When AP first interviewed Omaha filmmaker Nik Fackler back in early 2009, it was about a year after he’d finished directing his feature debut, Lovely, Still, starring Oscar winners Martin Landau and Ellen Burstyn. After another year of haggling with distributors, Fackler finally secured theatrical release dates (see locations here) throughout September and October 2010. When we caught up with him again at a coffee shop in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago, he was already juggling several new projects, including music videos for Deerhunter and Man Man, the release of his own music (under the moniker Dreama) on Team Love Records, and his next feature, a cinematic adaptation of bizarro cartoonist Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey.
Do you live in L.A. now?
Well, it’s hard to say. I still have a house in Omaha, but I’ve been living here for a while just to get the next projects going. But all my music stuff is in Omaha. Is it possible to live in two places? ’Cause I kinda do. I just moved all my shit here, and my dog’s here. I live with a producer who I met about two years ago. He’s like a cartoon dude. I started hanging out with him because he plays a bunch of videos and talks about cartoons. He introduced me to Tony Millionaire, which is the next film I’m gonna do. We have a test shoot next Saturday, which is gonna be crazy.
You made your first movie when you were 23, based on your own script, and starring two Oscar winners…
And I got final cut.
What are you, a lawyer? How did you swing that?
[Laughs.] I don’t even have a lawyer. But it wasn’t like it just happened. It was six years of turning down a lot of stuff. The first thing I ran into was people just wanting to buy the script, which means I wouldn’t have been attached as director. But it would’ve been a good way to get my foot in the door.
Must’ve been tempting.
Definitely. And then there were other temptations, like guys with the money [to produce the film] but who were kinda sleazeballs. I didn’t want to get involved with those dudes. But there’s this producer I work with back in Omaha named Dana Altman. He’s Robert Altman’s grandson, so he’s been doing film shit since he was, like, 13. He was sort of like my mentor, so I worked with him a lot and we were sort of a team. For six years we tried to get the perfect deal—someone who would give us money, let us keep the script the same, give us creative control and let me direct and have final cut.
That seems like a hard sell under any circumstances, but for a 23-year-old first-time screenwriter?
Well, that’s what made it really hard. I wrote the script when I was 17, so for those first couple of years, no one would even look at it. Then we started hiding my age. When we finally got Martin [Landau] on, we didn’t tell him my age until we met for the first time. We had to trick people. But I was doing music videos during this whole time, so my reel was getting longer and longer. Then I got an agent. A guy from the William Morris Agency just e-mailed me one day.
Out of the blue?
Yeah. I think it was one of those things where he was probably emailing like 40 young directors that he found online like, “Hey—we can help you out.” That’s the vibe I got. But we took advantage of it. We had him send the script to Martin Landau. At that point I was, like, 22. Martin read it and wanted to meet with me, so I flew out to L.A. and we met at a coffee shop just like this and talked.
Was Landau taken aback when he saw how young you were?
Yeah, but I think he was sort of into it, too. At that point in his career, I think he was just excited about the experimentation of it, because it would be two older, extremely experienced people and one younger, ambitious but extremely inexperienced director.
Your youthful exuberance rubbed off on him.
Totally. And the film is sort of about that, too, in a way. It’s sort of a youthful look at these feelings that people have at any age. So there was this easy-to-relate-to thing at the center of the story that someone of any age could connect to. The only thing that changes is your perception of it. So I wanted to tell a story about someone’s perception of falling in love for the first time but they’re at the end of their life. It would be a similar experience to falling in love when you’re 16, which I was actually doing at the time I was writing the script. So it’s kind of a firsthand account, but I let it run through the actors.
Did you feel strange giving such experienced, well-respected actors direction onset?
Not really, because you can’t. Working for six years to make this happen and going through all the bullshit definitely toughened me up, like, “Okay, I can’t fuck this up. I can’t be afraid to ask for something. I’ve got one chance.”
I was trying to think about how we could talk about the huge shift in tone that happens toward the end of the film without giving too much away. You’re very successful in lulling the viewer into this sappy elderly romance and then… something else happens.
Yeah, yeah. I was trying to experiment a little bit with changing the storytelling form. We’ve gotten really used to the form that’s used in American storytelling, the kind of Star Wars mythological story arc—[Joseph Campbell’s] The Hero’s Journey and all that. So the romance in this movie starts out really traditional and then it’s suddenly not anymore, but hopefully you realize that it is all building up to something and then it reaches that climax. I’ve watched it with audiences, and you can sense that there’s this thing they’re trying to figure out but they don’t know why they’re trying to figure it out. I remember being really excited when I was writing it because it gets almost cheesy and then something dark happens. So it’s almost like a trick, I guess, but a trick with emotion. It’s a twist film in the context of a love story, which I think ends up making it even more emotional.
So you’re okay with mentioning that there’s a big twist at the end?
I think it’s okay to talk about. If anything, it’s a reason to get people to go see it.
Because otherwise it’s just a movie about old people …
[Laughs.] Yeah, and that’s why it took so long to get a distributor. It took forever. So many distributors aren’t taking chances with anything these days. The thing we kept hearing back from the major distributors was, “People will not go see a film with two older leads in it when they can go see something cool and hip.” But I was always kind of expecting that a little bit. And I didn’t wanna do a love story between teenagers.