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Nick Tucker's Film Fandom Hits Festival Circuit

When Nick Tucker arrived at the Academy of Art University, he had barely ever operated a camera. Now, his award-winning film Fandom is available on Netflix, and he has another film in post-production.

Nick's film Fandom is a mockumentary-styled comedy about a young man who is a little too obsessed with Natalie Portman. The film begins as a "documentary" about fans and their objects of desire, but the film takes an interesting turn when one of its subjects, Gordon, comes unglued and decides to meet the actress of "Princess Amidala" fame. Faced with the prospect of meeting the person he admires most in the world, Gordon freaks out and begins to unravel. The result is a portrait of a fan who can barely function, despite having his wildest dreams come true.

We spoke with Nick Tucker about his film:

How did you develop your film, Fandom?

Fandom started out as a much different story. Originally, I saw it as a pretty conventional drama about a man who was obsessed with Natalie Portman and travelled across the country to meet her. This was based on a roommate of mine who was infatuated with Natalie Portman; he often toyed with the idea of trying to meet her. Needless to say he never did, which is probably a good thing.

Nick Tucker (left) and his crew

Eventually we decided that the main character, Gordon, was a little too sweet and innocent to turn into a stalker, so we introduced the idea of it being a mockumentary. The focus was on how this guy started out sweet and innocent but was driven to extremes by the constant pressure of the documentary crew. I realized that the only conclusion that we could expect from a man in such a fantasy world, having to live under the scrutiny of a cynical camera crew, would inevitably be heartbreak. The movie evolved into a portrait of one man trying to make his reality match his fantasy, and losing his mind along the way.

After I completed the idea for the story I started the script, but I ultimately decided that a script would really just hold the project back and limit us. We decided very early on to explore the possibility of improvising the movie, and found that many other films and TV shows that tried to capture a "documentary" look and feel relied on improvised scenes. Larry David's Curb your Enthusiasm uses entirely improvised dialogue, and the same is true for much of Christopher Guest's work (such as Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman).

Even after we finalized the story, wrote scene outlines, and planned and scheduled the production, the movie still evolved. During the shoot one of the actresses cancelled, and we had to scramble for a replacement ... until we decided that we could improvise our way around the character. We wrote the character out of the story. In the new version, Gordon's mom died when he was a young man, which really helped explain a lot about his development. We cast actors based on their improv ability, and they were constantly coming up with new material and interesting dialogue that we never could have anticipated. A lot of the things they did and said helped shape the story.

Once we'd finished shooting, the real work of "writing and directing" the film took place in the editing room. We treated the shoot like a documentary shoot; editing the film was very similar to editing a documentary. With the large amount of footage we had, it would have been possible to return to the editing room and put together another, completely different version of Fandom. The story changed a little here and there, even since we premiered it at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

How would you describe your working relationship with Cinequest, your distributor?

Cinequest is a very cool company. They've been extremely helpful in getting the film promoted and seen. They're also a film festival, and I think that this helps them find films that resonate well with an audience. They're trying out a lot of new things as a new distributor, and I think that was part of the appeal for me. Fandom is a film that tries a lot of new things too. In many ways, it was a perfect match. Cinequest helped us get our film on Netflix, which is huge, and Netflix bought three times as many copies of Fandom than most other independent films. That's a door that I'm glad to have opened.

You mentioned that Cinequest also operates a festival. It seems like your film has done pretty well on the festival circuit. Was it hard to get your films into the festivals?

Getting into film festivals is both harder and easier than it first seems. Sundance, for example, has become something of an insider's fest... a celebrity love-in. If you don't have a "name" actor, your chances of getting in have immediately been reduced to a very thin slice of an increasingly cynical pie-chart. On the flip-side, audiences are a little more savvy than they used to be. Sundance's territory is quickly being encroached upon by rival festivals with more street cred, such as SXSW and Slamdance. So my Sundance dreams didn't come true, which is a shame, but I found pretty quickly that there was a very large selection of festivals that are out there looking for good content.

Just before finding out we'd won the awards at the DIY festival I called them to see if they'd watched the film, and if they were still even considering us. They were a little rushed, and essentially told me, "We're still in the process of selecting films." To be honest, at that point, I kind of figured that they weren't interested. The next day, I got an email saying that we'd been selected... and also had won the awards! It totally caught me off guard. It really got me motivated about the movie again, and made me start to re-examine my approach to film festivals.

Calling the festival after you've submitted is crucial. I started calling to check in, calling to follow up, calling to shoot the breeze. Essentially, I tried to make myself a real person to them so they would have to check out the movie, give it a second glance... whatever. I also learned a lot about selecting festivals. Newport Beach appealed to me because they have a policy of making sure that each film is watched in its entirety by two people. This is rare. Most festivals, especially big ones, have a staff of unpaid / underpaid interns who watch the first five minutes of a film and then discard it unless it somehow piques their personal interest. Look for festivals that have a good selection process, then call to make sure your film gets watched.

Describe your time at the Academy. Have any teachers/classes/experiences been especially gratifying or helpful?

The Academy was a great place for me. It focused on all the right things: practical, useful, and hands-on information. I'm a hands-on learner; I don't really get something until I can do it. Once I've done it, I understand it immediately. It was important and valuable to actually use cameras, use editing software, operate lights, etc., right away. Once I was doing it, I felt immediately confident, whereas I probably would have felt lost in a curriculum that was entirely centered on theory.

The teachers were a huge part of that. Curran Engel is a great teacher and an incredible mentor. Charlie Holliday, Melissa Sydeman, Patrick Firpo, Eduardo Rufeisen, Mike Carroll and any number of others all made an impression on me. At the time you're taking a class, it is easy to forget how much you're learning, I know I am guilty of that, and in retrospect, I am still finding new and unexpected things in the lessons they taught me. I think I singled out Curran at the beginning of this because he is the one who really motivated me to go out and shoot Fandom.

Since graduating, I've moved back to the small town where I grew up. I'm teaching a class on filmmaking as part of an after-school program for high school students, and through the local college. This is a small school without any AV or video equipment, and the students are, like I was at their age, completely new to it. I try to treat my classes like a mini-Academy of Art, and try to be for these kids what my teachers were for me.

Last year, the kids wrote, produced, and directed a short film on 16mm and it has recently been accepted into a film festival on the east coast. Pretty big accomplishment for a group of kids who for the most part, up until a year before, had never really even used a video camera. I try to hold these kids to the same standard that teachers like Curran held me to, and for the most part they've amazed me. I really have to credit my own teachers for that, because they gave me everything I am trying to give to these kids.

What's next for you?

I have formed a small company with a few fellow Academy grads. We've completed production on another feature film. This one is a dark comedy about a young man in a small town who believes he is a vampire. This film was shot in High Definition, and stars a few of the same actors from Fandom. It also represents the bulk of what we learned from Fandom; it's a huge step forward for us as storytellers. It's a great film, and we expect to have it in distribution very soon as well!


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