By Briyahna Rice
On Tuesday, November 12th, the FTC Career Services team did it again, bringing in not only a phenomenal guest, but also an FTC graduate who now has a great career. That graduate was Phil Russell, who works as both the Line Producer on the well-known reality TV prank show, Impractical Jokers: Inside Jokes and the Post Coordinator on a new show called 100 Day Dream Home; both under the company NorthSouth Productions. Russell visited the college to talk to the students in the film division about how his time at FTC helped him get to where he is now in his life and career.
For his primary job as a Post Coordinator on both shows, Russell coordinates all of the post-production that happens, making sure the editors get all of the footage that they need and making sure that cuts are going out to the networks on time. Sometimes he’ll review and watch over the edits before they go out and give notes to the editors, such as what has to be changed, what was left out, or if a date was missing. When he came to Five Towns College from high school, he stated that he was just a kid who liked making movies, but like many new freshmen, didn’t know any of the intricacies that come with the different positions, or even what a director of photography was.
So, while he was at FTC, Russell learned as much as he could about all of the different positions, not to mention a lot about the value of teamwork. He feels that for people who want to be directors, it’s important for them to understand every aspect of filmmaking to better communicate with their crew. In his seminar, Russel gave examples of how he is able to talk with the field crew about what is needed on the post side of things when they’re shooting 100 Day Dream Home.
Utilizing FTC’s equipment and guidelines, Russell was able to take out the gear he needed and shoot as many projects as he wanted, doing close to 200 short films as a student. Whether class assignments or personal projects, he showed them to his professors and was able to learn as many different positions as he could. After he graduated from FTC, Russell came back to work as the Equipment Room Manager before he moved on to start freelancing as a cinematographer and camera operator. He gained these opportunities due to a group of talented friends he had at FTC, who were all comedians and enjoyed producing comedy films.
The group then started going to Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) comedy classes in Manhattan and made connections with some sketch comedy groups, where Russell and his friends started filming a bunch of short films or sketches for those groups. Russell became embedded in the comedy community and became one of UCB’s cinematographers.
Moreover, during his time at the college, he made a few contacts with students who’d gotten into the camera union. He even attended guest lectures for other cinematographers and people working in the field, not to mention attending union screenings. His first real job was working as a camera PA on union sets as well as being brought onto commercial sets as a student camera intern by one of his FTC professors. From there, Russel worked on the TV show, Elementary, with a few FTC graduates who were on the set before him, eventually working on a Sarah Silverman feature, and even the pilot episode for the show Billions.
“Burning myself out is something that I’ve been known for, both as a student and even now. You just got to remember to sleep. I think that’s the most important advice that I could give,” Russell explained how to keep from burning out and second-guessing career choices.
According to Russell, if anybody wants to be a director, it's important for them to understand things like sound mixing, cinematography, and have a basic understanding of editing. That way, when they’re out in the field directing, they can communicate with the crew, they won’t over or undershoot, they’ll know what they need, and more importantly, have a good understanding and experience. One notable thing that Russell mentioned was how Five Towns College really teaches every little aspect of production, which is why it’s valuable to learn as much as possible.
He advised students to work on as many different films as they could and make as many contacts as possible, and not burn any bridges, keeping in mind that a fellow student may be the one who “makes it” and might need to hire a peer with a certain skill set in the future. Therefore, it’s paramount for current and graduating students to make as many connections as they can, work on many sets, and learn as much as possible. His message was not just for students studying film, but students in any field.
“You’ve got to keep being creative, and you’ve got to keep doing the things that you’re passionate about. But when you start working, it becomes harder to find a balance between being creative and creating stuff on your own while also holding a job. So, I think it’s good to spread out a little bit and work on things over the long-term instead of burning yourself out and spreading yourself too thin.”