PRODUCTION: Victor's Gold; Nunez Wraps Latest Florida-Grown Indie "Coastlines"
by Anthony Kaufman
(indieWIRE/ 07.23.01) — “It’s important for independent filmmakers to realize that you’re not trying to reach the kinds of audiences that Hollywood has to reach,” says Victor Nunez less than 24 hours after wrapping principle photography on his latest film, “Coastlines.” “You’re about something else.”
And Nunez’s career is all about “something else.” One only has to look at his discerning output to see a truly independent and dedicated spirit: only five features in over 22 years. From early award winners like “Gal Young ‘Un” (1977) and “Ruby in Paradise” (1993) to more recent works like “Ulee’s Gold” (1997) and the upcoming “Coastlines,” Nunez’s small, humanistic stories have always resided outside the mainstream, instead taking place in the emotional everyday lives of ordinary people and the humid backyards of his native Florida.
“I grew up in Florida and discovered film and literature at the same time,” Nunez explains groggily the morning after the “Coastlines” wrap party. “And there were all these regional writers that built from their place, and I asked myself, ‘Why not make movies that way, and build from a place where one has a beautiful connection?'”
“In a very romantic fashion,” Nunez continues, “I subscribe to the Italian Neorealists’ belief that it’s all about character, place and story — there’s an incredible energy and synergy between those elements.”
Not only did Nunez (who was a founding member of the Independent Feature Project) return to Florida’s shores for “Coastlines” — the story of a love triangle involving an ex-con (Timothy Olyphant), a sheriff (Josh Brolin), and his wife (Sarah Wynter) — he also returned to his past. The story comes from a script Nunez had written in the mid-’80s and long forgotten about. “I was surprised by how much I liked it,” he says about rediscovering the old screenplay. “There was an energy there that I was really drawn to.”
When Nunez set out to make “Coastlines” over 15 years ago, though, “Nobody would give it the time of day,” he says. “It’s a story set in the middle of nowhere, out in the boonies. That’s why our company is called flyover — that’s how they responded to it. People would say, ‘If you had something urban maybe, something with drugs in it.’ You were supposed to deliver very exotic, hip things back then.”
Coming off the success of his fourth film, “Ulee’s Gold,” however, Nunez received interest from producers to take on his next project. When another film called “The Professor’s Wife” couldn’t get off the ground, Nunez returned to “Coastlines.” With the help of entertainment attorney John Sloss, IFC Films and Clear Blue Sky soon jumped on board — a combination that helped launch another stalwart Amer-indie director’s work, John Sayles‘ “Men with Guns.”
After Nunez dusted off the “Coastlines” screenplay and spent a couple of months rewriting, he says the new version wasn’t so different from the original. “I had just done two adaptations of two Florida writers, ‘Gal Young ‘Un’ [by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings] and ‘Flash of Green‘ [by John D. Macdonald], and they were mostly melodramatic stories,” he recalls of the period when he first wrote the script.
Nunez says more specifically of “Coastlines,” “It’s a story about people figuring out how to be adults, and I’m looking back at that experience,” he says. “I’d like to think that the difference now is that there’s another layer of resonance that I might not have had.”
While Nunez claims the story fundamentally remained the same, he let the current landscape of Florida’s gentrifying small towns influence elements of the new film. “I tried to let the world as it is now inform the three characters,” he explains. “Those locations really helped write the final draft of the script.” For example, a bar that was originally in the story had burned down, so Nunez and his crew found an “imposing new restaurant” in the area that served as a more contemporary replacement.
Shooting of “Coastlines” began in late April along the Gulf Coast and lasted over 8 and a half weeks. Nunez, who also serves as cinematographer on all of his films, chose to shoot the film on Super 16mm. “The thing I like about Super 16, in addition to its reliability and ruggedness, is that the blow up to 35mm is very good, you have a lower profile, and you can move quickly.”
The low budget production was typically grueling, with some shooting days lasting up to 16 hours. “There’s always a delicate balance of being too leisurely — of course I’ve never had that luxury — and killing yourself,” he says. “It would have been nice to have more five-day weeks and the art department getting started up a couple of weeks earlier, but still, I finished a draft of the script in early November and so from that time to now, that’s pretty damn fast for a movie.”
Despite the usual time and money pressures, Nunez stayed faithful to his truthful directing style — a process he calls “one of those glorious contradictions.” “If you’re lucky,” he explains, “you become truly transparent to the process. The actors, the sets and the costumes feel like they’re all there together, serving the story.”
Unique to “Coastlines” is a plot that contains more thriller-like elements than Nunez’s more subdued previous efforts. Explosions and multiple deaths, for instance, are not the first things that come to mind when one considers Ashley Judd‘s smile in “Ruby in Paradise,” or Peter Fonda‘s beekeeping in “Ulee’s Gold.” But Nunez is quick to remind audiences of his first film “Gal Young ‘Un.” “We blew up a car and somebody got shot in the foot,” he says. “I remember thinking at the time, ‘I’d never have thought up these things. It’s great to have somebody else to blame.’ But in a way, yes, ‘Coastlines’ is like coming home. And yes, we blow things up.”
“What is a first for me,” continues Nunez, “is that three people die over the course of a film. That is something that I’ve always resisted, because I feel like it’s so damn easy to kill people in film. But I think this is the time to do it.” “Again,” explains Nunez, “I keep going back to a country ballad-like character-driven melodrama where you have these very broad strokes.”
Currently cutting on a Lightworks editing system in Tallahassee, Nunez will try to have a completed rough cut of “Coastlines” by the fall. As for premiering his latest work at next year’s Sundance Film Festival (where “Ruby in Paradise” took home the Grand Jury Prize), Nunez says humbly, “I don’t presume anything. Until we get the rough cut, we won’t know if we can even physically do it in time — and even whether that’s the thing to do.”
“But for the first time,” continues Nunez, “it’s been a filmmaker’s dream. So far, Clear Blue Sky and IFC have said, ‘Just make your movie.’ They have been very supportive and I think we’ve earned it, because we’ve been very responsible with their resources.”
As for how the movie will end up, Nunez seems satisfied, as well — and hopeful for its future. “I believe if you’re lucky and everything works that the movie becomes more than you could have ever anticipated.”