‘Dakota Skye’ Behind-the-Scenes Pic(s)-of-the-Week #7
I love Ian Nelson beyond reason.
As an actor for sure, but also as a collaborator, a man, a creator in his own right, and as a friend.
It’s not a secret to a lot of my Twitter followers that Dakota Skye is somewhat, kind-of, loosely based on events from my life. It is by no means purely autobiographical. Firstly, I have never known a girl with supernatural lie-detecting powers. At least not that I know of. And secondly, the girl in the real story did not show up at my doorstep with a carry-on or a duffle bag.
What the movie is, really, is a distillation of how a particular episode of my life felt to me at the time. I wrote it very raw, not too long after said incidents. I was hurting, reeling, and incredibly angry at myself. And the original drafts were probably a little closer to the true story, but not much. I was just trying to wrangle the emotions I was dealing with at the time.
The equation that ends up making Dakota Skye is this:
An episode from my life
+ the song ‘Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away)’ by Deftones
+ the music of Jonah Matranga and Kevin Seconds
+ what I thought was a pretty name
(which I still do, despite its use by a famous stripper and an up-and-coming adult actress)
+ this weird idea for a girl with superpowers
= Dakota Skye
The real ‘Dakota’ is really nothing like the movie ‘Dakota’. Maybe a little bit of the attitude, but not really. The real woman was replaced by a character that had already been rattling around in my mind. I recently found a passage in my notes that reads: “Far & Dakota Skye – Same movie?”
Far was the title of the love triangle story I was working on. I just kind of shoved them together.
The real ‘Kevin’ is really nothing like the movie ‘Kevin’. He is not nearly the jerk the screenplay version turned out to be. At the time I was writing it, I let my feelings cloud my depiction of the character. Which is why, as I talked about here, I am so lucky JB Ghuman came along to save me, the character, and the film.
The real ‘Jonah’ is really nothing like–
Now wait. He kind of is.
Which brings me to Ian.
I’m not sure at what point in the process Ian learned that Jonah was based on me. But by the time we were shooting, I know he was very aware of it. He and I went through the script together, in fact, during rehearsals, line by-line, and I could tell he was sizing me up a little. We went out for drinks one night, because he wanted to spend time with me. The Jonah he created, the Jonah that is a mix of what was written and what Ian brought to it, is not an impression of me. But I do see little hints of me now and then.
Ways in which movie ‘Jonah’ differs from the real…well…me, are:
1) I am not nearly as honest.
2) I am not nearly as charming.
3) I am not nearly as good looking.
When Ian walked in to audition for us, my first thought was “if this kid can act, we’ve got our guy”, because he looked like the character did in my head and carried himself in a way that I already realized it was a guy I wanted to work with. Not that there weren’t other contenders, not that we didn’t make Ian jump through a couple hoops. But at the end of the day it came down to one of two guys, and Ian was most definitely the right choice.
(Hey. Directors, producers, casting people. CAST IAN NELSON IN YOUR MOVIE. You will thank me.)
Ian, despite being a goofball at times, is a total pro when the cameras start rolling. Our editor Jeff probably loves him more than anyone else, because he was so consistent with his actions and movements in each scene it made him so easy to edit. Not that they were robotic; they always felt real and of the moment. He was just aware of his job and how movies are made. It doesn’t surprise me that he now has his own editing company, because even when he was acting he knew how important continuity was.
Especially if he was in a scene with Hurricane Ghuman, who never did the same thing twice.
I don’t want to go on and on and on about how much I admire and love Mr. Nelson. If you’re reading this, you don’t need me to tell you what he brought to the film. You girls (you’re mostly girls, I know) definitely know. The countless Tumblr and Pinterest pictures say it all. The almost daily tweets that say they ‘want a Jonah of their own’ are really saying they want an Ian Nelson.
Just one quick example of the giant heart of this man, and I will get out of here:
There is a scene early in the film where Jonah picks Dakota up from school. She is not expecting this, but he is doing it to cover for Kevin, who is stuck at band practice. Dakota, who is reluctant to trust anyone new, tries to turn down the ride, says she’ll find another way home. Jonah’s response is:
“Don’t be retarded.”
It’s a loaded word, I know. An awful word in that context. He doesn’t mean ‘slow’, he means ‘mentally handicapped’. It’s not nice. It’s not ‘PC’.
Ian didn’t want to say the line. He said he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, that using that word felt wrong to him. Which, of course, it is. Wrong. Offensive.
It’s also something a dumb 20-year old kid would say, no matter how sensitive he is.
It took a lot of convincing from our director John, but Ian eventually said the line, going with the logic that sometimes people say stupid things. Current Chad tries to avoid using that word, especially like that, but the much younger Chad who wrote the line, he would have. He didn’t know any better and, even if he did, he wouldn’t have cared.
It’s a testament to Ian’s kind heart that he didn’t want to say the line; it’s a testament to his talent as an actor that he pulls it off so well that no one has ever complained about it.
(I’m actually wrestling with whether or not to remove the line from the novel. I’m not sure it will play without Ian saying the words.)
When I wrote the first draft of Far/Dakota Skye, I envisioned Jonah being played by Joshua Jackson. Now, as much as I love me some Pacey Witter (and boy do I love me some Pacey Witter. He bought her a wall!), I cannot imagine anyone but Ian Nelson playing my boy-who-doesn’t-lie. We got lucky finding him. We truly did. Because it turned out that he wasn’t just an amazing actor, but an amazing person. And is now one of my favorite people in the world.
Ian and I are always talking about doing something together. Man, would I love to write for him again. And someday we will. In fact, we may have a little something coming soon, but I don’t want to spoil that yet. But I’m convinced that one day I’m going to write and direct a film starring Ian Nelson.
And he’ll probably end up editing it. Check out Bubba’s Chop Shop, his company. He’s more than just a pretty face.
PS – I really wanted to talk about the “I want to tell you I like you scene” in his post, and about how much Ian fucking killed it, but I’m going to save that discussion for next week, in this series’ next-to-last post, when I talk about a girl named Eileen.