SAT DOWN TO WRITE HIS FIRST SCREENPLAY:
And ended up writing the Oscar-nominated Nebraska.
The intricate and arbitrary bonds of American families.
IS READY TO:
Direct his adaptation of The Bicycle Thief.
In the 1990s, Bob Nelson made a name for himself as a writer and performer on Almost Live!, the Seattle sketch-comedy television show that aired in the Northwest immediately after Saturday Night Live and was rebroadcast all over the country on Comedy Central. When Almost Live! stopped production in 1999, Nelson took the opportunity to apply himself to something new: a screenplay, based on a story he'd read in a newspaper chronicling the intersection of suggestible elderly people and hyperbolic sweepstakes mailings, with the latter driving the former on semiregular quests to claim sweepstakes prizes they hadn't won.
Thus was born Nebraska, Nelson's first screenplay, in which a thirtysomething man drives his elderly father from Montana to Nebraska to claim an imaginary million-dollar prize. "At the time, I didn't know how to write anything longer than five minutes," Nelson tells me on the phone from his home on Whidbey Island. "The challenge was coming up with characters that'll last for an hour and 45 minutes." He met the challenge. From his pathos-ridden punch line of a plot, Nelson developed a perfect little world of love and hate, mystery and revelation, empty glories and mundane horror, and the deep weirdness of families.
In a cinematic Cinderella story, Nelson's script caught the attention of Alexander Payne, the American director responsible for such humane and hilarious films as Election, Sideways, and The Descendants, who brought Nebraska to the big screen in 2013. For his first-ever script, Nelson received the Independent Spirit Award for best first screenplay and an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay.
When I ask Nelson what he drew upon to flesh out Nebraska's dense world of humanity, he points directly to his past. "Going back in my memory, rescuing a few instances from my family... My dad was in World War II, and he was shot down, and he didn't talk about it. I didn't know about it till I was older, from relatives, that he came back changed. He was a mechanic, and he did have his tools stolen, and the uncles are pretty much my uncles."
As for what's next, Nelson is slated to direct a script of his own called The Confirmation, which he describes as "a modern version of The Bicycle Thief. It's another father-son story, but in this version, they spend a weekend trying to find the dad's stolen tools." Nelson's ultimate goal: "I want to make movies about real people."