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.
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 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
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
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
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
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!