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Nik Fackler, the Film Dude Establishes Himself a Major New Cinema Figure with “Lovely, Still”

May 18, 2010 1 comment

My most recent article on emerging filmmaker Nik Fackler makes no bones about his establishing himself a major cinema figure on the strength of his first feature, Lovely, Still, an Omaha-shot indie feature starring Oscar winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. The pic is finally getting a general national release after having picked up a slew of admirers and awards at select screenings, most recently at the California Independent Film Festival.  Watch for this film when it comes to a theater near you or plays on cable or wherever else you can find it, because it’s the work of an artist who will make his presence felt.  As he prepares to make his next projects, I feel the same way about Fackler that I did about Alexander Payne when I saw his debut feature Citizen Ruth – that this is an important artist we will all be hearing much more from in the future.  I look forward to charting his journey wherever it takes him.

Don’t be surprised if Landau and/or Burstyn net Oscar nominations for their superb performances. This piece originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com). Omaha is home to some serious filmmaking talent.  Payne and Fackler are at the leading edge of a homegrown cinema movement here, and more figures are sure to emerge.

Nik Fackler, the Film Dude Establishes Himself  a Major New Cinema Figure with His “Lovely, Still”

©by Leo Adam Biga

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

 

After what must seem an eternity, Omaha’s resident Film Dude, writer-director Nik Fackler, finally has the satisfaction of his first feature being theatrically screened. An advance one-week Omaha engagement of his Lovely, Still opens the new Marcus Midtown Cinema, Nov. 6-12.

The film’s box office legs won’t be known until its 2010 national release. Screenings for New York, L.A. and foreign press will give Lovely the qualifying runs it needs for Academy Awards consideration next year. It’d be a stretch for such a small film to net any nominations but the lead performances by Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn are so full and finely honed they’re Oscar-worthy by any standard.

Both artists strip themselves emotionally bare in scenes utilizing all their Method gifts. Their work is: dynamic, never dull; natural, unforced. Their behaviors appropriate for the romantic, comedic, dramatic or just Being There moments.

Nods for writing, direction, cinematography, editing and music would be unlikely but not out-of-line for this gorgeous-looking, powerfully-rendered, well-modulated movie that hits few false notes. The film pops with energy and emotion despite a precious storyline of senior citizens rediscovering first love.

The local creative class is well represented by Tim Kasher’s “additional writing,” James Devney’s strong portrayal of Buck, a lush score by composers Mike Mogis and Nate Walcott and dreamy tunes by Conor Oberst and other Saddle Creek artists.

It’s at least as impressive a feature debut as Alexander Payne’s Citizen Ruth.

An indication of how much Landau believes in Lovely and how proud he is of his gutsy star-turn in what Fackler calls “a showcase role that’s very challenging” is the actor’s appearances at select screenings. That includes this Friday in Omaha, when he and Fackler do Q & As following the 6:15 and 9:15 p.m. shows at Midtown.

Fackler’s at ease with the film that’s emerged. “I am very content, although it has changed a lot,” he said, “but I welcome all changes. Film is an ever changing beast. You must embrace the artistic transformation. To not allow it, is to limit it.” Much hype attended the making of the 25-year-old’s debut feature, shot in his hometown in late 2007. It was the first movie-movie with a real budget and name stars made entirely in Nebraska since Payne’s About Schmidt in 2001.

Circumstances caused the film that generated serious buzz a couple years ago and then again at the Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery Program in 2008 to fall off the radar. Lovely producers turned down a distribution offer

They continue negotiations seeking the right release strategy-deal. Self-release is an option.

 

Nik Fackler

Nik Fackler

 

It’s been a long wait for Fackler to see his vision on screen – six years since writing it, five years since almost first making it in 2005, two years since completing principal photography and one year since reshoots and reediting.

“This has been the longest I’ve like worked on a single project for forever,” he said. “It’s really been a marathon.”

Anticipation is great, not just among the Nebraska film community that worked the pic. Whenever stars the caliber of Landau and Burstyn throw their weight behind a project as they’ve done with Lovely the industry takes note. That a 20-something self-taught filmmaker with only micro-budget shorts and music videos to his name landed Oscar-winning icons certainly got people’s attention. As did hanging his script’s sentimental story about two old people falling in love at Christmas on a subversive hook that turns this idyll into something dark, real, sad and bittersweet. Throw in some magic realism and you have a Tim Burtonesque holiday fable.

