Director Jeff Nichols On ‘Midnight Special’ And The Lessons Of A Movie Like ‘Fantastic Four’

By: 03.16.16
Jeff Nichols

Warner Bros.

Jeff Nichols is one of the best filmmakers today who is still, sort of, flying just under the radar. Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud were not huge box office draws, but they all found critical acclaim and a healthy life after theatrical release. As Nichols himself puts it, “I’ve been just unsuccessful enough.” That’s an interesting self-observation: meaning, basically, his movies haven’t been so successful that he’s now working on huge studio films that he has little control over. (Though, Nichols was in conversations for Aquaman.)

It’s at this point in the conversation that we start talking about Josh Trank, who, the weekend before Fantastic Four came out, tweeted that what audiences were about to see wasn’t his cut. (A tweet that was quickly deleted.) For Nichols, who is so meticulous with his stories and directing, losing control over a film like that is what he fears most – so I get the sense he kind of likes being “just unsuccessful enough.”

His new film is Midnight Special, a film he classifies in the “sci-fi government chase movie,” genre that, on the surface, is accurate. Michael Shannon plays a father whose son has supernatural abilities and who takes him on the run from many forces who want the young boy back, for a whole host of reasons. Midnight Special is one of those films that the less you know about it going on, the better off you are.

And that’s the thing with Jeff Nichols’ films: He doesn’t fill you in right away with everything going on because he hates exposition. (As someone who also hates exposition, this is probably why I’m so attracted to Nichols’ work.) Ahead, Nichols explains his approach as a director and why Box Office Success comes with a lot of baggage he’s been lucky enough to avoid.

I went into Midnight Special knowing nothing.

That’s a good way to do it. It’s hard to break through the noise and bubble up to the surface of public consciousness when you’re not telling anyone anything about this movie.

People who know who you are like your movies, but how far does your reach go now? You haven’t directed a superhero movie or anything, even though there were Aquaman talks…

No. I don’t know. I always hear from people’s moms. People’s moms really like Mud. That movie, I think they’ve all had lives after the theatrical release. Shotgun Stories obviously, because no one saw that in theaters.

And Take Shelter.

Yeah, Take Shelter, too. It’s weird, I wasn’t in the DGA or WGA for that film, so I don’t get residuals.

Really?

Nah.

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