Most moviegoers’ list of Austin filmmakers probably starts with Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez and film buffs will be quick to add Terrence Malick. Another who seems to be poised to become a household name is Jeff Nichols.
Nichols wrote and directed “Mud”, released in 2012 and starring fellow Austinite Matthew McConaughey. His latest film is “Midnight Special,” which had its North American premiere over the weekend at South by Southwest.
Nichols dabbled with sci-fi in “Take Shelter” in 2011, Nichols’s second feature film. But the film’s simplest explanation – a sci-fi chase movie – misses its significance.
“I’ve done enough films now to know that plot isn’t the thing in and of itself,” he says. “I took this idea of a sci-fi government chase movie and I really just made it a metaphor for how I feel about being a new parent, and for the relationship between my son and I.”
Nichols says articles about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) ranch in south Texas inspired a scene in his film – especially a moment that described how federal agents moved children away from their parents to interview them about when they were born.
“I thought, Well, how interesting that you could be born onto a ranch like that and have no birth record,” Nichols says. “So I thought if you had a child with superpowers, he could actually be born in this cloistered community and no one would know about him.”
Nichols moved in with his parents in Little Rock, Ark., for a year after finishing film school in North Carolina. He moved to Austin because his brother got into law school at the University of Texas. He helped out filming a documentary called “Be Here To Love Me” and thought about moving back to Arkansas, until the documentary director Margaret Brown introduced him to a friend of hers that needed a new roommate – the woman who Nichols later married.
Nichols, who Wired dubbed Hollywood’s next blockbuster auteur, hasn’t shied away from the more commercial aspects of writing and directing films.
“The problem is, I do like the idea of making movies that are accessible to people,” he says. “I don’t want to make movies in a vacuum and I don’t want to just make obscure indie films. I want to make movies that people really watch and enjoy and love.”
“Midnight Special” opens this Friday.