The two stars would never have gotten involved with a newcomer on an obscure indie project unless they believed in the script and its author-director. At the time Fackler lacked a single credit on his IMDB page. Who was this kid? In separate meetings with the artists he realized he was being sized up.

“It was really intimidating,” Fackler said of meeting Landau in a Studio City, Calif. cafe. “I was just super freaked out. I don’t know why. I’m usually never that way. But it was like I was about to meet with this legend actor to talk about the script and for him to kind of like feel me out — to see it he can trust me as a director, because I’m a young guy. We’re from such different generations.”

The two hit it off. Lovely producer Lars Knudson of New York said Fackler “aced” a similar test with Burstyn in Manhattan: “It’s a lot of pressure for a (then) 23-year-old to meet with someone like Ellen, who’s worked with the biggest and best directors in the world, but Nik blew her away. I think she called him a Renaissance Man.” Knudson said “it’s really impressive” Fackler won over two artists known for being ultra-selective. “They’re very critical. They’ve done this for so many years that they will only do something if they really believe it’s going to be good.”

Lovely producer Dana Altman of Omaha said the respect Fackler gave the actors earned him theirs.

Anyone reading the screenplay could see its potential. Besides A-list stars other top-notch pros signed on: director of photography Sean Kirby (Police Beat), production designer Stephen Altman (Gosford Park Oscar nominee) and editor Douglas Crise (Babel Oscar nominee).

But the history of films long on promise and short on execution is long. As Dana Altman said, any film is the collective effort of a team and Lovely’s team melded. On location Fackler expressed pleasure with how the crew  – a mix from L.A. and Omaha – meshed. “Everyone’s on the same wavelength,” he said. Still, it was his first feature. DP Sean Kirby said, “Anytime you do something for the first time, like direct a feature film, there’s a learning curve, but I think he’s learned very quickly.” Fackler admitted to making “a bunch of mistakes” he “won’t make again.”

The subject matter made the film rife with traps. Take its tone. Handled badly, it could play as treacle or maudlin. Instead, it reads poignant and tragic, and that’s to everyone’s credit who worked on the film.

Then there’s Fackler’s penchant for going on fantastical jags in his work, routine in videos but risky in features. His loose approach, such as ditching the shot list to improvise, combined with the total creative freedom producers granted, meant he could play to his heart’s content, within reason. That can lead to self-indulgent filmmaking. Indeed, he fought and won the right to shoot trippy dream sequences that ended up on the cutting room floor. But some experimental lighting techniques to express tangled memories do make an effective motif in the final cut.

Following the mostly positive Toronto showing, the team reassembled for Omaha reshoots and New York pick ups. His leads supported the fixes and coverage.

“Martin and Ellen were behind it, they weren’t annoyed by it, they thought all the reshoots were going to make the film better,” said Fackler. “It wasn’t something that felt forced or anything like that. Everyone was on the same page.”

The young artist and his venerable stars established an early rapport built on trust. “We became friends,” he said. He readily accepted ideas from them that helped ripen the script and gave its young creator deeper insights into their characters.

 

 

“What’s great about Nik, especially at his age, is he’s willing to collaborate with people. It’s still his vision, but if it makes it better he’ll change it, he’s not afraid,” said Knudson, who said the script owes much to the input of Landau and Burstyn. “He’s very sort of ego-less.”

It’s all in line with Fackler’s predilection for creating a relaxed set where spot-on discipline coexists amid a way-cool, laidback sensibility that invites suggestions. On location for Lovely he exhibited the same playful, informal vibe he does on his videos: whether going “yeah, yeah” to indicate he likes something or pulling on a can of Moen between takes or doing a private, Joe Cocker dance watching scenes or saying to his DP setting up a shot, “Feelin’ good then? Then let’s kick ass!”

Fackler’s totally of his Generation Y culture, just don’t mistake his nonchalance for slacker mentality. He’s all about the work. He carved a career out-of-thin-air directing videos for Saddle Creek recording artists. His shorts netted the attention and backing of Altman. He cobbled together casts, crews and sets, often doing every job himself, before Lovely. He hung in there six years waiting for this moment, working at his family’s business, Shirley’s Diner, to pay the bills.

“If there’s ever a roadblock you can always get around it. It’s just a matter of taking the time…and not giving up. I wanted the roadblocks. I was like, Bring ‘em on, because I had a lot of ambition and I still do. I  guess it’s just something that I always thought anything is possible. It’s like the naive child in me never left me. I love it. I try to get everyone else around me to feel the same way.”

