Today we are talking with the talented actor and director Nick Bargain. As the co-founder of Headcase films in Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota, Nick, claims to be a “late bloomer” in the industry when he started at the ripe old age of 22 (he is now 28). So, without delay, let’s see what he has to say.
ROBERT – Nick, you may find this surprising but I have always been curious as to how the film industry is Minnesota.
NICK – The industry here is terrible. It’s a commercial state (although we do have River Road Entertainment which did “12 Years A Slave”.
R – Now, you started your career as a background actor in California at the age of 22. When did you decide to go back to Minnesota and start Headcase Films?
N – Two years ago.
R – What prompted you to do this? I know moving to California with little to nothing in your pocket is a big risk but so is moving back home and starting a film business in an area that isn’t known for it.
N – Honestly, I hated every minute of it. Being a background actor and all. At one point I was living out of my car. Don’t get me wrong. I worked with great companies such as Atlas Entertainment and Bold Films and what I learned was invaluable but I was never in a position to work on what I wanted to work on. To do that I needed to make a change. A change that would allow me to create, as an actor or director, films that truly mean something to me.
R – What do you find more challenging, directing or acting?
N – I find Directing far more challenging and thus far more rewarding.
R – Do you feel being an actor helps you as a director?
N – Absolutely! I already have the experience and understanding as to what it’s like as an actor in front of a camera and the challenges the actor faces. It also helps me to be able to articulate and express what I’m looking for in a particular scene from my actors. I know how to “speak” actor!
R – The going trend for actors who become directors is still to act in the film they are directing. Are you in the same boat as well?
N – Yes. I prefer to do both, because I do not like acting in pictures that I’m not directing.
R – Let’s go back to your time in California for a minute. Tell us a little bit about you what you have done in acting.
N – I’ve been in three feature films. “Ice Scream”, “The Host” and “Walk of Shame”. I have also been in a few shorts. There was “The Man Awake”, “One Deviant Man” and “Pink Toenails to name a few.
R – Have you ever taken acting classes.
N – Believe it or not, I never took a single acting class, unless you count YouTube. I was very fortunate that acting seems to come pretty naturally for me.
R – What about any formal training for the film industry?
N – I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Digital Media, which was essentially film school. If I had it to do over again I would have just learned myself (hello internet), although the great thing, theoretically, about film school is being able to work.
R – Do you only shoot in Minneapolis?
N – No. We shoot wherever we can, all over the state, and I shot in LA when I lived there (I plan to go back).
R – Starting a company is really risky in this industry and maybe even more so where you are at now. What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of it?
N – I’ll have to compare what it’s like in LA compared to here in Minneapolis. There are too many challenges to name when it comes to filming in LA, but the biggest thing is the attitude of the people with respect to a newcomer. In LA, EVERYONE wants to be rich and famous, so why would anyone help you out?
In Minnesota, people think it’s fun, new, exciting, and they open their arms enthusiastically. The number of local businesses and people who have helped us out cannot be understated, and it makes this a great place to hone your skills for the big time which is still LA. Of course there is New York City that is on LA’s heels.
The most challenging aspect of starting a production company has really just been the organizational stuff. Paperwork, scheduling, I have done it all myself and it’s not what I prefer to do (duh, creative people will say). The balance between making money and making passion projects has also been a challenge, but less so than I initially thought because of the generosity of a couple people in funding our passion projects quicker than I could have dreamed.
R – Let’s talk about your current project “Pink Toenails”. You have already mentioned that this is a short film and a really interesting story line. What was your inspiration for it?
N – “Pink Toenails” is a 30-ish minute film. It is a short compared to a feature but not exactly a “short” film by some film festivals definition. With that being said, we’d eventually like to turn into a feature. I wrote the story when I first moved to California at 21, not knowing a soul on the West Coast. I was feeling alienated, alone, different, all of the things that the lead character goes through in “Pink Toenails”. In other words, my own isolation inspired what I hope will be a great piece of work (a little cliche’, but true nonetheless).
