had in common was they tried something new. Before them, you were supposed to be a musician, a rapper, and that’s it. What could a top hip hop producer know about clothing? Leave that to Marc Jacobs, right?
Books were something I felt were leaving popularity. If one day I can bring books back at the level they were as a form of entertainment in the 1800’s, I’d love it. And, books often are the basis of movies or an extension of an actor’s brand. I have right now other than myself, as far as entertainers, someone who is an actor and someone who is a former top agency model as authors. No longer is writing selectively for people who studied English at a fancy liberal arts university, someplace, Harvard, for example. When people aren’t English nerds, the books turn out more relatable to people the majority of people who also didn’t grow up absorbing term papers in their PhD classes. We need to bring books back. Justin Timberlake brought sexy back. We need to have books back in schools as fun time and more stories people want to read or laugh along with.
Why did you start writing books for children?
For legal protection so that when I have a screenplay out, the fact I have a well branded story out there for years offers me greater rights should someone try to steal my intellectual property. A book gives you an automatic copyright protection right away. The more known it is, the harder it gets for a big film studio director to take it away from you. If you don’t think this is a real thing, Paul McCartney approached a studio about he and The Beatles producing a trilogy called Lord of the Rings only to be told it would never work. Studios hung onto the idea for some time and eventually gave it to Peter Jackson, who rightfully is my film hero of sorts and did the right thing of attaining it. This isn’t his fault, really. I blame it on the studios. Had we had Paul McCartney’s wealth investing in a studio trilogy, we might have had another Star Wars, great 70’s sci fi era movie set with all kinds of spinoffs. Not that Mr. Jackson’s sucks. I love it. I own a copy. What I’m getting at is, if the most famous living legend in 1960’s music has his film idea stolen for later use, what rights do you have?
Naturally, I always wanted to make both live action and animated movies. I have a huge soft spot for animation. I want to be like the bad ass Walt Disney with an attitude problem. Someone who brings animation and lesson learning into children’s lives with my movies and hopefully, a big animation house like Mr. Disney’s, without laying on the artificiality that goes with the old Disney movies. I want a princess to fall for a guy everyone else thinks is unattractive and wrong all over but she finds the sexiest man on earth and angers her parents in going out with him, only to prove them wrong. To give kids a chance at seeing a girl who has two gay dads and gets made fun of at school. A wolf who has been poor and rich, getting flack for both, and faces discrimination for looking different, in his case, a scary wolf.
Some of the ideas in my head, I haven’t written out yet. Some, I have, like The Big Bad Wolf Strikes It Rich! All are intended to be made into film, or at least some sort of TV animation.
The Big Bad Wolf Strikes It Rich!: Fairy Tale Wall Street Memoirs is available as an audiobook. How did you go about making this book?
The book came before the audiobook. I acted like I was working with cartoon voiceovers but using one single actor to do it all: Kevin Rineer. We worked on local New York accents together. I’m not from Manhattan but have lived there and can imitate the accents if I work at it. Kevin is from Florida and was great at manipulating his voice into male and female parts. My favorite is the wolf himself. Kevin does a great job of being a twentysomething wolf who becomes a billionaire and slowly is the new, hairier, funnier, much nicer Donald Trump. Kevin had to work with his voice to demonstrate depth in happiness and anger. He did such a good job, I can only hope a million people hire him to do their audiobooks and movies. I’m using Kevin for a future cartoon I am making after I release my first one, the short film, and submit it to festivals this year.
Is the book available in print or only as an audiobook?
Yes, people can find it on the same Amazon page as the audiobook. The audiobook is also available on Jay Z’s Tidal, Google Play, iTunes and Audible.
What are your writing plans for the near and far future?
Primarily to write screenplays. Some of my cartoons, definitely, those need to be put out as graphic novels when I’m done with the films. Actually, all of them. Including the ones I hope to one day have others animate because animation is the most time consuming thing I’ve ever done. For my other ideas, I’d love to have a bundle of a book, movie, graphic novel. Everything you can take on the road. I really enjoyed bundling Disney work when I was growing up. I got the music, the book, saw the movie at the theater, bought it on VHS at the time. My favorite experience was being a popsicle outside and going with my dad out to see Aladdin in downtown Chicago, then getting the genie from the movie and having my little book and everything that same evening at the McDonald’s inside the Water Tower Place. Memories like that really build your confidence. I didn’t know how much Disney and Pixar would eventually get to my heart until many years later of course.
