Welcome to Outside-In with DCN where we interview upcoming startups and businesses in the cannabis industry. Each interview you will get to meet the founders taking a leap into building a company they believe in. Gain knowledge of their services, their mission and what makes each of the unique. On this Outside-In, with DCN we spoke with Chris Russo, founder of Paceline Pictures and Director of Lady Buds.
Meet Paceline Pictures
Paceline Pictures is a creative agency focused on producing empowering female-driven content and creative imaging for the newly emerging cannabis industry. Paceline Pictures takes pride in creating high-quality, beautiful and impactful images with exceptional production value by utilizing the best talent and resources available in the entertainment industry.
Meet The Founder
Chris J. Russo moved to Hollywood from New York in 2000 to pursue her filmmaking dreams. Her award-winning short films have screened all over the world, including the Sundance Film Festival, on Showtime, PBS, IFC, LOGO, and NETFLIX. After working 15 years in management positions at two of the largest imaging companies in the entertainment industry, Kodak, and Arriflex, Russo left the corporate world to focus on her own creative career and founded Paceline Pictures.
For the last two years, she has been producing and directing her first feature film, Lady Buds, a documentary that chronicles the struggles of cannabis legalization through the eyes of six courageous women transitioning from the illicit market to the commercial market in California.
DCN: Why was it important for Paceline Pictures to create a documentary like Lady Buds?
Chris Russo: When I began this journey, I was intrigued by the number of women who were in leadership roles in the cannabis industry — more than any other market in the US — which has unfortunately declined. I saw the industry change before my eyes. Through my immersion into this cautious community, I gained the trust of several inspiring women whose stories I knew I had to tell.
It was important to me to include diverse, multi-generational voices that covered varied areas of the cannabis industry. Thus, Lady Buds was born. Even though the story is still unfolding, I firmly believe the film will serve as-the inspiration for other women to follow their dreams. I also wanted to represent women in cannabis in an authentic way, something mainstream media has failed to do.
DCN: When you first started this documentary, did you have any idea of the realm of knowledge, struggles, and passion you would be gaining insight into?
Chris Russo: When I began my research for Lady Buds, I interviewed over 100 women in cannabis. I was in awe of the passion, excitement and dedication women entrepreneurs, medicine makers, and activists had for the plant. I really did not have any idea of what these women were up against — the struggles, the obstacles, and the crazy twists and turns of an industry emerging — until legalization started to unfold in real-time. What I did come to know as a filmmaker, was just about every single woman I met had-an incredibly fascinating origin story that brought them to cannabis. Through making the documentary, I have been fortunate to get to know many women in cannabis who have shared their knowledge with me and taught me the great history of cannabis in California.
DCN: Initially, what was it like approaching these women, telling them you wanted to film their story?
Chris Russo: Initially, I asked each of the women involved in Lady Buds if I could interview them as I was doing research on women in cannabis. They were all excited to talk to me. That evolved to, “Would you like to come visit my farm?” and a second interview. From there, I took a step back and thought about the diverse voices I wanted to include that covered diverse areas of the industry. This was after I had interviewed close to 100 women.
It wasn’t until late 2017 when I realized Lady Buds was becoming a character-driven story about cannabis legalization in California through the eyes of six courageous women. I think we were all a little surprised when it became so personal and intimate, but I knew this was the film it had to be in order to reach mainstream audiences. I saw these women, not just as cannabis warriors, but as business women, as moms, as grandmothers, and social activists. I believe people relate to stories of others when they are themselves reflections of who they are as humans or people they know. I knew this was going to be the key to having people think differently about cannabis.
DCN: Lady Buds will be highlighting a different conversation, the main focus will be geared towards political and social implications viewed from a women’s lens, what can viewers look forward to learning and seeing through this approach?
Chris Russo: My hope is that Lady Buds will provide an interesting perspective on how legalization is affecting small communities of the Emerald Triangle and legacy small farmers as well as how it’s affecting marginalized communities in the cities in relation to their social equity programs. It’s a big story to tell and I’m still filming. I think viewers can look forward to seeing an inspiring cannabis story about women, which is rare in the canon of cannabis media.
DCN: Spending the past few months, meeting with so many women, what have you and your team learned throughout this process?
Chris Russo: I’ve learned that cannabis is a complicated issue and has implications on multiple aspects of the socio-economic and political landscape of California. From the regulations to permitting to each part of the supply chain to holdover stigmas, this is not an easy market to enter unless you are a well-funded company. People outside the industry think cannabis is big money, but for the women I’ve met, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The struggle is very real for those who are coming out of the shadows and transitioning from the gray market. Having said all that, my biggest takeaway is — and it’s become crystal clear — that women in cannabis are fearless, strong and passionate entrepreneurs. Women are and always have been the backbone of the cannabis industry. I hope that continues.
