Un-bear-ably Fun! La Jolla's Bishop’s School graduate to produce independent feature film

By Ashley Mackin

Russell Nickel, a graduate of The Bishop’s School, is in the midst of producing his first independent, feature film — and said he has found fun in every step of the way. It might help that the film, “Bear With Us,” is a farce aimed at being as ridiculous and entertaining as possible.

Every step in the filmmaking process has had a touch of silliness, he said, starting with the film’s premise, which is centered on a young man who wants to propose to his girlfriend at a cabin in the woods, but wouldn’t you know it, shenanigans ensue!

William Stribling, director and co-writer of the film explained, “We are both silly guys and our imaginations were able to run wild with this. The story snowballs; it starts simple and by the end, all hell has broken loose.”

When it came to putting the story together, Nickel and Stribling took a road trip from their college campus of Chapman University in Orange County to San Diego to see “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert. “We spent the whole drive brainstorming,” Nickel said. Stribling added, “It was incredible; we ended up missing our exit because we were talking back and forth. We ended up creating the entire plot of the movie during that trip.”

Once the story was solid, the two shared writing duties to get a script together, which was met with positive feedback from actors.

When it came to casting, Nickel said he wishes he could have played the part of an indifferent filmmaker, but just couldn’t. “I was gushing to all the actors, and I think they got a kick out of it,” he said. “One actor said producers are often nonchalant, so when they read for a comedy, they don’t know if it’s working or if they are being funny. I was sitting in the back cracking up, and they seemed to like that.”

He added, “These real actors were reading lines that I wrote. It was all coming to life in front of me. I spent months writing the script and honing it and got overwhelmed with excitement.”

Of the eight-person cast, some of the bigger names include Christy Romano (“Kim Possible,” “Even Stevens”) and Cheyenne Jackson (“30 Rock,” “Behind the Candelabra,” “United 93”) and crews are scheduled to begin filming August in Pennsylvania.

“We wanted to make this film for as little as possible, so we wanted to keep it contained to one location and a small cast,” Stribling said of the $75,000 production. The crew gathered funds from private investors, crowd-funding and a little help from back home.

Nickel said, “I was at Bishop’s for six years and felt immersed in La Jolla, so when it came to outreach, I called everyone I could think of and talked to them when I was home. A lot of people donated and invested.”

When the film — which Nickel said is similar to “Death at a Funeral” and “Bringing Up Baby” — is finished, the crew will submit it to as many film festivals as they can. Stribling said he hopes to have the film circulating in 2015.

View the animated trailer (the film is live-action) and more details about the project at BearWithUsFilm.com

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