Meet the 2012 Best First Feature Spirit Award Nominees #6: Robbie Pickering, “Natural Selection”

Meet the 2012 Best First Feature Spirit Award Nominees #6: Robbie Pickering, "Natural Selection"
Meet the 2012 Best First Feature Spirit Award Nominees #6: Robbie Pickering, "Natural Selection"

Robbie Pickering’s “Natural Selection” premiered at last year’s South by Southwest Festival and garnered breakthrough performance nominations for actors Rachael Harris and Matt O’Leary.

Pickering wrote the script while his stepfather was dying of cancer. He knew that his mother would soon be alone, but the script was therapeutic for him, a way to know that she would be okay. Now the film is nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature.

“The fact that I got to make the movie at all and share those extreme emotions with an audience was amazing enough,” says Pickering. “But to be nominated for such a huge award is an honor that I never would have had the audacity to imagine for myself.’

What’s it about? “It’s a coming-of-age story about a woman in her 40’s. The main character is a barren Texas housewife named Linda who discovers that her dying husband has a 23-year old illegitimate son living in Florida. Somewhere on the edge of fear and loneliness, Linda sets out to track the kid down and bring him back to Texas before her husband dies. Did I mention it’s a comedy?

“It’s funny, scrappy, it’ll surprise you, and it’s got one of the best goddamned female performances you’ll see in a movie this year… or any year for that matter.”

Robbie says: “I grew up in a little town called Jersey Village right outside of Houston. Nobody I knew was in the movies or had anything to do with the industry. But from a very early age, I knew I wanted to be involved with movies in some way. I think that back then, coming from where I came from, I naturally just thought that actors made the movies — so that was my initial impulse, to act. But then, at around 12 or 13, I started reading film criticism and became obsessed with a bunch of Coppola’s post-‘One From the Heart’ films like ‘Tucker’ and ‘Peggy Sue Got Married,’ and that’s really when I first became conscious of a director and started thinking that was really what I wanted to do. From there, I began writing plays and directing short films and quit acting altogether — which was definitely a wise choice. That being said, I made a damn fine Dogberry in my high school’s esteemed sophomore-year production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’

Robbie’s greatest challenge making the film: “Coordinating all of the cocaine runs for Rachael Harris. She’s insatiable.

“But seriously — just getting the first draft of the script written. That’s by far the hardest part of the entire filmmaking process for me. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank page.”

Robbie’s inspiration: “Everything I learned about female protagonists, I learned by watching ‘The Secret of Nimh.'”

Future projects: “Right now, I’m attached to direct an insanely funny script called ‘The Kitchen Sink.’ It’s written by a guy I really admire named Oren Uziel, and God willing, it will go into production sometime this year. I’m also working on a couple of new original scripts and I just directed a play that’s running all through February in Los Angeles. That’s right, you heard me — theatre in Los Angeles.”

Indiewire invited Best First Feature and John Cassavettes 2012 Spirit Award Nominees to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the awards ceremony on February 25.

Keep checking here for the latest profiles.

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