It was in an L.A. editing room where the jumble of material he shot for Lovely finally came into focus.

“The film from script to screen went through a lot,” he said. “I tried every possible edit. That’s why we ended up editing two months more than we thought we were. But luckily, you know, everyone — producers and investors – were supportive of that process, They didn’t put that much pressure on me because they saw that the film was pretty good, they liked it, and so they allowed us to do it. I ended up throwing the dreams out all together because they weren’t working, and using the experimental lighting scenes because they ended up looking so good.

“I have no regret cutting things I shot. I love the film I have. I love cutting stuff. My philosophy while editing was to not be attached to anything. Once I lived by that rule, everything came free. What matters is making the best film possible, always.”

That mature-beyond-his-years attitude drew Altman to be his mentor. Altman, whose North Sea Films produced Lovely with Knudson and Jay Van Hoy’s Parts and Labor, credits Fackler for hanging in there and doing what’s best for the project, saying: “it’s taken a great deal of patience. Poor Nik, he really does want to see this get released.” Whatever happens, Fackler’s satisfied with what he’s wrought.

“I like to take children’s themes that anyone from any age can understand and then put them in these like really harsh realities of what life can be like. Lovely, Still is very much written to evoke some kind of feeling. It takes place during Christmas time and it deals with family and love. It’s multi-layered. For some people that may be a happy feeling and for others it may be depressing. Art is trying to create a new feeling you’ve never felt before. You watch a film and you leave the film feeling a new way. You may not have a name for the feeling, but it’s new.

“That’s all I can hope for.”

He recently collaborated with cult comic strip-graphic novel artist Tony Millionaire on a script adaptation of Millionaire’s Uncle Gabby. “I can’t wait to bring existentialism and poetry to the children’s film genre,” said Fackler. ”I’m also excited to work with puppetry. It will be like playing with toys! ALL DAY LONG!”

Altman, Knudson and Co. have informal first-look rights on Fackler projects.The same producers who’ve had his back on Lovely look forward to a long association. “Like Dana (Altman), we want to continue working with Nik and we want to create a family sort of, so he feels protected, so he can make the movies he wants to make for the rest of his career,” said Knudson. Radical, man.

Meanwhile, the Film Dude returns from the Sao Palo (Brazil) Film Festival in time for this weekend’s Lovely events. Then it’s back to imagining and waiting tables. Tickets for Friday’s event are $10 and available at www.marcustheatres.com or the cinema’s box office, 3201 Farnam St.

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

May 18, 2010 1 comment

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.

 

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.

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.

Promising writer-director Nik Fackler embraces his first feature film experience

May 18, 2010 1 comment

 I remember reading something about this wunderkind filmmaker in Omaha whose short films and music videos were all the rage. I finally met him and I was impressed by his passion and ambition. Then I read the screenplay for his first feature, Lovely, Still which he was then prepping, and its depth and imagination blew me away. Finally, I saw some of his short films and music videos, and they were much more accomplished than you would expect from a kid barely out of his teens and working on micro budgets.

The following story is my attempt at portraying someone I am convinced will be one of the world’s leading film directors in a short time, if he isnt already.  The story appeared in a truncated form in The Reader (www.thereader.com) as he was finishing production on Lovely, Still, his made in Omaha feature starring Oscar winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn.  The film had limited theatrical distribution in 2008-2009, but is finally get a general national release this year.  Everywhere it’s played it’s gotten good reviews and been well received by audiences.  I believe Fackler is well on his way to fulfilling the promise of greatness his work has shown almost from the start. And don’t be surprised if Landau and/or Burstyn pick up Oscar nominations for their superb performances.

 

Promising writer-director Nik Fackler embraces his first feature film experience

©by Leo Adam Biga

A shorter version of this story appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

There’s something subversive about a 23-year-old coming out of the music video world to direct Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn in a serious indie drama about the passion an elderly couple feel. A postmodern It’s a Wonderful Life.  As sweet as it is dark, Nik Fackler calls it “a fairy-tale, but told in the real world.”

Fackler is the most promising homegrown film talent Omaha’s produced since Alexander Payne. That’s a heavy comparison, but Fackler’s work has been turning heads for a half-dozen years. Whether his first feature is a fully-realized work or an unfulfilled promise remains to be seen. Will he have staying power? Nobody knows.

