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 youâ€™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? Itâ€™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 havenâ€™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.
Saturday's Harpeth Rising CD Release Concert at The Little Rock Folk Club (Thompson Hall, 1818…
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