The Bikeriders director Jeff Nichols doesn’t believe that a filmmaker needs to have innate talent for writing and directing in order to make a career out of it. He believes it’s a practice that anyone can learn if they put their mind to it.
“I believe in a well told story, I think it’s possible. And I’ve spent my life thinking about that, and attempting it,” he told the crowded Trustees Theater on Wednesday night at the SCAD Savannah Film Festival during a Q&A following a screening of his new film The Bikeriders.
Starring Austin Butler, Jodie Comer, and Tom Hardy, The Bikeriders is based on Danny Lyon’s collection of photos and interviews with members of a motorcycle club in 1960s Chicago. Written and directed by Nichols, The Bikeriders movie fictionalizes the stories in Lyons’ book, creating a new tale about how a once peaceful motorcycle club called the Chicago Vandals turns into a violent gang.
Jeff Nichols Gives Advice to Aspiring Writer-Directors at SCAD Savannah Film Festival
Nichols’ advice to aspiring writers and directors is simple: keep honing your craft until you get better, and don’t be afraid to pave your own path.
“I think there is a trend in this industry to think that people need to make you something. They need to make you a director and they reach out, and somebody high up who is some kind of gatekeeper looks down and goes, ‘You. You get to be a director.’ And that’s not how it works,” Nichols said Wednesday. “You become a director by directing, and I became a director by writing. So the first thing I would say is, write — and work on it.”
He shared some valuable advice he learned from Larry Brown, the writer behind the 1991 book Joe that was adapted into David Gordon Green’s 2013 movie of the same name starring Nicolas Cage.
“There’s a great Southern writer named Larry Brown, and he sadly passed away. But I was lucky enough in college to work on a documentary about him. And he was talking about writing. He didn’t start writing until late in life. He had chopped wood, he was a firefighter, he sacked groceries, he worked on a farm, he’d done all these different things,” Nichols said.
“When talking about his talent, he was like, ‘I don’t have talent. Read my first novel, and you’ll have no reason to believe I was talented. I learned how to do this.’ And he treated it like work. And he became one of the greatest contemporary southern writers that I’ve ever read,” he added. “I believe that about writing. I believe it is possible to learn it, and to get better at it. And if you do that, then you can take that script and you can find friends here to help you make it. And then you can actually change the trajectory of your life.”
Nichols used the Coen brothers as another example of artists who have determination.
“The Coen brothers said of Blood Simple, if it hadn’t worked, they just would have put it on the shelf and made another one. It is not a question of if you’re going to get to make a film. It’s just a question of when and with whose money,” Nichols said. “I think if you’re out there and if you’re really meant to do this, then it isn’t a question. It’s just a matter of when. And so, write — and then go direct what you write, and you’ll be okay.”
The Bikeriders originally scheduled to be released theatrically on Dec. 1 but has been taken off 20th Century Studios’ release schedule because of the SAG-AFTRA strike, and is being held back until actors are able to promote the film, according to IndieWire. It does not currently have a release date.
Main Image: Jodie Comer, Jeff Nichols and Austin Butler behind the scenes of The Bikeriders courtesy of SCAD