Martin Landau and Nik Fackler Discuss Working Together on ‘Lovely, Still,’ and Why They Believe So Strongly in Each Other and in the New Film
As readers of this blog know by now, I am enthusiastic about a young Omaha filmmaker Nik Fackler, whose feature debut, Lovely, Still, has instantly catapulted him, at least in my opinion, into the ranks of cinema artists to be watched. This post contains two stories I wrote for The Reader (www.thereader.com) related to Fackler and his film, which stars Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. The first article draws on an interview I did with Landau when he was in Omaha last year to promote the film. The actor believes in the film and in Fackler, who reminds him and almost everyone who meets Fackler of Tim Burton. The second article appeared last year and it deals more with the film itself and with the journey that Fackler and Co. underwent to get it made and seen. For the longest time, it didn’t appear as if the picture would get any kind of national release, but thankfully it has, opening this month (September) and next (October) in dozens of theaters around the country. It’s a well-deserved show-and-tell for a fine debut film that features exquisite performances by two old Oscar-winning stars, who in my opinion have never been better. If you don’t catch the film in a theater near you, look for it out on DVD in November. It’s a great pic for the Christmas holidays, similar in tone to It’s a Wonderful Life, although a very different story told in a very different way.
Look for an additional Lovely, Still article posted here in the near future. It will contain more material from my Landau interview.
Martin Landau and Nik Fackler Discuss Working Together on ‘Lovely, Still,’ and Why They Believe So Strongly in Each Other and in the New Film
©by Leo Adam Biga
Published 09/23/10 in The Reader (www.thereader.com)
When Martin Landau spins anecdotes about icons he’s worked with in his celebrated acting career, he can rattle off a who’s-who list.
James Dean, Cary Grant, Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Joe Mankiewicz, Sidney Poitier, Steve McQueen, Jeff Bridges, Francis Ford Coppola, Angelica Huston, Claire Bloom, Woody Allen, Johnny Depp, Tim Burton.
The 82-year-old Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winner (Ed Wood) is now a legend himself. So there’s something sweet and surreal when he drops Omahan Nik Fackler’s name in the same breath. The 20-something filmmaker directed Landau and fellow Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn in his feature debut Lovely, Still.
Shot in Omaha in late 2007, the film’s enjoying a national release after spot festival-preview screenings in 2008-2009. Starting Friday, it plays at Marcus Theatres’ Midtown and Village Pointe cinemas.
For Fackler, it’s an “emotional” cap to a project he first wrote nine years ago:
“It’s been nine years of persistence and positivity and not giving up. It’s always been this thing in my life, Lovely, Still, that’s never gone away, and now I’m going to let it go away, and it feels good because I’m ready to let it go…I wanted it to come out a couple years ago, and it was delayed. Now it’s finally coming out and I feel sort of a distance from it. There’s nothing a bad review can say that won’t make me proud of the accomplishment. It just feels good to know it’s out there.
“People that pick up on the emotions and the feelings in the film seem to really be attached to it and love it.”
Landau, in Omaha last year to promote the pic, said he responded strongly to the script, “figuring somebody maybe close to my age” wrote it. When he learned the author was young enough to be his grandson, he said he asked, “How does a 22-year-old write an older couple love story with this texture?”
The venerable actor took a lunch meeting with the Generation Y upstart at an L.A. cafe, each wary if he could work with the other. Landau used the meet to gauge if Fackler would accept notes to inform rewrites. To his delight he found him “open.”
“I basically said, ‘This is a terrific script, but it’s bumpy. If you’re willing to do this with me, I’ll do the movie,’ and Nick said, ‘OK.’Well, he did a rewrite on the basis of what we talked about, For two months we talked on the phone, several times a week, five or six pages at a time.”
Their top choice to play Mary opposite Landau’s Robert was Burstyn. On Landau’s advice Fackler waited until finishing the rewrite before sending her the script. She loved it, with some reservations.
“Actors like me and Ellen are looking for scripts that have some literary value. Good dialogue today is rare. It’s harder and harder to get a character-driven movie made by a studio or independents and it’s harder to get theaters to take them.”
As charmed as they were, Landau said, “It was a leap of faith working with a kid, but Nick’s talented and adventurous and imaginative and willing to listen. He reminds me of Tim Burton. Less dark, maybe a little more buoyant.”
“It was collaborative,” said Fackler. “We were a team of artists working together. After we became friends we respected each other’s opinions.”
Landau likes that this movie is aimed for his own underserved demographic.
“I absolutely believe in this film. When I did Ed Wood I felt that way. A lot of older people are starved for movies. They’re not interested in fireballs or car chases or guys climbing up the sides of buildings.”
He attended a Las Vegas screening of Lovely before a large AARP member crowd and, he said, spectators “were enwrapped with this movie. It talked to them. I mean, they not just liked it, it’s made for them. There’s a huge audience out there for it.”
Instead of a generation gap, Landau and Fackler discovered they were kindred spirits. Before acting, Landau studied music and art, working as a newspaper cartoonist-illustrator. He still draws and paints. Besides writing and directing, Fackler is a musician and animator.
“I feel Martin and I are very similar and we get along really well,” said Fackler, who added they still talk frequently. He described their relationship as “inspired.” Fackler also feels a kinship with Burstyn, who has a cabin he stays at to write.
Fackler also found an ally in Landau.
“One of the main things Martin repeated to me over and over again was, ‘This is your movie.’ He made sure that rang in my ears, just to make sure I stayed strong when I came up against fights and arguments with people that wanted the film to be something I didn’t want it to be, and much love to him for doing that. Those words continue to ring in my ear in his voice to this day, and I’m sure for the rest of my career.”
Now dividing his time between Omaha and L.A., Fackler’s weighing his next feature: a puppet adaptation of Tony Millionaire’s work or “a period scary movie.”
Nik Fackler, The Film Dude Establishes Himself a Major New Cinema Figure with ‘Lovely, Still’
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in a 2009 edition of 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.
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.
- Landau and Burstyn in Lovely, Still Trailer (screenhead.com)
- Movie Review | ‘Lovely, Still’: A Late-Life Relationship (movies.nytimes.com)
- Adam Scott And Mr. Beaks Unashamedly Share Their Feelings About Nik Fackler’s LOVELY, STILL! (aintitcool.com)
- Martin Landau, A ‘Lovely’ Leading Man (npr.org)
- Elizabeth Taylor: ‘Cleopatra’ co-star Martin Landau calls her ‘a singularly spectacular individual’ (insidemovies.ew.com)
- Spirit Awards 2011 predictions and Joel McHale comments (hollywoodnews.com)
- Omowale Akintunde’s In-Your-Face Race Film for the New Millennium, ‘Wigger,’ Introduces America to a New Cinema Voice (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Vincent Alston’s Indie Film Debut, ‘For Love of Amy,’ is Black and White and Love All Over (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- The Cut Man: Oscar-Winning Film Editor Mike Hill (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)
- Screenwriting Adventures of Nebraska Native Jon Bokenkamp (leoadambiga.wordpress.com)