On the surface Lovely’s about dull, lonely, isolated Robert (Landau) finding love, for the first time, with worldly, vivacious Mary (Burstyn). She seemingly comes into his life from left field.

The subtext of the original story contains funny, hard, ironic realities dramatized in stark relief and in dreamlike scenes that remind one, on the page at least, of Tim Burton-Terry Gilliam phantasms. These light-dark interludes play off the confused mind of Robert, whose grasp of reality is fragile. The mystical montages will be shot inside and outside North Sea Films, an Omaha film-video production house.

North Sea founder/chairman Dana Altman, a Fackler mentor, is producing Lovely with 20-somethings Lars Knudson and Jay Van Hoy of New York-based Parts and Labor.

Lovely’s key crew – from director of photography Sean Kirby to production designer Stephen Altman – are Hollywood/indie veterans with the chops to pull off effects in-camera and on North Sea’s green screen.

The part of Robert demands Landau play a full gamut of emotions – love, desire, fear, anger, loneliness, confusion, joy, innocence, distrust, paranoia. Fackler said the “showcase role” is “very challenging.” Burstyn’s character must react to Robert’s wild swings; and her performance is tinged by the potent secret her character Mary keeps, and the delicate balance she maintains to preserve it.

Seldom have “seniors” been given such complex dimensions on film. Then there’s the much hushed-hushed hook or high concept the story turns on. This has to do with the secret, the well-intended ruse to preserve it, and ensuing fallout when the deception backfires with unforeseen consequences.

Now in its fourth week of production in and around his  hometown, Lovely could be a coming out party for Fackler. He previously made waves only in indie music circles. This $1.2 million-budgeted project with high cachet actors in Oscar-friendly roles could put him on a fast track to a major filmmaking career.

“The great thing about Lovely, Still is that it is sort of under the radar,” Knudson said. “Because Nik is in Omaha, not in L.A. or New York, people don’t really know who he is yet and I think that’s going to be really good for this film. It’s going to come out and hopefully just blow people away.”

Even though Fackler’s barely in his 20s, Lovely’s a long time in the making. He first wrote it in his teens. It came close to shooting in 2005, but financing wasn’t secured until this past year through New York investors Knudson and Van Hoy have a history with. Fackler’s waited five years and there were, Altman said, “crying times.”

“A lot of independent films I’ve produced have taken four-five years and it’s frustrating, it’s difficult,” said Knudson, whose Old Joy did well on the indie circuit. “You just never give up and then one day you make it. But I think Nik’s glad he’s doing it now and not two years ago. I think he’s ready now. Going through all the bad times has actually made him that much stronger. The timing is right.”

On location in mid-November Fackler expressed satisfaction  with how the crew  – a mix from L.A. and Omaha – were  meshing. “Everyone’s on the same wavelength – that’s why  it’s turning out great,” he said. Still, it’s Fackler’s first feature.  DP Sean Kirby said, “Anytime you do something for the first time, like direct a feature film, there’s a learning curve, but I think he’s learned very quickly…” Fackler said, “I made a  bunch of mistakes the first day I won’t make again…”

Vision outweighs inexperience, Kirby said. “I think he’s a visualist,” said Kirby. “One of the great things about film is that it really is a kind of age-less art form. The vision is something that is outside of age, and he has a vision we’re all trying to support. That’s why we’re all here”

Fackler’s passion and vision sold Knudson and Van Hoy on him. It’s what sold Fackler to Saddle Creek Records artists, for whom he’s made music videos, and to the William Morris Agency, which represents him.

“Nik is one of those guys we fell in love with after seeing his  stuff,” said Knudson, whose business partner, Van Hoy, is currently producing the feature Going Underground in New York. Altman, who long ago spotted Fackler’s talent, spent four years packaging Lovely before finding the right fit in Knudson and Van Hoy, who learned the business under Scott Rudin and now produce indie work  by writer-directors with a strong personal vision. “Lars and Jay came at the perfect time. The film is set up  now in the best possible scenario… because this is what independent film is,” Altman said. Fackler retains ultimate  “creative control” on Lovely, said Knudson, adding, “that’s a rare thing.”

“The thing that’s cool about this is how much control I have over it and I think filmmaking should be that way,” Fackler said. “I think any artist should be in complete control of their project.”

