Filmmaker 5 with Nick Russell and Nick Musgrove: Favourites

Director Nick Russell and Emmy nominee Nick Musgrove’s Favourites tells the tale of two parents faced with an impossible decision when their family camping trip turns dire. The dark comedy short stars several celebrated names of Australian film, including Stephen Curry.

Co-writer, director and producer Nick Russell is an award-winning actor who has starred on Australian and international screens for 26 years. Favourites is his short film directorial debut. Co-writer Nick Musgrove wrote the International Emmy nominated Wrong Kind of Black (ABC, Netflix) with Boori Monty Pryor. Nick has written for a variety of network series and is a Screen Australia ‘Enterprise People’ Award winner and dual Australian Writers Guild nominee. Nick Russell and Nick Musgrove are the founders of Tandem Media – an Australian film and television production company, where they continue to write, direct and produce together.

Favourites can be seen at the 2024 Tribeca Festival on Sunday 9 June at 3:15 pm at the AMC 19th St. East 6, on Monday 10 June at 6:15 pm at the Village East by Angelika and on Saturday 15 June at 11:45 am at AMC 19th St. East 6.

Our Classic Couple Academy interview with Favourites filmmakers Nick Russell and Nick Musgrove follows.

Filmmaker 5.1: Comedy is challenging, and short films don’t provide a lot of time for comedic set up. How did you come to this story and when did you know you could pull it off as a short?

Filmmaker Nick Musgrove

Musgrove: We asked ourselves “what is the most excruciating choice parents could face?” then mined it for comedy. For it to work as a short, we then needed an ending which felt satisfying but also begged more questions. Through Nick Russell’s expert direction and the cast’s wickedly funny performances we think we created a really efficient and compelling story.

Russell: A big part of the comedy in Favourites hits you when you least expect it – it emerges on the back of an incredibly dramatic and traumatic inciting incident, which we feel makes the humour all the more delicious. We want audiences to giggle their way through our film, but in an awkward “Should I be laughing at this?” kind of way. We felt well-equipped to pull all this off as a short because we cut our teeth making sketch comedy and TVCs, both of which require you to tell a story in a very limited time.

Filmmaker 5.2: Can you tell us how you worked with the cast to bring the story’s tension forward—in situation and in relationship?

Filmmaker Nick Russell

Russell: In directing Favourites, I was convinced that the only way the comedy would work, was if the drama worked first. That meant making the story’s tensions real – if the life-and-death dilemma felt heightened or comedic, suddenly, the tension disappears, and the pressure-valve that builds the comedy is released. As such, I directed our amazingly talented cast to deliberately withhold every comedic instinct they had prior to the mid-point of the film where the big twist occurs. Playing it for intense drama prior to the twist allowed our cast to succumb to their comedic instincts thereafter in a really satisfying, awkward and funny way.

Filmmaker 5.3: What have been each of your biggest creative influences? Particularly for comedy?

Musgrove: Growing up, I was inspired by comedy groups like Monty Python, Fry and Laurie, Big Train and Mitchel and Webb. This led to discovering British gems like Black Books and later The Office – perhaps my most significant creative influence. Later, I fell in love with incredibly well-crafted  American comedies like Seinfeld, Arrested Development and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The constant in my life from 1993 to the present has been seasons three to eight of The Simpsons. I still watch these episodes whenever I can and continue to laugh out loud.

In terms of screenplays, the Adam McKay / Will Ferrell collaborations remain very close to my heart, in particular Stepbrothers, The Other Guys and Daddy’s Home. Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a stunning confluence of razor-sharp dialogue and breathtaking visual storytelling. More recently, grounded comedy/dramas are my major comedic influence. The Finnish film Seurapeli (Games People Play) is great recent example of how to bounce between comedy and drama in a confined setting. I’d love to write more works in that space.

Russell: I actually grew up without a TV in our house, which basically meant that my early creative influences were limited to the five VHS cassettes that were kept at the summer beach house. They were Mr Bean, Fawlty Towers, Monty Python, Round the Twist and Dirty Dancing (a bit off-brand compared to the others, and slightly inappropriate for a kid in hindsight). My two older sisters and I would watch them on repeat and could recite every word. And dance move. I eventually discovered and became obsessed with the Farrelly brothers and Coen brothers films (I promise that not all of the films I love are made by brothers). More recently, I’ve been drawn to films by directors that play with the gloriously comedic elements of mundane day-to-day life, such as Nash Edgerton and Taika Waititi.

Filmmaker 5.4: What is your collaboration process when writing together? How does it differ when you go into film production?

Russell: I think we benefit from having a shared comedic sensibility, but different strengths as storytellers. For example, I love forensically scrutinising the logic and structure of a sequence to ensure the dramatic foundations are sound, vibrant, and compelling – the comedy won’t work if the launching-pad of the story is weak.

Musgrove: As I writer, I love playing with dialogue and the more ethereal side of storytelling – trading best in theme and allegory. Together feel like a great combination – especially when Rusty becomes custodian of our vision on set as director. We have no set process as a writing team other than to ensure both our strengths are fully realised. Sometimes I’ll write the first draft, other times Rusty, other times we’re at the screen together.

Filmmaker 5.5: Your production company is Tandem Media and FAVOURITES your first short film. What can you tell us about its next life as a feature film? And new projects you are working on?

Russell: We’re current deep into development of the feature version of Favourites. The action of the short becomes the inciting incident for the feature version, after which we bottle up our characters and watch them squirm. This will complement our existing slate of work which includes three other feature films (each comedy-dramas), one dark-comedy series and one comedy-animation.

Musgrove: At the top of our slate is a feature film in its financing phase, entitled Someone’s Son, which is packaged with a world=class director and cast. We’re looking forward to discussing it with foreign sales partners in the coming months. We also have a comedy/drama television show in the pitch phase which is a co-production between Tandem Media and CJZ. A multi-Emmy-winning writer just joined as showrunner. It’s tonally a really nice accompaniment to Favourites in the television space. 

Russell: Longer term, we want to continue to build a body of work that is uniquely our voice and vision. Tandem Media remains our way of creating, writing, and directing our own work.

Filmmaker 5® collaborators Sharon Walters, senior film researcher
and Kami Spangenberg, publisher

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