How did the final image of the brothers silhouetted come to you? How much do you debate your endings and final shots in your head versus just going with your gut?

Well that’s funny, because it’s both. I certainly applied it on this one. Every ending to my movies has been a subject of debate. Except with Shotgun Stories, but that’s because nobody was around to debate with me, so I just got to end it. But you know, Take Shelter obviously [there was a debate]. With Mud, there was some debate in my mind. Never amongst producers or anything, but in my mind, there was another way to end that movie, though I’m really pleased with the way it ended.

Midnight Special, shit, you know? Yeah, there was a completely different scripted ending, it actually always ended in the same spot, with Roy’s character basically in some kind of high-security prison, staring out at something. But what he was staring out at was completely different in the original draft. And then Loving never changed. Loving was always that way. It’s kind of funny though, four out of the five movies ended with characters staring out over something. Usually it’s Micheal Shannon, and in Mud‘s case, it was McConaughey and Sam Shepard. I guess that’s kind of my thing.

For this ending in this video, I woke up that morning and thought of the line, “Why would I wanna kill my little brothers?” And then in the end it’s like, “Oh, and you see him and his brothers are standing there in this beautiful western, kind of southern face off, and it’s like, ‘What are you gonna do with that pistol?'” And he clicks it. I was like, “How interesting would it be if you understood that that character was conflicted and he had reasons to shoot him, but he also had reason not to shoot them? To maybe protect them?”

There was one line in the song, “We’ll take what we need,” that I just liked so much. That became the middle scene, so then you’re basically like, “Okay, here’s the opening, it’s gonna be with this drug-dealer type that lets you know that people think he may want to kill his brothers.” But he never answers that question, you know?

The answer that he gives, you’re not sure. And that’s what Mike Shannon can do, you’re just not sure where he lands. So I woke up, and it was like tick, ticket, tick, with the layout of this thing ending in this big, wide shot, where you’re like, “Oh my God, what’s he gonna do?” And then, we started to develop this story idea, I was talking to my brother about it and trying to give credence to his points of view and everything else, since he actually wrote the song. And he was like, “Well, you know, the song’s not really about that. It’s about one of them getting injured in fleeing and stuff.”

I think my brother was getting at, he never came out and said it, because he was always like, “Whatever you want to do, Jeff.” In his mind, he was like, “This guy does not shoot his brothers.” I think it was maybe a little dark for him, or just not really what his intention was. And so we shot this beautiful final scene, that actually goes after that final moment. I kind of convinced myself that I liked at least the scripting to it, I liked this other ending. And it was so funny, we were sending it out to friends and everybody else, both versions, asking them which do you like.

And half of the people, just like every other movies I’ve made, half the people were like, “We like this other ending with these guys in back of the car, and Garrett Hedlund has a wound in his stomach.” And then the other half’s like, “No, no. You gotta end it at the road and the sunset, that’s where it wants to end.” Most of my films, I was having an inner debate with myself, because I wrote both endings and I liked both. Then, the weight of comments, especially from my wife, but also by Shannon, they started leaning toward ending on that road, which was the original idea.

And it was, in a way, the most dramatic because you end and you’re like, “Oh, what’s gonna happen next? Like what’s going on?” The other one was, “What’s going on? What just …” [Laughs] It left people really confused, which I kind of dig, like, “Who gives a shit?” It’s a short film, might as well have people talk about it. But alas, we went with this other one, so who knows? Maybe one day, I have a finished out version of the other cut, so maybe one day I’ll release it. But it’s really beautifully shot. Scoot and Garrett did such a good job at it, it was very tempting to end with them.

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Make sure to check back soon for parts two and three of our interview with Jeff Nichols. 

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