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quAr: An Interview with Nick Bain and Peter Browne

Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Nick Bain: First of all, I want to say thank you for this opportunity to do an interview! This is an extremely complicated question and in short, I could take hours to answer each of these fine questions, but I’ll try to spare you. In short, where I grew up there were two religions: film and church. I went with the film. That was a joke, well sort of… When I was three or four, really little, we were watching a TV movie that became too “adult” when a woman woke up in a casket next to a corpse with no way to get out. My parents made me go to bed and to this day I don’t know what happened. A few years later the same thing happened to me with my parents and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. I was made to go to bed right after Sean Connery’s character was killed. The next day I played hooky and got a hold of that VHS tape. I’m pretty sure my fate was sealed after that.

Peter Browne: I grew up in the Midwest in a house with a father who was a writer. Every night we read stories. In high school I liked photography and I went to an arts high school where I focused on Literary Arts. My best friend was the manager of a Landmark theater and I could see anything for free. If I brought my own plastic bag the popcorn was always free. I was always inspired to be a filmmaker because I thought it was so cool. The power to tell a story and affect someone else, whether it’s laughter, tears, romance, or all three at once, was always the most amazing thing to me. I wanted to give people the experience that I loved the most.

Talk about your last work. What are some of the challenges you faced during production?

N. My last project was directing, writing, and producing a film called Voice of Shadows. It was incredibly challenging and at times seemingly impossible. We ended up shooting the first thirteen days in Minnesota last fall in a small town called Lanesboro. We lost the last two days of shooting due to a Covid outbreak and we just finished shooting the rest of our film about two weeks ago here in Los Angeles. Being a first time director and working with a first time cinematographer is a big no-no. My co-creator, Guillermo Blanco, and I put together a great team.

P. When everything shut down it was a really challenging time for everyone I know in similar ways and also totally different ones too. In the spring of 2020 my roommate, best friend and filmmaker talked about how we should do something to document this time during the height of quarantine. We lived in Hollywood Boulevard, right off La Brea at the start of the Walk of Fame. Normally full of tourists and people dressed up in costume trying to get photos, constantly buzzing. Instead, it was completely dead. Eerily quiet at night, it felt like were in a post-apocalyptic movie. Our intersection was the Hollywood version of Times Square. We came up with a concept and a short script. I think there was some dialogue but in the end we settled on cutting it. It was about a guy, played by me, who starts to unravel. We shot a lot of different stuff, revolving around this paranoid feeling in the air everywhere. One of the challenges was just the times we were living in. I was out of work and had no unemployment coming in. I’m bipolar, so routine and structure has always been important for my mental health. I was worried about my family. My sister was pregnant, my other sister was a nurse. My Dad was 80. With nowhere to go and no money I felt really on edge all the time. Making the film was comforting in some ways because it was something creative to focus on and stay sane with. We already had a camera and had worked together before. I also felt very lucky to live with someone I knew and trusted, having moved back to town just five months ago.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

N. One reason would be that I occasionally come upon a concept that I find so captivating that it demands it must be created. As far as themes go, I tend to explore many genres and themes and in time I want to cover as much as possible. There’s some consistent themes in my work so far. Namely: alienation, trauma, resilience, discrimination, working class conditions, Expressionism and the misuse of sacred power. You can see all of those themes in Voice of Shadows, The Unicorn and the Fox and Kid West.

P I want to tell stories because it’s something I have a strong passion and desire for. I like how stories enhance our lives. Discussions about mental health are always important for me.

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

N. I have two ways I start projects. One, I think about them and develop for years, even now decades. In fact, I’m still working on the first screenplay I’ve ever began and I've been working on it every day for over twenty years. I’m serious.

The other method, an idea comes to me and within seconds I decide if I’m going to pursue it or not. From there, it’s tunnel vision.

