We had the good fortune of connecting with Jay Russell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jay, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Back in 2009, there were some life altering events, which caused me to come face to face with this question. I had just made my second $100 million dollar plus grossing film in a row. I was arguably at the height of my directing career. But then, something happened – In a devastating flash, the economy collapsed and it became difficult to get movies made. The entire industry was contracting and I began to panic about work. I had spent many obsessive years focused solely on achieving my career goals, and it was all in jeopardy. But then, something else happened – Both of my parents became terminally ill – at the same time. And meanwhile, my son was growing up fast and would soon be out of the house and off to college. I had missed a lot of his early years while on a film set or sitting in an editing room. It was a moment of deep reflection for me and the question of balance between life and work couldn’t have had a sharper edge. I spent the next three years taking care of my parents until they passed away, and at the same time, spent every remaining minute with my son, as I was trying desperately to make up for lost time. Balance had tilted all the way in the other direction. As a result, I woke up one morning realizing that I had completely turned my back on my work. I felt once again that I had to make up for the lost time, but this time, in the work department. All to say, I don’t know if there is a formula for achieving a perfect balance between life and work, as the two forces always seem to be pulling in opposite directions. I realize now, however, that I was constantly chasing one extreme or the other. Going forward, “balance” is a goal I will strive to attain, but for many of us, it is a horizon we may never reach.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have been following my passion for filmmaking for over 35 years. I have written and directed numerous feature film and television projects as well as documentaries. It is a difficult prospect to survive professionally in this industry, and it never gets any easier, but at the same time, I have loved every minute of it. The best advice I can pass on and a lesson I have learned many times over – It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. If you are not in it for the long haul and unwilling to accept disappointments and failures, it is not a business for you.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
It’s all different now, but back in better days, if a friend was visiting from out of town for a day, I might take him/her for a nice long hike in Griffith Park, following the trail by Dante’s Peak all the way to the Observatory. Then maybe an early dinner at one of my neighborhood favs like Little Doms or Farfalla or All Time or Chi Dynasty. And finish off with a movie at the Arclight. That’s kind of perfect day for me and I would enjoy sharing it.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people responsible for any successes I have achieved, it would be impossible to mention them all – family, friends, colleagues, business associates – but I have lost two very important mentors in recent times, so I would like to dedicate this shoutout to my Columbia University Film School Professors and filmmaking maestros, Vojtěch Jasný and Miloš Forman. RIP gentlemen.