01 Feb An interview with NICHOLAS ANDERSON, director of “Empty Nester”
““Cinema makes a memory tangible. But also, I’m 20 and don’t know much about memory.””
Nicholas Anderson was born in Bloomington, Indiana to a film professor and film archivist. Because of this introduction to cinema at a young age, Nick had always aspired to be film director. He inherited a love of the Golden Age of Hollywood and was even named after Rebel Without A Cause director, Nicholas Ray. While he considered a more traditional film school education, he went to Indiana University to get a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology.
He made his debut short, “Empty Nester” in 2019, at the age of 20, with equipment borrowed from the university, a crew of classmates, and his mother as the lead actress. With this short he was able to raise funds to start his own production company, Good Girl Films. His follow-up short “The Ungrateful Son: A Grimm Tale,” was shot in 2020 and is based off of the Grimm’s shortest story. He has another short in the works and anticipates making his debut feature in the near future.
“Empty Nester” (2019)
“The Ungrateful Son: A Grimm Tale” (2020)
– The stylistic choice of black and white really gives a wonderful suggestion to your film. Why did you make this aesthetic choice? Do you believe that visual choices like this also have an impact on the narrative?
Quite honestly, the black and white choice was pretty last second. We had shot everything planning for it to be in color, so I feel kind of bad for the DP and the gaffer because they spent so much time getting the color right, but after it was all edited it just looked hyper-realistic, as things often do when shot digitally. I messed with a few different things in post trying to get it look right, but it was only after I saw Roger Ebert’s “The Lighthouse” that I knew what I wanted to do. I wish that I could have shot it on 35 mm, but that wasn’t quite in my budget. Instead, I did it the ‘easy way’ in post by digitally desaturating and altering the aspect ratio to make everything seem less real. Visual choices like these are what constructs the narrative in film, as Ebert did, but my choice was more pragmatic than anything else. I hope the aesthetic choices of my film add to the narrative, but I think there’s an intermediate step in that the aesthetics add to the atmosphere which impacts the narrative.
– Your short film has the advantage of being truly engaging. You managed to capture the audience’s attention in just a few minutes and create a genre film in the space of a short film. Speaking of genre cinema, what do you think are the advantages of this type of cinema? Do you believe that today there is a period of crisis or rebirth of genre cinema?
There’s always place for genre cinema. That’s the great thing about cinema. You can do anything or tell any story. Genre films all have their own unique components that typically have a similar effect. If it’s noir it could be to construct a mystery or story that engages the audience; or if its horror it could be to create an emotion of feeling of terror that engages the audience. That’s the thing about genre films is that they engage audiences in a way that other cinema doesn’t always. Genre creates freedom for the filmmaker. There’s not really a crisis for all genre films, but there is for the majority of individual, specific genres, but that’s because of the lack of mid-level budget films in the world. There’s a reason that there aren’t many mysteries or sci-fis coming out anymore, and that’s because the genre and mid-level films have moved over to television and streaming services. However, I would consider the superhero movies that are coming out their own kind of genre film and they happen to be the genre film peaking right now. I’m sure as the cycle of cinema goes along another genre will take its place.
– One of the most disturbing and fascinating aspects of your film is that you have managed to insinuate terror into the folds of everyday life: a lady, an empty house … Often the horror in films becomes a social metaphor. Do you think fear arises from what we don’t know or hides behind familiar things?
My goal was to make something engaging that took the audience into the world I had created, it wasn’t particularly about the story as much as the atmosphere (also to mention I’m not confident in my writing skills) so that’s why I lacked a deeper metaphorical meaning. Fear can come from anything and everything, I particularly fear things that come from what we don’t know. When you mix that, with something familiar, the terror becomes real, it’s not simply something happening on a screen anymore, and that’s what I was trying to achieve. One of my projects I’m currently working on has what might be considered a deeper metaphorical message, but I think I did what I wanted to in this short.
What are your sources of inspiration and what has influenced you most in the creation of this film?
Well the inspiration of the film actually came from a real story of my mother’s. After I had moved out for school, she kept waking up and seeing a ghostly figure. It had progressed to bruising on her body with no easy explanation. So, for some reason I thought it would be a great idea to bring my mom’s most terrible fears to life… and have her star in it. I don’t necessarily think I would have made this short, or even a horror short in general, if at the time of pre-production, I hadn’t really become obsessed with the works of Mike Flanagan. His first film, “Absentia,” and his tv series “Haunting of Hill House” were two major inspirations for the idea. A lot of the technical aspects were taken from Hitchcock, with the hidden cuts like the ones he used in “Rope.” The ideas of the one take were taken from some of the best modern-day filmmakers of Curaon and Inarritu. Ultimately, I tried to steal as much I could from the films I love and still maintaining my own personal style. A style that I hope to keep workshopping and improving over my career.