Bob Nelson’s Oscar nomination changed his career: He’s now a writer/director, with his debut feature “The Confirmation” opening this Friday (March 18).
Two years ago, Bob Nelson was at the Academy Awards, nominated for his screenplay for “Nebraska” — his first produced script. And though he watched the Oscars at home on Whidbey Island this year, that nomination changed his career: He’s now a writer/director, with his debut feature “The Confirmation” opening in theaters and video on demand this Friday (March 18).
“There’s no way I can say for sure,” said Nelson, interviewed in a Seattle cafe last week, “but I’d make a bet that if I hadn’t gone through that [the nomination], it would have probably been harder to get the financing … It does make a difference.”
Well-known to Seattle audiences for his years in the 1990s as an actor, writer and director on the sketch comedy show “Almost Live!,” Nelson wrote “The Confirmation” in the time between the writing and the making of “Nebraska.” (Director Alexander Payne committed to the screenplay very early, but waited nearly 10 years before filming it in 2012.)
Opening Friday, March 18, at the Varsity and various VOD outlets. Nelson will appear at the Varsity for a Q&A Sunday, following the 4 p.m. show. farawayentertainment.com/location/varsity-theatre/
Like “Nebraska,” “The Confirmation” is a father-son story, but a generation younger. Ten-year-old Anthony (Jaeden Lieberher) spends the weekend with his estranged father, Walt (Clive Owen), a carpenter down on his luck. By Sunday night, after a series of unexpected adventures involving the theft of Walt’s tool set, the two have reconnected.
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“It’s almost a precursor to ‘Nebraska,’ ” Nelson said. “If I’d been a young filmmaker in my 20s and had these ideas, I’d probably have tried to make a trilogy, starting with this one and ending with ‘Nebraska,’ and the second one would be the 18-year-old boy who is now mad at his dad.” Like “Nebraska,” the father in “The Confirmation” is inspired by Nelson’s own father, a mechanic.
“In Nebraska, I put in that my dad had his air compressor stolen, which was true. But it was much more often that he would have his tools stolen. Usually at a tavern, from the back of his truck” — exactly the fate of Walt’s tools.
Though set in Nelson’s hometown of Kent, “The Confirmation” was filmed outside Vancouver, B.C., in late 2014 for financial reasons. It was a tight shoot: 22 days, on a $2.5 million budget (for comparison, “Nebraska” — a tiny film by studio standards — cost $12.5 million), with a first-time director.
But Nelson said that his days watching Payne on the “Nebraska” set were helpful — “he’s very low-key on the set, treats everyone with respect, never raises his voice” — and that the shoot went well, despite some uncooperative weather. (He had to “find a little money in the budget” to digitally add rainwater to a car, to match the continuity on a scene partly shot during a rainstorm.)
With “The Confirmation” done, Nelson is on to new projects: He’s writing and executive-producing a television series on Amazon, “Highston,” about an innocent young man (Lewis Pullman) who “imagines that celebrities are his friends.” It’s directed by the “Little Miss Sunshine” team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, and the pilot’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, with the first season scheduled to shoot this coming fall.
And, with a couple of movie scripts in the pipeline, he’s hoping to direct another small-scale project soon. Though Nelson didn’t initially plan on becoming a director when his movie career began, he’s now drawn to that role.
“At a certain point,” he said, “I realized that if you’re not directing, you’re leaving [your script] in the hands of somebody else, and you don’t know if they’re breaking down doors to get your film made. You’re basically calling them and saying, ‘What are you doing today to get our film made?’ But if you say, ‘I’m the director of this one,’ then it’s all up to you.”