R – You know what they say. Write what you know and you did. Many great stories come from something that the writer has either experienced personally or have thought about many times over. Is anyone else helping direct “Pink Toenails”?
N – My partner, Sean Guthrie is helping me on the project, but I am the Director. I would never work on a project with 2 director’s who had an equal share of the power. I believe in hierarchy, especially when it comes to filmmaking. I would put the power split on “Pink Toenails” at 80/20, with me being the 80.
R – What has the experience been like working on this film?
N – It’s been hell! We were funded on this project before we were ready to make a movie of this scale. We have a smaller crew than is necessary to make a movie of this scale. It has been next to impossible to work out the schedule of 20+ high school kid cast members and another 20+ Extra’s, especially since I have been doing it all myself (not recommended). However, I would change absolutely nothing if I had it to do over again. This is how you learn to make a film. When we step onto our next set, we will be infinitely more prepared than we would have been if we had done things the “right” way. I have learned more about filmmaking on this movie than I did in 4 years or film school, and the “feet-to-the-fire” method of learning is something I will continue to champion. If you want to learn to make movies, just make movies. We have young and exciting actors, a small crew that believes in what we are doing, and our confidence and skill set grows by the day. Upon reflection, it’s been great.
R – Your lead actress is Raye Brooke. Did you find her through casting or is she someone you worked with in the past?
N – I worked with Raye on our last film, “Maryland” (https://vimeo.com/77827140). We found her during casting for that movie.
R – Raye Brooke’s has acted in theater as well as on camera and I know from my own experience that it can be a little difficult for someone from theater to transition to being on camera. Did you find this to be a problem for her?
N – No. I wouldn’t even call Raye a stage actress. She may have some experience there, but she was born to act in films; her talent is in her subtlety and she takes direction about as well as anyone I have worked with. The dream of any director is to be able to develop a shorthand with his/her actors and crew. I have that with Raye and it works very well. However, yes, theater and film are not even in the same ballpark as far as I’m concerned, from the writing to the acting.
R – I have to ask. Do you normally write your own scripts?
N – I do prefer to write or co-write my own scripts, but I am always, actively and enthusiastically seeking writers to work with.
R – Writing for comedy or drama, which is more challenging to you?
N – I find comedy way more difficult because of 3 things: timing, the subjective nature of the genre and my own personal preference for drama. If I make a comedy, you can be sure it’ll be dark or different in one way or another.
R – Anything else on the horizon after “Pink Toenails” is wrapped up?
N – After this film, we plan to promote the hell out of it and either pitch for funds to turn it into a feature, or develop a distribution strategy for the film as-is. With the rise of VOD and self-screenings, I think we can develop a following that we can take with us as we build our company (this has been one of the benefits of our cast size and age, they are likely fans for life and also provide free marketing).
R – Anything else you would like to share about yourself or the film?
N – I’d like to take this opportunity to shout out everyone in our cast and on our crew, and to call on all filmmakers to remember that this is a very collaborative medium. Someone else’s success does not by any means prohibit your own success. Use your cast, involve them, let them make decisions, make them feel that they are as invested in the success of the film as you are, because not only is it true, but it only helps as you move from making the film (the “easy” part) to getting people to watch it (the “impossible” part). I like to call it “social filmmaking”. It’s not that everyone has an equal say in the decisions that will be made, like I said I believe in hierarchy, but I very much believe that there is great value in every cast and crew member and it is the #1 role of the leader (or Director) to find and utilize that value in service of the film. Do it together or don’t do it at all.
I want to give Nick a very big thank you for taking the time out of his very busy day for the interview. I personally can not wait for the screening of the film “Pink Toenails”. With Nick’s outlook on the importance of every member of the filmmaking process (actors and crew), I have no doubt that this film and future films will find success. Look for follow up interviews of Nick Bargain as his career continues to blossom. Below are some BTS shots from the set of “Pink Toenails”.