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JEFF NICHOLS: his favourite films and inspirations

by Martinus
JEFF NICHOLS: his favourite films and inspirations by Martinus
JEFF NICHOLS: “It was Larry Brown ’s short stories that kinda floored me. Harry Crews wrote a biography called A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, a collection of essays, and that combined with Larry Brown’s short fiction and Big Bad Love and Facing the Music really kinda [made me think], especially given where I was from, “OK, this feels like an appropriate description of these places.” I definitely hadn’t seen it in movies and the fact that I found it in books was pretty overwhelming. So then you get back into Flannery O’Connor and, for me, a lot of Mark Twain and then, of course, Raymond Carver. I stumbled across Raymond Carver in my… Read more

JEFF NICHOLS:

“It was Larry Brown ’s short stories that kinda floored me. Harry Crews wrote a biography called A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, a collection of essays, and that combined with Larry Brown’s short fiction and Big Bad Love and Facing the Music really kinda [made me think], especially given where I was from, “OK, this feels like an appropriate description of these places.” I definitely hadn’t seen it in movies and the fact that I found it in books was pretty overwhelming. So then you get back into Flannery O’Connor and, for me, a lot of Mark Twain and then, of course, Raymond Carver. I stumbled across Raymond Carver in my junior year, which is late. I’m kind of a late bloomer.”

“The first film I remember seeing in the theater (mainly because it was R-rated film) was Pale Rider, Clint Eastwood. My dad took me when I was in second grade. It had a huge impact on me. It’s the movie where he shoots everyone in the forehead and that didn’t bother me at all, but there’s a scene where a girl’s dog gets killed and it was rainworks, just tears. I feel oddly connected to Clint Eastwood. A Perfect World is actually one of my favorite movies. People don’t talk about it very much, but I really like it. Out of all the studio directors working today, I think Clint Eastwood seems to have the working style I’d like to work towards more than anyone.”

“I love films and see a lot of them, but you could drop me into a film class and I might be lost. There are five films I like. Four of them star Paul Newman. There’s The Hustler (1961), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Hud (1963), Badlands (1973), and the fifth gets interchanged between Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Shining, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Jaws (1975), and Stagecoach (1939). All of these films are directed by a very specific hand. Almost all of them are in Scope and treat the Scope frame with extreme brilliance. I was watching Butch Cassidy on a plane, without sound, and noticed that scenes were shot in fluid master shots; they’re not in a rush to cut images together to get you some place, but they don’t feel slow. The camera moves at the perfect moment. It feels like a scene that was edited together, but you realize that there were only one or two cuts.”

“I saw Badlands in college. I’d never seen it before. I went home after and called my older brother and was like, “Man, there’s this movie, Badlands—this guy gives away his comb at the end. It’s really funny and weird and dark.”

“I just like clouds. I like driving around looking at them. I’ll get lost staring up at them. My wife and I will be walking our dog at this park in Austin, and every day, it’s just like this new, insane cloud formation.”

“I love the idea that when you see the backsides of leaves, like the silver sides of leaves, it means a storm’s coming. That’s what all this is. All of this is about that moment where, just before the storm, you see the signs and you know something’s coming. And you have to get out of the way.”

“I think I’m more of a screenwriter than I am a director. When I’m feeling problems on the set, my script is my ally. I don’t work so that people can riff off the script. You’ve got a plan, and you execute the plan. I spend a long time on my scripts, and if I make changes during the filming or editing, I ask myself if I have good reason for changing something. Someone like Malick would be the opposite of this. I also spend more time with a film as writer than in any other role. I’ll take a year thinking about a story and collecting moments, ideas, characters, and situations like a tape ball. Nothing goes down on paper. Then I’ll put things down on cards and lay them on the floor. I may know that I want a scene, but not know where it’ll fit. I’m a linear thinker. The story then begins to move. I’ll outline without any cards, and that process may take three to four months. The script comes pretty quickly after that. I’ll write for five to six hours a day, maybe four to 12 pages a day, like going from a pencil sketch to colour paint. I’ll let about four people read my stuff to make sure it makes sense. Then I read it straight through, usually tweaking it a bit. When you write it out, you get a sense of how long scenes will actually be, and how the story is flowing. At that point, I’m pretty much locked in.”

“I think that when people watch films, they’re wholeheartedly affected in ways they don’t realize, and don’t know why they’re feeling that way. I work really hard on the first ten to 15 minutes of a film to make it affecting, because those are the minutes when people tend to closely judge films. You get them or lose them in those early minutes. It’s this whole build-up to that moment early on when the dog bites Curtis’ hand.”

“My dad always said, ‘You have to affect the audience’ — some films do and some films don’t. I mean, I am a huge fan of Steven Spielberg. Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, these are the movies that I want to be making. The way Spielberg shows middle-class American life, it’s so interesting. Nobody ever talks about it. You look at Close Encounters of the Third Kind, go into Richard Dreyfuss’s house, there’s a kid banging on a piano, and there’s clutter and there’s life and people live there. It’s not boring and it’s not mundane. It’s just very real. Nobody ever really says that about it.”

“Larry Brown, one of my favourite writers, talks about how he likes to sandbag his characters from page one. I want to put the screws on this guy, and the screws keep getting tighter and tighter. Nothing works for him, like when he goes to the therapist for an appointment, and the therapist’s not there. I think Mike had something to do with applying that pressure too.”

“David Gordon Green said when George Washington was coming out that he wanted to make something beautiful that reminded him of the films that he had seen in a theater growing up that you were struck by because of their size and their scope. That was very much what happened with Lawrence of Arabia for me. I was in sixth grade and they had a re-release print of Lawrence of Arabia in my hometown. It was enormous. We had a dome theater so it was a beautiful screen to see it on. I remember being struck by its scope and also by the fact that a landscape could dictate structure, that things that happened in the movie couldn’t have happened without that landscape, and that landscape couldn’t have been shown any other way than to be that big. [laughs] I just remember being shook by it, saying, “Wow, that’s a powerful film,” and when I sat down to make Shotgun Stories, I wanted it to be a powerful experience.”

“I was really impressed with The Hurt Locker as an idea. At the end of that film, I was like, Holy crap, she remade Point Break, one of my favorite films. That movie’s all about adrenaline junkies, and [this] was adrenaline junkies in Iraq.”

“I have to give a lot of credit to watching David Green go through this process on George Washington, and having him as a friend. We went through the same film school, I was two years behind him, and I got to see the important places to put your cash and the kind of people you need to have around to make the equipment that you have work as well as possible. I knew I wanted to shoot on film, I knew we wouldn’t have a lot of crew or equipment or a lot of time to light. You just start off by using available light as best you can and if you’re shooting on 35 and you get a proper exposure, it’s gonna look good. On top of that, not everybody has a good friend like Adam Stone, the cinematographer, who’ll come down and work for peanuts and who is truly a talented cinematographer.”

“Badlands was the one film that struck me. I saw it for the first time in college. But I have a lot less to do with Malick than David (Gordon Green) does, I have a lot more to do with Tender Mercies, a lot more to do with Hud and Cool Hand Luke. A poetic realistic look of America was definitely something that I was going after, but the films I was studying were less Malick.”

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