Five takeaways from an interview with Jeff Nichols at AFF

Thursday afternoon, Austin director Jeff Nichols, whose movie “Loving” opened the Austin Film Festival Thursday night, sat down for a chat with Christopher Boone, who is currently wrapping up work on “Cents,” his first feature film as writer/director.

Here are five things we learned.

A still from "Loving"

A still from “Loving”

Of “Loving,” Nichols’ wife said, “I’ll divorce you if you don’t do this movie.” Nichols said he was unfamiliar with the Loving’s story before he saw Nancy Buirskis’ 2011 HBO documentary “The Loving Story” on the family. Nichols sent the trailer to his wife and received said ultimatum. Nichols said he also got a harddrive with Buirski that contained all of her outtakes and research for the documentary, which proved invaluable.

Nichols is currently working on a reboot of “Alien Nation.” “I want to make a big movie,” Nichols said. He said that Fox approached him to make a reboot of the 1988 sci-fi movie “Alien Nation” (eventually turned into a much better and more interesting TV series). which he declined. But he also had this other sci-fi idea and, as Nichols tells it, his producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones told him, “You know, you could put the title ‘Alien Nation'” on the original idea and it would fit. Which is what Nichols says he did and he and Fox are now in business. “I’ve never developed a project from the ground-up with a studio,” Nichols said.

His tip for working with Austin composer David Wingo? “Get him working early” in the process, Nichols said. A big believer in themes and leitmotifs in movie scores, Nichols noted that it can be tough for composers to because early edits of a film are often cut to temp scores. Nichols said Wingo got a small piece into an early cut of the film and Nichols loved it. So, then, Wingo “goes and does 20 versions of this theme” for different emotional points in the movie.

Nichols doesn’t rehearse and doesn’t have much, if any, improvisation on the day a scene is shot. Of his scripts, Nichols says, “I try to make the (characters’) behavior make sense on the page” so there is a bare minimum of figuring out the script as it is being shot.

Then again sometimes things need fixing on the day. During the “Midnight Special” shoot, Nichols says Michael Shannon approached him, asking why Shannon’s character would be standing in front of a car when he has no idea if the person who is coming to meet him driving towards Shannon, has hostile intent: “Nichols, shouldn’t I be standing behind the open car door?”

Nichols said that it’s a sign that Shannon’s character doesn’t mind getting shot full of holes if it means finding his kidnapped son.

Shannon: “That absolutely makes sense and I am going to stand behind this car door.”

(Peals of laughter from audience)

“Loving” premiered in Austin Thursday night. It is due in wide release Nov. 4 and we will have a full review then. Charles Ealy saw the film at Cannes earlier this year.


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