Q&A with Jeff Nichols 

click to enlarge Jeff Nichols
  • Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols is on a roll, albeit one that's taken a while to gain momentum. The Little Rock native spent much of his 20s working to produce his debut feature film, "Shotgun Stories." Upon release in 2007, it did well on the festival circuit, drew praise from Roger Ebert and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. But it took him three years to secure financing for his second film, "Take Shelter." It promises to be worth the wait. After debuting at Sundance earlier this year, it won the grand prize at Critics' Week at the Cannes film festival in France.

I recently caught up with Nichols on the phone at his home in Austin, Texas, to talk about what his recent success means for his career, how he scored the same special effects company that did "Avatar," how marriage and fatherhood figured into the screenplay for "Take Shelter" and about his plans to shoot his third film in Arkansas.

"Take Shelter" won't see limited release until October, but in these summer movie doldrums, we need a promising film to anticipate.

You've made two acclaimed indie films. What does that mean in terms of juice?

It remains to be seen is the honest answer. Obviously, since Sundance I've started to get phone calls and more requests. It's a little weird because I have a team in place —meaning a manager, an agent and a lawyer — that's all in LA. So I'm somewhat buffered from the direct response.

There's a lot more energy and a lot more momentum. How true that is and how I can apply that is what remains to be seen.

But the big thing after Cannes is that maybe, just maybe I now have the opportunity to really make the films that I want to make. Not just films that I think are cool or projects that come my way that I think, "Yeah, I'll do that." But actually films that I write and direct and films that I consider to be my projects. There are so few filmmakers that get that opportunity.

But that's what you've done on you're first two films.

I mean just to continue to do it. It's one thing to do it with no money with not many people paying attention. It's another for your budgets to continue to increase — not that I need huge budgets. To make this a living and make it a true profession, where I'm not asking everyone to work for free and do me favors, which has happened with the last two films in order to get them to exist. By default now, the level of production I work at has to increase. In order to bear the weight of all that, it's certainly a question about whether or not I get to keep doing my own thing.

But that's easier said than done. And you've got offers coming your way that make you say, "Wow, I could buy a house for that" or "Man, I could just take care of things for a while." And it's not just about movies, sometimes it's "Man, that's a big studio film." And all that interests me.

But after Cannes I've got a chance to possibly be able to do my own stuff for at least a little bit longer at an increased level.

That's just a select group of filmmakers, guys like the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson and Wes Anderson, who get to do what I'm talking about. I'm not saying I'm at that level or in that zone, but there's a glimmer of possibility.

So what you have to decide now is whether you're going to follow that path or you’re going do more of the David Gordon Green model, where you make some indies and you make some kind of big movies that are cool or have the potential to be cool?

Or more so, am I going to go the studio route or am I going to go the indie route? It’s more complex than that. It's more like, I'm in a position where people actually ask me to do things. I get to decide. A lot of people don't get to decide. They're chasing work. But I'm lucky enough that I haven’t had to that. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I'm a writer/director.

The position I'm in now is not just studio route or indie route, it's what do I really want to be working on? This stuff is all consuming. It does change your life. It changes how you raise your kid and your family. So what do I want to spend my time on? Before I was so focused on getting there. Now, it's like I've got a few more options than last year, so let's see what I can do.


Speaking of...

  • Jeff Nichols, 'Loving' and the space in between

    November 17, 2016
    In a strictly technical sense, "Loving" is about the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws, removing restrictions against interracial marriage in the United States. That's a little misleading, though, at least insofar as that description conjures up images of courtroom drama. Nichols strips all that away, making "Loving" exactly what its name implies: a love story. /more/
  • 'Loving' screening raises $10,000 for Tiger Foundation benefitting Central High

    November 15, 2016
    Little Rock native Jeff Nichols brought his new acclaimed film "Loving" to the Ron Robinson Theater last night ahead of the movie's wide release on Friday. The ticketed event raised $10,000 for the Tiger Foundation, a nonprofit that benefits Central High School, Nichols' alma mater. /more/
  • Jeff Nichols returns to Little Rock for Arkansas premiere of "Loving"

    October 24, 2016
    Director Jeff Nichols returns to his hometown Monday, Nov. 14, for the first Arkansas screening of “Loving,” Nichols’ depiction of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, the couple whose civil rights case resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court’s invalidation of all race-based legal restrictions on marriage. /more/
  • The trailer for Jeff Nichols' 'Loving' looks great

    July 14, 2016
    The latest from Little Rock's Jeff Nichols hits theaters Nov. 4. It's Nichols' telling of the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, whose marriage led to the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia, which ended laws preventing interracial marriage. Ruth Negga's performance as Mildred Loving generated Oscar talk after the film debuted at Cannes. /more/
  • Filmmaker Jeff Nichols shows 'Loving' at Cannes. Good timing.

    May 16, 2016
    Here's Vox with a report on the premier at Cannes of "Loving," the feature film treatment by Little Rock native Jeff Nichols of the case that brought an end to laws against interracial marriage. The theme has many parallels in current times, which Nichols talks about. /more/
  • Jeff Nichols' "Loving" up for Cannes Film Festival Award

    May 11, 2016
    Jeff Nichols' "Loving," a film depicting the landmark civil rights case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws, is up for the Palme d'Or at this year's Canne Film Festival. /more/
  • Nichols' 'Loving' to compete for Palme d'Or at Cannes

    April 19, 2016
    Little Rock-born film director Jeff Nichols, whose stature as a young auteur has been steadily growing with the success of films like 2012's "Mud" and his most recent sci-fi offering "Midnight Special," will get another chance to put a very big feather in his cap next month. His latest film, "Loving," has been selected to compete for the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in France. /more/
  • 'Midnight Special' subverts the superhero-industrial complex

    March 31, 2016
    It's the latest from Little Rock's Jeff Nichols. /more/
  • Behind the scenes of Jeff Nichols' 'Midnight Special'

    March 4, 2016
    WIRED magazine has a great new profile of Little Rock filmmaker Jeff Nichols out this month, written by the always-perceptive Amy Wallace. Aside from being probably the best and most comprehensive piece written on Nichols to date, it takes us behind the scenes of his forthcoming "Midnight Special" and even offers new insights on previous works, from "Shotgun Stories" ("He wrote the script in his father’s furniture store, “surrounded by mattresses,” and edited it in his laundry room") to "Mud." /more/
  • Jeff Nichols to direct 'Aquaman,' according to leaked emails

    December 15, 2014
    The revelations from last month's massive Sony hack have so far included embarrassing financial statements, embarrassing emails and many other categories of embarrassments. Sony employees hate their own movies, for instance, and Channing Tatum writes weird emails. And now even Arkansas is involved, however tangentially, with the news that Little Rock native Jeff Nichols might be attached to direct the "Aquaman" movie. /more/
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