Jeff Nichols interview

Jeff Nichols movie hasn’t played in theaters in for two years now. We recently saw another project from the director of Take Shelter and Mud, a short film based on a Lucero song, but not since Loving has he shot another feature. However, based on all the projects he’s working on and the ideas he’s toying with, including an Alien Nation remake and an animated kids movie, we might not have to wait much longer for another Nichols feature. And when we do see his sixth movie, it’ll be a reflection of the times –Nichols is sure of that.

The filmmaker recently spoke with us for an extended interview about his short film The Long Way Back Home, and following up part one and part two of our conversation with him, we now dive into what’s next for Nichols, what he’s been binge-watching, and why he doesn’t believe we’re living in the golden age of television.

It’s surprising hearing you say how intimidated you are by making the biker movie, because I read that after Loving, you felt strongly that was your technically most accomplished movie as a director, so I’d figure there’d be more confidence tackling a story like the biker idea. How did your experience on Loving, and coming away from it with that takeaway, influence what you want to do in the future as a director? 

I think Loving was me getting me down, in terms of … When I say technical, those are the directing skills. And really, if you want to reduce it even further, it’s that I finally felt control over how I moved the camera. I’ve always had control over the frame, but camera movement has always been something that has intimidated me, and I feel like I got those two things worked out for my kind of movie.

Loving is not my story. It is not my film in many ways, because it’s so much of the Loving story. Maybe this is one reason why I talk about it in terms of technical proficiency more than narrative proficiency, but I think it was told in a style that I’ve been working on since Shotgun Stories, and it’s like, “Oh, this is the grown up, professional version of that style.” It’s still slow as molasses, but very specifically guided. That camera is guiding you through that movie, and sitting with those characters, and that I’m very proud of.

And I know this is gonna sound real granular, and maybe super technical, but I finally figured out the camera system that I loved the most. Steady Cam has always been interesting, and Mud was a Steady Cam movie. But nine times out of 10, Steady Cam just isn’t the … It’s not the movement I want, and it’s not just about movement, front back, left right, it’s got that floating feel to it. Because it’s sitting on that gyroscope, you know? So when you look at a … Basically a static Steady Cam shot, it’s just got this drift to it. It is really appropriate for some things; it was really appropriate for Mud because everything was about movement and water.

But the Coen Brothers, their stuff doesn’t move like that. And No Country For Old Men is one of my favorite films, and we were looking at how they moved that camera, and I realized they have a dolly with a jim arm on it with a remote head on it. So you’ve got all of this tremendous amount of movement, but it’s a bit of a dance with your crew. So you have your dolly grip, who is able to move front and back, but then you’ve got the person on the arm who’s able to move up down, left and right. Each of them have a monitor, so they’re kind of veering you in.

And then you have your camera operator, usually on wheels. Remotely operating this head that can move all these different ways. So you’ve got like three different people having to get sunk up with the same idea, but you say, “Okay, Joel Edgerton is gonna walk out of this building, and I want to move with him. I don’t want him to have to change his pace at all, and I want you to stay rock solid in a medium close-up.” And then you can do it, you know? And if he stops and bends down to tie his shoe, you can go down there with him.

It was like, “Oh, God. I’m such an idiot. It’s with equipment like this that Spielberg has been designing those beautiful fluid masters that I’ve always loved and dreamed of.” I was like, “How did he do that?” And I know it seems almost remedial and stupid, but we figured that out. We figured that out, and it was … At some point, I’ll have enough money just to have a Techno Crane around all the time, which is another version of this. But I don’t know, that’s a technical box I feel I checked with Loving.

Which seems really specific, and other filmmakers might read into it, “That guy’s an idiot.” But I’ve always been so reserved in my direction. I feel like I was coming out in time, developing as a director for film school and stuff when movies were getting kind of crappy, and cameras were flipping … You had Guy Ritchie and stuff, and the camera’s doing all these crazy things and you got Tony Scott making movies with cameras flipping around and doing all these other things, and those are all amazing techniques in their own right, but I was so concerned with point of view and what the camera’s saying, what the placement of the camera is saying, and what the mood says and what the movement of the camera itself says.

Starting off, I just wasn’t smart enough to start off moving it around a lot. And now I feel like I’ve got a handle on that. And it’s why I’m amazed by directors that seem to come out hatched, fully-formed. And that’s very impressive to me, but it’s also been the thing that kind of keeps me from misstepping, I think, in some ways.

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