Major thing here, I kind of idolize people from the Midwest who’ve made it big. Walt Disney was from a town in Missouri and moved to Kansas City before being famous. That alone says something to me. He was the only person I think of aside from maybe Steven Spielberg with his Fievel Goes West and other cartoons, or his collaboration with Peter Jackson, who treated kids as small adults with fully functional brains. Kids are worthy of stories. Why does someone have to dumb down a plot to make it kid friendly when all you need to do is cut out the bad words? Since we talked so much about Walt Disney for a whole morning, we can move onto Fievel as examples. The little mouse and his family come from Russia in the first movie to America. They’re forced out of their homes by mean dogs. Which is a metaphor for what really happened to people of that time period. Probably to some of my own ancestors. I’m not one to talk about my ancestry because it makes me so uncomfortable that it’s all people care about in this day and age, however as one of my last names practically has it on me like a tattoo, yeah, Russin is clearly a made up name from people meaning Russian, similar to how Pollock means Polish. Not much to figure out there.
For Mr. Spielberg to have little kids learning lessons using little mice is ingenious. He never had them when he produced the movie as happy, little mice prancing around with a picnic basket who one day hop into America. They’re afraid. These are based on real people arriving in Manhattan without any idea of what to do, probably like I would’ve felt had that been me in that time period. And to add onto it, the poor guy gets lost for a bit of time and encounters some really bad characters who existed then and do now in big cities.
The only really good plotline I saw in a cartoon recently to make me feel like that is The Secret Life of Pets. One dog runs back home in Brooklyn only to see his owner has died. He is alone in the world. The only choice is to value his new family, and the other dog has to accept him into his life. Powerful and told at a basic enough level for kids to understand.
You seem to be a jack of all trades on your website. What are your other interests?
Occasionally, people will make this jack of all trades comment or have that assumption, and I’ll explain, not really. Everything is entertainment based. Everything comes down to my primary loves of music, movies, food and tech and is all somehow science related, for the most part, including food. I’m very into science and often feel like since my parents metaphorically bribed me to get a university degree, I should have studied science, as I often felt so left out in the classrooms with the degree I studied.
To be honest, in America, a lot of people will use “jack of all trades” as an insult because they really think you can’t be good at everything. And, you probably can’t. The correction here is, all of what I do is science related at heart, therefore, I am good at it. Hahaha!
With my small business I hope to not be so small one day – Lucky Pineapple Films as a whole, but also its own Lucky Pineapple Books and with website development, Lucky Pineapple Media – I’m not straying too far away. Once again, lots of tech goes into learning how to do 2D meets 3D animation on the computer as I do it, doing book design on the computer, editing the movies as you work on them, cutting down audio…what does this all have in common? Computers and science aspects! Food involves recipes. None of what I love is strictly artistic in origin.
To give you an idea, I do all my own web design and did computer science classes to fulfill my science requirements in high school and college, although music and computer science use most of the same primary skills at the basic function. Music is really science disguised as art.
If I were a molecular scientist who doubles up as a plumber on weekends and sings with Broadway level talent on a Disney soundtracks like Frozen during the summers, I might call that a jack of all trades. I view myself not as the “jack of all trades, master of none” stereotype but as a master of what I do very well.
My only thing that doesn’t fall into my movies-music-food-tech interests I have a passion for is beauty/style, and this is not as a natural love but because I’ve tried on so much stuff on the market for women that doesn’t work. And, it makes me very mad! Ever since I was young, I’ve been obsessed with makeup and the realization that all you need to be attractive is to have pretty makeup. Makeup itself is a science. People have all these proportions of how your lip needs to look to be attractive. Proven by science. It’s so cool.
However, once you read the ingredients of what goes into makeup, it’s very upsetting. Some mascara contains actual animal urine byproducts. Formaldehyde. Things that make you question your sanity, or perhaps, insanity for using it because you want to be pretty going out to dinner. I want to have a medically safe makeup line that makes me feel safe putting it on and is glamorous. Because right now, all the lines are vegan but not medically safe and aim for the hippie consumer who fears sexy makeup, or medically safe but have gross ingredients aiming for the fashionista consumer. Nothing on the market is what I wish I could wear all the time.
Thank you for your time.