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Fallbrook producer's indie film 'Shotgun Stories' one of 2008's best

When two heavyweight film critics give a nod to your film, you have a right to celebrate. The one doing the celebrating is Nick Thurlow, an executive producer of the independent film “Shotgun Stories.”

Thurlow is originally from England but married an American and now lives in Fallbrook. He became interested in filmmaking as he worked for, and then purchased, Sonic Magic Studios, a post-production company. He also owns Louisiana Media Services and is involved with Upload Films along with partners Todd Williams and John Portnoy.

Roger Ebert named “Shotgun Stories” one of his “20 Best Films of 2008.” Ebert said he didn’t rank the films, but each one carried equal weight. “These 20 stood out for me, and I treasure them all,” he stated on the Web site

Ebert called the movie “A great discovery. A film that never steps wrong and holds us in a vise of tightening revenge.”

New York Magazine ranked the film “8” out of “The Top Ten Films” of 2008. They wrote, “The movie makes you empathize with the rage that drives these men to violence…”

Thurlow said that even though the film has been “well-received critically,” as an indie film, it has been difficult to get it before the public. It is a challenge that all indie filmmakers have.

“[Shotgun Stories] is competing with movies with hundred-million-dollar budgets,” Thurlow commented, adding that it is very expensive to market a film. He said that the film “took less than 100 thousand dollars at the box office,” so the producers must look at other platforms, such as Video on Demand. Another chance will be the airing of the film on the Sundance Channel in March.

Thurlow said that this is the first movie that he has helped finance with his own money and he had to trust his judgment as to the outcome. “It is a bit like an expensive lottery ticket,” he said.

“You don’t know what is going to succeed,” he noted, “and what is success? Is success making money or making a good film? Ideally you want both.”

Jeff Nichols is the director and screenwriter who created the believable and poignant story. He was raised in Arkansas, the setting of the film, and his familiarity with the culture and language of the area is evident in the film.

In true indie style it was filmed with a small crew of about twelve. Nichols’ mother did the cooking for the crew, as it was filmed on location in the vicinity of her home.

“Shotgun Stories” is a drama set in a small Arkansas town complete with cotton fields, long afternoon shadows and sun glinting on railroad tracks.

Music that is somewhat foreboding in nature sets the tone and moves the story along but it is never obtrusive. The score’s ominous tone is woven adeptly throughout the film.

The movie stars Michael Shannon in a stellar performance as Son Hayes. He has a brother named Kid (portrayed by Barlow James) and another brother named Boy (Douglas Ligon). The Hayes are the offspring of a man who left their mother while a drunken mess and then managed to turn his life around only to start another family with four more boys. However, this time around he was sober enough to give them proper names.

The boys’ father dies and the three unnamed Hayes attend the funeral. Son tells his father’s second family just what he thinks of his father, which isn’t good, and thus begins a feud between the half-brothers.

The cinematography is excellent and the camera angles are simple but effective. The cameras capture a tatty flavor that could never be created on a set. It’s an authentic slice of Southern life, a juxtaposition of the natural beauty of the languid ponds with the peeling paint of neglected buildings.

The movie is cast in an amazing manner and the actors create a believable small town Southern community. It is realistic, like a hidden camera is trained on their everyday lives. The actors who portrayed the three elder Hayes did a wonderful job of making you believe that they lead a rather aimless existence.

The film’s pace moves like a Southern drawl and there is a mixture of silence and conversation with underlying tension building tighter and tighter like the winding of a vintage wall clock. It exposes the truth about what can happen when bitterness is kept close to the soul and not released.

The conclusion demonstrates how it sometimes takes an unlikely hero to put lives back on track and how, occasionally, those who are perceived as weak have hidden strengths that emerge when heated to the right emotional temperature. It is a film that gets inside you and stays for a while.

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