The film’s plot goes something like this: an unsuspecting programmer uncovers information designed to collapse U.S. national security, and forces him to take action before the subversive plan succeeds. “The End Begins,” written and directed by University of New Mexico Interdisciplinary Film & Digital Media (IFDM) student, Nicholas Nelson, was so well-received the project developed into a five part mini-series.
Nelson, who graduates from UNM in the spring of 2015 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production, began work on the “The End Begins” in his junior year, as an independent study under Nick Flor, associate professor in the Anderson School of Management and faculty member in IFDM.
"Nick Nelson is truly a film & digital media polymath,” Flor said. His movie is a great example of what happens when you mix creativity, hard work, determination and entrepreneurship. Remember his name--you'll be seeing it in the future."
‘Breaking Bad’ comes to town
Nelson started his career in the film industry as an actor. It was 2007 when he answered the casting call for a tribal police officer for a new show scheduled to film in Albuquerque. It was called “Breaking Bad,” and he got the part.
“I was pretty much an extra in season one,” Nelson said. “But going into wardrobe and getting propped up with a holster and guns got me excited to do the scene. And I got to see Bryan Cranston talking to everybody on set in the now famous tighty-whities scene."
Nelson had a reoccurring role on “Breaking Bad” which progressed into a larger role in season four. That gig got him work on other shows like the “Avengers,” “Crash,” the TV series, and some low-budget indie films.
Behind the camera
Nelson liked acting well enough, but decided that with his natural abilities he was better suited to a career behind the camera. During his second semester, he enrolled in an Intro to Film class in the Media Arts program, where the first requirement was to make a movie.
“I had an idea for an action-invasion film,” Nelson said, “and teamed up with a student in the IFDM program. With a crew of three and two actors, and extra help on a couple of scenes, we made a 17 minute film that ultimately became the prequel for ‘The End Begins’ series.”
For his independent study, Nelson decided to continue the story. IFDM provided one tripod, one camera, a small LED light kit, zoom recorder, boom pole and mic---about $4000 worth of equipment for free. Nelson was grateful. Still, with a $270 budget and no steady cam, he and his crew had to improvise in creative ways.
“Okay,” Nelson said to himself. “This is a low-budget student film. How am I going to make it look good with what I’ve got?” After honing the storyline, he shifted into producer mode. He worked up storyboards, arranged casting calls and scouted locations, always mindful of his budget. Every scene was blocked out when filming began. With limited equipment options, the camera work had to be either handheld or placed on sticks. “We didn’t have a dolly so we improvised using an office chair, push cart or driving very slowly in my truck. It wasn’t as stable as I wanted, but it worked.”
It took only three weekends to get the film in the can, which remarkably came in under budget by $10. “I had to raise the money for the project myself,” Nelson said. “But I couldn’t have done it if the cast and crew hadn’t volunteered their time, individual talents and more to bring my idea to life.” Nelson added that he hadn’t worked with most of the team before, but felt he’d gained their trust. To show his appreciation, he provided food, and a comfortable and stress-free working environment.
“The End Begins” premiered in January 2013 to a packed house and great reviews. Consequently, the College of Fine Arts named Nelson Outstanding Student for spring 2013 and highlighted him in the ARTifacts newsletter. He was also selected to speak and present his film at a UNM Alumni Board meeting, and to the owners of Mesa del Sol, one of the locations used in the film. In Hollywood, Calif., he was recognized at the Honoring First Nations in Entertainment and Media.
IFDM was also impressed with the pilot and offered Nelson more equipment and support to create another episode. “Our access to resources for phase two of “The End Begins” was considerably greater” he said. “We finally got a steady cam, dolly and dolly tracks, more cameras, lighting kits and grip equipment.”
Nelson reflects on the work that has brought him to this place. “I had a vision, but if it hadn’t been for the cast and crew, and their talent and devotion to the project, I wouldn’t have been able to realize that vision. I’m so proud of what we did together, with so little, in so short a time,” he said.
Visit "The End Begins" for a behind-the-scenes look and trailer of Phase II. Nelson, a full blooded Dine' (Navajo), created a trailer in Dine' bizaad with English subtitles. "The Dine' language adds real intensity," Nelson said.
Nelson is also a member of the UNM Film Association, where students can find out about the film scene on campus or how to connect with film majors for collaborations.
IFDM is a model of interdisciplinary education that gives students necessary critical, creative and technical skills to apply digital technologies in innovative and productive ways. Established in 2005 under the State of New Mexico’s Media Industries Strategy Plan (MISP), IFDM is built on existing strengths in the Anderson School of Management, Arts and Sciences, College of Fine Arts, and the School of Engineering, along with other schools and colleges. The IFDM Program has four objectives: Integrate Filmmaking and Digital Media, build a Native New Mexican Hollywood, train the Citizens of New Mexico and foster research.