Home > Cinema, Dana Altman (North Sea Films), Film, Lovely Still, Movies, Nebraskans in Film, Nik Fackler, Omaha, Screenwriting, Writing > Filmmaker Nik Fackler’s magic realism reaches the big screen in “Lovely, Still”

Filmmaker Nik Fackler’s magic realism reaches the big screen in “Lovely, Still”


This is the second of three articles I’ve written thus far on rising young filmmaker Nik Fackler, whose first feature film, Lovely, Still marks him a serious talent to be watched.  I expect to be writing about him for years to come.  The piece that follows, which appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com), charts his film first making a bit of a splash at the Toronto Film Festival. New footage was actually shot after those screenings up north and the film reedited.  It has since played a number of festivals in the U.S. and abroad, generally to quite warm reviews.

NOTE: Lovely, Still is having its national release in September and October.  Look for it at a theater near you, and don’t be surprised if one or both of its stars, Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, nab Oscar nominations for their superb performances.

 

Filmmaker Nik Fackler’s magic realism reaches the big screen in “Lovely, Still”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally published in The Reader (www.thereader.com)


Lovely, Still’s
selection for the Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery Program confirms the promise of its writer-director, Nik Fackler, is being fulfilled.

His romantic, melancholic debut feature shot last fall in Omaha culminates the young visionary’s coming-of-age ascent; one that began with his arresting short films and transitioned to cinematic music videos for Saddle Creek Records’ artists.

All signs pointed to this moment. Getting the support of veteran producer Dana Altman. Landing a William Morris agent before age 20. Doing his wunderkind thing with those ambitious, artful shorts/videos. Attracting interest from Hollywood royalty in his Lovely script, whose first draft he wrote in his teens; then having two Oscar-winning legends, Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn, agree to play the leads.

It’s off-the-hook stuff for anyone, much less somebody launching a feature career out of Omaha. Then consider he’s 24, entirely self-taught and harbors dreamy, idealistic notions about making art and overturning a system he says is “dying.”

In truth, he’s now part of the movie apparatus. Oh, he’s an indie spirit alright, dancing to a downbeat all his own. He retained creative control of Lovely, whose editing he had a close hand in. But now that he’s in-play with a commercial feature boasting above-the-title stars making its world premiere at a prestige fest, where its likely to garner a theatrical distribution deal, he’s poised to be a hot property.

We’re not talking sell-out but getting drawn further into the Hollywood sphere. Offers for studio projects may come if the film finds an audience or not. Fackler may or may not follow up with “a winner.” He may choose to remain off-the-grid, continuing to make small indie films in his own backyard. You get the sense he doesn’t much care as long as he gets to keep making films. His way.

 

 

Ellen Burstyn with Nik Fackler on the set of Lovely, Still

 

 

Making Lovely confirmed that. He recently looked back on the experience -with a mixture of wonder, appreciation, chagrin and recognition, the way any young man would after the whirlwind of his first great love subsides.

After living with this project for years – writing, rewriting, shooting, editing, morphing, and now making its public debut – what does he think about it?

“I’m very happy with the film. It’s an odd little gem in my eyes. It really has evolved, like any good project will, into something completely different than I expected. It’s the most satisfying part of the whole process – trusting in the magic of creativity and the movement of energy,” he said.

A strong visualist, he’s pleased with Lovely’s look. “The colors in the film all turned out the way we wanted,” said Fackler. “Sean Kirby (director of photography) is brilliant.” For months Fackler worked with editor Doug Criser (Babel) in L.A. Only recently the film was locked in Seattle for color corrections, titles-effects. Then sound mixing, additional dialogue recording and mastering  was done in New York.

“I got to do some last minute cleanups and retouches, a rare opportunity I quickly jumped on. Nothing better then sitting with a film for months, being bugged to hell by a few problems, then given the chance to go fix those problems,” Fackler said.

Fackler, also a musician, thinks and talks about film in terms of beats. For him, it’s all about flow and pacing, improvising as he sees fit, yet never losing track of the whole composition. Much changed on set during the seven-week shoot.

“I’m a big changer of things, which will drive people crazy, but it has to happen sometimes because that’s the way art is. It becomes it’s own monster and then you just kind of gotta ride it. And once you change one thing it dominoes and you’ve got to change the way other things are shot.”

As Fackler found his rhythms, he said he often threw away the shot list, riffing new ones on the spot – both as a creative stimulus for himself and the project and as a practical solution to making his days.

“The first week was really following the shot list, blah, blah, and I was getting really bored and the next couple weeks was going off the shot list, doing stuff on the fly,” he said. “I mean, obviously some stuff I had planned out and didn’t want to go from. But with some of the dialogue scenes I shot them very loosely.”