P. I like to start something like I’m trying it for the first time. I want to be excited about it. I like twists, I like evocative imagery. I like scary, unexpected. I want to share and explore things I’m excited about. I like fiction more than reality. Anything can happen in a story. I like taking things that have happened to me and exploring them in fiction. A lot of characters I have written struggle with mental health. Maybe it’s part of my own therapy. Like writing about it gives it a reason.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

N. Biggest influencers? I would say without Tennesse Williams I may have never realized I wanted to approach art in a serious way. As far as biggest influences: Spielberg, Welles, Villeneuve and Tarantino. As far as which films have been most influential. I would still say Rocky or Empire Strikes Back as the single most influential single films I saw early on in life. Most recently, I’ve been most impressed with Jane Campion’s Power of the Dog.

P.I love everything, The film I’m in love with right now is The Worst Person in the World. As a teenager I loved David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, cinema of the 70s, movies like Alien, Taxi Driver, The Last Picture Show. Bonnie and Clyde is my favorite film.

My friend did a midnight screening for me in high school. I love horror. I still remember watching Scream with my mom for the first time.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

N. I’m mostly going to defer to Peter on this one. The industry has changed in such an extreme way and continues to do so. It’s happening at such a dynamic pace it’s really hard to explain with much accuracy.. I will say, that there’s some phenomenal new stuff doing well and then I see projects succeeding that really disappoint me. As far as COVID, I think you'll see some great independent films in a couple years about the subject. I would bet that some really brilliant things have been done already that I just haven’t seen yet.

P. The industry is changing rapidly in terms of releasing new projects, as in will it be at HBO at the same too? Will it only be streaming? Do I have to see it in a theater or wait 6 weeks? Do I want to go to theater? The cycle of the pandemic has shifted audience tastes and interests. A lot of people I know haven’t been back to the theater since the pandemic. It’s my favorite thing to do and I went back as soon as I could. In the summer of 2020 I rented a car and drove up to Santa Barbara to go to a Drive-in. The most exciting thing about the industry is that it’s always changing. Covid made people have to pause, reflect, and get creative. We were lucky because we were a crew of two and already a pod. Anything we wanted to shoot the next day we could.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

N. I think we’re all aspiring artists in our own way and I think we all owe it to ourselves to find that art. I know I need to create art.. For me it’s important to approach it with a creative freedom and to flesh it out in a structural way. Rinse and repeat. It’s leisure and work at the same time. I think the big thing is to do art for yourself. Additionally, I think understanding the history behind that art is extremely important. Finally I would say that using art to feel exalted over others and to demonstrate your superiority is a common misuse of art and in my eyes ruins the entire experience. Don’t get me wrong, art for me can sometimes be self indulgent. What fun would it really be if it wasn’t?

P. Just keep doing it. If it’s something that you feel strongly about stay with it. If you go away and come back to it that’s okay too. I like to say I’m on the 10 to 15 year track overnight success. So maybe I’m half way there. Just keep doing it. It’s also a numbers game. The longer you do it the better you get.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

N. I know that films have formed me in many ways… I think like anything else, it can be used and misused.

P. Absolutely. Everyone has a film experience they will never forget that changed them in some way. Good or bad.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

N. I think it’s geared us more toward serials. That is, binge watching.

P. People like to watch something longer than a movie and shorter than network television. It’s easier to get people to commit to a few episodes of something versus sitting through a whole movie. Limited series are the perfect relationship for some viewers. The chance for more if they want it.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

N. As for writing, directing and producing Voice of Shadows. I was extremely lucky and blessed to get it this far. Right now, everything in me is focused on finishing the project at hand. After this, I plan on going back to my first screenplay.

P. I’m currently traveling around the country, mostly on Amtrak trains and writing a new screenplay. I’m also collaborating with a friend who has a podcast. I leave him voicemails in every city I visit and talk about my experiences. Some kind of notes from the road. I’ve been working on a collection of vignettes about going to the movies. From childhood, alone, recently, a long time ago. Bad dates good dates, stuff like that. I’m trying to do one a day. I’m also working for the Austin Film Festival as a script reader. I like reading everything. It keeps me sharp. It keeps me curious.


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