Lyon College Professor Brian Hunt and four students attended a screenwriting workshop in Little Rock with award-winning director Jeff Nichols on November 12. Lyon is a sponsor of the Arkansas Cinema Association, which made the workshop possible. The students included Christen Johnson, Katie Cruse, Mae Dyer, and Miguel Hernandez who all had an interest in storytelling.
Nichols, a Little Rock native, is known for both writing and directing Shotgun Stories (2007), Mud (2012), Take Shelter (2011), for which he won the Cannes Critics Week Grand Prize, Loving (2016), and Midnight Special (2016). Loving garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for Ruth Negga, a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for Joel Edgerton, and a Cannes Palme d’Or nomination for Nichols.
The students described Nichols as casual, calm, comforting, and down to earth. He divided his talk into four sections: the idea stage, the notecard stage, the cork board stage, and the writing stage, and he offered a realistic picture of the screenwriting business. Student Katie Cruse said, “He has a strong understanding of how to balance his creative endeavors with the reality of the business-world.”
While the students all agreed that Lyon College provides numerous professors with artistic insight, Nichols, as a successful practitioner, revealed the tools for getting things done. The key, he said, was to find a scene, a moment, an emotion that encapsulates the theme of the film. He always wants his audience to walk out of the theater with a specific feeling.
At the same time, he advised his audience, screenwriters must keep the script realistic: the storyline must make sense because people don’t care about what that emotion might be so much as they care about what the story is and whether the story keeps their interest.
Nichols also noted the necessity for a strong work ethic and a down-to-earth grasp of how to manage and accomplish something, step-by-step.
“I really hope that Lyon College will provide the opportunity to see Jeff Nichols’s future talks about directing and editing,” Cruse says. “He brought the audience’s dreamy aspirations down to earth, provided a realistic and step-by-step method of accomplishing such a large task, and expressed the necessity for a determined, hard-working, and resilient attitude throughout the whole process. These are skills and lessons necessary for everyone, not just filmmakers, to accomplish their goals.”
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