DCN: Can you highlight some of the women who are featured in this documentary?
Chris Russo: Of course, we are featuring:
Karyn Wagner is a former New Yorker and serial entrepreneur who put her roots in Humboldt 21 years ago. Bringing city and business smarts to small farmers, her goal is to help cultivators survive legalization by marketing the biggest brand in cannabis: Humboldt weed.
Felicia Carbajal is a California native, a longtime Los Angeles resident and an activist in both the Latinx and LGBT communities. She is dedicated to ensuring all minorities have equal access to cannabis and determined to help bring social and restorative justice to minorities affected by the War on Drugs while holding new industry players accountable.
As a second-generation cannabis farmer, Chiah Rodriques co-founded a Mendocino farm alliance that fights to maintain the community and values she grew up with. With the price of weed dropping and a leap of faith into the unknown, Chiah must find balance between working on the farm and parenting her two sons amidst the harsh financial pressures of legalization.
Sue Taylor is a 70-year-old retired Catholic school principal whose mission is to open the first cannabis dispensary for seniors that would offer alternatives to pharmaceuticals. As an African-American businesswoman in a white and male-dominated industry, Sue pushes forward despite the city’s attempt to hold up the construction of her Berkeley dispensary.
As “OG” cannabis farmers, Emerald Cup Judges and best friends, the Bud Sisters have seen it all. With a Humboldt fatty being perpetually passed between them, Pearl and Dr. Joyce offer both colorful anecdotes about the wild black market days and sobering, present-day accounts of longtime farmers who have lived in the Humboldt hills for decades, struggling to survive legalization.
DCN: How can people get involved and help fundraise this project?
Chris Russo: It would be wonderful if people could donate and back the Kickstarter project because financial help is needed most! Secondly would be to share the campaign with everyone you know and spread the word! Thirdly, would be to contact Producer-Director Chris Russo about brand sponsorships or individual donations once the Kickstarter is over.
DCN: Let’s talk about fundraising, you are currently fundraising and doing a Kickstarter and Fiscal Sponsor campaign to finish the production of this film, can you share more about what you are looking for and what the funding will help you achieve?
Chris Russo: We are in the final week of our all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign (donate here: http://bit.ly/LadyBudsKickstarterPage), seeking to raise $50,000 in funds to finish production. “All-or-nothing” means if we don’t meet our goal, we aren’t able to keep what we’ve raised! Yikes! This pays for travel costs to film in both Northern and Southern California through the end of the year (gas, food, lodging, sometimes airfare and car rentals). Filming the harvest this fall in Humboldt and Mendocino are an integral part of the story, and only happen once a year in September and October. The funds will also be used for camera and sound equipment rentals, film crew salaries, hard drives, an assistant editor, and other expenses that always surprise us.
If we reach our goal during the campaign, we also have a stretch goal of $100,000 that not only gets us through production, it pays for some initial post-production costs that include: an editors salary for 3 months, interview transcription costs, more hard drives to set up the editorial suite, a small budget for archival footage and the hiring of a motion graphics designer.
In addition to the Kickstarter, the filmmakers will have ongoing brand sponsorships that will offer a unique marketing opportunity for cannabis brands that want to support the message of the film. Lady Buds also has a fiscal sponsor for individuals who would like to make a charitable, tax-deductible donation here: https://www.filmindependent.org/programs/fiscal-sponsorship/lady-buds/
DCN: The DCN team is overcome with gratitude, with the approach of this film, you are showing why so many women (and men) have fought so hard for this plant and even now how they are seeing the changes as the cannabis community turns into a industry. What is one thing you would like to share with those who believe so much in this plant, are working so hard out there, trying to survive in this new stage of cannabis?
Chris Russo: Thank you for your kind words. I would say, maintain your spiritual connection with the plant and do what you do best. Try to find a way to stand out in the marketplace and find your community. I truly believe your hard work and passion will pay off.
DCN: It has been an honor doing this Outside-In with DCN spotlight with you Chris, any final words to the DCN community?
Chris Russo: We’ve been following our six heroines for two years, covering their dramatic journey to succeed in this new market. With more than 300 hours of exclusive and intimate footage, we’re set to wrap production December 2018 and begin post-production this fall, with a premiere goal of late 2019/early 2020. I’m grateful to announce the project has received support from The Sundance Institute, Women in Film, Film Independent, and grants from The Rogovy Foundation and the Harnisch Foundation.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to discuss “Lady Buds” with the DCN community, I can’t wait to share the project with everyone when we’re done.
To get involved and join the kickstarter campaign for Lady Buds, please visit their website: ladybudsmovie.com
Want to follow them on social media, visit them @lady.buds
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