As soon as I saw the list of entries in the Cannes Film Festival included Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” I was excited to hear what Bob Nelson had to say about it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nelson, who wrote the film, last September and published a story about him. He has roots in the Yankton area and was a great interview.
I figured having a film play at Cannes has to be a dream come true for a screenwriter, and it was no surprise to hear from Nelson that it is. Here is what he had to say:
When “Nebraska” premieres at the Cannes Film Festival in France next month, Bob Nelson expects it will be an out-of-body experience for him.
Nelson, who was born in Yankton just before his Hartington, Neb., parents moved their family to Washington, was the screenwriter for the film directed by Oscar-winning Omaha, Neb., native Alexander Payne. He plans to travel to Cannes and attend the first screening of “Nebraska.”
The announcement that “Nebraska” would compete in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival was a surprise to film enthusiasts, who expected a later debut. It was shot in the Norfolk, Neb., area last fall.
“I found out (two weeks ago) about Cannes just before it was announced and was completely surprised and cautiously pleased,” Nelson told the Press & Dakotan via email. “It’s a fairly quiet and intimate film, and Cannes is such a big world stage. To paraphrase Sheriff Tate’s description of Boo Radley in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ there is some fear of dragging this shy film into such a bright limelight. But despite all the glitz in Cannes, once the lights go out they are rabid film fans who are rooting for your movie. Alexander Payne’s previous work will give us a lot of goodwill. So Cannes is scary, but I’ve come to embrace what will almost certainly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The idea for “Nebraska” stemmed from news stories about people showing up with letters at Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes offices in the late 1990s thinking they had won money. In the film, a father (Bruce Dern) and his estranged son (Will Forte) travel together from Montana to Nebraska to claim just such a sweepstakes prize.
Nelson spent about a week on the set of “Nebraska” and said he enjoyed the experience.
“My mom came along and got a role as an extra … so she was thrilled the whole time,” he said. “It was just a wonderful opportunity to watch Alexander and his crew at work. They do work hard and long hours and, later on in the shoot, in some pretty rough weather. The scenes I watched being shot were in close quarters, so I just tried to stay out of everyone’s way and enjoy the moment. Bruce Dern and Will Forte couldn’t have been nicer to me — and my mom, for that matter.”
A rough cut of “Nebraska” was screened for Nelson and about 20 others approximately a month ago.
“It was far from finished, but you could get a sense of what it will eventually be, even with temp music and some scenes that will eventually be re-edited or cut,” Nelson said. “My reaction was that everyone involved, from Alexander to the actors to the crew, had made about as good a film out of this small personal story as I could have hoped for. It’s amazingly close to the film I wanted to see when I first starting writing it. The black and white cinematography is stunning. Phedon Papamichael (the cinematographer) really captured the intimacy of the relationships, as well as the wide landscapes of Nebraska.”
Although Nelson thought he would have a sense of how the movie would play out in public after that initial screening, he said that wasn’t the case.
“A couple of screenings since then have brought in some pretty good responses, so I’m getting my hopes up,” he stated. “That initial screening in Cannes will be an out-of-body experience, and my thoughts are as much on the audience response as on the film itself.”
Paramount announced last week that “Nebraska” will go into limited release on Nov. 22, setting the film up for what the studio hopes will be awards season buzz. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” will also be released that weekend.
“Do you think Jennifer Lawrence is worried?” Nelson joked. “One thing I’m pretty sure of is, there won’t be a ‘Nebraska II.'”
He said it’s been an amazing experience to see what it takes to get even a small-scale film like “Nebraska” made.
“A lot of people were away from home and loved ones for weeks to work on this, and I hope they’re proud of what their efforts have produced,” Nelson said.