Interview with Filmmaker, Nic Justice

Field Notes Interview #79: Nic Justice, Filmmaker

We spent time talking with Philadelphia-based filmmaker, Nic Justice about his work, how he edits to his own beat and how he keeps up momentum as an independent creative.

From Captain Planet to Paul Cezanne, Nic Justice's list of creative muses is an eclectic one -- and his work reflects his wide interests. Justices's films capture magic in every day moments. His visions of his hometown, Philadelphia, bottle the essence of a city in constant change, and all of the incredible elements that go hand in hand with each other. We chatted with Justice about how he approaches his art and where's he pressing record next. Enjoy.

M: Who are you and what do you do in the world?

NJ: I always tell people I’m both lucky and foolish enough to get to be a filmmaker. I like for the films I make to amplify voices in community work and social justice, while being effective in meeting my client’s needs. Mostly, I work hard to try and ensure that I’m a good husband and father.

M: What's your first memory in filmmaking?

NJ: At 16 years old, on a whim, I took a video class as a high school elective because I couldn’t take anymore PE classes.  When we weren't working on the school news show we got to make a creative project. Our team decided we wanted to do a live-action version of a favorite childhood Saturday morning cartoon, Captain Planet. We all had to act in it, as the five Planeteers, which means often the camera was operating itself, after someone would hit record before running into the scene. Over and over again the five of us would throw our fists in the air, as the camera looked down on us from the tripod on top of a pickup truck  and by some bit of magic, one of our rings caught the reflection of the sun in such a way that it looked like a special effect. I remember in editing, as we chose to put that moment on the timeline, I said to myself “I want to do this for the rest of my life.” Excluding some summer jobs at local factories, that has been the story every since.

M: What's been one of your favorite projects to work on?

NJ: That’s a very tough call. I have some that really mean a lot to me and other times where I had so much fun creating. They are both very memorable. One of my most honored experiences with a camera in my hand was being invited to get up close to some pencil sketches and brush marks of Paul Cezanne. There are only a handful of people who have ever been as close as I was to his work. I was shooting with a Macro lens and there was something so profound and striking about being that close and intimate with artwork so important. Only a few of those shots made it in the edit, but it is footage I like to revisit on occasion.

4. What makes a good story?

NJ: There are exceptions, but for me I always look for a good character. An interesting person is always full of great stories. It is hard for me to get sucked into a story as a viewer, if there isn’t that mirror where I can see myself in that character's shoes.

5. What role does music play in film?

NJ: Music is the part of film that can’t be seen but is felt. Music is often another unseen character in the film.  It can add to or take away from a character and direct the viewer’s emotional experience of a scene or storyline. It can give us subtle hints about where this film is going to take us.

M: How do you feel music is misused in film?

NJ: I think very often people are told they are supposed to “edit to the beat,” which isn’t entirely wrong, but I feel that advice can hurt a lot of films and filmmakers. Making every edit on a snare hit can lose a lot of the subtle moments.  Adding a music track too early is also a risk of letting too much of the film be directed by the musician. I am rarely bold enough to create a film without a music track, but allowing that nakedness to exist is something that I have been seeing happen more and more often, even in places like HBO. It is just as powerful as having the music.  

M: What's one thing you'd tell a filmmaker just starting out?

NJ: You don’t have to do everything by yourself. Keep making films until you start to like them.  

M: What's the last album you listened to?

NJ: It is a tie between an old personal favorite, Hour of the Wolf's Waste Makes Waste and an album by my friends in Cape Wrath.

M: What's one of the most challenging things in filmmaking?

NJ: I think getting started is always hard. The whole filmmaking career path is hard, but it is also difficult to get started on a new project. That initial momentum has to come from you, the filmmaker.

I do a lot of client work -- which I truly enjoy -- but often they come with limitations and expectations. So finding a creative outlet is becoming more important to me. A project just for art’s sake, where you can try new things and even fail is the space in which I can learn and grow my craft. I have a few music videos in the coming months for this purpose.

M: What's coming up for you?

NJ: I’m currently focusing a lot of energy on getting my new production company,, up and running. We are currently somewhere in the process of developing a feature length documentary, which is stretching us creatively and making us find the stamina to complete it. Outside of that, I’m going to try and put in some time shooting small short films featuring my family. I think they used to be called home movies.

Posted on March 28, 2016 and filed under Field Notes.