Photos Credits: Ralph Alswang
What began as Russ Parr's artistic way of expressing the dark side of the black church, which he'd seen and experienced first hand, has become part of a movement. It’s a movement to break black cinema out of its comedic box and to delve into the many layers of African American culture through cinema. Russ Parr, known for being the funny guy on morning radio, has himself had to prove that there's more to him than just jokes. "I've had people push my scripts to the side, or ridicule actors who have chosen to work with me and they're saying, oh you're gonna do the radio guy's film, isn't he the radio guy? I'm like, yeah, I do radio, because I figured out years ago it could feed my family. But I got my degree in radio, television and film from Cal State University Northridge, so I can do more than just talk on the radio." Parr said.
|Jeff Friday and Russ Parr|
In fact, Parr has done much more than just “talk on the radio.” He's dabbled in and been successful at just about every area of the entertainment industry. So it's no wonder that his most recent venture, writing, producing and directing his own feature films, would be successful as well. His latest film, The Undershepherd, starring Isaiah Washington, Malinda Williams and co-starring Louis Gossett, Jr., had the distinct honor of winning the 2012 American Black Film Festival (ABFF) Grand Jury Prizes for Best Narrative Feature, Best Director and Best Actress (Malinda Williams). According to Jeff Friday, CEO of Film Life, Inc and Founder of the ABFF, it was the first film to win both Best Narrative Feature and Best Director in the festival's 16 year history.
"I have tons of stories to tell and I do that every day on the radio. But making films gives you more time to tell your stories, to develop characters and the whole nine. Black people have tons of stories to tell. But we'll never get to tell them if WE don't start to go out and support these films. I love what Tyler Perry does and I have a lot of respect for him, but he's not the only one who should be able to eat. I think there's plenty of room for all of us but it ain't gone happen if we don't get any support,” Parr said.
|John Gibson, Chris Dodd, Russ Parr|
and Jeff Friday
Parr's work has made an indelible impression on Jeff Friday. He chose Parr’s film The Undershepherd to be the focus of a special VIP he hosted on in November, as part of partnership with Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
During a Q&A session that followed the film's screening, Parr candidly discussed the challenges he's faced as an African American filmmaker. “You all have to support dramatic themed movies like The Undershepherd to counter the widely regarded belief that African Americans will only support a black director and producer if they produce movies that are urban comedies,” he said. He also spoke about the need for greater distribution opportunities for filmmakers like himself. Jeff Friday expressed the importance of relationships and partnerships like these that support independent filmmakers.
|Russ Parr and Chris Dodd|
Parr's crusade isn't just about garnering support for the projects, it's about putting talented black actors and actresses to work. Aside from the controversial subject matter he tackles in The Undershepherd, Parr took a chance on a talented yet controversial actor, Isaiah Washington. Parr said, "I knew all about the gay comments during his heyday on Grey's Anatomy and I'm not condoning it, but I believe there are two sides to every story. People twist words and take things out of context all of the time. Should we write a talented brother off because he made a mistake? No. And I'm a huge supporter of gay rights. I know one thing, this film would not be what it is without him. He set the tone for the whole thing. I mean, I wrote the script and he blew me away with the way he brought my words, my vision to life. Isaiah Washington is one of the most talented black actors in Hollywood. He’s actually one of the most talented actors in Hollywood period. I dare anybody to name five others who are more talented than Isaiah."
Parr has also made it his mission to go against the grain and not be the director that he's always feared working with. On the first day of shooting on the set of all of his films, he makes a mandate that everyone check their egos at the door. He refuses to yell at anyone and doesn't allow his cast or crew to yell at each other. All issues have to be resolved in a calm, dignified manner, and if things escalate, you have to take it outside. Parr has successfully broken the Hollywood ego barrier. Just ask anyone who's worked on one of his films. Actors and crews alike will drop high paying gigs to work with Parr just for the fun and peaceful atmosphere he creates on set. It’s refreshing after enduring the abusive rants that have become common place on many Hollywood sets. And a typical Uptoparr Productions shoot lasts 15 to 20 days, virtually unheard of in Hollywood. It’s no wonder that Kevin Hart was willing to jump out of a rented minivan to snag unauthorized drive-by shots for Parr’s film Something Like A Business. Parr has written, produced and directed five feature films including The Last Stand (2006); Love For Sale (2008); Something Like A Business (2009); 35 & Ticking (2011) and The Undershepherd (2012). Parr is the host of the nationally syndicated radio show, The Russ Parr Morning Show, heard weekdays by more than 3.2 million listeners in 25 major markets.