The Nix Bros. on comedy, short films and what funny really means
This is one in a series of posts in honor of Denver Arts Week that salute some of our favorite people and places on the arts scene.
The Nix Bros. have been busy the last few years doling out comedy films of all shapes and sizes, from the patently absurd Rainbow Chasers to the music ridiculousness of Total Ghost (who are playing Westword's Denver Web Awards on November 16.) They've also just started work on a web series for the Grawlix, which is why we figured it was time to catch up with them to see why they do what they do.
Westword: How and why did you start working in film, and how did you come to work on short films with comedians?
Evan Nix: We started making films together when we were teenagers. They were crude little films, edited in camera and rarely scripted. After that, we took film classes together in college, and the creative partnership has never ended. We're three years apart, and we always made-believe and played together as kids, so when it comes to working together it's naturally really collaborative, not a lot of clashing egos. We grew up in Las Vegas, and while living out there we worked with our good friend/stand-up comic (and my brother-in-law to be) Nathan Lund on one of our first short films "Lowell Gleason Wears Glasses." Nathan moved out to Denver a couple years after us. He was the first comic we worked with, and one we still continue to work with pretty regularly.
Which one of you does what and why?
Evan: We both wear a lot of hats and don't necessarily have defined roles, but I play more of the producer/director, while Adam is a little more technically minded and tends to act as cinematographer and editor. He's super talented in AfterEffects and Cinema4D, so most of our graphics work is done by him.
Adam: Yeah, there's not really a clear labor breakdown. We both direct, although Evan usually works more with actors and I do more of the visual side. Evan usually does more off the story editing and I do any compositing/effects/color correction, but I edit a good amount also. We both do the lighting, props, etc. Evan definitely does most of the producing.
How did you get to working with the comedians in Denver that you have?
Evan: We go to a lot of comedy shows, so we have met many through that network. First we worked with Nathan Lund, then we met Chris Charpentier while shooting Rainbow Chasers. They are in a great comedy troupe together with a few others called The Fine Gentleman's Club, who we have also worked with. Adam and I also both direct Laugh Track Comedy Festival, a two day competitive comedy/film fest in July that was founded by the guys behind Festivus Film Festival (which we're also on the screening committee for). So we have met a lot of great locals through that as well. Denver has an incredibly talented, supportive and tight-knit comedy community, better than any city I've seen by far. When you get to know a couple of comics, its easy to meet a bunch more.
Is there a difference in how you approach short-term and long term projects -- for instance, what's the process like getting ready for a Total Ghost music video as opposed to say, the Grawlix webseries or The Rainbow Chasers?
Adam: We really take every project on differently. Most of the time we set out with the goal of doing something we've never done before. Some of the Total Ghost videos we really had no definite concept when we shot them. We just shot some green screen and figured the rest out in post production, but on the others we had heavy story boarding from the beginning. We try to be pretty loose when working on collaborative comedy projects. We embrace improv (one of the reasons we love working with comedians), and try not to be too tied down to a plan. We'll almost always go into something with at least a shot list of what is absolutely needed, though.
Evan: Rainbow Chasers was a little different from the rest. It started as a loose concept, and was heavily improvised, including much of the camera work and the scenes themselves. Some of it was real man-on-the-street stuff with unwilling participants. The story came out mostly in editing, not unlike a real documentary.
So, how much influence do you have on the actual comedic process?
Evan: This also depends on the project. If it's something we write, we obviously play a huge part in the creative process. Total Ghost videos are 100 percent about making them as goofy and ridiculous as possible and we (along with Randy Washington, the songwriter and other half of Total Ghost) all come up with ideas, and nothing is off limits. For something like the Grawlix, Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy come to us with these incredibly funny scripts already written and we just try to emphasize their jokes visually, if possible, and do justice to their stories. The process is super customized.
Adam: One of the great things about working with comedians is that we can entrust most of the comedy to them. Being filmmakers lends us a different perspective on things, so we'll occasionally have an idea of how to make a joke with the camera or with visuals that wouldn't occur to someone who's not used to looking through the lens.
Is there a particularly inspiring filmmaker or artist you consistently come back to when looking for ideas?
Evan: Maybe not specifically when looking for ideas, but there are many directors that we discuss a lot and I would say we both really admire. Of course, we love the Coen Brothers. Also Alexander Payne, Mike Judge, John Waters, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. I love comedy, sci-fi, horror, drama, action. Not a big RomCom fan.
Adam: The list goes on. Tim Burton before the year 2000, Sidney Lumet, George Roy Hill, Hal Ashby, John Carpenter, the obvious ones like Scorsese, Kubrick, Kurosawa. I'm also big fan of Asian cinema, and in particular Hong Kong movies. I love Raymond Chow/Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung affair, pretty much anything with Donnie Yen (who also works with Sammo Hung a lot), and especially kung fu/action flicks from the '90s. The camera work is just so animated from that era.
And now for a wholly ambiguous question: What makes something funny to you?
Evan: Good question. I don't know if we'd fully agree on this. I tend to find inappropriate humor funnier than Adam, I think. I can appreciate a well-timed fart, no matter how bad it smells. Tongue-in-cheekiness and sarcasm are things I enjoy a lot in no-budget independent comedies, especially when screening for Laugh Track or Festivus. Also, classic physical comedy always gets me. Nothing beats a good prat fall.
Adam: Artful timing, silliness, a subtle twist of words. My favorite kind of joke is one that tells a story in a sentence, one that paints a picture in your mind with very little description.
Left to your own devices with unlimited resources, what kind of film would you make?
Adam: Avatar --no -- I'd really spend most of the budget on a dream cast. Maybe something in space. I've always like space movies.
Evan: That implies that we can only make one film! I would rather make a hundred films with the limited resources that we're restricted by now. We've gotten pretty good at making a very little bit go really far. To date, I don't think we've spent more than $500 on any single project.
But, since you've mostly worked in comedy so far, have you thought about doing other types of films?
Evan: We have worked on documentaries in the past, which we both love as well. I'd love to make a drama or science fiction movie. However I think whatever we make will always incorporate humor, because that's just who we are. The best television and film dramas have moments of real comedy, because they can build situations that are much more tense than a standard comedy, allowing for a bigger comedic release.
Adam: Yeah that pretty well covers it. I would love to do a thriller/mystery ala The French Connection.