Yesterday we sat down with Jeff Nichols, the talented indie filmmaker behind "Shotgun Stories," "Take Shelter," and this week’s "Mud" which stars Matthew McConaughey in another great post-career resurgence performance (more from our interview later this week). While we had him, we couldn’t help but ask about an upcoming project he’s already teased – a John Carpenter-esque chase movie called "Midnight Special." Nichols talked at length about the movie, its tone and mood, and what is compelling him to make it as well. The director also discussed "Mud" and a laundry list of projects and genres he’d like to tackle. And given his output thus far, there’s little reason to doubt he’ll achieve them all.
Nichols is a director that has flirted with genre in each of his movies, and was even short-listed by Fox to take on the sequel "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," when original director Rupert Wyatt (and original screenwriter Scott Z. Burns) parted ways with the studio. And while that didn’t come to pass with "Midnight Special," Nichols is promising a big, ripping genre of entertainment. And that has us incredibly excited.
Ok, so "Midnight Special" – why John Carpenter? Why this genre?
I wanted to make a government chase movie. And see if I could make that not suck. Make that not cliché. And that’s hard. I don’t know if I’ve done it. But I’m excited to try. You want to pay homage to these kinds of films but they can’t just be those films – those films have been made. We need to make new films. That’s why I’m against this whole remake thing. It’s like – we have new stories to tell. Let’s create new myths and new icons and everything else. So I’ve spent the last year trying to pull the genre apart and put it back together.
What about Carpenter specifically were you inspired by?
Visually, the way those movies look – especially the night photography. Specifically the lens flares, and it also happens in "Close Encounters" and "E.T." But the way they produced those in-camera lens flares. For me, "Mud" was a movie about movement – movement of the characters, movement of the dialogue, movement of the camera, movement of the story. And this next film will be about light. I was scared of movement before "Mud." I am no longer scared of it. I’m still scared about light. Hopefully after "Midnight Special" I won’t be afraid anymore. But it’s all about light. But you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it.
John McTiernan also does great lens flares.
McTiernan does. And now J.J. Abrams is known for them. But there’s something about a scope lens flare that’s just beautiful when you see it.
Are you still going to be shooting on film?
That’s the plan, but I’m going to do some tests with some digital cameras because there’s some low light night scenes where I’m going to blend scenes and intercut them and see if I can get away with it. But if you look at "Starman," the night photography is gorgeous. Those inky blacks and those beautiful lens flares cut across. When I come across that late at night on TV I know that I’m watching a serious movie. But there are one or two scenes that I’m curious – I want to see if a digital camera can pull of this look. But we’re getting into putting older anamorphic lenses on digital cameras.
Will this be a full leap into genre filmmaking?
I think "Mud" is a genre film. "Mud" is a getaway film. "Take Shelter" is a psychological thriller. And "Shotgun Stories" is a revenge western. But I’ve dismantled those in each instance and that’s what’s happening here. But this one is similar in a very similar way that I won’t get into. There’s one point that I don’t dismantle, because it’s the essence of the genre – the fact that this is a chase movie and the fact that someone is chasing them. So I couldn’t do away with that. I thought about it. But it was too weird. Like all my movies, some people will like it and some people will hate it. And hopefully more people like it than hate it. And there will be some cool shit in it.
Are there any other genres you’re dying to tackle?
I just have stories. I want to make a 1960’s biker film. I want to make a big, PG summer blockbuster family film, kind of like I want to revamp "Tremors." I’ve got an idea for that. That kind of movie. I want to do a couple of real life stories I’m trying to create. It all just depends. It depends on what story I’m trying to tell. I certainly want people to know they’re my films. After "Take Shelter," my brother gave me a real good compliment that was, "It looks like it’s made by the same guy that made ‘Shotgun Stories’ but it’s totally different." And that’s what I want – like you can feel that filmmaker in there but it’s a totally different movie. Because I want the stories to dictate the style. Have camera. Will work for genre.
What about straight-up horror?
I love horror films. ‘Take Shelter’ kind of was a horror fillm. Like that had scary parts in it. I love fear. I mean I love stupid gore movies but I probably won’t make one… Well, I guess I could.
"Mud" opens on Friday. More from our interview with Nichols soon.