Most know Russ Parr as a radio king. With 30 years of broadcasting notches on the belt, his syndicated “Russ Parr Morning Show” airs in 18 markets, with the weekend addition in 25 cities, reaching 1.8 million listeners. But not enough outside of the business know that after Parr signs off and leaves the mic, he puts his second hat on as a Hollywood writer and director.
His latest film, Comeback Dad, starring the legendary Charles S. Dutton, Loretta Devine, and Tatyana Ali finds Parr in the director’s chair telling a story about a woman whose absentee father suddenly returns to her life. Airing on Up TV, Parr’s steady lineup of films finds him squeezing 15 minute naps into long 24 hour days.
In this exclusive interview with The Shadow League, Russ Parr shares his often sleepy creative process, and the unstoppable productivity that keeps the adrenaline running him to the top of the game.
Raqiyah Mays: Full time radio, directing, writing. How do you make time to do it all?
Russ Parr: Cocaine cut with speed quite a bit. I don't realize that recreational drugs can help you through the day.
RM: (Laughing) You might want to do some caffeine instead.
RP: I have a passion for film, always had. When I was young I had to make a decision. Radio was a little bit more steady so I focused more on radio. Did film and videos from time to time. As I've gotten older I decided, you know, I have a love of film and really wanted to focus more on it. Although radio is one of my first loves. But I guess I just don't like when people put me in a box and say, ‘Ok you're the radio guy. I like to be treated like a filmmaker. I mean it's not a hobby for me, it's something that I take very serious. I have so many stories that I personally want to tell and showcase and this gives me the avenue.
RM: But you started in Hollywood, right?
RP: Yeah, I'm from Los Angeles, kind of grew up in Central California. I graduated from Cal State Northridge. So I was doing that Hollywood grind for a number of years. I got into college (starting to give away my age). I was working for ABC TV, working on old sitcoms like Welcome Back, Kotter and Soap, Fish, and Barney Miller. I was like a production services director. It sounds like an illustrious title, but what I was doing is counting numbers and materials that they utilize to build sets. But I was able to get fascinated by the whole process and watching pros work and the whole nine. Started doing radio and engineering boards and doing all that stuff, until I finally just was kind of like, 'Ok I need to do my own thing.'
RM: How did you get into radio?
RP: Doing radio in college and I got in when I was working at ABC TV. I transferred into ABC Radio where there was like higher paying union jobs. And I was a board operator. I worked for ABC and KLOS in Los Angeles and I used to write commercials for all the AE's and cracking jokes. They started using my jokes. Had this guy named Lee Marshall who just passed recently. He was the voice of Tony the Tiger. He was like 'Hey man you on the wrong side of the mic.' You need to do your thing in film. I hustled my way into 1580 KDAY which was the first 24 hour hip hop radio station. Worked with some great people JJ Johnson, and Steve Woods. Just fine tuned my craft until I got hired away for more money to go to Dallas, then DC and that's where I been.
RM: But what is your schedule? You’re doing syndicated morning radio, writing movies, and directing films. That’s hectic.
RP: You know my process is not knowing what I'm doing the next day, because that's stressful. I'm a spontaneous person. When I write scripts, it's my first feelings and that's what I go with. We shot Comeback Dad in 11 days. Just came off shooting one right before that called, Hear No Evil. I wrote and directed, shot that in 12 days. But my schedule is I get up at 4 or 4:30 in the morning, even when I'm shooting, I'd be up at basically 2am east coast time to broadcast to the east coast. Get off 7 in the morning LA time and hit the set. Get off 14 hours later and do it all over again.
RM: When do you sleep?
RP: You know what I do? My office is in my car. Sometimes it takes 30, 45 minutes for a setup. You gotta give your DP time to set up the shot and make sure the shot is pretty. They know that I'm going into my car and if I could get a sporadic 10-15 minutes a couple of times during the day, I'm fine because usually that window when I'm not doing a movie is 11pm, it just all comes down. No matter where I am, if I can't get home by 11, I pull off somewhere. But you do need that morning nap.
RM: What was it about this particular film that made you do that?
RP: I didn't write Comeback Dad. It was written by Kimberly Walker. It's actually one of the first narratives that I directed that I didn't write. I think that every woman that I've ever dated in my life had daddy issues. And I thought this was a subject matter that needed to be dealt with. This was a sweet way to do it. My wife didn't have a father in her life, so it was something I could relate to. And other girlfriends, same situation before I got married. I think the big thing is I thought it could be a healing moment for some people, hearing people crying, it was like we did what we were supposed to do.
I'm not making a ton of money doing what I'm doing. I lost a lot of money making films. But when I can get someone that says your movie really touched me, and it made a difference and it sounds really cliché and the right thing to say, but it really gives me a rush. If you change somebody with your art ,it means something to me it really does.
RM: You’ve been doing this for 30 years, what’s the key?
RP: There really isn't a real key. I think for me it's be careful never to burn your bridges. I learned that at a very young age. If you have an ego, it's nobody's business that you have it. I've seen so many people destroy their careers, destroy working relationships because of ego and expectations that ‘I am to be treated a certain way.’ You won't hear that about me and if you do it's somebody that feels that I should have protected them when I probably couldn't. People that have beefs with Russ Parr are usually those people that felt that, ‘Why didn't he protect me?’ I been protecting you for three, four, five years at some point you have to take accountability for your own actions. I've seen too many talented people just trash their careers.
I have a rule on my set and my movies, ‘You are not allowed to raise your voice at anybody.’ If you talk to any actor, they'll tell you how fun it is to work on my set because we have fun. If you want to yell and scream take it in your trailer and we'll do that. You can't yell at a grip. You can't yell at a fellow actor. You can't do that. I remember one time I went to Louis Gossett Jr, we had a movie The Undershepherd. We all grew up on Louis Gosset Jr, academy award winner. I said, ‘Mr. Gossett, I only have one rule on my set, I just don't allow no one on set to yell at anybody.’ [He said,] ‘You ain't never gonna have that out of me, that's not gonna be a problem with me.’ It was wonderful that the actors would give you that respect. So far, knock on wood. I haven't had any major confrontations. I had one or two actors challenge me, but they challenged me by the rules either in their trailer or off to the side. That works in my favor and that pertains to television, it pertains to radio, your display of ego only hurts one person if it's really self-serving.
RM: So what’s next?
RP: I have a lot of projects coming up. I have a couple of films, one I just finished, called Hear No Evil which TV One is gonna purchase. It’s a story of a young teenage girl, African American girl whose been deaf her whole life. During PE, she goes out and plays lacrosse and gets struck by lightning. She hits the ground, gets back up, her hearing is restored, and she hears the voice of God along with everything else. God gives her messages to the point where it endangers her life because she has too much information. I wanted to do something out of the box. Everyone likes romantic comedies, but this is a spiritual thriller with a little bit of humor. I have a comedy that I’ll be shooting later this year called Definitely Divorcing which is wild. People expect comedy from me, but I think I write drama just as well as I write comedy. But we’ll see what they think about it.