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The Indiewire Springboard: How 'Uncertain Terms' Director Nathan Silver Stays Inspired

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire June 20, 2014 at 11:44AM

Nathan Silver has already complete four features, but chances are you're not familiar with his name unless you're a film festival junkie. That's bound to change soon.
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Nathan Silver
Nathan Silver

Every Friday, Indiewire's Springboard column profiles an up-and-comer in the indie world who made a mark that deserves your attention.

Nathan Silver has already completed four features, but chances are, unless you're a film festival junkie, you're not familiar with his name. That's bound to change soon. A filmmaker who favors an improvised approach to storytelling over a heavily scripted one, Silver is known in filmmaker circles for his naturalistic character dramas "Soft in the Head" and "Exit Elena." His latest, "Uncertain Terms" just world premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival to rave reviews, and finds the 31-year-old filmmaker applying his muted signature style to a heartrending tale centered on a Brooklynite who flees a troubled marriage to spend time in the Hudson Valley at the home of his aunt (Cindy Silver, the filmmaker’s mother and regular collaborator), where she runs a program for pregnant teens. "'Uncertain Terms' hides its revelations in the textures of each scene," wrote Eric Kohn in his positive review out of LAFF. "It places drama in the context of everyday life."

Indiewire recently spoke with Silver about his approach to filmmaking and to "Uncertain Terms," in particular.

Uncertain Terms

[Cindy] herself was a pregnant teenager and she went to a home for unwed mothers, so I drew on that aspect of her life. That was the seed. I always wanted to make a movie about that. 

It's odd. [Cindy] hates doing multiple takes because she's not a trained actor. She has a sense of delivery, but the actual what it takes to make a movie drives her crazy. But once you get her in front of a camera, she's completely focused.

I find that eventually if the first few days of the shoot are rocky, it's because people are trying to find that ground to walk on. Once you find that level ground to make it a set for both trained actors and non-trained actors, then it starts to come together. I'm not sure how that occurs. It has to do with the actors discovering how to work with each other. I allow that to happen. 

We start off with a 12-page outline that has all of the action scripted and then the dialogue is improvised. In this movie, a lot more of the dialogue was scripted than in "Exit Elena" and "Soft in the Head." We collect a lot of footage, we shoot a lot, just to get that sense of life.

I always sit down with every actor and create a back-story. We then exchange emails and have coffee on a regular basis. I like everyone to know where they're coming from. It's their backbone.

Uncertain Terms

I went to school for screenwriting and I just hate holing up and writing. I find it frustrating and lonely. I prefer having co-writers and actors help get these ideas out rather than bashing my head against the wall constantly. I'd rather bash my head against other people because they'll stop me. It allows me to get out of my own thinking patterns a lot of the time.

I don't bore myself with each project. I'm talking to people and their ideas are coming into the movie. I'm not wholly responsible for my movies and I like that. Film acts like that.

Some actors are obviously put off by my process because they want a script to lean on and that's totally fine. Others love it because it's a form of writing for them. They have more invested. It's about finding people who don't need heavy-handed direction.

The odd thing about movies is that I always feel like I'm reacting to the last one I made. For instance, this movie I'm about to shoot, I can sense already that the whole premise calls for a lot more chaos. It's almost like I'm reacting to the fact that there were a lot of scripted elements in "Uncertain Terms." Now I want fewer.

This article is related to: Indiewire Springboard, Interviews, Nathan Silver, Uncertain Terms, Futures, LAFF, LAFF 2014, Los Angeles Film Festival