‘Mud,’ sweat and premieres: Jeff Nichols in Arkansas Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
All the southern gothic film-lovers in Little Rock gathered for the red carpet, hometown premiere of filmmaker Jeff Nichols’ “Mud” at Rave Theater on April 16. This highly-anticipated, invitation-only event was hosted by the Arkansas Film Commission for the cast, crew and their family members, most of which were viewing the film for the first time.
In typical local film party fashion, attendees were decked out in their finest to walk the red carpet, pose for “paparazzi,” and pack the theater for a private screening followed by a Q&A with a humble Nichols, who admitted he was most nervous about this particular screening. “Arkansas is the place that matters because you are the people that know if it’s true,” he said, referring to the authenticity of his truly-southern work, which was filmed along the Mississippi River in southeast Arkansas.
“Mud” is the latest film by writer/director and Arkansas-native Nichols. His previous work includes “Shotgun Stories” filmed in Arkansas, and “Take Shelter” filmed in Ohio. Nichols was born in Little Rock, attended North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, and now resides in Austin, Texas. He attributes his southern influences to all three places.
“It would be hard to separate me from Arkansas, it’s just bred into me. I grew up here. North Carolina was significant because there I had a sort of creative awakening. I first started to realize that I could actually possibly be a filmmaker and learned what that meant. I started reading a lot of Harry Crews and other writers I should have been reading in high school like Faulkner and Flannery O’Conner. Austin to me, I guess, is just like a creative well. I go there to fill it up and when it’s full, I go out and drain it.”
Nichols’ deep southern roots provided the inspiration for “Mud,” which tells the story of two boys Neckbone (played by Arkansan and first-time actor Jacob Lofland) and Ellis (played by Tye Sheridan of “Tree of Life”) who find a boat that’s mysteriously landed in the top of a tree on an island near their home on the Mississippi River. The boys plan to claim the boat for themselves, but find it’s already inhabited by a very, very dirty drifter-man named Mud (played by Matthew McConaughey), who also happens to be running from the police and bounty hunters while desperately trying to locate his smoking-hot girlfriend (played by Reese Witherspoon) to make a great escape.
“Mud” was filmed September through November 2011, primarily in the small Arkansas towns of Dumas and Stuttgart. Nichols called on a large percentage of local filmmakers and actors to help with the project, and its local flair is evident. Nichols need not worry, the crowd at Rave Theater verified the film’s far-reaching southern authenticity with genuine laughs, collective gasps at edge-of-your-seat moments and a few tears sprinkled throughout. We highly recommend you go see this film, if you’re a southerner or not. It opens in theaters across the country today.
Jeff Nichols recalls a few memorable “Southernisms” while filming “Mud”:
Asian Carp — It’s an invasive species of fish that are all over the lower Arkansas, White, and Mississippi rivers. They are attracted to the vibrations of boat motors and will rise to the surface and leap into your boat. They are huge fish, and more than one of our crew members got smacked by them. One jumped into the boat with McConaughey on his second day of filming. It was awesome.
Salad — Perhaps this is something I’m only noticing now that I’ve moved to Austin and live in the Whole Foods capital of the world, but I swear the only lettuce that exists in small towns is iceberg lettuce. I would be dying for a salad and all you’d get is iceberg lettuce. I love an iceberg lettuce salad, but when it’s all you have access to and it usually accompanies a platter of fried items, your body starts to revolt.
Duck Season — Our crew was based in Stuttgart, the rice and duck hunting capital of the world. Everyone was lovely to us. You could tell folks were excited to have a movie shooting in their town. That said, our last day of filming butted up against the opening day of duck season. It was made very clear to us that we were totally welcome … until duck season. They then looked at us like, seriously, get out. Our very last day of filming was a night shoot that went long and took us into daybreak. We were shooting down on the White River and witnessed the beginning of duck season. At some specific hour, not sure if it was 6 a.m. or not, what literally sounded like thousands of shotguns went off all at once. It was like being in a war zone. After about 10 minutes, it stopped. I think everyone shot their limit and was heading home. Needless to say, we were packing up and heading home ourselves.
Non-locals on the crew in Arkansas — From what I could tell most everyone had a blast. McConaughey was especially into the river. He has his own airstream trailer, and he would just have it parked next to the river wherever we were shooting. Not only did this allow him to get up later than everyone else, it was like one long extended camping trip for him. You don’t get a better front porch view than the Mississippi River. As for everyone else, I never heard any complaints. The people were so welcoming to us it was hard to complain.
After the premiere there was, of course, and after party. Here are a few pics we got at the premiere and afterward at the Governor’s Mansion….