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 E.R. Nelson Interview 
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A first-time feature film director, E.R. Nelson stood out at the recent Indianapolis International Film Festival. Friendly, accessible and easygoing, Nelson was instantly one of those people you meet and you feel like you've known forever.

After graduating from Brigham Young University with a B.A. in Film Studies, Nelson first worked with friend and fellow director Christian Vuissa on his film, then set his sights on his own directorial vision, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake," a quirky, character-driven comedy starring Kirby Heyborne and Trenton James that is currently on the film festival circuit, winning "Best of the Fest" at Garden State Film Festival and the "Audience Award" at "Spud Fest."

Nelson has written, directed, and produced several projects in his career, and his short "Eternal Sleep" was a regional finalist in the Student Academy Awards while playing at film festivals nationwide.

Nelson, a married father of two, enjoys seared Ahi and, on occasion, apple beer! He sat down with Richard during the Indianapolis International Film Festival to discuss film-making, "Pirates" and life in general.

Richard: 

In "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake," you pretty much have the definition of a quirky film. Without spoiling it for those who've yet to see the film, in "Pirates" you get pirates, parent issues, a bad guy, a look at society's desire to go for easy money, the Great Salt Lake and much, much more. How on Earth did you come up with this?

ERN:

I was sitting around with my writing partner, Nathan Phillips, and blurted out this title, "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake." Nothing came of it at first, but the title stuck in my head and eventually we started writing out a story to go with it. Once we decided to go with "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake," the script was finished in one week.

Richard:

One week?

ERN:

<laughs> We were working on a deadline, and we finished the entire film from conception to completion in six months.

Richard:

How did you get Kirby Heyborne involved? The guy is the LDS answer to Ben Stiller. He's in EVERYTHING!

ERN:

The part of Kirk was written specifically with Kirby in mind. Fortunately, he took the part. Actually, we're friends. Christian's his music manager, and we all enjoy working together.

Richard:

He was perfect for that part. The minute I saw him on screen I was thinking to myself "Wow, that works." So, tell me about your background. How'd you get started in film?

ERN:

I've been making movies since I was a kid...Anytime I could get the video camera away from dad. I was making short movies and home movies. I've made a variety of shorts. I graduated from film school, worked with Christian on "Baptists at our Barbecue" and now "Pirates."

Richard:

How does a first-time feature film director finance a film?

ERN:

Of course, it depends on your circumstances. In my case, nepotism. My little brother provided much of the financing for the film.

Richard:

You know I've already interviewed Christian, and I'm impressed that both of your short films are on HD. This seems like a great option for indie film-makers. It takes a, from what I understand, low-budget film and gives it quite a polished look.

ERN:

Absolutely. HD has worked out really well for us. It definitely improves the quality of the film.

Richard:

So, how was your first feature film directing experience?

ERN:

Great. Hellish. It has been every emotion you could ever experience...love, anger, anxiety, giddiness, love...I said love, right?

Richard:

Lots of love?

ERN:

Lots of love. Really it has been a dream come true.

Richard:

I'm curious. Do you consider this an LDS film?

ERN:

No.

Richard:

Christian and I had this conversation about films and faith. He expressed his own interest in stretching the bounds of what is traditional seen from those known as LDS film-makers. It sounds like you're of the same mind?

ERN:

Obviously, there's an LDS influence. There are people in the film and who worked on the film who are LDS, who have been LDS. It influences the work, but doesn't always determine the work.

Richard:

Describe the film's reception so far.

ERN:

It has been really well received. This (Indianapolis) is its sixth film festival. It premiered in San Francisco, received the "Best of the Fest" at the Garden State Film Festival and won the audience award at "Spud Fest."

Richard:

Spud Fest? Let me guess. Idaho?

ERN:

You guessed it.

Richard:

That's fantastic. That's a resume filler right there. How many film-makers can say "I won the Audience Award at Spud Fest."

ERN:

The audiences loved it. We were sold out.

Richard:

What's next?

ERN:

We just this past week started sending the film out to distributors. Our goal, of course, is to find a national release.

Richard:

Which goes back to our LDS conversation. This film is targeting a wider audience?

ERN:

Exactly. This film would play well for certain aspects of the LDS audience, in the same way that "Napoleon Dynamite" did (NOTE: "Napoleon Dynamite" director Jared Hess is also a BYU grad). Our audience reception so far seems to indicate the film has a broader appeal, which was the goal.

Richard:

It's my understanding that "Pirates" was a quick shoot? Obviously, you finished everything quickly on the film.

ERN:

The film was shot in 18 days on locations in Utah.

Richard:

Amazing. Tell me more about you...

ERN:

Well, let's see. I'm from a military family...a Marine father. I grew up in the D.C., North Virginia area. I'm now living in Salt Lake City. I have two children, a four-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. Actually, he's one-year-old today.

Richard:

Awwwwww. How cool. Is it hard being away from home today?

ERN:

Of course, but I've been able to talk with everyone. We'll have a cake and celebrate when I get home. He's only one so he doesn't quite have the whole birthday thing figured out yet. He'll be okay. <chuckles>

Richard:

Who influenced you to go into film-making? The more I talk to you the more it seems like you HAVE to be a film-maker. It's who you are. It sort of reminds me of good ole' Kirk being a pirate.

ERN:

It definitely fills a hole in life. It's a hard path to choose...hard path, but not a REALLY hard path. We were all really lucky with this first film...great cast, great crew. In terms of inspiration, I was always trying to obtain new experiences. I've always been very creative. My real passion is telling stories.

Richard:

How else do you express this creativity?

ERN:

I love writing and drawing.

Richard:

You obviously have an eye for visual presentation. Your posters are great.

ERN:

You like them? Thanks.

Richard:

I love them. They make you want to see the film. Did film school help you?

ERN:

Film school is one option for learning the craft. It depends on who you are. It's a great way to learn practice and theory, a great way to network and to meet peers. It's a great way to find a mentor, which is vital in growing as a film-maker. There are various ways to learn the craft, though.

Richard:

If you could pass alone one lesson to aspiring film-makers what would it be?

ERN:

You have to learn how serious you are about film as a dream...and, no matter what happens always have a good attitude.

Richard:

Well, this has been a joy but I know you need to get going to your next screening. I appreciate your time.

ERN:

Thank you. If you need anything else or have any other questions while I'm here just let me know or e-mail me.

Richard:

Thanks. Will do.

Two hours passed. The screening is now over. Technical glitches mar the screening of "Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" during its initial screening here in Indianapolis. I spoke with E.R. Nelson briefly after the screening.

Richard:

Does that drive you nuts?

ERN:

A little bit. You can't let it get to you. We spoke before the screening, but obviously the settings were off. We're going to do a technical run-through before the next screening.

Richard:

I was sitting there thinking to myself "Man, this has to suck as a film-maker." To sit there and watch your film not get its best presentation due to relatively simple technical issues. It drove me crazy...which made me think that if it distracted me it had to distract others. Does this kind of thing happen often?

ERN:

Not often, but it happens.

Richard:

Well, I wish you the best in your future screenings here and thank you again for your time.

ERN:

Thank you.

"Pirates of the Great Salt Lake" continues to play on the film festival circuit while a distribution deal is sought. To find out more about the film, visit its website at Pirates of the Great Salt Lake. You can also search for PotGSL on Myspace! Be sure to check out my three-star review for the film.

- Richard Propes
 The Independent Critic
*Interview first published May 13, 2006 on IndependentCritics.com.
 
 
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