Last winter Fackler expressed frustration when plans to shoot Lovely were again delayed. He even toyed with the idea of, in  the interim, making a down-and-dirty thriller with a grindhouse  gimmick, but then Lovely finally got the go-ahead. Even then, Lovely almost didn’t get made here. Nebraska’s lack of incentive earmarks for film production gave investors pause  before they relented.

The fact it took some time before the film came together turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The script’s undergone many  changes since Fackler first wrote it, reflecting his maturation from boy to man.

“I’ve been rewriting this script every year – driving people nuts with it – because I keep changing,” he said. ” I was a completely different person when I first wrote it at 18. I go back and read the first draft and I‚m like, ‘Oh, it’s sophomoric.’ You learn more, you experience more, you feel more – and you take advantage of that and then put that in your art. So it’s good it took five years to get this film made.”

Knudson said the script has been made stronger “with the help of a lot of different people.” Fackler said the final script does retain the fairy-tale quality he intended from the start: “I like to take children’s themes that anyone from any age can understand and then put them in these like really harsh realities of what life can be like.”

“It starts really dark, so it will be shot really dark,” Fackler said. “Lots of shadows and blues. And then as it gets happier I want to literally change the color of the film. Like even the same locations change brightness and color ˜ they become fairy-taley – just to set a different tone. Then it gets darker than it was before and then gets kind of happy again before it ends in the real world.”

As far back as the shorts Jack and Jill and Mynoot Loss he’s explored the dark side. “I don’t know why it is for me that it’s so much easier to be dark than it is to be happy,” he said. “I haven’t had any problems. I had a great childhood -that’s why I’m actually like stuck in it. It’s like I don’t want to be a dark person but it’s in there, so I have to get it out somehow, and it breaks out in my art. Maybe it’s because I had people kill themselves around me. That was part of growing up.”

He refers to his late friend Erin, to whom Jack and Jill is dedicated. “She took her own life and it kind of stuck with me. I was 17,” he said. He put down what he felt in words. “Whenever I’m feeling really angry I can write it out of me. I think it’s  therapeutic. But also I use it as a creative tool. Like when I was writing Lovely, Still the emotions I was feeling in the relationship I was in I put into the characters.”

After years trying to get Lovely made, frustration nearly drove him to a big-budget studio deal to do a “creature feature” flick.

“I had the contract. I was seconds away from making money. Real money. Money I could buy a house with. But I had to follow my gut,” he said. “I had to stick to my guns. Just because I’m broke I can’t jeopardize the last four years. I owe it to myself.”

Another benefit of waiting was landing Burstyn and Landau. Burstyn, Best Actress Oscar-winner for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, has six Academy nominations. She co-directs the Actors Studio in New York. Landau, who goes back to the Studio’s heyday in the ’50s, when he and fellow student James Dean were fast friends, has taught acting for decades and directs the Actors Studio West. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Ed Wood, one of his three Oscar nominations.

We’re talking actors old enough to be Fackler’s grandparents. Actors who’ve worked with icons — Hitchcock, Mankiewicz, Bogdanavich, Friedkin, Coppola, Scorsese, Allen – Fackler only knows via Net Flix or dusty film books. But directing these 70-somethings doesn’t seem to phase him. That’s in keeping with his free spirit, one that won’t be shackled or censored, even around film royalty.

A Monday morning shoot at the French Cafe finds Fackler in sneakers, jeans, sweatshirt and whimsical Dr. Seuss stocking cap. He variously: grooves to some internal beat between  takes on set, swaying his tall, lithe body like a snake charmed into dance; hums-sings some song lick; skips between the open spaces in the dolly track on the floor; and affects a ridiculous Italian accent with Landau, who takes it up in kind, adding a mob edge to his mock dialect.

Standing to watch a take unfold on a tiny monitor, Fackler rocks up and down, hands hung at his side, fingers twitching. As Landau-Burstyn complete the intimate dinner scene at the Cafe, a finely nuanced moment lit by candlelight and framed against a stained glass window, the filmmaker raises both arms overhead and, like a conductor, swoops his hands down with finality, declaring, “Cut!” He’s pleased.

The uninhibited, childlike quality of Fackler keeps his sets relatively loose.

“He’s very sort of ego-less,” Knudson said. “He’s just as excited talking to someone on the crew or to a random guy on the street as he is talking to Martin (Landau). He brings the same energy.”

There’s no mistaking how much is on the line with this project, however.

