Now in my early thirties, I’ve noticed that cinema doesn’t impress me as much as it used to. Luckily there are still great quality films to be found in the Independent market. So recently, Working Author got the chance to attend the Hollywood Film Festival and found a small gem called, Lost on Purpose. The film’s writing/directing brother team of Ian and Eshom Nelms was happy to sit down with us and answer some questions about their movie-making experience. With years of hard work and Hollywood connections behind them, including a now Academy Award-winning actress, it looks like this may finally be their breakthrough film.
“When we first got our agents about ten years ago,” Eshom Nelms says, “we had written a 60 million dollar Christmas adventure script that they took a look at and said, ‘This is great, but nobody’s going to give you two knuckleheads a shot at directing this because you haven’t done anything yet.’ We accepted that, but continued to write great scripts with much lower budgets in mind. But we always got the same response of, “No one’s going to cut you loose with this much money”, even if it was under 3 million. So finally we sat down and wrote Lost on Purpose, then pooled every conceivable resource, contact, and friend we could get a hold of to make filming it a reality.”
“Sometimes you just have to have the balls to say, ‘No! We’re doing this ourselves.’” Ian adds. “If you don’t believe you can make the movie better than anyone else, you shouldn’t be making the movie.”
Lost on Purpose is a story that takes place on a struggling dairy farm in a small California town, and is told through the adventures of the hired hands that work there. How important was it to get a great cast that includes C. Thomas Howell, Jane Kazcmarek, and now Academy Award-winning actress Octavia Spencer to help tell this story?
“It’s true what they say, casting really is 90% of a film,” Ian reflects. “So once we started production the hard part was actually over. We wrote the film with a lot of our actor friends, Octavia being one of them, in mind. Even though she had a small role we knew she was absolutely perfect for it. It’s great to see her career take off like it has, because while we were filming she had already wrapped her work on The Help, but nobody knew who she was yet.”
“C. Thomas and Jane were a little harder to get,” recalls Eshom. “Even if you’ve done a film before, agents are sometimes hesitant to take a look at the script until you have a few names attached. Luckily we had some great producers in our corner, and once we had everyone locked in, our work was much easier than expected. It’s a huge relief for a director to show up on set and know that you’ve cast the right actors for your film, it just makes your job that much easier.”
This movie didn’t have a huge studio budget, but it still has a very distinct and authentic feel. How important was the look and location for this particular type of story?
Eshom laughs, “ It’s funny because the first reference we gave Johnny Derango our DP, was The Last Picture Show, which was of course shot in black and white on film, and probably wasn’t that helpful since we were going to be shooting digitally and in color. We knew we wanted to use as much natural light as possible, and that may have caused a bit of trouble because we had a lot of sunset shots. I remember our producer going crazy trying to keep us under twelve hours of filming a day. But sometimes rushing to get a shot is half the fun of filmmaking.”
“Esh had storyboarded the entire script out,” says Ian, “and since we got the chance to shoot in our hometown of Visalia, California, we knew what a lot of the shots were going to look like in advance. We lucked out with a dairy farmer who moved his herd in early and basically gave us free range of his property. That was a huge blessing production-wise and really helped with the authenticity of the story.”
There are some particularly interesting vehicles in the film, specifically two older VWs which two brothers who work on the dairy both drive. It seems like you guys made it a point to showcase these vehicles, is there a special story behind them?
Ian grins. “Yeah we actually own those, and Esh has always had somewhat of an unhealthy obsession with old VWs that started when, as teenagers, our dad gave us an old Baja Bug. I am not the brother who likes to sit around and fix stuff; I got smart and bought a Honda. But [Eshom] is still hanging in there with the VWs.”
“It really is disturbing how much time and money I’ve put into those vehicles,” sighs Eshom. “They’ve almost become like an old dog you just don’t have the courage to put down, as long as I can still fix them and keep them running, they’ll be around.”
The film is getting a life of its own out on the festival circuit, how much of a relief is it to actually have a full feature out there with your names attached?
“We definitely could not have done it without each other and such a fantastic cast and crew,” Ian says as he looks at Eshom. “It’s really a true testament to hard work and determination on everybody’s part.”
Eshom pauses for a moment before speaking, “Looking back on it now, we’ve had the opportunity to sell a few scripts and make some quick money, but I’m glad we didn’t. It’s all been part of the journey and everyone that has seen the film has been giving us positive feedback. A lot of that is due to collaboration with our toughest critics and friends. It’s a scary thing to let your baby venture into the world, but if you’ve done the best you can with it, and I believe we have, it will turn out better than expected.”
Working Author would like to thank the Nelms brothers for their time and attention. While Independent films may never be as mainstream as Hollywood summer blockbusters, they are one of the very best ways to see what raw talented filmmakers are capable of. There’s certainly no lack of passion in films like Lost on Purpose, and it’s great to see that passion coupled with focused direction and a talented cast.
For more info on the Nelms brothers and Lost on Purpose, you can check out the film’s Facebook page here.