He also indulged what he calls “special shots.” Hours spent setting up and filming highly “orchestrated” dollies meant cutting into the meat of the day, which forced him to resort to off-the-cuff, hand-held shots for other scenes. “I wouldn’t have enough time for anything nice.” Even though “it was pissing everybody off,” he said, “I wanted to get these special shots – they’re important. They describe me as a filmmaker and they’re right for the movie.”

Straying too far from an already short-production schedule makes crews nervous and he soon found himself reined-in by producer Lars Knudson. “He was like, ‘You’ve got to get back on the shot list because people don’t know what you’re shooting.’” Fackler complied but there were still times, by choice or necessity, when a single shot made do in place of multiple ones. An Old Market sequence slated for three days was truncated into one night. He needed more time.

Some of the biggest changes involved scenes where protagonist Robert Malone (Landau) slips off into fantasy or memory jags. Effects that were to have been achieved on a green screen were instead captured in the camera through imaginative lighting, art direction, camera moves, lens work and double exposures. “Old school stuff,” said Fackler. “I loved it.”

He said he made the call to nix much of the green screen work out of concern the film’s small budget would compromise the integrity of the effects. “It was too risky in my mind to do a big green screen shot that could end up looking like shit.”

An example of Fackler being open to discovery occurred when collaborators brought to his attention his obsession with doorways. That led him to using a door  — built by the crew — as a symbolic portal that pops up throughout the film, in all sorts of settings, from the middle of a field to a street. whenever Robert’s mind flits in and out of reality. Those scenes appear in varied hues that key off colors in the door’s stained-glass window.

Setting up a night shot on Lovely, Still

 

 

Perhaps the biggest change was to the ending. “The last shot of the film is completely different,” he said, than the American Beauty-like reverie -complete with rose petals falling over a prosaic street – he scripted and shot. He said that in capturing a separate, smaller shot for another scene, one with a more dour tone, inspiration struck that “this is the end of the film, not that other shot. I talked it through with the producers and the actors. I showed them how it was going to go. ‘Isn’t this a better ending shot for the film?’ Everyone agreed.”

It went from being grand to simple – like how the film begins. “Now it’s a really gray, stark, static, quiet moment,” he said. Fackler said he tends to write in a big melodramatic style and then strips away or pulls back to get at the heart of things.

Part of this approach is staying in touch with the film’s internal rhythms.

“That’s what’s so fun about it,” he said. “That’s the magic. There’s a way the film wants to be made and you’ve got to listen to it. You just gotta go with it. If it needs to go in a certain way that’s completely different, I won’t deny it that. If I stuck locked into any one idea, that wouldn’t be fair. I wouldn’t be following the energy that’s leading me. I’m basically directing that energy. I follow it and then everyone follows me with it, and luckily everyone trusted me enough to do it.”

The experience of his first feature, he said, “was just a big learning curve. I’ve learned a huge part of it is adaptation. Adapting to the situation you’re given. There’s so many people involved and so little time that things have to change from the way they’re in your head. We coined the term ‘adapt and improve.’”

It’s also about embracing imperfections. “I love mistakes. I love when someone says the wrong line or a strange noise is made in the background. It makes the film more real to me. I tend to choose the takes that have mistakes in them,” he said. “It makes the film seem more human and not staged.”

Some gaffes can’t be kept. “You cut together a scene and say, ‘Shit! Why didn’t I a get a close up of that clock?’ We had a two-day reshoot up in New York to pick up some shots. All part of the process I suppose. Kinda fun. Something I don’t get to do as much in music videos.”

Editor Doug Criser worked alone in L.A. compiling an assembly before Fackler joined him in February. Fackler copped to secretly editing back in Omaha, saying, “Ideas come when I edit and I didn’t want to lose those ideas.” Together, the pair worked “scene by scene” through the film, making corrections and then Fackler finally got to watch the first cut. “Watching an assembly is just to hard,” he said.

A typical edit session went from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with Criser at the Avid and Fackler on a couch. Reviewing scenes Fackler said, “I would kind of conduct. We have a language we use with each other. ‘Hey, could you take some heads off that shot?’ (remove a few frames from the beginning). Or, ‘move it to the right (forward) or left (backward).’ Or, ‘We need to finesse that sequence (it moves too slow).’ To more detailed things like, ’We need to add a beat there to build some tension.’ What’s so fascinating about cutting is you’re adding moments that weren’t there.”

He reports that a preview screening for the cast went well. “They really loved it.”

After working with Landau and Burstyn he has a deeper respect for the actor’s craft. He knows now he can work with old Hollywood pros. But he’s still not comfortable with the business-trumps-art L.A. scene.

“I don’t agree with how art is turned into a product so much out here. It’s depressing.”

Plans for an Omaha screening are pending.

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