“Our budget is over a million dollars – that’s a lot of money to be giving a guy who just turned 23 and is directing his first feature,” Knudson said. “As a first-time director you have a lot against you already because you haven’t proven yourself at all. That’s a lot of pressure to put on him.”

Fackler doesn’t show it.

“If you’re going to be a good director you can’t ever be stressed out or ever be intimidated because you have like a whole crew and cast around you looking to you for what to do. You definitely can’t fold,” Fackler said.

That required exterior doesn’t rule out internal explosion, “which happens all the time,” he said.

He admits he was intimidated the first time he met Landau  and Burstyn, who sized him up. When the actors first expressed interest in the script, each took a meeting with the artist without a single credit to his name on his IMDB page. Who is this guy?

“It was really intimidating,” Fackler said of his meeting with Landau in a Studio City, Calif. cafe. “I was just super freaked  out. I don’t know why. I’m usually never that way. But it was like I was about to meet with this legend actor to talk about the script and for him to kind of like feel me out — to see if he can trust me as a director, because I’m a young guy. He’s got to respect me to do what I say and I’ve got to show him  the respect he deserves. We’re from such different generations.”

The two hit it off. Knudson said Fackler “aced” a similar test with Burstyn in New York: “It’s a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old to meet with someone like Ellen, who’s worked with the biggest and best directors in the world, but Nik blew her away. I think she called him a Renaissance Man.” Knudson said “it’s really impressive” that Fackler won over two artists of such caliber. “They’re very critical. They’ve done this for so many years that they will only do something if they really believe it’s going to be good.”

The fact Fackler attracted these heavyweights is proof “the kid,” as Landau refers to him, has the right stuff. That two veterans liked the story and its young creator enough to entrust him with directing the piece and them in it tells you there’s substance behind his slacker’s facade. That Fackler has been, in Landau’s words, “amenable” to notes he and Burstyn feed him in order to smooth “the bumps” in the script, shows the kid is no fool.

“What’s great about Nik, especially at this age, is he’s willing to collaborate with people. It’s still his vision, but if it makes it better he’ll change it. He’s not afraid,” said Knudson, who confirmed the script owes much to the input of the lead actors.

Fackler said Landau made comments like, “‘I think this still sounds a little young in this area.’ And I was like, ‘Alright, let’s fix it.’ Definitely a collaborative effort. He was kind of a mentor for a month straight. He taught me stuff. I just took notes listening to him.”

The same with Burstyn, who honed in on “really simple, really small things,” Fackler said. “Like the opening line of the script got changed just a little bit because she thought it” contradicted the secret revealed near the end. “She wanted to make it even more obscure.”

With his long, cherubic face, piles of brown hair and pseudo-grunge wear, Fackler looks and sounds like the Generation Y child he is. One who became a filmmaker by just doing it. Gen Y is into affordable audio-video technologies that make music-film production accessible.

“Our generation is like the-do-it-yourself generation – you can do whatever you want,” he said. “Like, if you want to make a record, you can do that now where you couldn’t really do that years ago. The same with film. That’s the whole thing with digital, man. Anyone can make a film. Independent projects are so possible.”

Every project before Lovely was an exercise in stretching himself creatively.

“I kind of just kept setting goals. Each project had to be something completely different for me – a new experiment,” he said. “I get bored easily with stuff but filmmaking hasn’t got boring yet and that’s because there are infinite possibilities with what you can do. It’s an experimental art.

“There’s a solution to every problem that’s put in front of you, and if there’s ever a roadblock you can always get around it. It’s just a matter of taking the time…and not giving up. I wanted the roadblocks. I was like, Bring ‘em on, because I had a lot of ambition and I still do. I  guess it’s just something that I always thought anything is possible. It’s like the naive child in me never left me. I love it. I try to get everyone else around me to feel the same way.”

His Lovely crew is comprised in part by friends who go back with him on his many shorts and videos. They’ve been through production wars together, meaning they’re comfortable solving problems.

Lovely came out of this desire to explore new ground.

“I did a lot of shorts about young people,” he said. “I didn’t want to get stuck being a young director doing films about young people.”

