At nineteen, Russell directed a series of commercials for the Arkansas Parks and Tourism division, where his boss was Governor Bill Clinton. At the same time, he was winning Regional Honors as a musician.
He accepted a full music scholarship to attend Memphis University where he received a Bachelor of Arts. While there, he studied in the Grammy Award-winning Blues Preservation department. However, it was during this time that his attention to film took over.
Russell was accepted into the Film School of Columbia University where he received a Master of Fine Arts Degree. While at Columbia, under the direction of co-chairmen Milos Forman and the late Frank Daniel, Russell won filmmaking grants from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science as well as the Louis B. Mayer Foundation.
He was invited to attend the Sundance Institute Film Workshop, headed by Robert Redford, to develop his project End of the Line. The well-reviewed independent film starring Wilford Brimley, Mary Steenburgen and Kevin Bacon was directed by Russell and was released theatrically by Orion Classics in 1998.
After the release of End of the Line, Russell developed projects for Imagine Entertainment and TnStar Pictures. Subsequently, Russell pursued another passion — documentaries. He worked as a producer and director for the critically lauded Discovery Channel series, Amazing America, as well as documentary series and specials for NBC, CBS, Learning Channel, USA Network and others.
In 1996, Russell was asked to write, produce and direct the five-hour miniseries Great Drives for PBS on famous highways of America. His installments as a director, Highway 61, Revisited with Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer Levon Helm, and Highway 93, The Killer Road, hosted by Oscar nominated actor Graham Greene, premiered nationally in 1997.
It was while filming Great Drives that Jay first met the late, award-winning author Willie Morris who told him he was working on a book about his childhood and dog titled My Dog Skip.
Russell stayed in regular contact with Morris and got the film rights to the book. In 2000, he directed and executive produced the critically acclaimed hit family film My Dog Skip, based on Morris' best-selling memoir about his recollections of his first and favorite dog. The Warner Bros. film starred Kevin Bacon, Frankie Muniz, Luke Wilson and Diane Lane and was produced by John Lee Hancock and Academy Award-winner Mark Johnson. My Dog Skip has received numerous awards, including the 2001 Broadcast Film Critics Award as Best Family Film.
Jay Russell Facts
|January 10, 1960 (64)
|Little Rock, Arkansas, USA