Life behind the screen(writer)

Longtime San Diego City College screenwriting professor Russell Redmond recalls his adventurous life in TV, cinema and education

Angelica Wallingford

In the quiet corner of the first floor of the L building, students stagger out into the unusually hot September sun on their last in-class session of Introduction to Screenwriting class. Left behind was a their teacher, longtime San Diego City College professor and screenwriter Russell Redmond.

“Russell is very patient, and you can gather the fact, especially when it comes to the attention given,” Erny Rivera, a student enrolled in Redmond’s online Introduction to Screenwriting class said. “Writing is still a delicate craft, to which Russell helps transform into an artform.”

Underneath Redmond’s casual demeanor lies a fun and energetic man with a passion for all things cinema and storytelling. Sitting behind a small desk in L-108 he began to recall his colorful journey to that lead to his love of film and teaching screenwriting at City; starting with his love of stories.

“I was always interested in storytelling,” Redmond said. “You know, you grow up watching TV as a little kid and you go ‘oh, that looks like fun’ and it seems exciting and so you proceed down that avenue thinking ‘maybe I’ll be interested in that’.”

He recalled going through high school and being in that phase all young men and women go through and figure out what they want to do with their future.

“…You have to decide (and say) ‘well, you know I think I really have a burning desire to get into film’ and of course everybody want to be not only an actor but a film director or someone else,” Redmond said. “I mean they want to do everything… and that was me.”

After graduating high school Redmond left Carlsbad and headed north to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). After he graduated in 1973, Redmond received an offer from his screenwriting teacher, so he packed up and headed to Europe where he wrote for the BBC show “The Old Man’s Blood.”

After his run writing for the show, he moved to the European film capital of Almeria to work on a screenplay about “The Little Prince” author Antoine de Saint-Exupery and work as an extra in Spanish Western films starring Jack Palance and others.

During his stay in Almeria he was approached by director Sergio Corbucci, best known for his Spaghetti Western films and being a protege of Sergio Leone, to star in a film called “The Three Man War.”

“… It’s was a modern World War II movie where there’s three characters: a German, an Italian an Englishman; and it’s set in the desert of Libya but of course we’ll shoot it here in Spain,” Redmond recalled. “There was an interesting plot about it but there was only three characters in it. One of them was going to be Peter O’Toole, the other was Anthony Quinn and the other third one was going to be me.”

Funding for the film eventually fell through, however, before Redmond learned of that he boarded a plane and headed home to the United States where he got an agent and wrote more screenplays. About a year after he returned to the U.S. he dropped out of the film scene and became an illustrator in San Diego and Los Angeles for 10 years.

In the ‘90s Redmond struck up a friendship with City College professor Hope Shaw, whom he and his wife had met while sailing through Mexico working on various projects. Shaw became a great friend and told Redmond that she wanted to retire and if he would be interested in taking on one of her screenwriting classes.

“I said ‘no way, me teach, you’re crazy’ I mean no way I was going to do that,” Redmond said. “I just thought that was the worst Idea and that woman could talk anyone into anything. She was good. and by God she talked me into it and I finally said ok, I’ll do this one class and I went in there and I realized that this isn’t so bad.”

When Shaw died Redmond was asked to teach both sections of the Introduction to Screenwriting class, where he enjoys talking about films with his students.

“You end up talking about stuff that you should be remembering all the time you know you go back to beginning screenwriting and you start talking to kids about characterizations and how you should structure your film and motivations…’” Redmond said. “…you’re really getting in there, in the nitty gritty of the ‘this doesn’t work and that doesn’t work’ so you’re thinking about film structure all the time.”

RTVF department chair Laura Castaneda has worked with Redmond since she started as a part-timer at City College in 2000.

“It’s such an incredible experience (working with him),” Castaneda said. “He’s such an interesting person with an interesting perspective on life.”

Currently, Redmond has a short film out called “El Camino,” based on a true story about an undocumented woman’s journey through rough terrain to get back to the U.S. after visiting her sick father in Mexico, which he released through his production company Work With Me Films and hopes to make a feature film out of it here in San Diego in the near future.