Enter Shirley’s Diner, a classic Millard eatery owned and operated by his artistically-inclined parents, Denise and Doug Fackler. It’s where Nik researched Lovely, hanging out with older patrons, getting a sense for “what it’s like to be a human at that age,” he said. “I talked with a lot of older people. That helped. I figured out a way he [Robert] words things. He’s based on a real person I talked to at the diner. He’s a bagger at a grocery store who doesn’t talk to anyone. Everyone kind of treats him like a kid. They all take care of him. That’s kind of Robert. He does’‚t have a lot of experience having feelings. He’s really awkward. He doesn’t like to talk to people. He’s scared of interaction. He’s not happy, he’s not sad – he’s kind of neutral.”

 

 

Shirley’s Diner

 

 

The diner Nik’s family owns and operates and that he often worked at and found inspiration at for his films

Creativity is a family thing with the Facklers. “Art was always just kind  of around,” he said. “It was in front of me, it was normal, so I  guess I just kind of fell into it that way.” When not immersed in video games, he wrote by himself or as part of a family activity. “That was just fun stuff we did. It would be like, ‘Let’s write a book tonight,’” he said. Acting, staging, later filming, his own scenarios became playtime.

Both his parents play music. Doug also makes photographs and Denise writes, including a book-in-progress that tells the stories of people who venture through the diner, where Nik worked as recently as last summer. “My mom’s under the firm belief, and I agree with her, that everyone has a story,” Nik said. “I mean, everyone’s interesting. That’s what’s cool about the diner – you have an unlimited amount of characters you can learn from.”

Fackler didn’t formally study cinema, or even attend college, although he landed admittance to the Los Angeles Film School at 16. He chose instead to forego commercial influences.

“That would have sucked, you know, directing Scary Movie V or something. Well, who knows what would have happened. All I know is I would have heard the same thing that a roomful of people would have learned. I don’t want to be taught an art. I want to like fall into an art and just let it happen. It’s an adventure, it’s an experience – each new thing.”

“I really want to try to be different. Every generation wants to do that and that’s why things change. So I just want to make sure I’m not rehashing the past.”

Fackler is intrigued with the idea of eliciting new emotions through his art. “Lovely, Still is very much written to evoke some kind of feeling. It takes place during Christmas time and it deals with family and love. It’s multi-layered. For some people that may be a happy feeling and for others it may be depressing. Art is trying to create a new feeling you’ve never felt before. You watch a film and you leave the film feeling a new way. You may not have a name for the feeling, but it’s new. That’s all I can hope for…”

Except for brief forays in L.A. Fackler developed his craft right here. He began making short films at Millard West, along the way finding a mentor in Altman. With Altman’s help, Fackler graduated from low-end to high-end film-video production and became a much-in-demand director for Saddle Creek artists, among them, Conor Oberst, who’s scoring Lovely.

About that comparison with Payne. They followed quite different paths to their first feature films. Payne graduated Stanford before going to film school at UCLA, where he directed a thesis project that got him a studio deal. Fackler’s thesis projects are the shorts/music videos he dreamed up and made.

Despite a development deal, nearly a decade passed before Payne put together his first feature, Citizen Ruth. In the interim he wrote and directed shorts for the Playboy Channel. By the time he made Ruth Payne was in his mid-30s. Fackler is that rare animal who’s gone right from homemade, no-budget work to a substantial indie feature with a dream cast. He’s arrived, by a self-made route, at the same point Payne reached with Ruth, only 12 years earlier.

As a filmmaker, Fackler emphasizes the influence of his background in music, as a writer and musician in Family Radio.

“Music creates images. It totally does. I’ve been at points where I made the characters argue just because a song I was playing started getting more intense,” Fackler said. “The music writes it for me. That’s the same with editing. When I’m editing I like to put a song down online and edit to it. Music is very, very important. Film has a rhythm it cuts to and falls to.”

Fackler wants to make more films in Omaha, and is avoiding the Hollywood glam machine. He wants to make his next film from a fantasy script he and Matt Brown co-wrote. “It’s going to be a bigger budget” show, so if Lovely, Still does well I think I can get a studio to trust me – if I want to go with a studio. I don’t really care either way as long as they let me do what I want.”

“I’m not very snobby about film,” he said. “Like I know how it works. It’s a business just like anything else. The thing is just doing it, and if you can manipulate the business and still keep it art, then go for it.”

He and a friend are pitching an animated television series to studios. There is high interest.

Meanwhile, the producers who have his back on Lovely, Still look forward to a long association. “Like Dana (Altman), we want to continue working with Nik and we want to create a family sort of, so he feels protected, so he can make the movies he wants to make for the rest of his career,” Knudson said.


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