Russ Emanuel was one the big winners of the latest Shriekest, since his “Occupants” movie won the Best SciFi Feature Film Award. So, there’s no better time for an interview with this at least talented and communicative director. This is it… 

Hi Russ! First, let me congratulate on your recent win for your movie “Occupants” as the Best SciFi  Picture at 16th Annual Shriekfest Horror Film Festival. So, did you expect this win? How does it feel like?

First of all, thank you so much for interviewing me, I really appreciate it!  As for your question, I didn’t even think we would get into Shriekfest!  So just being able to be part of such a wonderful film festival was enough for me.  And we were up against some very amazing films, so honestly I didn’t expect to win at all.

Please tell us a few things for your background. What made you become a movie director?

I was born in Alameda, California but moved back and forth between the United States and Japan (I am both Caucasian and Japanese too).  I grew up listening to the music of John Williams, especially that of Richard Donner’s “Superman”.  His music influenced me to feel the emotions of a scene, to understand why pacing works and how actors interact naturally onscreen.

Which one do you believe is the key of success for “Occupants”? Your main influences regarding this feature?

I think it’s the whole team.  From my loving parents Charles and Akemi Emanuel, longtime producer Howard Nash, to Julia Camara’s wonderful script, the superb acting by Briana White (‘Annie Curtis’, ‘Parallel Annie Curtis’), Michael Pugliese (‘Neil Curtis’, ‘Parallel Neil Curtis’), Robert Picardo (‘Dr. Alan Peterson’) and Chalet Brannan (‘Lonely Child’), the executive producers Prem Singh and Aaron Retford, to my director of photography/editor Emile Haris, my production designer Tatiana Kuilanoff, key costumer Nina Minnelli, key makeup artist Alisha Baijounas, sound designer Sean Fahimian, visual effects supervisors Manikandan Sathyabalan and Mark Buenafe, and of course the music composed by the very talented Vasilis Milesis (who is Greek by the way)!  And then there’s the comic book tie-in done by DC/Marvel Comics artist Dave Beaty, letterer Al Sparrow, colorist Brian Miller, editor Eric Kask (also associate producer of the film), and starring my wonderful friends Chris Winters (as ‘Alan Peterson Jr.’), Timothy Lee Conley (‘Lee Mitchell’, ‘Parallel Lee Mitchell’), and Nicole Morris (‘Nicole Thornton’)!  And there are people who have helped promote “Occupants” including Eric D. Brown of the Cosmic Café Show, Ben Ragunton and Keith Lane of TG Geeks, Louie B. Free of Brainfood from the Heartland, and friends like Marie Ipiluni and Vance Major Owen.

Your next feature “The Assassin’s Apprentice” succeeded in its Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. Some information about this one then? How did you come to collaborate with Greek actress Marina Sirtis?  

It’s an exciting project and I was so grateful that we raised over $21,000 on Kickstarter. Written by Paul Hickman and produced by Howard Nash and Ryan Husk, it’s about an assassin (played by Robert Picardo) and his handler (Marina Sirtis) attempt to train a rebellious apprentice (Tarah Paige) in this futuristic action thriller short film.  We will be shooting in early December, make use of Tarah’s specialty which is parkour (involving free style running and gymnastics moves), and are currently location scouting.  The film will be completed around March 2017.

As for Marina Sirtis, she worked with one of the producers Ryan Husk on a previous project and I am very excited to have her onboard.

Is Russem Productions still active?

Yes it is.  My latest film under the banner was “Restoration Of Paradise” narrated by Robert Picardo.  It is a documentary about the Bolsa Chica Wetlands, which is a bird sanctuary that was restored with the help of Amigos de Bolsa Chica in 2006, especially my dear friends David and Margaret Carlberg who were instrumental members of the group.  We were also honored with a win for “Best Cinematography” at the Action On Film International Film Festival, which I am extremely grateful for.

Having grown up also in Japan, has this fact been one of the reasons you became a movie director?

The answer is an emphatic yes.  My experiences in Japan opened my eyes, and I went to an international school called Canadian Academy, where I met people of many cultures.  So my outlook on life is very international in scope and I try to incorporate that in my films.  For instance, in “Occupants” we put testimonial videos from all over the world (from Japan to Philippines to Pakistan to France and Canada).  I am also of two different cultures (being Caucasian American on my father’s side and Japanese on my mother’s side) – and sometimes those cultures conflict within myself – I use this to create “dichotomies” in my characters which in “Occupants” is realized by the real and parallel versions of Annie and Neil Curtis.

 How do you define ‘Fear’ and ‘Cult’ cinema-wise?

“Fear” can encompass so many things, and it’s not just a term used in horror films.  For instance, “Occupants” is not necessarily a horror film but more so in line with psychological terror.  It can even be used in comedies (parodies of horror films and very effectively).

As for “cult”, I think franchise.  Getting a cult following would be amazing for any filmmaker such as the “Nightmare On Elm Street” films or the “Star Wars” saga.  I am trying to achieve that with “Occupants” since we now have a comic book tie-in, and Julia Camara is busy writing the sequel too!  With “The Assassin’s Apprentice”, it’s meant to herald a trilogy of films as well as a video game.


Your list of your 5 all-time favorite movie directors? And 5 desert island movies…

I would say Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, the Wachowskis, Hayao Miyazaki and Christopher Nolan.  As for 5 desert island movies, “Star Wars”, “The Empire Strikes Back”, “Jurassic Park”, “The Matrix”, and “Back to the Future II”.

So Russ, what’s next for you?

My most immediate project is “The Assassin’s Apprentice” shooting in early December, and the already mentioned “Occupants 2” which I am very excited about (as it will incorporate the comic book tie-in universe as well as be a direct sequel to the first film).  And there is another horror feature film in the works called “The Dollhouse” which will shoot in Macedonia, Ohio under producer Julie D’Aloiso and currently being written by Emile Haris.  I hope you will enjoy these upcoming films and thank you so much again for interviewing me!

Christos Doukakis